Meaningful Work for a Life Well Lived

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Sam Roff, modified 9 Months ago.

Meaningful Work for a Life Well Lived

Posts: 16 Join Date: 9/18/20 Recent Posts
Hi everyone,

I find myself in a quarter life crisis where I've been doing some deep introspective work on what it means to live a good life.  Textbook emoticon.

A large part of a life satisfaction and possibility in developing wholesome kamma is derrived from ones work. 

While I know many rely on others to do their thinking for them and this is to be avoided (we are our own masters) - I nonetheless turn to the community of dharma friends for insights I might not have considered.   Perhaps those who've gone through the trials and tribulations and have some dharmic reflections on their path

A few questions I've thought up.. feel free to deviate in any way you see fit..


* What is one book you'd recommend about career choices that has a dharmic flare?
* Given a dharmic background, are there any main important questions you would recommend pondering before making a career choice?
* How has equanimity/meditative attainments broadened your scope of what your thought your potential was career-wise? 
* What strategies have you employed to avoid falling into Egoic pitfalls and hindrances in the workplace?

Context: Previously I worked as a cardiac technician and suffered from neurotic tape loops of 'not good enough' and absence of tools to deal with this unskillful thought and sankharas (anxiety) despite my best efforts to bring equanimity.  This culminated in leaving my position.  Fear is there, but I'm confident with psychotherapy and continued development in meditative practices this can be transcended.
I'm currently reconsidering returning to healthcare and studying Nursing for above all the possibility to train in morality by constantly being in service to othersThe 4 day weekend and stable pay is also great to pursue spirituality with the same dedication I have now while also opening doorways for side projects to volunteer ect.

Curious to hear your insights.

Metta,
Sam.
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Jim Smith, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Meaningful Work for a Life Well Lived

Posts: 982 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
Sam Roff:



What is one book you'd recommend about career choices that has a dharmic flare?


This excerpt is from this book, "The Noble Eightfold Path: 13 Meditation Talks", by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu.
https://www.dhammatalks.org/ebook_index.html#eightfoldPath

From the chapter on right livelihood:

https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/NobleEightfoldPath/Section0009.html

Right livelihood is the poor stepsister of the eightfold path. It’s the factor that the Buddha hardly defines at all. He simply says that the disciple of the noble ones avoids wrong livelihood and makes his or her living through right livelihood—which doesn’t tell you much.

Part of this may have been simply a question of etiquette. There’s only one passage in the Canon where the Buddha clearly comes out with a general statement condemning certain trades as wrong livelihood. He lists five—trading in poison, trading in weapons, trading in intoxicants, trading in meat, and trading in human beings—saying that the disciple of the noble ones avoids engaging in those forms of trade. You don’t set yourself up with a shop to sell alcohol, poison, weapons, meat, or slaves. But otherwise, the Buddha is very circumspect when talking about other people’s occupations.

There are two cases where people of questionable professions come to him. One is an actor; the other, a professional soldier. They say pretty much the same thing. “Our teachers who taught us to be actors,” the actor says, “claimed that if you spend your life entertaining people with your imitations of reality, making them laugh, you’re going to attain the heaven of laughter after death. What does Master Gotama have to say about that?”

The Buddha twice refuses to answer, but the actor keeps after him, and asks him a third time. So the Buddha finally says, “Well, it looks like I can’t get anywhere with you by saying I don’t want to answer that. So I’ll answer you.” He goes on to say that if, as you’re acting, your motivation is to give rise to greed, anger, and delusion in your audience, then after you die you’re going to go to the hell of laughter—i.e., not the place where people laugh with you, but where they laugh at you. So the actor breaks into tears. The Buddha says, “See? That’s why I didn’t want to answer your question.” The actor says, “No, I’m not crying because of what you said. I’m just crying because I’ve been deceived by my teachers for so long.”

Similarly with the soldier: The soldier says, “I was taught that if you die in battle, you’re going to go to the heaven of heroes. What does Master Gotama have to say about that?” Again, the Buddha twice refuses to answer. When pushed for the third time, he finally says, “When you’re in the midst of battle, giving rise to the desire for the killing of other beings—‘May these other beings suffer, may they be harmed, may they be killed’—that mind state, if you die then, will take you to the hell of heroes who die in battle.” Like the actor, the soldier breaks into tears and the Buddha says, “See? That’s why I didn’t want to answer your question.” And the soldier, like the actor, says, “No, I’m not crying because of what you said. I’m just crying because I’ve been deceived for so long by my teachers.”

