Stay In Business: extend Compassion in ALL directions

I’ve been thinking about what my first post regarding the actual work of property management should be, and what it takes to be “successful” financially as well as beneficial. For me the essential element is that compassion in business needs to extend in ALL directions. By this I mean that we have to be aware of our tendency to be either compassionate towards ourselves, or to be compassionate towards our tenants, as if they are different and separate. When we ignore our tenants and just take care of ourselves, then we’re like a lot of business people, “I am going to make this product (or provide this service) and people will pay me for it.” The thinking stops there, and the only goal is to get as many people as possible to pay us. On the other hand, if we are completely focused on being good and generous to our customers/tenants (often times because we just want them to like us), we do so at the peril of our own endeavor.
There are fewer examples of the later, than the former, but I have known really good, wonderful people, in business, who lost their shirts because they extended compassion in only one direction, away from themselves. They were so busy taking care of their customers that they forgot that they also needed to take care of themselves, their family and also their creditors. We want the world to be full of compassionate business people – but if they don’t make money, they will have to go back to working for someone else – and the world will be worse off !


A Landlord since 1987 – a Zen student since 1980

From playing Monopoly in the hot Detroit summers, to the first experiences of being a tenant while a student at Michigan State University, I was intrigued with the idea of collecting rent. Sure, there was an element of greed there, it seemed like a way to earn a living that would not involve a lot of work. I am not sure though if it was not my father’s life that motivated me most of all. An autoworker with an 8th grade education, he worked in Detroit’s factories for 40 years. He once described his job title to me as “Slave,” for an elementary school assignment I had to write, and often said that he was “chained to a machine” eight hours a day. Listening to him bang and curse around the kitchen, day after day, at 5am on a frozen or sweltering Michigan morning, sent the message to me, loud and clear, that he was an unhappy man. Unhappy with his very life. Even though I was just a kid, some part of me knew I had to do something differently.

Beginning in college, before graduating from MSU with a degree in Building Construction, I experienced a long period of deep personal suffering, catalyzed, in part, by the death of my father when I was 21 years old. I ended up at Tassajara Zen Monastery, near Carmel Valley, California in 1980 at the age of 25.

Tassajara was like boot camp and detox at the same time. Even though it was the “Guest Season” ( a period of less intense meditation practice ) it was unimaginably difficult for a suicidal long- haired hippie who had spent the previous 6 years self medicating with as much beer and pot as he could get his hands on. Then, after a period in San Francisco, living in an apartment with other Zen students in the era of Baker-Roshi, and his stunning expansion of the San Francisco Zen Center, I returned to Portland, Oregon, where I had lived in 1978 and 1979.

Hired by the Portland Art Museum in 1981 as a maintenance man, I met my future wife, a curator at the Museum. We bonded over shared rides to “sitting” at the Zen house that I shared with (now  Roshi ) John Tesshin Sanderson, a monk from the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Tesshin brought Charlotte Joko Beck to Portland to do a retreat ( traditionally called a sesshin) in 1983, or thereabouts, and I met the woman who would be my best friend for the next 24 years. A brilliant, frightening, all loving, mind blowing Zen teacher – Joko.

Before my wife and I were married by Joko in 1987 we decided to buy a house. My dormant desire to be a landlord re-surfaced when we found that the $55,000 price we could afford would buy us a very miserable house, or, we could incorporate potential rental income into our formula, and buy a lovely 1953 duplex ( pictured in the header) for $75k. Since it was agreed that this was “my baby,” and my wife would continue her career in Arts administration, suddenly I was a Landlord, and the question immediately arose “How to do this without harming any person or thing ?”


Property Management for the Sake of all Beings


“Vast is the Heartmind of liberation,

A Boundless field of Benefaction,

Living the Universal Teaching,

Compassion and Wisdom Awaken

– Zen Center of Portland morning recitation

On this 11/11/11, I dedicate this blog to all suffering beings with sincere hopes that it will provide benefit.


Today there are 7 beautiful rentals to take care of – 18 wonderful tenants who always pay their rent on time – A much depleted net worth thanks to the economic slump – and, much joy in life after 31 years of Zen meditation. I go to morning meditation at the Zen Center of Portland 5 days a week, and get good guidance from my teacher there, Dr. Larry Christensen, a Dharma heir of Charlotte Joko Beck. I also serve as a meditation instructor ( not a Zen teacher) at the center.