This article is excerpted from course materials for A Course in Deep Acceptance. This course offers approaches, tools, and practices gathered in nearly twenty-five years of spiritual, psychological, metaphysical, and physical seeking, learning, training, and teaching.
Some of these are Buddhist in origin. Some from western magical traditions and schools. Some from different schools of psychology and related fields, from biopsychology to neuro-linguistic programming. And inspiration is drawn from the Mystical well – that source that holy people and teachers of all faiths draw water from.
This material is decidedly inter-religious. I recognize that not all correlations or mixes will resonate with all readers. But for those of you with room for creative interpretation and application of spiritual languaging and principles, I hope you will find some merit in this material.
“One of my students who studied lam-rim teachings did social service for many years looking after handicapped children and children who were difficult to control. She said it gave her so much satisfaction. That means she did it with the proper attitude.
“It is the same when you take care of a family, work in a company, for the government, etc. It should have some effect. It should bring some satisfaction to your life, some fulfillment to your heart. Why does that not happen? Because the motivation in your daily life is self-cherishing thought, working for self. It becomes more like a burden than enjoyment.”
— VEN. LAMA ZOPA RINPOCHE
Selfless Service is a commonly used term to denote a service which is performed without any expectation of result or award for the person performing it.
The idea of selfless service is an important concept in most religions. Because God is perceived as having a relationship with others, as well as oneself, serving other people is considered an essential devotional practice of indirectly serving God.
I-Thou and I-It:
To man the world is twofold, in accordance with his twofold attitude. The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks. The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words.
The one primary word is the combination I-Thou. The other primary word is the combination I-It; wherein, without a change in the primary word, one of the words He and She can replace It.
Hence the I of man is also twofold. For the I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.
Primary words do not signify things, but they intimate relations. Primary words do not describe something that might exist independently of them, but being spoken they bring about existence.
Primary words are spoken from the being. If Thou is said, the I of the combination I-Thou is said along with it. If It is said, the I of the combination I-It is said along with it.
The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being. The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.
— Martin Buber, I and Thou
When we begin to develop the altruistic attitude of bodhicitta, it may seem to be quite limited, as a very small number of such thoughts arise in our mind, and we think this really cannot help anybody. However, in the long run, as bodhicitta develops, we become more familiar with it and realize that this buddha activity is the source of all happiness, and the method to remove suffering and benefit uncountable beings.
— The Bodhisattva Vow
Your work in the world may have to do with our “work-a-day world” life, or it may have to do with your Work, and in some cases both may be the same.
But even when daily work is not lofty and “personal-mission” based, it stands to reason that ANY job has the potential for being a holy undertaking. Just as with householding, our work in the world has the potential for being an opportunity for awakening to total presence.
What is ‘Right Livelihood’?
The idea of ‘right livelihood’ is an ancient one. It embodies the principle that each person should follow an honest occupation, which fully respects other people and the natural world. It means being responsible for the consequences of our actions and taking only a fair share of the earth’s resources.
When viewed through the lens of “I and Thou”-ness, from the vantage of seva (selfless service), or from deep understanding of the generating bodhicitta, any work that falls into the category of “right livelihood” can become the work of liberation.
While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.
Sometimes your values may not be in alignment. Perhaps with work, your pragmatic values are not lining up with your idealized values. And as is the case with any values conflict, perhaps pragmatic needs to veer closer to idealized, or idealized needs to move into more pragmatic territory.
If there is a seeming disparity, it is worthwhile to consider that perhaps you can shift that internal conflict by working towards “right intention”; perhaps there is no external change that needs to be made to find your center and bring it present in your Work in the World.
Work as Spiritual Path
Some feel that unless their work is in full alignment with their greater personal mission, that there is no satisfaction to be had in daily work. So they build a career out of what they find or feel to be bringing their spiritual practice into the world on a daily basis.
Yet, the intentions to achieve meaning in their work lives may in actuality have a paradoxical effect. Some may find that by making their spiritual practice their means of survival, that they have created an internal conflict instead of calming one.
For some, the belief that their work lives and their spiritual lives must be he same may become a straightjacket that is holding them from discovering peace in their work and fulfillment in their spiritual paths.
For others, finding work that is in full alignment with their spiritual purpose and personal mission is the only thing that will make them happy. This may be a large field; for example, a person may feel the need to have their livelihood be based in service. If so, this person may be happy as a teacher, a social worker, an activist, a cook, even a waitperson.
For others the scope of meaningful occupation may be more narrow. Some may feel that there can be no separation between what they bring forth in their work and what their soul (or sole) purpose is.
Work vs. Spiritual Path
Sometimes one’s work life may actually get in the way of one’s spiritual life. This is likely to happen when one feels that their vocation is irreconcilably in opposition to their personal values. For the sake of example, imagine that one who considers herself an environmentalist may feel forced by circumstance to take a job working for a lumber company because she has to feed her family and there are no other options. In this case, her attention will become split between two warring necessities; feeding her children, and taking care of the planet.
Path as Work as Spirit as Path
When we merge into the eternal, we are God. But when we do not merge into the eternal, we are still God! The ultimate thing to remember is that with right intention and the engendering of the attitudes of enlightenment, all work has the potential of being The Work of Liberation.
- How does your work life manifest?
- What internal conflict arises?
- What steps can be taken to find greater alignment?
- In the cases where alignment cannot be found, how will you cultivate acceptance?
- The Gift of Recognition; generalized to your work life
- An Awakened Heart Meditation: Cultivating Compassion (A Loving Kindness Meditation)
- Tonglen Meditation as Self Healing
- Four Trainings for Bodhicitta Resolve Not to Decline in This Life*
- A Bodhisattva Meditation for Cultivating Loving Compassion for the Self
Four Trainings for Bodhichitta Resolve Not to Decline in This Life
(1) Each day and night, recalling the advantages of the bodhichitta motivation. Just as we readily overcome our tiredness and tap our energies when we need to attend to our children, we easily surmount all difficulties and use all our potentials when our primary motivation in life is bodhichitta.
(2) Reaffirming and strengthening this motivation by rededicating our hearts to enlightenment and others three times each day and three times each night.
(3) Striving to strengthen enlightenment-building networks of positive force and deep awareness (collections of merit and insight). In other words, helping others as effectively as we can, and doing so with as much deep awareness of reality as possible.
(4) Never giving up trying to help anyone, or at least wishing to be able to do so, no matter how difficult he or she may be.