Saturday, December 15, 2012

懶菩薩 / The Lazy Bodhisattva


懶菩薩

心平如靜水,慈悲植心靈。
天天立雄志,普渡天下民。
志向當強烈,慈悲放光芒。
濟世不拼命,無為順自然。
所做平常事,造福天下人。
你這活菩薩,救世也好玩。


The Lazy Bodhisattva

With deep inner peace,
And great compassion,
Aspire daily to save the world.
But do not strive to achieve it.
Just do whatever comes naturally.
Because when aspiration is strong
And compassion blossoms,
Whatever comes most naturally,
Is also the right thing to do.
Thus you,
The wise compassionate being,
Save the world while having fun.


I wrote the English version first, so the Chinese version is a rewrite of the English poem.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Search Inside Yourself is #1 in Korea


I have just been informed by my publisher that the Korean edition of Search Inside Yourself was the #1 bestseller in Korea in the self-help category. 

My wife and I both watch a lot of Korean TV, so we both already feel a kinship with the Korean culture.  This is very exciting news for us.  Thank you, Korean friends.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Request for Comment (RFC): Translating "mindfulness" to 靜觀 / 静观


Proposal: Using 靜觀 / 静观 as the Chinese translation for "mindfulness".

Question for comments: Any serious downsides that I'm unaware of?

Details:

As I'm reviewing the draft Chinese translation of my book Search Inside Yourself, I came across a major obstacle: the lack of a good Chinese translation for one of the most important words in the book (which also happens to be one of the most important words in all of meditation practice):  Mindfulness.

The current "standard" (ie, most widely used) translation of "mindfulness" is 正念 (zheng nian).  Unfortunately, in my opinion, it's a downright horrible translation.

According to Zen Master Shinzen Young (and I agree with him), a translation must possess 2 important characteristics:
  1. It should immediately convey a sense of what you're talking about to the average person.
  2. It should have the potential to give a deeper and more fine-grained understanding when questions come up re: what the process actually involves.
Unfortunately, 正念 fails miserably at [1], probably at [2] as well.

The original Chinese translation of sati, the Pali word that gets translated to "mindfulness" in English, is 念 (nian).  Truth be told, I don't think 念 itself is an entirely bad translation.  I can think of at least 2 reasons 念 makes perfect sense:
  1. It is made up of the components 今 (jin) and 心 (xin), which means "now" and "mind" respectively.  In that sense, 念 can denote the "now mind" or moment-to-moment awareness, which captures the essence of sati very nicely.
  2. The literal meaning of sati is "that which is remembered".  In the context of meditative practice, in addition to the element of moment-to-moment awareness, sati also has an element of recollection/remembering.   念 captures that element beautifully as well.
Unfortunately, like many other terms used in Chinese Buddhism, 念 is a highly ambiguous term that already has a very common usage outside the meditative context.  Its most common usage denotes thinking (eg, 意念 for "a thought", 念头 for "idea" and 观念 for "concept").  Even when applied to recollection, it commonly denotes the cognitive aspect of recollection (eg, 思念), not necessarily the more attentional aspect denoted by sati.  Worse still, even when used in the everyday Buddhist context, it almost always mean "recital" (eg, 念经, 念佛), never mindfulness.

The more modern rendering of 正念, presumably created to disambiguate "mindfulness" 念 from "thinking" 念 and "recital" 念, makes the problem much much worse.  正念 literally means "right thought", which is very far from what mindfulness means.  An average Chinese-speaking person seeing the word 正念 would not understand it to mean anything else except "right thought".  Even Chinese Buddhist masters themselves use the term that way.  For example, when 妙覺山宣公上人 says "質直端心正念    勿諂曲", he is using 正念 to mean "right/proper thoughts".

Clearly, clearly, we cannot use 正念 as the translation for mindfulness.  It is just plain wrong.  It's so wrong I'm surprised anybody is using it at all.

Which leads us to another major problem:  What is a good translation of sati/mindfulness that satisfies Shinzen's criteria, is short enough to be useful as a common Chinese descriptor and not already commonly used in another way?

