What do I do with my life? Can Buddhism help?

Adam F, modified 12 Years ago at 9/22/10 4:57 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 9/22/10 4:57 PM

What do I do with my life? Can Buddhism help?

Posts: 48 Join Date: 9/9/10 Recent Posts
In brief:

I don't know what to do with my life. Can Buddhism help me to figure this out for myself?

Could the Eightfold Noble Path help me frame the issue in a useful way?

Does anyone have any experience working out their "Right livelihood" in this way?

Can anyone recommend a really solid Dharma book (read: no new age bullshit or pop psych) that can help me with this issue?


Florian, modified 12 Years ago at 9/23/10 1:34 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 9/23/10 1:34 AM

RE: What do I do with my life? Can Buddhism help?

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Adam,

In reverse order:

Solid Dharma book: "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha", online here in the wiki, available as PDF on Daniel's page interactivebuddha.com, or as a bound volume in your favorite bookstore. Another really good one, though its language is so pleasant and almost fluffy, is "A Path with Heart". Oh, and if you can stomach two millennia old oral tradition, read the Pali Suttas, starting with the Majjhima Nikaya. Many of the important ones are online at accesstoinsight.org.

Right Livelihood: hm. In the Pali suttas, it's defined for lay persons as keeping up with your social duties, you know, being a good citizen. Wrong livelihood is also descibed: dealing in drugs, in slaves, in weapons etc - see how this fits in with the "good citizen" or "plays nice with others"? I don't really see a big issue here, but then, I might come from a different understanding of the term "Right Livelihood". So for me, it comes down to paying my bills, earning money in a way that is not against my moral convictions fundamentally, that kind of thing.

The Noble Eightfold Path: there is a simpler formula, which gathers the eight factors into three categories: Sila (morality), Samadhi (mental exercises), Panna (wisdom). In "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha" (often abbreviated MCTB in this forum), there are chapters devoted to each of these three categories, framing them as three different training areas, discussing what they are about, how to measure up to each, and so on. Very good material. I recommend giving at least those three chapters a careful read (or two), because you'll be able to see more clearly how the noble eightfold path can be applied to your question.

Finally, what to do with your life? Can Buddhism help? Well, Buddhism offers many options here - you could adopt it as a religion, perform its practices and rituals, as a lay or ordained Buddist, and that can be very fulfilling to many people (as with any religion). You could go for awakening in this lifetime, using Buddhist techniques and conceptual frameworks, and that seems to work for the people attracted to this forum (note that there are other enlightenment traditions as well). You could make an academic study of Buddhism and extend the body of knowledge about this set of religions, and many people find that fulfilling. And so on.

Since you've made it here, I'd suggest you give "awaken in this lifetime" a try, since that's what this site is dedicated to. At the very least, the gains in clarity and wisdom and understanding will give you much improved ways to work on the question of what to do with your life.

Hope that clarified things a little.

Bruno Loff, modified 12 Years ago at 9/23/10 2:15 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 9/23/10 2:15 AM

RE: What do I do with my life? Can Buddhism help?

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Hmm I took Adam's question in a completely different tone actually, as a sort of "I don't know what choices to make in how to spend the next few years of my life."

And if that is the right interpretation for what you are asking, well Adam, I'm afraid I know of no universal answer, neither in buddhism nor out of it. In fact I have, and I suspect everyone on this forum has, fumbled in that regard many, many times, often in an interconnected chain of bad choices justifying the former turning it all into a giant messy soup of bad choices.

Although meditation practice can help in several ways, namely having you not stress out about making choices (or the ones you already made) and about their irreversibility, or with the fear of death by that matter; and giving you a clear and sharp mind which should help with choice-making. I find that when I am suffering great pain or great euphoria, I am more likely to make wrong interpretations and dumb choices.

Take care,
p m c, modified 12 Years ago at 9/23/10 1:52 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 9/23/10 1:50 PM

RE: What do I do with my life? Can Buddhism help?

Posts: 10 Join Date: 4/22/10 Recent Posts
Hi Adam !

What to do with your life ?
Is it not already unfolding whether you do anything or not?
Are you not doing things without having to ask first what to do ?

I just recently realised how utterly absurd it is to 'question' this experience, this life, and agonizing over what to do with it as if one was separate from the experience and the experience came knocking at the door asking me what to do.
I can tell you it is the biggest relief I have ever felt and now I wonder how I could not have seen this extremely in your face 'truth' before.
To be pleased or not pleased with an actual fact, or feeling like commenting or changing this absolute fact is insane and it is so simple and right in front of your eyes that it is just f**'ing amazing that I have not seen this before.
For me this new way of seeing things has been really 'lifechanging' (what an odd word in this context) and it only took me 34 years of suffering my ass off to see this.

Now, I am not even a stream enterer and have only been meditating for some nine months so I have no advice to give other than just watch life unfold/manifest all on its own without having to ask how to do it or hesitate. Neutral and impersonal, just as it is, no commenting needed - what a relief !!!

All the best,

Jeff Ratner, modified 12 Years ago at 9/23/10 6:06 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 9/23/10 6:00 PM

RE: What do I do with my life? Can Buddhism help?

Posts: 5 Join Date: 9/6/10 Recent Posts
1 - A good "beginner" book is "What the Buddha Taught" by Walpola Rahula. It is small so you can read it fairly quickly.

2 - Regarding right livelihood and what choices to make in your life, yes Buddhism absolutely helps in several ways. Being content with less material things allows you to choose career paths more based on what you will be doing vs. how much you will be earning. There are many unhappy people who earn high salaries. Also, choosing something worthwhile, helpful, constructive, etc will give you more internal satisfaction than something "wrong livelihood" regardless of the earnings. Great if you can find both worthwhile and well paying but these types of jobs sometimes mean higher demands taking away from your free time (i.e. less time to study and practice Buddhism).

3 - When I first found Buddhism I was working as an engineer for a consumer electronics company. Nothing wrong with that but nothing internally satisfying either. Changed to designing medical devices, much happier and fulfilled. I feel like this is "right livelihood" for me.

4 - What are you good at doing? What do you enjoy doing? What do you think is worthwhile / fulfilling? Not specifically Buddhist questions but may be helpful to you.