Examples: Monday, today, last week, Mar 26, 3/26/04
Welcome home! Please contact lincoln@newbuddhist.com if you have any difficulty logging in or using the site. New registrations must be manually approved which may take up to 48 hours. Can't log in? Try clearing your browser's cookies.

Spiritual livelihood in the western world

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran

Continuing the theme of work from previous threads, I have been deeply considering right livelihood and the spiritual life over the last few weeks. There are several different angles from which I'd like to examine what it means to be a "working Buddhist" in our modern western world.

First of all, the Right Livelihood angle. The Anguttara Nikaya III.208 asserts that the right livelihood involves not trading in weapons, living beings, meat, alcoholic drink or poison. That's reasonably straightforward, because there are a lot of professions in the western world which do not involve these things.

Second, I came across this quote while researching Right Livelihood:

Right Livelihood is an important aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha encouraged his disciples to make their living in a way that does not cause harm and ideally that is ethically positive. However in the East, where most serious Buddhist practitioners have been monks, this has been given little attention.

Given that almost everyone’s life includes an economic dimension, work and career need to be integrated into life as a Buddhist. Most of us spend the majority of their waking lives at work, so it’s important to assess how our work affects our mind and heart. How can work become meaningful? How can it be a support not a hindrance to spiritual practice — a place to deepen our awareness and kindness?

https://thebuddhistcentre.com/text/right-livelihood

This is setting a higher bar, not just being harmless in the work we do but in fact trying to support our spiritual practice through the work. There are many jobs that give opportunities to bring new situations into our practice, but I think there will be a division between those where it brings challenges, and those where it supports the practice.

Third, I have been thinking about how to go a step further, how to positively contribute to society while furthering the dharma. This is particularly hard because I'm not sure I'm suited to be a yoga instructor or mindfulness teacher or Buddhist psychotherapist or Buddhist lay prison chaplain, and the pool of jobs where you have an opportunity to talk about the dharma to an interested public is not at all large.

As you get successively more ambitious in how much Buddhism you want to include in your working life, the niches seem to get smaller. In part that is because there just aren't that many Buddhist businesses in Europe, where the percentage of Buddhists is somewhat lower than in the US.

Anyway, I've not yet decided how to proceed... in the short term I may take a job of the first type, while trying to line up something that satisfies the second or even third points.

I would welcome your thoughts...

Comments

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    Good on you @Kerome.

    I have thought along similar lines a bit over the last few years.

    But my latest idea is that if I keep working in the (relatively) high paying IT job I have now I cann save more money so retire earlier to spend the rest of my life focusing on my practice for the benefit of all beings.

    Hozanperson
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    Here, it would be really hard to do (short of the limited areas you mentioned like yoga and other such fields) because any religion mention that isn't Christianity is not welcome in most places.

    I worked from when I was 15 until I was 33. What I've learned, in large part due to Buddhism, is that I would rather be poor than go back to the insane rat race that is considered career/work here. Thankfully, my husband loves his job and fully supports me waiting until I find the right fit. I live in a conservative area (but a progressive blue state) in a very small town. So, my options are quite limited as far as finding work where I don't have to "sell my soul" or give up things that are really important to me as far as living my truth (even while not necessarily verbalizing it at work or anything like that). I have found some potential options. Things like working at the local library (which would be a local govt. job) or doing forest service work where I am maintaining trails, giving recommendations to tourists, issuing camping permits, etc. I think I could make that work. Of course, in a small town, everyone wants the govt. jobs because they pay well, unlike most things here. So competition is high. But I have the ability to wait, so I will. I won't accept any less, but I have the luxury of doing so.

    I think what you say @Bunks makes a lot of sense, too. My dad started his job when he was 19. He retired at 49. He is now 65 and doesn't regret anything. That was his plan from the start. He owns everything he has, has no debt, and lives a very full and rich life and is busier than most people I know who work and raise families, lol.

    I do know it makes me sad how many people get ill and die within 1-2 years of quitting their jobs. They literally don't know what to do with themselves without their jobs, which they hated anyways. I don't want to be that person.

    Bunkslobster
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited July 27

    The Dharma is the Dharma and permeates all walks of life .... Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Sailor, Rich man, Poor man, Beggar man, Thief...

    No matter what kind of work one does, one will be dealing with other people, work colleagues, clients, etc...(possibly non-Buddhists)...Having to deal with the moods, and temperaments of others ..(as well as ones own )

    So for a lay-Buddhist like my self.... My simple approach is......

    Do the least harm possible ....and this is accomplished in any job by being mindful of one's actions and their consequences....