It turns out to be a non-trivial problem and I've spent a long time thinking about this.  Candidates include: 观照, 尃注, 留意, 明察, 止觀, 心照.  Each and every one is grossly unsatisfactory in some serious way.  For example, 观照 (observe and reflect) is great, except it sounds too much like 关照, which means to look after, and often in a corrupt kind of way, like a corrupt politician "looking after" a businessman friend.  I really like 止觀 (pause and observe), but it's already a term used to mean "meditation", so cannot be used for "mindfulness".

As usual, the solution came to my in the shower.  While pondering the problem in the shower, the term 靜觀 / 静观 (calm observing) came to me.  I immediately love it.  The more I think about it, the more it makes sense.  I discussed it over with Shinzen, and we both agree it may be the term we're looking for.  The reasons:

1. It satisfies both of Shinzen's critieria.  When an average Chinese speaker sees 静观, she immediately understands intuitively that it has something to do with being quiet/calm and observing, which are the key aspects of mindfulness practice.  That, plus it can describe deeper practice.  For example, Shinzen says:
静 can mean calm in the ordinary sense, but also calm in the sense of "done in a high state of concentration" 心静神不散 (as opposed to other therapeutic and introspective practices which are usually done in a scattered state).  静 can also mean "calm" in the sense of "maintaining a balanced state of equanimity" 心静如水.
2. All of the foundational meditative practice can be described in the beautiful 2-character term: 观定 (insight and stability of mind), and translating mindfulness to 静观 allows us to expand 观定 to 静观禅定.  Conceptually and linguistically elegant.

With these thoughts, I Googled for the term 静观 and found that www.mindfulness.hk is already using it as a translation for mindfulness.  Hence, I'm not too radical.


Question to you, my friends:  Is there something I'm missing?  Is there a serious downside to using 静观 that I'm not aware of?


Update (10 Nov 2012):  Thanks to all of you who took the time to share your wisdom.

The main consensus among all the respondents seems to be:  nobody has a violent objection to 靜觀 / 静观.  All responses range from “good” to “can be better, but no objections”.

Many people suggested alternative translations, but there is no consensus on what the best one is.  Everybody seems to understand this is a non-trivial problem.  Suggestions include: 念观, 意守, 锐观, 寂照, 内观, 心观.

For me, the most compelling candidate that has emerged is 观心 (observe mind), suggested by Christophe Gong.  The main attractions (besides satisfying Shinzen's 2 criteria for a good translation) are:

1. It has already been used to describe a practice that, if my understanding of the text is correct, sounds largely identical to my own understanding and practice of mindfulness. Specifically, the text is《佛法要领》刘洙源先生著.  The quote [source]:
观心      观心之法先要休心息念。须将六尘万缘,一概放下;善事恶事,都不思量;过去未来,一概不想。直观当下念头,憧憧往来,起灭不停;勿执著他,勿随逐他,勿断 除他。只管细细静看。妄念起时,一看不知去向;旋又复起,仍如是看;念若不起,只看著。久久纯熟,看到一念不生,即与般若相应。发菩提心论云:“妄心若 起,知而勿随,妄若息时,心源空寂,万德斯具,妙用无穷。”心性之妙如是。吾人平日之不相应,是为妄念所遮,是无明心。无明何所依?依真如而起。观无明心 即是观真如心,观心性即是观无明心。何以故?真如即是念之体,念即是真如之用故。观而得定,即是真如三昧,为三昧之王,故名上定。
2. Baidu Baike claims 观心 is a commonly used term by the Tiantai School (天台) [source].  If that is true, that is the kicker for me.  If it's good enough for Tiantiai, it's good enough for me.  Unfortunately, I haven't yet been able to verify that.

Sadly, there are 2 major downsides that make 观心 less suitable than 静观:

1. 观心 means observing the mind.  However, in practice, the object of mindfulness practice is very often objects in contact with mind, not just the mind per se.  That gives rise to awkwardness in language.  Not unsolvable, but problematic.

