Dharma Centered Leadership (Joint Conference address by Pieper Toyama)

September 2, 2018

Presented by Pieper J. Toyama
President, Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii

Pieper Toyama addresses Joint Conference 2018 participants

Embrace Change – Harmony (Accept Differences)

Good afternoon.  As I look out over this distinguished gathering, I can see what is on your minds.  Many of you here today, and I am one of them, are thinking, "Is he still president?  He’s been in that office like forever.  When is it going to be time for a change?!"  …  For those of you who are wondering about these things, I want you to know that I have been president for four years, 8 months, one day, and 13 hours.  I have one year, three months, 28 days, and 11 hours left in my term.  Not that I am counting.  Because this is the best job in the Hongwanji.  You see, I get to hang out with Bishop and ministers.  I rub shoulders with temple leaders who have years of experience in helping address Hongwanji issues.  And best of all, I get to talk to distinguished and discerning crowds like this one.  So let me get on with the best part of this job.

In my remarks this afternoon, I want to bring to bear the conference theme … on issues of leadership in the Hongwanji.  The topic of leadership is one that affects everyone in this room because you are all leaders and I include ministers in this group.  You may be an officer of your temple or an affiliate;  a committee chair;  a member of a committee;  you volunteer your time for many, many, many activities and events in your temple.  And as ministers your leadership sets the temple environment.  Yes …  you are all leaders.

I would like to begin my presentation by proposing we change the purpose of Buddhist Leadership and then talk about specific actions we can take to achieve this new purpose.

But before considering any changes, let’s reflect on what I suspect is happening in many temples right now.

Currently temple leaders deal with fundraisers, facilities, maintenance and repairs, and organizing special events, which lie at the heart of temple management.  It is like running a business with an eye always on the bottom line.  If it is not about numbers, it is about organizing and scheduling events, hoping there will be enough help, directing people, following up and following through, tying up loose ends.  It never ends.   Such is the purpose of temple leadership today.  Given this situation, and given our declining membership pool, the leadership environment in our temples is stressful at best …  How long can we continue like this?  Is there another way?

Well … yes … There is another way … but only if we are bold enough to EMBRACE CHANGE.   I propose a fundamental shift in what we consider to be the purpose of Buddhist leadership.

From today on, let’s place the development and sustenance of harmonious relationships between leaders, temple members, and ministers as our highest priority and purpose as temple leaders.  I repeat … for all of us in this room I propose that our highest purpose as leaders is to develop and maintain harmonious temple Sanghas.  If we are serious about HARMONY in our communities then we must begin by EMBRACING this CHANGE.

The things we do as leaders must nurture healthy relationships among members of our Sangha.  When fundraising, facilities maintenance, and events drain our energy and spirit so we are less able to enjoy each other and support each other’s well-being then we have lost our way as a Buddhist organization.   So again …  it is time we EMBRACE CHANGE and make our purpose as leaders, the growth of HARMONY IN OUR SANGHAS.

My proposal is a direct response to Bishop Matsumoto’s messages relating to the Sangha.  If you go back and look at his public messages to members, you will see that the importance of a healthy Sangha is a consistent thread running through them.  Bishop has repeatedly asked us to focus on building caring and supportive Sanghas…..  So to hold the nurturing of these caring and supportive Sanghas as our purpose for leadership is simply an extension of the Bishop’s message.

The issues of temple management will take care of themselves when the Sangha is strong.  To those people who may immediately take issue with this statement, let me clarify.  I am not saying that we reduce our attention on temple management.  What I am saying is that the management and leadership of our temples must follow upon our efforts for nourishing a harmonious Sangha.   Create a healthy Sangha and everything else will follow.

 For those who still may be skeptical, I suggest that you give it a shot.  Turn your attention to the development of a loving and robust temple community …. And see what happens.  Think about it.  If you have never tried it with sincerity and a good length of time, you have no idea what kind of results you will get.

Now let me turn to some specifics.

We do not have to look far for what it is we must do.  From Bishop Matsumoto’s messages and excerpts from The Teaching of Buddha, I offer these concepts and values as a path to change.

These following elements that separate a Buddhist Sangha from an ordinary community can form a solid foundation for our temple communities if we are able to integrate them into our leadership practices.

We must embrace the truth that the very essence of a Sangha is harmony.  Members know each other and have sympathy and trust for each other.

As members of a Buddhist Sangha, we base our interactions on:

  • Humility
  • Mutual respect and goodwill for one another
  • Joy and humor
  • Patience and calmness
  • Clarity

We follow these rules:

  • Do not ask for too many things.
  • Remove all self-centered desires and attachments.
  • Do not argue.
  • Know when to be silent.
  • Follow meeting rules and do not be overbearing.
  • Maintain a balanced mind.
  • Be generous.
    • Offer your service.
    • Offer your ear.  Listen to others.
    • Offer a warm and welcoming look.
    • Offer your smile.
    • Offer kind words. 

