Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Embracing the Mystery of Uncertainty

--by Alan Briskin (Dec 28, 2010)

A Zen parable captures the mysterious connection between attending to our own consciousness and the external events that enfold us.  A respected teacher was asked by members of a village if he could come and bring rain to their dry fields.  They had tried many different approaches, including soliciting the help of a number of rainmakers, but still no rain came.  When the teacher agreed to come, he asked only that he be given a small house and a garden he could tend.  Day in, day out, he tended his small garden, neither performing incantations nor asking anything further of the villagers.  After a while, rain began to fall on the parched earth. 

When asked how he could achieve such a miracle, he answered humbly that when he came to the village, he sensed disharmony within himself.  Each day by tending his garden, he returned a little more to himself.  As to the rain falling, he could not say.  
The garden is a wonderful metaphor because it suggests that if there is a safe place for something to grow, then harmony may be restored elsewhere.  To care for the soul suggests a return to the self, but a self that interacts with the world around us.  Every day we enter situations that are inherently uncertain but still marked by underlying patterns.  These patterns maybe emotional fields, dry because there is little nourishment or turbulent because of unresolved feelings of anger, disappointment or frenzy.  When we come in contact with each other, some aspect of the underlying field affects us.  Like the teacher in the story, we can come to recognize the disharmony in ourselves and begin to make a place where the particulars can be tended.  Yet to embrace the idea that our own consciousness is influenced by and influences what is around us, we must honor the overlap of self and other.  We must look for unity of what happens and how it happens as inseparable from each other, without forcing a causal link to explain the occurrence.
--Alan Briskin, in 'The Stirring of Soul in the Workplace'

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On Dec 28, 2010 catherine Keedy wrote:

I loved this message. 



On Dec 28, 2010 Sanjeev Verma wrote:

I liked this sends an important message to all of us. All the living beings are connected to each other at spiritual level. If we are at peace with ourselves then we raditae positive energy and vibes and that impacts everyone who comes in our close vicinity--it does not matter whether they are fellow human beings, animals or plants.

Similarly, if we live in a society that has lot of unrest and turbulence then that impacts us also. A successful society is one that cares about each other. This gives us a spiritual principle:

"One should see one's own greatest wlefare as residing in the welfare of others."


On Dec 30, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Tonight was so amazing that it will be impossible to capture all of the wonderful things I heard. I hope others will pitch in to share their impressions, and together, a collective mosaic may be created for all of us to enjoy.

Rev. Heng Sure was the guest speaker tonight. He started by talking about the kind of giving that was akin to planting seeds of blessings.

He then talked about three kinds of danas or giving. The first is at the material level, involving resources (money, tangible services/products etc.). The second kind of giving, more important than the first, is at the level of courage. When someone is having a hard time, giving that person some comfort, telling them to hang in there is very helpful. When someone is growing old, and their physique is no longer what it used to be, rubbing their shoulders or giving them a hug can go a long way toward helping that person overcome fear of old age - letting them know that this is natural, and they have love along the way. The third and most important giving is the giving of dharma, loosely translated as wisdom. That, by which, others awaken. Skill lies in knowing which kind of giving to engage in and how much.

The Reverend then talked about gods (with the lower case), referred to as the "devas." In the monotheistic traditions, this is not common, but in the Eastern traditions, it is quite common to hear about the devas. Who are these devas? From the Buddhist sutras (and also other eastern traditions), the Reverend points out that they are beings with a ton of good karma, who can get whatever they want, and all seems wonderful. However, at one point, the good karma exhausts and the gods have to die and be reborn as humans. This is a powerful idea - even gods die. As humans, the erstwhile gods still have some momentum and hence have some privilege or riches in their lives. This, just like their godlike status, is temporary, and once all of their past karma, earned through giving and planting good seeds, has exhausted, the current riches and privilege will end. Therefore, in the Eastern traditions, we are severely warned not to covet the status of gods or heaven. The Buddha likened it to a house on fire with its severe temptations - in that condition, we forget that we are in a temporary house and there begins the downfall. The Eastern traditions tell us to transcend the craving of good and evil, to awaken (a word that the Reverend preferrend to enlightenment).