2. More important, when I tried using it in the text of the book, 静观 worked much better, because 静观 is more tangible (for the average person) and far closer to the actual practice.  Eg, this passage:
如果你必須起身或抓癢,請對三件事情保持靜觀:意圖、動作和感覺。記住這個練習的目標不在於靜止不動,而是保持靜觀。所以,只要你保持靜觀,做什麼事都可以。也就是說,如果你要回應臉上的發癢處,首先將注意力帶到癢的感覺,然後是想抓癢的意圖,最後是你的手臂與手指的動作,以及抓癢的感覺。就這樣。

Given the data so far, I have decided to use 静观.  I probably have a week or so to change my mind if I have to.

Monday, October 8, 2012

我佛

入我佛渊,光辉灿烂。
思我佛缘,不尽感恩。
饮我佛源,心花怒放。
植我佛园,柢固根深。
叹我佛远,坚心悟法。
完我佛愿,造福苍生。


(Left untranslated, because this poem is so delicate I can't translate without breaking it.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The science of compassion


Buddhism has a fascinatingly deep understanding into the mental and developmental aspects of compassion.  It takes a master like Jinpa to explain it clearly, in a scientific frame, while preserving its beautiful spiritual essence.  And Jinpa does it under 29 minutes.  Amazing.



Original page: http://ccare.stanford.edu/content/science-compassion-origins-measures-and-interventions-thupten-jinpa-phd

Monday, July 16, 2012

SIY is #1 in Singapore


Search Inside Yourself is now the #1 bestselling non-fiction book in Singapore (according to the Straits Times Bestsellers List).  I love my hometown.  :)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My background is Buddha


I gave a talk in this big room with a large Buddha statue behind me.  During the Q&A session, somebody interested in my spiritual practice asked, "What is your background?"

I pointed behind me and answered, "My background is Buddha."

Favorite answer of the day.  :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Talks at Phor Kark See Monastery

I accepted the abbot's invitation to speak at Phor Kark See Monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery in Singapore.  I will be delivering 2 talks:

1. All Natural Organic Self-Confidence
Sunday 8 Jul 2012, 1pm – 3pm

2. Compassionate Leadership for Unusual Business Success
Wednesday, 11 July 2012, 7.30pm – 9.00pm

Venue for both is: Medicine Buddha Hall I Level 2 I Pagoda of 10,000 Buddha, Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery

For details, see: http://kmspks.org/events/featured/cmt

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Speaking engagements in Singapore

For those who are interested, I have 3 public speaking engagements in Singapore for the next few weeks.

1. Saturday, 30 June, 2pm to 3pm.  Meet-the-Author event at Kinokuniya Singapore Main Store, Crossroads.  (Link)

2. Saturday, 7 July, 3pm to 4pm.  Meet-the-Author event at the Central Public Library.  (Link)

3. Sunday, 8 July, 4pm to 5pm.  Mindfulness talk: Search Inside Yourself.  Tai Pei Buddhist Center, 2 Lavender St.  (Poster below).



Update (27 June 2012): Added 3rd talk.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Learning to Let Go from Eisenhower


Reposted from http://www.siyli.org/learning-to-let-go-from-eisenhower/




General Dwight Eisenhower taught me to let go.

Well, General Eisenhower didn’t personally teach me, but I learned an important lesson about letting go while watching a documentary on the Invasion of Normandy.  After the good general gave the order to invade on June 6, 1944, he realized that the success of the mission was no longer in his own hands.  It was now in the hands of thousands of individual platoon commanders and their troops.  Eisenhower had done all that he could to create the conditions for success, now all he could do was to allow those conditions to come to fruition on their own terms.  From the moment he gave the order, he had no choice but to let go of outcome.