    However in the long run....When it comes to future long term Buddhist goals, if you want a reasonably "safe bet" @Kerome, (regarding work environment) then I would suggest you live a monastic life style by becoming a Buddhist monk....Thus have I heard...It's a thoughtfaultless occupation ...( and with great potential for job satisfaction )

    BunksKannon
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    If you're articulate and game enough, another thing you could possibly look into is teaching the Dhamma online or at meditation centres?

    There are lay people out there making a (fairly modest I'd expect) living this way.

  • dhammachickdhammachick crazy Aussie BUJU Sydney, Australia Veteran

    @Bunks said:
    But my latest idea is that if I keep working in the (relatively) high paying IT job I have now I cann save more money so retire earlier to spend the rest of my life focusing on my practice for the benefit of all beings.

    Aaah you've been snagged into that too? 😉😉

    Bunks
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    Practicing your job with loving kindness can turn any job into a "Buddhist job", as long as it's not unethical of course.

    BunkslobsterShoshindhammachick
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    In many situations, yes, I completely agree. But there are jobs, even benign, simple jobs, where the workplace has policies that makes it very difficult to maintain Buddhist practice. You can always be kind, and you should. But sometimes even that is looked down on in corporate worlds. I've worked in call centers before (one for an awful 3 months of selling stuff, the other was receiving tech support calls) and "You are too nice, it makes you spend too much time on the phone and your stats suffer" was heard more than once. Some of the best workers because of their kindness were pushed out the door because they spent too much time on the phone and were too nice when they should have been more assertive in getting off the phone and onto the next call. I was a supervisor in the tech support call center, and one of my employees was actually a Buddhist and I was required to 'coach' him constantly about his stats not being up to par because he spent too much time with the person he was with. So, indeed he kept to his kindness. But eventually he was pushed out of his job.

  • I am a programmer working for for-profit companies. I have struggled a great deal trying to reconcile spirituality and work. That at times brought intense psychological suffering. My view of this has evolved quite a bit.

    At first I really felt guilty for not being in a "helping profession" which would seem to be more "spiritual". I remember agonizing over how much debt it would put me in if I switched to something like healthcare or education. As I don't have large savings or well off family that seemed like a torturous path. Also, researching these more noble sounding professions I was dismayed at how corporate-like aspects are present in them as well, at least here in America.

    What really helped me find some peace with myself was Mahayana emphasis on being helpful to all beings combined with Zen direction of "just like this" being the Truth. Little by little it dawned on me that unless an occupation was obviously harmful (slaughterhouse, pornography, some types of Law etc ;) ) it can be integrated into spiritual practice. As long as I interact with other people, I can bring my Zen into those interactions and hopefully be of service.

    I do understand that as a tech worker I am fortunate to be exempt from some types of inhumanity found in lower wage, less skilled occupations. I do have difficulty picturing myself being anything other than miserable in a Walmart or a call center...So as long as the hours are reasonable (40-45 hours a week) and I am mostly allowed to focus on my actual work (as opposed to meetings, reports and such corporate bs), I think I can find that balance between earning money and Buddhist practice.

    lobsterShoshinKeromeKannon
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I'm finding this a recurrent theme at the moment, there are some opportunities to either re-engage with the work I used to do (IT/programming) or to go and do something more long term in caring for people. While I still enjoy the technical challenge, my heart is more in working with people, so it's a difficult choice. Short term money vs long term heartfulness.

    But I haven't yet found a really spiritually meaningful way of spending time while gainfully employed, it's quite a difficult question. A lot of the non-IT job opportunities that are open to me are things like 'business consultant' where you are doing presenting and looking for win-win business cases, which also doesn't feel so spiritual.

    Bunksdhammachick
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    I would welcome your thoughts...

    Perhaps you would like to buy them? o:) Come to think of it, I could not give them away. :3

    At least you have not become a conscript ...
    https://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/290.htm

    Choices are a luxury.

  • Sometimes we do not have the option to choose the "Right Path" in our work, etc.
    I am reminded of a conversation a general had with the Buddha. He asked the Buddha how it was possible to avoid killing as a soldier. The Buddha's response was "It is sufficient to kill the will to kill."
    The object is not to be perfect, but to strive toward perfection and to be the best you can be in each moment. You will stumble, even fall. Just get back up, dust yourself off and continue your journey.
    It is always that simple, always that easy and always that hard.

    Peace to all

    lobsterpersonBunks
  • ShakShak Veteran

    I would recommend to anyone considering making a career change into a healthcare related profession to do some volunteer work at a nursing home or with a hospice organization first. My wife has worked in healthcare for as long as I have known her, frequently dealing with patients at the end of their life. The emotional drain is incredible to say the least. You have to show up every day with the ability to do your job well. My wife has seen many people leave leave healthcare to preserve their own mental health and well being. I'm not trying to discourage anyone. Just know what you are getting into. You can do a lot of harm to yourself and others if you can't commit 100%.