The Reverend went deeper into the fruits of a nation's acts, and he posited that the wealth and richness of this nation were due to its past good acts of giving, which were quickly being exhausted with two wars and much else that have brought much suffering upon this earth. The only purpose of a landmine is to severely harm the lower part of the human body. The only two countries in the world that have not signed the anti-landmine treaty are the US and China. The US is the largest manufacturer of landmines. The Reverend then pointed out that for the first time in a century (I think that's what he said), the mortality rate has dropped this year. He said that if as a country we do not restore the cycles of giving and eliminate the cycles of harming, then the fruits that we currently enjoy will quickly exhaust. Not sure if he said this or if the thought just came to me that a large part of the world's oil supply (which everyone is concerned about) is simply wasted by the armed forces in every country of the world, either on unnecessary wars or weapons that go far beyond defence.

His comments resonated at another level for me. My professor, Prof. Ron Howard, is a philosophical Buddhist, and at an Ethics class that he was teaching, the second world war and the Nazi era was discussed. He traced a remarkable thread of karma in that session by pointing out that a big reason for Hitler's rise was that most Germans in his time felt very badly about being harmed and given a bad deal by the rest of the world after the First World War (which was true). The reason they got such a bad deal was because of the way the First World War was resolved. Initially, it was a stalemate, and if left to themselves, France and Germany would have figured out that fighting each other as neighbors made little sense and then made their treaties. The balance was upset when the US got involved and swung the war in one direction, resulting in a very uneven hand for Germany, that alienated its people, and sowed the seeds of anger, which almost always go with delusion.

The Reverend also pointed out the flip side of the karma theory, when one looks at all of the Nazi atrocities, where one wonders what kind of karma would justify that - that is an unresolved edge.

The Reverend then sang lovely songs on a guitar called Rosemary. The story totally rocked. His friend Fabrizio is a master guitar maker and had made two guitars, one of which he brought to the Reverend to test. The Reverend loved it. The guitar then made its way to "Eric's shop." After a year, when the Reverend spoke to his friend again, he learned that the guitar had not been sold and due to the economic downturn, most people were not buying guitars. He then asked if he could "babysit" that guitar for Fabrizio. Fabrizio told the Reverend that he'd been thinking about it and he really wanted the Reverend to have it. The guitar was named after Fabrizio's daughter.

He asked Fabrizio if he could share the story with others at CF, and here was Fabrizio's response:

Hello Heng Sure,

I appreciate the sentiments - thank you!  Giving you the guitar didn't feel like anything but setting it free to have a blessed life, and to pass on those universal blessings, and so it's hard to reconcile that with taking any kind of credit or receiving any personal recognition.  It just feels like stepping out of the conventional and accepted world of scarcity and fear, into one of abundance and joy.  That step feels liberating to me, and I really wish I could take those steps every moment, so in a way it almost feels selfish. I'm glad I got the opportunity act in line with values that are far more noble and natural-feeling than the ones that are generally accepted as "normal."  

So if you'd like to share with the Charity Focus people, you may.  I'll view it as one of the blessings that must be shared, as long as it doesn't point to me in any way, but rather points to the wholeness that we are.


Before having food, the Reverend shared the vows that monks take when accepting food they have received from others. I'm hoping someone remembers all the vows.

Nipun shared the story of Ishwardada's life and his passing. Some of it is captured in Neil's touching post. Nipun then asked us to dedicate our merit to Ishwardada. The dedication of merit was led by the Reverend, and a part of it was a sing-along. Hoping we will be able to hear the audio as well as the whole session was audio-recorded.

I later asked him what he thought about the dialog between Krishna and Arjuna and the Buddhist injunction to not kill. He said that Arjuna was lucky to have God with him - the problem for him was that he could only speak from a "hypothetical" standpoint (I think that's what he said). That really hit me. If a man like the Reverend who has dedicated himself to a lifetime of service declares uncertainty, then it speaks volumes of the level of uncertainty I should incorporate in my own beliefs. The fascinating thing is that last night, I was reading Feynman's essay titled The Uncerainty of Value (in The Meaning of it All), and found the following:

"Admitting that we do not know, and maintaining perpetually the attitude that we do not know the direction necessarily to go, permit a possibility of alteration, of thinking, of new contributions and new discoveries for the problem of developing a way to do what we want ultimately, even when we do not know what we want."