Eisenhower’s insight is one that I hear over and over from many very successful people.  The insight is that success is not often within our own control, especially success on a grand scale.  What is entirely within our own control, however, is creating the conditions for success, and then allowing those conditions to come to fruition on their own terms.  For example, I cannot make people like me, but I can create the conditions favorable for people to like me, by for example, being kind and sincere to people and helping them when I can.  Another example, I cannot make customers buy my products, but I can create the conditions favorable for making sales, by paying attention to my customers’ needs and creating an awesome product to serve them.  In both cases, I cannot create success, but I can create the conditions favorable for success and then allow those conditions to come to fruition as and when they want to.

Hence, the key lesson is:  Focus on the effort, but let go of outcome.  This is a combination of two seemingly contradictory mindsets: pro-active optimism and letting go.  We can practice them both at the same time, and it turns out to be an optimal strategy.

And that is true even for a great military leader.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

野心 (Ambition)

野心
英雄业如逝水,
唯有菩提万世留。
笑看一生小成就,
佛陀微笑坐心头。

Translation:

Ambition
Heroes and their conquests are like passing water,
Only the enlightened mind lasts ten thousand lifetimes.
While I laugh at the tiny achievements in my life,
Buddha sits in my heart, smiling gently.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bay Area speaking engagements this week

For those interested, I have 2 public speaking engagements in the Bay Area this week.

For those in the city, I'm speaking at this even this Thursday:

  http://www.ciis.edu/News_and_Events/Event_Calendar/Meng.html

and for those further south, I'm speaking at this event on Sunday:

  http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/246736

Just FYI.  All proceeds benefit the respective organizing non-profits.  I don't get paid anything, but the organizers promise they'll be nice to me.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Shelling oysters no more, thanks to you

I tell my friends that if my book doesn't sell, I want to learn to become very good at shelling oysters.  See, if I can't be a best-selling author, then I should at least be a best-shelling author.

Well, my friends, thanks to you, I no longer have to learn to shell oysters.  That is because Search Inside Yourself just made it onto the New York Times best-sellers list (#11 on "Hardcover advice and misc")!

Thanks to Colin, Stephanie, Gideon and the team at HarperOne, Danny, Jon, dear friends who wrote the endorsements, the SIY team, and everybody else who helped make the book happen (sorry the list is too long to itemize).  I could never have done it without your kindness and generosity.  You continue to touch me with your goodness.  Thank you.

Just as importantly, my friends, I could never have done it if not for the warm support of readers like you.  Thank you.

All my profits from this book benefit the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) and other causes promoting greater good in the world.  All support comes entirely from viewers like you.  Thank you.

Monday, May 7, 2012

千年业 (Thousand Year Accomplishment)

千年业
禅定静思,不疑不惑。
观定致极,不忧不惧。
无我心境,不增不减。
千年伟业,一念可成。

Translation:

Thousand Year Accomplishment **
Calming the mind and quieting thoughts: no doubt, no confusion.
Perfecting mindfulness and concentration: no worry, no fear.
In the mind of no-self: no increase, no decrease (no gain, no loss).
Glorious accomplishment ** of a thousand years, can be completed in one thought.

(** The pun in original Chinese: the word for accomplishment 业 is also the word for karma.)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Search Inside Yourself on Knowledge@Wharton

Knowledge@Wharton interviewed me for a 3-part story on emotional intelligence and its impact.  Here are the 3 parts:

Part 1: Google's Chade-Meng Tan Wants You to Search Inside Yourself for Inner (and World) Peace
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2985

Part 2: How Emotional Intelligence Can Help Resolve Conflicts and Build Tough, Kind Leaders
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2991

Part 3: How Emotional Intelligence Helps the Bottom Line
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2992

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Search Inside Yourself on the New York Times


Search Inside Yourself was (briefly) the top news story on the online version of the New York Times (www.nytimes.com) yesterday and the lead story on the Sunday Business section of the New York Times (print version) today.  I'm very excited.


Link to original story:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/technology/google-course-asks-employees-to-take-a-deep-breath.html
=====

O.K., Google, Take a Deep Breath

MAYBE it’s no surprise that a yellow-brick road winds through the Googleplex. 