The Buddha’s etiquette here is interesting. He didn’t set out on a crusade against actors or professional soldiers or advertising people or bankers or whatever. Only if he was pushed would he condemn a particular occupation. Otherwise, he would ask you to reflect for yourself on your means of livelihood. Is it harming other beings? Does it involve lying? Does it involve unskillful mental states? If it does, then maybe you should look for another occupation—which, of course, may take time. This may have been one of the reasons why the Buddha observed his etiquette, because a lot of people are stuck in their occupation. It’s going to take a while for them to disentangle themselves if they realize that their means of livelihood is unskillful.

But there’s another side to right livelihood, and that’s looking at your attitude toward what you consume. This is one of the reasons why we have that chant every evening, looking back on our use of the requisites during the day. Why did you use the requisites? Actually that chant is for when you didn’t reflect while you were using the requisites. Ideally, you should reflect while you’re eating: Why are you eating now? When you put on your clothes: Why are you putting these clothes on? When you fix up your house or your hut: Why are you fixing it up in this way? When you take medicine: Why are you taking this particular medicine now? What’s your motivation?

The chant reminds you of the ideal motivation: Wear clothing to protect yourself from the elements, to cover up the parts of body that cause shame. Take food not to put on bulk, not for the fun or the flavor of it. After all, those who provided the food that you’re eating—the farmers who worked, the animals who gave up their lives—didn’t provide it in fun. You take the food simply so that you can continue practicing, so that you can eliminate hunger pains and yet at the same time not overstuff yourself until there’s the discomfort that comes from eating too much. You’re not eating just for the flavor of the food; you’re eating for the nourishment of the body, so that you can practice in ease. Your use of shelter should simply be to protect yourself from the elements and to provide a place where you can be quiet, find some privacy, so you can practice. And as for medicine, you use it to eliminate pain and to maintain freedom from disease. That’s all.

When you think about these things, it forces you to look at the ripples you send out when you choose what to eat, what to wear, where to live: What is your impact on the world? The fact that you’re alive and breathing means that you have a lot of needs, and the needs can be met only by relying on others. How can you rely on them so that you’re not harming them or causing them unnecessary pain?

This reflection ties in with one of the important principles of what are called the customs of the noble ones, which is contentment with your material possessions. When you think in these ways, you find that you’re buying less, using less, because you’re looking elsewhere for your happiness. I.e., you’re looking inside. This is where the concentration comes in. This is why concentration is an important element of right livelihood. It provides you with the honey, the butter, the grain, and the other foods you need for the mind’s true happiness deep down inside. At the same time, this happiness provides you with a good foundation for the insights that are going to come as you start looking at the various ways in which you keep on taking birth. Because, again, the fact you’re taking birth keeps placing a burden on other beings, a burden on the world.

The insights you’re going to need to stop that process can be pretty harsh. As the Buddha said, when you take food, think about the story of the couple who were going across the desert with a baby, their only child. They got more than halfway across the desert and ran totally out of food. They realized that if they didn’t eat anything, all three of them would die. So they decided to kill their child and make jerky out of him: baby jerky. That way at least two of them would survive and then they could start a family again when they got to the other side of the desert.

Now, the Buddha asked, what would be their attitude toward the baby jerky while they were eating it? Would they be eating it for fun? No, they’d be thinking with sorrow of what they had to do in this horrible circumstance. That, the Buddha said, is how you should regard physical food: as baby jerky, not something you eat out of joy or for the flavor, but simply to keep life going, realizing that your having to eat causes suffering, causes pain.

That’s a harsh contemplation—one of many harsh contemplations in the Buddha’s teachings. The only way the mind can stand up to that kind of contemplation is if you’ve got the strong sense of wellbeing that comes from nourishing the mind with right concentration. Otherwise, the insights that can come from meditation, if you don’t have a good solid foundation like this, can be disorienting, destabilizing.

So as the foundation for your practice, you want to keep working on these skills. Appreciate the simple quality of getting the mind still, finding a sense of ease simply through the way you breathe; gaining a sense of wellbeing, rapture, equanimity when you need them. In this way, you nourish the mind with good, harmless food. That’s right livelihood in the highest sense. It puts you in a position where, while you’re still alive this time around, you weigh lightly on the world around you. And you’re developing the skill so you don’t have to come back and weigh the world down again. This is why the Buddha’s teachings are not selfish. They’re not something you get through so you can then get on with your life. They’re a way of living so that you cause minimal harm to others and ultimately can find the happiness that frees you from coming back and causing harm again and again. They’re an act of kindness both for you and for the whole world around you.