The Reverend asked me to reflect on the Gita and find my own perspective in comparing it with the Buddha's teaching. I also got a big boost toward doing that - as I was relating this conversation to CFMom, Manju aunty overheard and shared her perspective on the Gita. She first posed the question, "If Buddha went to Krishna, what advice would Krishna give him?" As I started thinking about this, she set me straight, "Buddha would never go to Krishna" and started laughing. She further clarified, "Krishna's commentary was for Arjuna, a warrior sworn to fight and kill. The problem was that Arjuna had no issue fighting and killing - he just had an issue fighting and killing his own relatives, due to his attachment." That was a very deep point. I persisted, "The Buddhists of our time still have to advise those in Arjuna's shoes. What should they tell Arjuna? To abstain from killing altogether?" Aunty pointed out that we are all Arjunas, and that there was no escaping these dilemmas, without which, life would not be as interesting. :)

As I reflect on the Reverend's words and aunty's words, it is clear that the edges are an important gift in our lives. Without these edges, there is no need to find one's own truth - one just has to follow the path and all the answers are present. Thank goodness there are edges, things that manifest as unknowns to tempt us with life.

CFMom cooked for so many people today, and sprained her back muscle while picking up something heavy. And yet, only a big smile and gratitude in her heart. Grateful to everyone tonight for the big smiles and hugs and goodwill.

On Dec 30, 2010 sachin jadhav wrote:

Embracing the mystery of uncertainity-i liked this story very much.thanks for your work.

On Dec 30, 2010 Sanjeev Verma wrote:


Thanks for summarizing the discussions from yesterday's talk by Rev. Heng Sure. I left a bit early since I did not to stay very late--your excellent summary helped me a lot to catch up with later part of discussions. I would like to respectfully differ on certain issues and represnt a very different perspective to certain points that came during discussions.

The discussions on gods ( with the lower case), referred to as the "devas" without giving enough background was a disappointment. The language of heaven and hell as well as doctorines associated with this language have their origin in the monotheistic religion of the Abrahmic tradition. There is no mention of this in Vedic Philosophy. It was later adopted in our Puranic books--the origin was from some where else. The concept of Devas enjoying all  kind of things that they did not have on earth was an attempt to fool ignorant people. In a certain faith, drinking is bad on earth but heavens have rivers of wine. Same is true in Purans--heaven where Devas enjoy Som Ras ( Wine). This whole concept of Devas and Heaven was a tool to exploit poor people. This has nothing to do with spirituality and Vedic Philosophy.

I would like to further point out that Vedic philosophy is monotheistic. The word "Deva" is from the Sanskrit language meaning "a being of brilliant light"--for example Sun referrred to as Deva in Veda.

I will quote from Vedic literature that shows that the terms "Devas" were used to described various attributes of the same God--known as "Ohm" in Vedas.

"AUM is the Great God who is Omnipresent (like ether)" Yajur Veda XL-17

"He is called Brahma--the Creator of the Universe; Vishnu-All-Prevading; Rudra-Punisher of the wicked; Shiva-Vlissful and Benefactor of all; Akshara-Imoortal, Omnipresent;Swarat-Self effulgent; Kalagni-Cause of the dissolution of the world and regulator of time; Chandrama-the source of Happiness.: Kaivalya Upanishad

"All the Vedas and Shastras declare AUM as the primary and natural name of God. All others are his secondary names." Manduk Upanishad.

Gita and Budha

I found the question regarding Gita and Budhha very interesting and amusing. I have to be honest here--I think that Budhhism provides a path of escapism.  I am sure a Budhhist monk would have advised Arjun to run away from batte field and meditate in Forest. Krishna first used the path of diplomacy with Duryodhana but he realized that war was the only way out. I do not think that Arjun did not want to fight just because he was standing against his relatives--he was coward. King Ram also had sent a yogi and diplomat Hanuman to Ravan for a truce but Ravan did not get the message--Ram then went for War--in this case Ravan was not related to Ram. Ancient Vedic wisdom says that if diplomacy does not work then you have to go for  War as a last resort.