Step onto Google’s campus here — with its indoor treehouse, volleyball court, apiaries, heated toilet seats and, yes, Oz-style road — and you might think you’ve just sailed over the rainbow. 

But all the toys and perks belie the frenetic pace here, and many employees acknowledge that life at Google can be hard on fragile egos. 

Sure, the amenities are seductive, says Blaise Pabon, an enterprise sales engineer, but “when you get to a place like this, it can tear you apart” if you don’t find a way to handle the hard-driving culture.

Employees coming from fast-paced fields, already accustomed to demanding bosses and long hours, say Google pushes them to produce at a pace even faster than they could have imagined. Google’s co-founder and chief executive, Larry Page, recently promised on the company Web site to maintain “a healthy disregard for the impossible.” 

Little wonder, then, that among the hundreds of free classes that Google offers to employees here, one of the most popular is called S.I.Y., for “Search Inside Yourself.” It is the brainchild of Chade-Meng Tan, 41, a tall, thin, soft-spoken engineer who arrived at Google in 2000 as Employee No. 107. 

Think of S.I.Y. as the Zen of Google. Mr. Tan dreamed up the course and refined it with the help of nine experts in the use of mindfulness at work. And in a time when Google has come under new scrutiny from European and United States regulators over privacy and other issues, a class in mindfulness might be a very good thing. 

The class has three steps: attention training, self-knowledge and self-mastery, and the creation of useful mental habits. 

If it sounds a bit touchy-feely, consider this: More than 1,000 Google employees have taken the class, and there’s a waiting list of 30 when it’s offered, four times a year. The class accepts 60 people and runs seven weeks. 

Richard Fernandez, director of executive development and a psychologist by training, says he sees a significant difference in his work behavior since taking the class. “I’m definitely much more resilient as a leader,” he says. “I listen more carefully and with less reactivity in high-stakes meetings. I work with a lot of senior executives who can be very demanding, but that doesn’t faze me anymore. It’s almost an emotional and mental bank account. I’ve now got much more of a buffer there.” 

Mr. Tan says the course has received good reviews. “In anonymous surveys, on average, participants rated it around 4.75 out of 5,” he says. “Awareness is spread almost entirely by word-of-mouth by alumni, and that alone already created more demand than we can currently serve.” 

Mr. Tan’s first book, “Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace),” is out this month, with a foreword by his friend and S.I.Y. collaborator Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence.” In addition to its United States publication by HarperOne, the book is to be published in 17 markets worldwide, from South Korea to Brazil to Slovenia. 

“As technology pushes us faster, we have to adapt to new ways of doing business in this new millennium,” says Mark Tauber, senior vice president and publisher at HarperOne. “We believe that Meng’s book lays the groundwork for a new national conversation about work and what work means to us.” 

But what is Mr. Tan’s ultimate goal? A Buddhist for many years, he says without irony that he wants to create world peace. “I was always very different from the other kids,” he says. “I have an I.Q. of 156. I didn’t play sports. I thought big. I thought I could achieve great things. I don’t want to sound megalomaniac, but my whole life is about doing something for the world, from as far back as I can remember.” 

Born and raised in Singapore, Mr. Tan describes his childhood as “very unhappy.” 

“It was the geek thing,” he says. He taught himself how to write software code at the age of 12. And by 15, he had won his first national academic award. At 17, he was one of four members of the national software championship team. 

“In Singapore, the way to distinguish yourself is to win competitions,” he says. But public attention and external rewards brought him no satisfaction. “It wasn’t making a difference,” he says. “I wasn’t any happier. There was a compulsion to be the best.” 

He grew up watching American TV series like “The Cosby Show” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” studied computer engineering in Singapore and attended graduate school at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was offered a job, he says, within five minutes of e-mailing his résumé after graduation. 

The offer was from Google.