    KeromeBunks
  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran

    @Shak said:
    I would recommend to anyone considering making a career change into a healthcare related profession to do some volunteer work at a nursing home or with a hospice organization first. My wife has worked in healthcare for as long as I have known her, frequently dealing with patients at the end of their life. The emotional drain is incredible to say the least. You have to show up every day with the ability to do your job well. My wife has seen many people leave leave healthcare to preserve their own mental health and well being. I'm not trying to discourage anyone. Just know what you are getting into. You can do a lot of harm to yourself and others if you can't commit 100%.

    I had to do that. I still take the odd shift here and there but besides the emotional burnout dealing with the death, there is also the fact that most owners are greedy sobs who short staff and pay as little as possible while trying to get out of giving medical benefits.

    Now I work in a metal/wood shop which is bad for the trees.

    I'm hoping we can switch from lumber to hemp soon.

    KeromeBunks
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I’d love to work at a place like the Greyston Bakery which was set up by Bernie Glassman of the Zen Peacemakers movement. A really social community where people work and live together.

    https://greyston.org/community-programs/

    Davidlobster
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited November 18

    This is setting a higher bar, not just being harmless in the work we do but in fact trying to support our spiritual practice through the work.

    Even packing boxes, mopping a floor or stocking shelves can be supporting one's spiritual practice. What makes an activity spiritual is how you hold your mind while doing it. Even selling used cars can be a spiritual practice. Any activity can be spiritual, as long as it's not "wrong action"

    lobsterDavid
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    It's a dilemma for me.
    I'm into sales - have been, for the past 30 odd years.
    Currently, as it's neraly Christmas, we are pushing our own brand post-prandial tipple: Port.
    It falls to me, due to my skills and expertise, to push the Port.
    Last weekend, in 2 days alone, I managed to shift 182 bottles.
    I scarcely had time to open the boxes and put the stuff on display. People were queuing up to grab it, as it's on 'special offer'.

    I'm acutely aware it puts us at the head of the Regional leader board for individual branch sales.
    There is no other employee in our region who sells as well as I do.
    This also puts me and my colleagues in line for the Quarterly bonus, which in these challenging times, is always welcome.

    I know it goes against the Precept, and in my heart and mind, violates Right Livelihood - but this is my job. This is what I am employed to do.
    And all I can do, is function to the best of my ability, doing what I am best at.

    If I focus on my actions and attitude, rather than what I am selling, then perhaps my focus is not so misplaced...

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    disclaimer: I do not rely on my income to live, so it is easy to make these suggestions. My husband makes all the money that supports our lives. My money goes extra to the little debt we have, and savings towards a larger goal.

    I stopped being afraid to express myself. In the past few months, I was offered a decent paying part-time job with a small company that I love. I do customer service from home, but it's more like chatting with friends than working. Even on days I deal with cranky folks. Today, I was offered an opportunity to lead a discussion group at a new local wellness center. My "end goal" is to be able to afford certification for nature therapy and this center is open to helping me with that. Not to sound cliched, but when you have the opportunity, operating out of the highest place within you that you can, can have immense real-life rewards that align very well with your spiritual goals. Battling our egos isn't something we have to do all the time. I do recognize, though, that I have been blessed to spend the time to consider these things, and if I had to, I would do whatever I had to to take care of my family just like I have in the past.

    I was starting to get to a point I was stressing about what to do. I knew my husband and others were starting to ask when I would return to work. I quit my job 8 years ago when my sons' father died and we moved to be closer to family. Our youngest is 9 and has been in full time school for a while now so it was time to consider contributing financially. I let go of the stress and fear and just focused on what was important to me, and involved myself in it. The opportunities keep coming. It is possible.

    lobster
  • And all I can do, is function to the best of my ability, doing what I am best at.

    If I focus on my actions and attitude, rather than what I am selling, then perhaps my focus is not so misplaced..

    Exactly so.
    We have had active soldiers here, professional hypochondriacs, wer-lobsters :3 , monks, kids, people dying or retired, etc. etc.
    All had one thing in common. They were doing the best they could and ... wished to do better ... hence Buddhism.

    The world is (prepare yourself everyone) ... imperfect/dukkha. We can improve our situation and that of others by not being cruel soldiers or malicious sales people (forced selling of goods) or professional whingers/critics/demons ...

    In other words we can be compassionate and wise, even in difficult jobs or realms ...

    As I said to my boss the Buddha only this morning,
    'How am I doing?'
    Back came the reply, 'rubbish!' 😔 Oh well must try harder ... or is that easier ... B)

    Shoshin
Sign In or Register to comment.