On Dec 30, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

A mail from a friend reminded me of the most important lesson in last night's talk, which I missed capturing. My friend is inspiring people to spend 11 minutes in the new year, 1/1/11, focused on 1-ness, and dedicate their "thought-sound" to the good of the universe (see

Reading this message made me smile, and remember Rev Heng Sure's starting story on his Christmas stocking, which he carried with him at the age of 22 to a Buddhist monastery on a retreat, around the Christmas period. He could not bring it in his heart to dispose of the stocking, so, on the night of the 24th, he hung it outside his room, in the hope that his fellow Buddhist meditators would take it down and trash it, for (he reasoned) Buddhists had no use for Christmas stockings.

The next morning, he woke up at 3:45 AM, and apart from being tired, remembered the stocking and decided to look for a broom to clean up the surely shredded stocking outside his door. He opened his door and was surprised to find nothing on the floor. Look to his right, he found the Christmas stocking not just intact but full of gifts. There were sutras, chants, Buddha stories and other gifts from his fellow meditators, perhaps the most unique Christmas presents he had received. Then, as he walked by his teacher, the teacher grinned at him and said "Merry Christmas!" That one act of kindness made him feel that he was going to like this place after all :).

In true pay-it-forward style, the Reverend was full of kindness for other traditions, and it is rare to hear a talk where a teacher from one tradition is so full of genuine respect for others, although his own path may be different. The seeds his teacher sowed have flowered into a beautiful tree, with many fruits for all of us.

That thread of unity is my biggest takeaway from last night, and reminded me of my professor's philosophy (who is a philosophical Buddhist and a nondualist) which has manifested in our field called "Decision Analysis." We only expend our energy in discussions or obtaining information provided they have the potential to change our decision. Like last week's talk, it does not matter what tradition one comes from, and what one's beliefs are; if we end up being united in our Decisions (not the big "D" decision) - i.e. genuine loving, sharing and serving. It also reminded me of a talk by a monk I know at a Stanford multifaith conference, where he shared the metaphor of a mountain in Hawaii - one side is a lush rainforest, while the other has a barren desert landscape. While climbing up, it is very hard to believe that a different landscape could possibly exist. But at the top, the view is the same. Chatting with Richard Whittaker later on, I received another insight (which is not unusual when talking to Richard) on this metaphor. When we start at the base from different positions, our differences are rather great, but as we keep climbing up, the differences reduce.

How amazing it is that the room was full of people many of whom hardly knew each other, and yet, our hearts were filled with gratitude for the space, the talk, the food and the countless other gifts that came our way even without our knowing.

On Dec 31, 2010 Lavanya wrote:

Reading this parable reminded me of the following quote by Swami Vivekananda:


"The more we grow in love and virtue and holiness, the more we see love and virtue and holiness outside. Adjust the microcosm (which is in your power to do) and the macrocosm will adjust itself for you."


It is beautiful that the way to inner growth and healing is through outward action - action that does not focus on the rift within, but on healing outside. When we stop (selfishly) focusing on ourselves and give whatever we can as a gift to the world, we find ourselves healed from within. And the inner growth further reflects outward, in the 'adjustment' of the macrocosm!


Thanks for sharing!

On Jan 5, 2011 ganoba wrote:

 when we are all one, how come we meet strangers?

Is knowing based on knowing the past achievements? if so, then we are all strangers.

Is oneness a reality or just an intellectual concept, to be discussed and debated?

Karma(good or bad) is not like a fixed deposit, which just sits there and gets used up. it is like an active current account from which we withdraw and into which we also deposit.It is not like a marsh but more like a trampoline.

Giving pre-supposes ownership. The idea of ownership creates a lot of difficulties in giving. The problem of 'satpatri daan" is the receiver worthy/deserving of the gift? what is the right time and amount? Is the gift being used properly? and so on.

when I am only a trusty is sharing not the right thing to do?

Finally words are at best pointers to the experience. They are not the experience.

Thanks for the indulgence and lots of love..

On Apr 10, 2013 Dr.Kanhaiyalal Sharma wrote:

Falling of rain is symbolic. When there is harmony then only good things happen. We suffer because of disharmony within us whatever we enjoy is also because of harmony. Essence of life is harmonious balance every where in life.
Dr.Kanhaiyalal Sharma