ABOUT 50 people file into an amphitheater filled with soft, comfortable seats in the bright primary colors of Google’s logo. Mr. Tan is at the podium with his fellow teacher, Marc Lesser, a former Zen monk who is the author of two books and a successful businessman. Mr. Lesser is one of several S.I.Y. instructors hired from outside and paid by Google. 

This week’s class is about motivation.

For the next two hours, employees partner up and perform exercises to identify and share emotions. The teachers set a gentle, welcoming tone, so the class offers students a place to question why and how they behave. Here, simply wielding superior technical skills or ferocious intelligence won’t cut it.

Like Mr. Tan, many S.I.Y. students are highly educated immigrants from Asia. Some of their peers are already millionaires. This course challenges them to examine how their choices affect their work and relationships. 

“We need an expert,” Mr. Tan says as the class begins. “That expert is you. This class is to help you discover what you already know.” To illustrate his point, he shows a slide of a pile of four smooth polished stones, balanced atop one another. “We’re looking for alignment, finding our deepest values, envisioning how they’ll take us to our destination and the resilience we need to achieve that.” 

Mr. Tan knows how to seduce his ambitious audience. He refers to successful people who exemplify these values, from Michael Jordan to the best-selling authors Daniel Pink and Tony Hsieh, the C.E.O. of Zappos. “I’m the other good-looking Chinese guy,” he jokes. 

One exercise asks everyone to name, and share with a partner, three core values. “It centers you,” one man says afterward. “You can go through life forgetting what they are.” 

There’s lots of easy laughter. People prop up their feet on the backs of seats and lean in to whisper to their partners — people from a variety of departments they otherwise might have never met. (Students are asked to pair up with a buddy for the duration of the course.) 

In one seven-minute exercise, participants are asked to write, nonstop, how they envision their lives in five years. Mr. Tan ends it by tapping a Tibetan brass singing bowl. 

They discuss what it means to succeed, and to fail. “Success and failure are emotional and physiological experiences,” Mr. Tan says. “We need to deal with them in a way that is present and calm.” 

Then Mr. Lesser asks the entire room to shout in unison: “I failed!” 

“We need to see failure in a kind, gentle and generous way,” he says. “Let’s see if we can explore these emotions without grasping.” 

Talking about failure?

Sharing feelings? 

Sitting quietly for long, unproductive minutes?

At Google?

“The notion of S.I.Y. is more radical or countercultural here at Google than anywhere else,” says Mr. Pabon, who took the class in 2009. “The pressure here is really quite intense. It’s a place filled with high achievers trained to find validation through external factors.” 

Mr. Tan’s credibility with his students and with senior management — which moved him into human resources a few years ago — stems from a few factors. He’s cool in all the ways that people in Silicon Valley want to be cool. First, he’s an engineer, like Google’s co-founders, Mr. Page and Sergey Brin. And Mr. Tan also became rich — albeit not nearly as rich as the founders — after Google went public in 2004. 

Given his fortune, his street cred inside Google and the growing popularity of the course, he’s a Google star. 

“People love that entrepreneur/mystic thing,” Mr. Pabon says. 

MR. TAN understands that Google employees demand data, not just emotional arguments or abstract theory. 

Eric Chang, 44, who took the course twice because he was too busy the first time with work demands to attend all the classes, says: “I would go to S.I.Y. with a healthy engineer’s mentality. My attitude was always, ‘Prove it!’ right up until the end. ‘We need to see a controlled experiment! We need to see proof!’" 

Mr. Tan likes to refer to the example of Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk once described by a British newspaper as the happiest person in the world. At first, that rang hollow to Mr. Chang. “Matthieu’s a monk; I don’t want to be a monk,” he says. “But Meng was able to make that bridge for me. He presented S.I.Y. the way we all present to one another: here’s my premise, here’s my control, here’s my experiment.” 

Mr. Chang came to the course at a moment of personal and professional crisis. A software engineer at Google since 2004, he had seen colleagues burn out and quit — or work, as he did, with stress-related back pain. 

“I’m from Taiwan,” he says. “Half of Silicon Valley is born elsewhere. It’s the immigrant mind-set to thrive on stress, go to the best schools, work hard. No one realized that way of working was really unsustainable.” 