Not specifically about career choices but I think it will help:

The Karma of Mindfulness: The Buddha’s Teachings on Sati and Kamma, by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu.
https://www.dhammatalks.org/ebook_index.html#KarmaOfMindfulness
It's free to download as an e-book, and free if you write and ask for a printed copy.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter: A Healthy Unerstnding of Karma

To begin with, suppose you have a child. When you train your child, what principles would you want to teach the child to give it a healthy attitude to his or her own actions?

The first principle would be, “Think before you act. Choose carefully what you want to do because your actions do have results. Some actions can be very harmful, others can be very helpful.” That’s the first principle, the principle of heedfulness.

The second principle would be, “Your intentions make a difference.” If the child breaks something intentionally, the punishment should be very different from when he breaks it unintentionally.

The third principle would be, “Pay attention to what you’re doing and see the results you’re getting. If you see that you’re doing something hurtful, stop.” Further, “If you see you’ve done something harmful, resolve not to repeat it.” This is the principle of compassion.

The next principle would be, “Admit your mistakes. If you broke something, don’t say that it was already broken before you stepped on it. If you’ve made a mistake, talk it over. Don’t be debilitated by remorse. But at the same time, don’t be callous about the harm you’ve done.” This is the principle of integrity along with truthfulness.

Finally, “Learn from your mistakes so that you don’t have to repeat them.”

Now in order to teach your child these principles, you have to be a good parent, too. If your child comes and says that he crashed your car, take a long deep breath, and tell him not to do it again. If you fly off the handle, your child will never admit a mistake to you ever again.

So these are the basic principles in teaching a healthy attitude toward action and toward the mistakes people make in their actions. Nobody is born totally perfect, so we have to be willing to admit the fact that we will make mistakes, but we should also be willing to learn from them.

These are actually the same principles that the Buddha taught to his son, Rāhula [§3]. The Commentary says that Rāhula was seven years old when the Buddha gave him those instructions. The basic instructions are these:

The first principle is to be truthful, which means not only being truthful to other people but also being truthful to yourself. As the Buddha told Rāhula, if you feel no shame at telling a deliberate lie, you’re totally empty of goodness. Truth is the basis for all progress in the life of the mind.

Then the Buddha taught Rāhula how to use his actions as a way of purifying his heart and mind. First, he said, “Before you act, ask yourself, ‘What are the consequences you anticipate from the action?’” This applies to actions of the body, actions of speech, actions of mind. If you foresee any harm from the action, don’t do it. If you don’t foresee any harm, you can go ahead and do it.

While you’re doing it, if you see that it’s causing any unexpected harm, stop. If you don’t see any harm, you can continue with the action.

Once the action is done, you’re still not done. You have to look at the long-term consequences. If you see that the action did cause harm, talk it over with someone else who has experience on the path—to gain that person’s perspective on what you did wrong and what might have been better to do instead— and then resolve not to repeat the same mistake again. If you don’t see any harmful consequences, take pride in the fact that your practice is developing and continue trying to get better and better.

When you look at these instructions, you see that they embody the four principles of a healthy attitude toward action—heedfulness, compassion, truthfulness, and integrity: heedfulness in that you take the results of your actions seriously; compassion in that you don’t want to do any harm; truthfulness in your willingness to admit your mistakes; and integrity in taking responsibility for any harm that you’ve done.

These are good qualities to bring to meditation practice as well.

Other lessons that can be drawn from these instructions concerning the nature of action: what might be called the metaphysical implications of a psychologically healthy attitude toward our power of choice and the power of our actions.

• One, you are free in how you choose to act. If you didn’t have freedom of choice, the whole idea of teaching a path of practice to put an end to suffering wouldn’t make any sense, for no one could choose whether to follow the path or not [§6].

• Two, actions have results.

• Three, your intentions are important, but good intentions are not enough. You have to learn how to make your intentions skillful. This is why we have to check the results of our actions. Simply meaning well, we can still cause harm. It’s through experience, learning from our mistakes, that we learn what genuinely is helpful and genuinely is harmful.