When we accept the position of Buddhist leader, we constantly ask ourselves:

  • Do my choice of words and tone of voice foster harmonious relationships? Are my words kind and supportive or are they sarcastic, angry and intimidating?
  • What is my real motivation?   What am I trying to accomplish?
  • Does my behavior reflect sincere compassion for others?
  • Does my ego get in the way?
  • Do I follow the rules?
  • Am I overbearing?  Do I talk too much?  Do I repeat myself?
  • Am I patient?
  • Do I listen?
  • Do I treat others courteously?
  • Do I seek feedback about my behavior?

As Buddhist leaders, we strive to direct our verbal expressions and body language to expressions of appreciation.  We strive to be warm and caring people who build friendships through respectful and open interactions.   We strIve to work in teams.  We seldom go alone.

I will be the first to admit that such pious words as Humility, Mutual Respect and Goodwill  … and such lofty rules for a healthy Sangha and near impossible practices of Buddhist leaders are a waste of one’s breath if there are no  realistic steps to follow.  How then do bombu leaders actually go about shaping any of this into reality?  What are those specific actions can one realistically take to turn a community into a true Sangha with a generous and open spirit?

Before I offer you a bit of realism, I want to remind you that these specific actions I will now list should first be directed to your fellow temple leaders.  I say this because a healthy Sangha begins with a healthy leadership community.  If the community of leaders is healthy then the temple Sangha will be healthy.

So starting from today, here are four things you can actually do to fulfill your new purpose as a Buddhist Leader:

  • GREET ONE ANOTHER AND SMILE:  Everyone on your leadership team should greet each other and all temple members … and strangers … with a smile and a sincere greeting, "Good Morning;  Hi, how are you?”  This simple act of  connecting with other people in courteous ways is a fundamental Buddhist practice that we can no longer ignore.  No one should be met with silence or indifference or suspicion when he or she enters temple grounds.   If expressing greetings is difficult for you or your fellow temple leaders, then practice.  I am serious;  take a few minutes at each Board meeting and make sure everyone greets each other warmly.  Practice before you start your Sunday Services.  Go around and greet everyone in the hondo.
  • Promote SOCIAL INTERACTION and LAUGHTER:  Take the time and serve simple refreshments whenever possible (tea/cookies).  The casual social interactions that come over enjoying simple refreshments can go a long way to growing personal connections one to another.  They also give you opportunities to laugh.  Here is a saying of the Buddha that Nancy Shimamoto told me and which she follows unfailingly.  The saying goes like this: Communities that do not laugh cannot become true Buddhist Sanghas.   ….   And if the Buddha did not really say that, then he meant to say it.
  • KNOW AND ACKNOWLEDGE IMPORTANT EVENTS IN THE LIVES OF YOUR MEMBERS:  Learn about the family situations and personal history of each member of the leadership team. The more you know about a person, the more points of contact you will be able to make and the stronger the bonds of your leadership community.
    1. These connections also alert and prepare members to personally support each other when help is needed.
    2. Use your refreshment break to acknowledge special events in the lives of your leadership team:  birthdays, anniversaries, upcoming trips and events, marriage of children, birth of grandchildren.
  • EXPRESS GRATITUDE:  Increase the number of times and ways you express appreciation for the work that is done by fellow leaders.  All members of a leadership team should be responsible for being constantly on the look-out for fellow leaders and members to thank and acknowledge.
    1. Thank people for:
      • Acts of kindness and service that go unnoticed.Acts of service that are rendered repeatedly and which should receive repeated thanks.
      • Actions and communications in and out of meetings that clearly reflect the values of a Buddhist Sangha.
    2. Your stream of gratitude acknowledgments should include:
      • Text messages
      • Email
      • Phone calls
      • Face-to-face communications
      • Announcements at Sunday Services
      • Snail mail cards.  All members of the leadership team should be provided with thank you notes, mailing addresses of members, and stamps.
    3. This is important fact about expressing gratitude.  When you thank someone always include a description of the specific action and behavior that prompts the note of appreciation and how it made you feel.  This kind of thank you note has a much larger impact then a generic thank you note.
      Whenever you acknowledge gratitude, you and the receiver of the message of gratitude become more open to rendering acts of kindness and compassion.   It is the basis of a true Buddhist Sangha.