Then, when his mother lay dying in Toronto, his punishing schedule never allowed enough time to visit her. “Our growth was explosive, with constant demands to keep scaling the system,” he recalls. Exhausted by his ever-expanding workload, he says he began exploding easily and often at his wife and young son. 

“I knew I had to get help,” he says. “The question was when and where.” 

His wife says something had to give. “I couldn’t really tell him what I was thinking anymore,” she says, “because I didn’t want to push his buttons.” 

Since taking S.I.Y., Mr. Chang and his wife agree that he’s changed a great deal — becoming calmer, more patient, better able to listen. Perhaps most helpful, in a culture of 80-hour workweeks, was the camaraderie of the course’s buddy system. “You definitely need a community of support,” he says. “The energy in the classroom was important, too, thanks to the level of participation.” 

One tool the course teaches is S.B.N.R.R. — nicknamed the Siberian North Railroad but really short for Stop, Breathe, Notice, Reflect and Respond. 

“Business is a machine made out of people,” says Bill Duane, an engineer in rockabilly spectacles who works in site reliability, helping to ensure that Gmail works smoothly. “If you have people, you have problems. You can have friction between them or smoothness.” 

Mr. Duane took S.I.Y. four years ago and considers it as sort of an organizational WD-40, a necessary lubricant between driven, ambitious employees and Google’s demanding corporate culture. Helping employees handle stress and defuse emotion helps everyone work more effectively, he says. 

Bob Sidebotham, 58, an engineer currently taking the course, agrees. “I work in a group that wasn’t very communicative, and half of them work in Germany,” he says. “What I appreciate about the class is not just learning to meditate but using it in real life. It’s more about small attitudinal changes.” 

Johanna Sistek, a trademark lawyer, says the emotional skills she refined in the class help her focus on her many tasks, despite a fire hose of professional demands. Like most of her colleagues, she still faces “instant deadlines” but says they no longer freak her out. 

“I think the benefit of something like S.I.Y. for anybody in any workplace is that any time you have people working together there is going to be dysfunction, people who do not communicate well,” she says. “Someone is always going to be a favorite — or not — and you can’t be unhappy about it all the time.” 

For Karen May, vice president for leadership and talent, S.I.Y. is a useful tool on several levels. “We have great people,” she says. “Now how do we keep them? Teaching employees with terrific technical abilities also means helping them to develop presentation skills and communication skills, helping them to understand their impact on other people, their ability to collaborate across groups and cultivate a mentality from which great motivation can spring.” 

When the executive chef Olivia Wu, now 59, arrived here after surviving decades in the deadline-driven and collaborative fields of newspaper journalism and the food industry, she still found the company’s normal pace of doing business overwhelming. “The pace! The volume! This is the most intense place I’ve ever worked,” she says. 

Even her job-interview assignment — to fix food for 20 people in three hours from a counter filled with ingredients — was spine-stiffening. After taking S.I.Y., Ms. Wu finds her job overseeing 30 cafes throughout the Mountain View campuses — “controlled chaos,” she says — somewhat less stressful. 

Can S.I.Y. translate to other companies and corporate cultures? One of its tenets is mindful e-mailing. Mr. Tan says it’s too easy to focus on the message we’re sending, and not on its recipients and the possible impact on them. When recipients don’t know the intent behind the e-mail — as is often the case — they tend to assume the worst, like anger or frustration on the sender’s part. “We frequently get offended or frightened by e-mails that were never intended to offend or frighten,” Mr. Tan writes in his book. “If we are emotionally unskillful, then we react with offense or fear, and then all hell breaks loose.” 

Peter Allen, a former Google employee, gave a green light to the first S.I.Y. class when he led Google U., the unit devoted to internal education, from 2007 to 2009, and Mr. Tan’s boss. Mr. Allen felt that a course focused on mindfulness was important and gave Mr. Tan the time and the budget to develop it.
Mr. Allen says: “I sent 1,000 e-mails a month all the time. In a culture where e-mail is so important, this makes a big difference. We all need the ability to connect. I think Meng will make a huge difference.” 

