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Lions Roar : July 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 106 respectfully and expressed a genuine concern for them. She saw their desperation and their underlying needs. When she and the other hostages were later released unharmed, she gratefully be- lieved that the care and respect they showed to their captors had made their release possible. When we bring respect and honor to those around us, we open a channel to their own goodness. I have seen this truth in working with prisoners and gang members. When they experi- ence someone who respects and values them, it gives them the ability to admire themselves, to accept and acknowledge the good inside. When we see what is holy in an- other, whether we meet them in our family or our community, at a business meeting or in a therapy session, we transform their hearts. The Dalai Lama embodies this sacred per- ception as he moves through the world, and it is one of the reasons so many people seek to be around him. Several years ago His Holiness vis- ited San Francisco, and we invited him to offer teachings at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. The Dalai Lama is the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, and the State Department had assigned doz- ens of Secret Service agents to protect him and his entourage. Ac- customed to guarding foreign leaders, princes, and kings, the Secret Service agents were surprisingly moved by the Dalai Lama’s respect- ful attitude and friendly heart. At the end, they asked for his blessing. Then they all wanted to have a photo taken with him. Several said, “We have had the privilege of protecting political leaders, princes, and prime ministers, yet there is something different about the Da- lai Lama. He treats us as if we are special.” Later, during a series of public teachings, he stayed at a San Francisco hotel famous for hosting dignitaries. Just before he de- parted, the Dalai Lama told the hotel management that he would like to thank the staff in person, as many as wished to meet him. So on the last morning a long line of maids and dishwashers, cooks and maintenance men, secretaries and managers made their way to the circular driveway at the hotel entrance. And before the Dalai Lama’s motorcade left, he walked down the line of employees, lov- ingly touching each hand, vibrating the strings of each heart. Some years ago, I heard the story of a high school history teach- er who knew this same secret. On one particularly fidgety and distracted afternoon she told her class to stop all their academic work. She let her students rest while she wrote on the blackboard a list of the names of everyone in the class. Then she asked them to copy the list. She instructed them to use the rest of the period to write beside each name one thing they liked or admired about that student. At the end of class she collected the papers. Weeks later, on another difficult day just before winter break, the teacher again stopped the class. She handed each student a sheet with his or her name on top. On it she had pasted all twenty-six good things the other students had written about that person. They smiled and gasped in pleasure that their classmates had notices so many beautiful qualities about them. Three years later this teacher received a call from the mother of one of her former students. Robert had been a cut-up, but also one of her favorites. His mother sadly passed on the terrible news that Robert had been killed in the Gulf War. The teacher attended the funeral, where many of Robert’s former friends and high school classmates spoke. Just as the service was ending, Robert’s mother approached her. She took out a worn piece of paper, obviously folded and refolded many times, and said, “This was one of the few things in Robert’s pocket when the military retrieved his body.” It was the paper on which the teacher had so carefully pasted the twenty-six things his classmates had admired. Seeing this, Robert’s teacher’s eyes filled with tears. As she dried her wet cheeks, another former student standing nearby opened her purse, pulled out her own carefully folded page, and confessed that she always kept it with her. A third ex-student said that his page was framed and hanging in his kitchen; another told how the page had become part of her wedding vows. The perception of goodness invited by this teacher had transformed the hearts of her students in ways she might only have dreamed about. We can each remember a moment when someone saw this goodness in us and blessed us. On retreat, a middle-aged woman remembers the one person, a nun, who was kind to her when, as a frightened and lonely teenager, she gave birth out of wedlock. She has carried her name all these years. A young man I worked with in juvenile hall remembers the old gardener next door who loved and valued him. The gardener’s respect stuck with him through all his troubles. This possibility is voiced by the Nobel Laureate Nel- son Mandela: “It never hurts to think too highly of a person; often they become ennobled and act better because of it.” To see with sacred perception does not mean we ignore the need for development and change in an individual. Sacred per- ception is one half of a paradox. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki re- marked to a disciple, “You are perfect just the way you are. And... there is still room for improvement!” Buddhist psychology offers meditations, cognitive strategies, ethical trainings, which form a powerful set of practices that foster inner transformation. But it starts with a most radical vision, one that transforms everyone it touches: a recognition of the innate nobility and the freedom of heart that are available wherever we are. ♦ From The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, by Jack Kornfield. Copyright © 2008 by Jack Kornfield. Published by arrangement with The Bantam Dell Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. Buddhist psychology begins by deliberately cultivating respect, starting with ourselves. When we learn to rest in our own goodness, we can see the goodness more clearly in others. JULY 100-112.indd 106 JULY 100-112.indd 106 4/25/08 11:48:09 AM 4/25/08 11:48:09 AM