Even though you can all begin taking these four actions starting today, some of you may be thinking, "Be real, Toyama.  Leaders have a lot of things to think and worry about.  Who has the time to do all that?"   If you are entertaining such thoughts, remember that I am proposing that the health of our leadership environment is our highest priority.  If we accept this proposition, then we will manage our temples in such a way as to give us the time to do these four simple things regularly.  The change I am asking you to embrace is to never sacrifice time for relationships to time for temple management functions.  We must begin to manage our temples at levels and intensities that allow us to foster healthy relationships among members rather then stress our leadership pool.   I will have more to say on this topic of temple management in my workshop this afternoon.

Also there is more than enough time to accomplish our purpose if everyone shares the responsibilities.  It is not something that only the minister or the president takes care of.  Every officer, every committee chair, every board member, every advisor is responsible for the health of the Sangha.  Every action, no matter how seemingly insignificant, matters.

Now let me turn to one of the dark corners in our leadership communities.   This little corner is, where people who foster discord … do their work.  They do not listen.  They argue.  They are impatient.   They are self-centered and stubborn.  They do not seek common ground.

Will these people be responsive to positive Sangha-building suggestions and will they become more cooperative because we nuture the Sangha?  For some yes….

However, for others it may take more work to awaken them.  Positive greetings, acknowledgements and gratitude may not be enough to awaken them  to their better nature.  So again let’s turn to the teachings for guidance.

I quote straight from THE TEACHING OF BUDDHA:

"The very essence of a Sangha is harmony.  Each member should be on guard not to be the cause of discord.  If discord appears it should be removed as early as possible, for discord will soon ruin any organization."

This means that we cannot be silent and take no action when people in our leadership Sanghas are creating discord and discomfort by disrupting meetings and holding up progress on issues.  The teachings tell us to deal with these situations.

Here let me make three observations and offer a path forward.  The first observation is that the people who sow discord are not aware of what they do, how they do it, and the effect of what they do.   That is why they do it.  They do not do it intentionally.  They do not attend meetings to screw the president or the committee chair.  They do not get up in the morning and say to themselves,  "Tonight, when I go to the temple Board Meeting,  I am going to be picky, stubborn, critical and argumentative.  I am going to make sure everyone in the room is uncomfortable."  No, these people come to meetings with the intention of helping the temple make the best decisions and plan the most successful events.  They do what they do simply because they are not aware.

My second observation is that our standard response has been to do nothing and say nothing.   So these disrupters continue to do what they do because no one provides them with honest and caring feedback to awaken them.  By going silent when they act up, we actually reinforce their lack of awareness and continued discord.

The third observation is that even if we had the courage to give a person feedback, we often lack the tools … the words, the appropriate non-verbal behavior… to deal with the situation.

Now let me offer a path forward.  When there is discord in our leadership community, we must confront it by trying to develop awareness in the persons causing the discord.  We have the following options:

  1. Manage the behavior in meetings by establishing and enforcing specific meeting rules and using meeting techniques and language that raises awareness of what is happening.  We must learn the language of enforcing rules. I will say more about this in my workshop this afternoon.
  2. Awaken the individual through private meetings… and continue to do so until there is true self-reflection on the part of the member.
    1. These private meetings should be held with the resident minister and the president.  In these meetings, the president outlines specific behavior and words that create discord and explain how the behavior and words affect the members, the environment, and the effectiveness of the group.  The description of the behavior and words must be so specific the individual immediately recognizes his behavior.  Do not speak in generalities.   I will also say more about this option in this afternoon’s workshop.
    2. Agree on cues that the president or minister can use to signal the person when he engages in negative behavior so his self-awareness can serve as an internal control.
      If necessary, use specific and scripted language and techniques during the meetings to awaken the individual to his behavior.

I should note here that if your president is the one creating discord, then you need call me or the Bishop.  Together with your resident minister, we will handle it.

The point here is to respond to the people who create discord.  The health and welfare of the Sangha is more important than a single individual.

Keep in mind that an important outcome of a positive leadership Sangha is that it can attract  potential new leaders.  Anyone you are inviting into leadership positions must quickly see and feel the warmth, acceptance, and support that he or she can enjoy when he/she joins as a leader.  If this environment does not exist, then you cannot expect members to readily volunteer to become leaders.

Now let me end by summarizing the points I have made today.

First, let us all consider the development, the health and the strength of our leadership and temple Sanghas as our purpose for leadership.  Temple management must follow this effort.

Second, the four ways in which to turn our communities into true Sanghas are:


Third, deal with discord early.  Discord will not only make recruiting leaders difficult but it will suck the life from your temple.

In conclusion, let me suggest that all temple leaders begin by discussing honestly the condition of their leadership communities and their temple Sanghas, and then considering specific actions.  If any temple needs assistance in this process, Bishop Matsumoto and I will be happy to see what we can do to help.

Thank you for your patience.  You have been a very good audience.