S.I.Y. principles are vital in any workplace where value is typically based on intellectual machismo, Mr. Allen adds. In a high-I.Q. environment, he says, I.Q. itself is not a differentiating factor, but “emotional intelligence, E.Q., is.” 

Or, as Mr. Pabon says: “The reason I think it will be broadly applicable is that everyone struggles. ‘Am I the smartest person in the room? What if I’m not?’ They’re worried about losing their job. Everyone’s got some fear of not being able to survive.”

Friday, April 27, 2012

Search Inside Yourself: The Google talk

Here is my Authors@Google talk on Search Inside Yourself.


YouTube link:  http://youtu.be/r8fcqrNO7so

Link to book website: http://www.siybook.com/
Link to SIYLI (pronounced "silly") website: http://www.siyli.org/

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My secret to jolliness

Recently, I revealed my "secret" at Wisdom 2.0 on how I became jolly.  I hope it'll work for you too.


Wisdom in the Modern World from Wisdom 2.0 Conference on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

不难行 (The Not Difficult Path)

不难行
心静见本性,
欢喜开法门。
开心迎我佛,
无为渡众生。

Translation:

The Not Difficult Path
With calm mind, I see my true nature,
With jolliness, I open Dharma doors.
With open heart **, I welcome my Buddha,
With non-doing, enlighten the world.

(** There is a deliberate pun in the original Chinese version: 开心 means both "open heart" and "happy".)


Update (3/13/12): For those who ask where this poem came from, I wrote it this morning.  It just emerged in my mind.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My philanthropic priorities

My long-term philanthropic priorities have always been to promote peace, liberty and enlightenment worldwide.  That hasn't changed.  Recently, however, I have clarified for myself my 3 shorter-term actionable priorities.  They are:

1. Create the conditions for world peace by scaling inner peace, inner joy and compassion worldwide.
My upcoming book on Search Inside Yourself (SIY) and the establishment of an institute to make SIY available worldwide (planned for Spring 2012) will be my main trust in this effort.

2. Explore and develop technologies to accelerate progress in meditation.
It takes, for example, about 2 years of full-time meditative training to perfect a practice called Shamatha where the mind approaches and sustains very high degrees of both calmness and concentration.  Can technology be invented to accelerate this and other forms of meditative training by a factor of 10 by, say, creating visibility into the neural correlates of each stage of the training process?  I like to find out.

3. Facilitate a strong education in Early Buddhism for all Buddhist teachers.
Very few Buddhist teachers I've met have a strong foundation in Early Buddhism (specifically the Nikayas and Agamas, which are common to all 3 major branches of Buddhism).   It is like having Christian teachers who have only a vague awareness of the Bible.  Not optimal.  It doesn't make them bad teachers, since the essence of Buddhism is in the practice, not in the knowledge.  But still, having a strong theoretical foundation in addition to the practice makes for much more effective teaching.

Why am I sharing this?  For two reasons.

First, I made a promise to myself to use all profits from my book solely to serve greater good, and not profit a single cent for myself (which is why I'm solidifying my near-term philanthropic now, before the book goes on sale).  I'm making this public so I can be held accountable to my own promise.

Second, good people ask me all the time how they can help me.  I don't usually have a good answer, but I hope this post is an useful first attempt.  So, if you are eager to serve the world, and/or you have world-class expertise you want to contribute, and/or you have a million spare dollars you don't know what to do with, I hope it's helpful to you to know what I have in mind for myself.

Update (2014/11/23): The said non-profit institute was established in 2012 and going strong.  It's called the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI, pronounced "silly").  In addition to that, I'm also co-chairing One Billion Act of Peace (www.1billionacts.org), working together with 13 Nobel Peace Laureates to inspire one billion peace projects worldwide in 5 years.  As usual, your support is most appreciated.  :)