In fact, to see things in this way is the beginning of wisdom. You may remember from the first passage in the kamma readings [§1], that the question leading to discernment is, “What, when I do it, will lead to my long-term welfare and happiness?” The wisdom here consists in understanding two things. The first is realizing that happiness and suffering come from your actions. And the second is realizing that long-term happiness is better than short-term.
shargrol, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Meaningful Work for a Life Well Lived

Posts: 1574 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Nice reply Jim.

Sam, I remember my 1/4 life crisis well. It was a doozy. One thing I would recomend is to also think back on the things that made you change your career path and ponder "Could I have acted/done things differently that would have allowed me to keep working but meet my sense of ethics?"

This can be a hard one to face truthfully, but I learned a lot from doing it myself. A few years later -- maybe five years? -- when I looked back on that time in my life, I could see all of the reasons why I left, but I also saw all of my own fears and blindness that made me leave in the particular way I did. 

Some of the big things I saw about myself:
* I didn't value myself, so I didn't defend myself
* I was afraid of confrontation, so I bailed instead of battled. 
* I wasn't taking good care of myself, so I was getting exhausted and that messed up my thinking.
* I made a lot of assumptions about what I "should" be doing on the job, but these actually weren't my beliefs, I had kind of just absorbed them from others.
* I had a lot of options that I never considered, mostly because I was in such emotional turmoil -- it was hard for me to think clearly.
* I really didn't know what I wanted in a career at the time. I had been so focused on the topic in school, but I never really thought about what it meant as an occupation.

In my case, now looking back over 20 years later, I can see that I could have made the situation work because of all of the life skills I've learned since then... so in a way, that 1/4 life crisis was the universe saying: dude, you need to figure all of this stuff out otherwise _any_ job is going to be more suffering.  

In retrospect, I wish I had searched out a therapist and meditation teacher to help me wade though all of this psychological/sociological material at the time. 
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Sam Roff, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Meaningful Work for a Life Well Lived

Posts: 16 Join Date: 9/18/20 Recent Posts
shargrol:
Nice reply Jim.

Sam, I remember my 1/4 life crisis well. It was a doozy. One thing I would recomend is to also think back on the things that made you change your career path and ponder "Could I have acted/done things differently that would have allowed me to keep working but meet my sense of ethics?"

This can be a hard one to face truthfully, but I learned a lot from doing it myself. A few years later -- maybe five years? -- when I looked back on that time in my life, I could see all of the reasons why I left, but I also saw all of my own fears and blindness that made me leave in the particular way I did. 

Some of the big things I saw about myself:
* I didn't value myself, so I didn't defend myself
* I was afraid of confrontation, so I bailed instead of battled. 
* I wasn't taking good care of myself, so I was getting exhausted and that messed up my thinking.
* I made a lot of assumptions about what I "should" be doing on the job, but these actually weren't my beliefs, I had kind of just absorbed them from others.
* I had a lot of options that I never considered, mostly because I was in such emotional turmoil -- it was hard for me to think clearly.
* I really didn't know what I wanted in a career at the time. I had been so focused on the topic in school, but I never really thought about what it meant as an occupation.

In my case, now looking back over 20 years later, I can see that I could have made the situation work because of all of the life skills I've learned since then... so in a way, that 1/4 life crisis was the universe saying: dude, you need to figure all of this stuff out otherwise _any_ job is going to be more suffering.  

In retrospect, I wish I had searched out a therapist and meditation teacher to help me wade though all of this psychological/sociological material at the time. 

Thanks a tonne for sharing that so raw shargrol.  It's reassuring to know that you were eventually able to make it work - especially considering we share many of the same conflicts.
"Could I have acted/done things differently that would have allowed me to keep working but meet my sense of ethics?"
Powerful, I'll ponder this more deeply and then sift through what could be a focus for psychotherapeutic work.
Thanks again.
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Sam Roff, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Meaningful Work for a Life Well Lived

Posts: 16 Join Date: 9/18/20 Recent Posts
Great resources Jim, much appreciated!

Intersting segment by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu, putting a lot of emphasis on concentration as the foundation for right livlihood.  I'll take that into consideration.  Surprised he didn't mention anything about the Brahma Viharas.  Lol, the Budda told some interesting stories man.  Baby Jerky emoticon

Like this question from The Karma of Mindfulness too:
“What, when I do it, will lead to my long-term welfare and happiness?”

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