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All about Buddhism: Work to live or live to work?

It was a cold, snowy day 10 years ago and I had just trudged to work through a storm. As I walked into the building and shook the snow off of my coat, my co-worker Phillip came in and greeted me with his predictable chronological morning greeting. “Seven-hundred-nineteen-days until I can retire!”


Jason Jellison

Sunday 27 November 2016, 05:00PM



I saw this morning show so often that I always knew which episode we would be tuning into. I was well-aware of the number of days he had to go until he could retire. One day, just out of curiosity, I asked him why it was that he took a job that he disliked so much. “Well, isn’t it obvious? For the money, stupid!”

Dissatisfaction at work, to some extent, is simply unavoidable. Buddha offers many insights as to why this is so. However, the best summary of the matter that I can think of actually comes from Christianity.Those of us who are from the West are most likely aware of the story of Adam and Eve. As the story goes, the only man who really had an opportunity to choose right from wrong was Adam. All other men, such as you and I, can only choose between different shades of wrong thanks to the Fall of Man.

In its own way, Buddhism teaches the same thing. Buddha taught that we are stuck in a circle of re-birth because of our past mistakes. Well, that has some similarity to the story of Adam and Eve. Regardless of which view you take, the result is the same. We only can choose between various shades of wrong. Ergo, you’re going to have problems at work because the men and women in your midst will only choose between various shades of wrong.

While there is no utopia, there can be happiness. For young readers, I’d like to offer one personal note of advice. Consider doing whatever it is that makes you happy for a living. A lot of people are like my old co-worker take jobs because they pay well. But, the problem is that you will actually spend more time as an adult at work than you do with your family, so what you do and who you work with is a key driver of happiness.

Far too often have I encountered people who take a miserable job because it pays the bills, then try to make themselves happy by purchasing lots of expensive stuff, and go in a never-ending circle.

In the end, I know far more unhappy rich people than I do poor. Material goods are a road straight to stress and unhappiness but goods of the soul are the key to peace and happiness. Don’t worry about the numbers. At the end, your life will be happier and the numbers will fall into balance, or much better. Happy people attract other happy people, and vice-versa. In short – don’t worry, be happy.

For older readers, the question might be something like, “I’m already miserable at work, what can Buddhism do about it?” The answer is a lot, actually.

First of all, coming to Buddhism because you’re unhappy at work is a very good reason to try to discover something new. As Einstein famously said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Change is, in fact, the right medicine. You need a new series of steps, but which steps?

You can start by reading all of the articles I have written, they’re freely available on The Phuket News website. Then, you need to find a Temple and an Enlightened teacher. I can share the basics, but I’m no substitute for someone who has found Enlightenment. He’ll teach you about using proper speech, proper actions and empathy to help ease the situation.

Assuming you do all of that, then you’ll come to an inevitable fork in the road: You can either leave the job in favour of a new one or you can go the path of using Buddhist Principles to overcome your unhappiness at work.

Every person has to answer that question for themselves. However, if you’ve not yet become involved with Buddhism, I’d suggest option A. Many Temples would suggest option B, but I don’t think that will work well for an inexperienced Westerner. It takes many, many years to master the principals of Buddhism. In fact, many people can’t even perfect it in a lifetime.

If it’s going to be years before you can master the input, then simply alter the input. My life was not going so well in America, so I went back to school somewhere beautiful. I changed the input. However, if you can’t change the input, then the key to happiness lies in accepting both the good and bad in life.

You may be able to change your work environment but it is important that you don’t put change off for another day, because another day becomes yet another day, and so on. My English translation of the Teaching of Buddha #80 (Dharma 80) says: “Irrigators lead water. Fletchers fashion shafts. Carpenters bend wood. The wise tame themselves.” If you are wise, you’ll tame your problems at work and not cause problems for others. Basic Buddhism could have a big impact regardless of if you stay or go.

In closing, I’d like to share a few words about the importance of time. When I was young, my grandmother said to me, “Jason, do you know what the worst two words in the world are?”

“No,” I replied.

“The worst two words in the world are... too late.”

Matters of the soul cannot be held until another day.

Instead of being one among millions who says “719 days until I can retire” wouldn’t your life be immeasurably better if you could be one of the handful who says, “719 days until they make me retire.”

Now there is something to think about.

All About Buddhism is a monthly column where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email: editor1@classactmedia.co.th, and we will do our best to accommodate your interests.

 

 

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Kurt | 02 December 2016 - 12:02:51

@ ematt: 
My comment was focused on: Work to live or live to work.

And about being happy as written in the article, Buddhism has no patent on happiness, not more than any other religion.

I found the famously saying of Einstein interesting.

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ematt | 02 December 2016 - 08:46:24

Kurt reads an article about Buddhism and then questions why Buddhism is brought into the story. Amazing!

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Kurt | 01 December 2016 - 14:05:47

Interesting story, but why to bring in religious matters?
And just buddhism only? 
Is it ment to keep workers calm and accepting their life as it is with the help of a religion? ( brainwashing)

Live to work or work to live has nothing to do with buddhism.
What about the Christians, Hindus and Muslims?

Live to work or work to live has simply to do with social work attitude.
In many countries you have a choice.
In France the workweek is average 35 hours. In many other countries it is between 35-40 hours a week.

I find it a bit hypocrite that Buddhism is brought in a 'happy/not happy work discussion'.
Tell that to the buddhist thai employers who employed many years slaves on their fishing boats, and because of the non Buddhist outside world thai Buddhist fishing boat employers now are forced to finish slavery.

This is a simple proof that a religion has nothing to do with work. Right?
Wonder what thai workers Unions would think about this opinion.

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