Quotations

Grabbing a firebrand

Grabbing a firebrand: aphorisms and Sangharakshita

Whenever we’re presented with a statement, it’s so tempting to take it literally, not to look through it for truth, but to think it is the truth.

The aphorism

The world will be different only if we live differently.[1] This quotation is an aphorism.

Aphorisms are short, pithy statements containing a truth of general import. The etymology is from Gk. aphorismos ‘a definition, a pithy sentence,’ from aphorīzein ‘to mark off, divide’ apo- ‘from’ + horīzein ‘to bound.’ Synonyms are the words ‘maxim’ and ‘saying’. An ‘axiom’ is different, a statement of self-evident truth; and an ‘epigram’ is like an aphorism, but lacking in general import.[2]

So an aphorism is ‘from a horizon’. An aphorism is a statement which defines a perspective by illustrating or describing the horizon of that perspective. Instead of standing outside a viewpoint and describing the viewpoint, an aphorism adopts a viewpoint and identifies the things which are only visible from that perspective.[3]

But an aphorism is like a firebrand — you can easily get burnt if you grab the wrong end.

Caspar David Friedrich, 'Wanderer above the sea of fog'

Caspar David Friedrich, ‘Wanderer above the sea of fog’

Nietzsche was one of the great aphorists. He wrote, in his Zarathustra: In the mountains the shortest route is from peak to peak, but for that you must have long legs. Aphorisms should be peaks: and those to whom they are spoken should be big and tall of stature.[4]

Aphorisms are inevitably ambiguous, because they are short and striking. And to work, they should really hit you, so it’s best if they sound rather controversial, against the run of normal opinion. Sangharakshita does this as an aphorist. But before I move on to his sayings, here are a couple of warnings. An aphorism is never exactly true. It is either a half-truth or a truth and a half.[5] And from Dr Johnson: In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.[6] Lapidary inscriptions are the short sayings carved into tombstones and the like.

Whenever we’re presented with a statement, it’s so tempting to take it literally, not to look through it for truth, but to think it is the truth. But aphorisms say that so much more forcefully:

Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth.[7]

Words, like eyeglasses, blur everything that they do not make more clear.[8]

Encountering Sangharakshita’s sayings

When I was a student in 1976, I used to go along to the little Brighton Buddhist Centre in the backstreets not far from the sea. One of the first things I picked up by Sangharakshita was a yellow coloured booklet called Sangharakshita: Sayings, Poems, Reflections. The very first quotation from Sangharakshita was:

One cannot be what one should be merely by closing one’s eyes to what one is. That sort of thing really grabbed me. Wow, I thought! It worked. I was very struck. I had to think about it.

But you can’t get Sangharakshita’s teachings just from aphorisms. Sometimes, you are bound to get the wrong end of the firebrand.

I remember quite a while ago when a lot of people wanted to argue with Sangharakshita (which some have always have wanted to do, at least ever since I started first heard of him in 1976), I remember him saying: ‘before you decide you disagree with me, clarify your understanding of what I’ve said.’ It’s so easy to assume that one disagrees — or indeed that one agrees. But what does it actually mean?

A powerful example was a very controversial little booklet written by Subhuti, Women Men and Angels.[9] Its title comes from a strange saying by Sangharakshita. Angels are to men as men are to women — because they are more human and, therefore, more divine.[10] What on earth does that mean? It sounds like it’s saying that men are superior to women in some sense. If so, in what sense? But what is this angel? What is an angel? Is it good to be more divine? What about the Buddhist idea of the god realms where the devas (angels) live being a dead end? In any case, what is the background to this weird little saying — how does it fit in with traditional Buddhist teachings? How does it fit in with other ideas of Sangharakshita’s, and his life and behaviour? How does it fit in with your experience? There are so many questions. If possible, ask questions, get clarification before you get indignant.

Here’s another one: ‘One should not waste time helping the weak. Nowadays it is the strong who need help.’[11] If you’re like me sometimes, the kind of person that bristles at an outrageous thing, you might go ‘hey, what’s this about ignoring suffering and defenceless people, and only nurturing some master race?’ (For my thoughts on that saying, see note 11.)

Here’s some advice from Sangharakshita himself on how you might regard teachings or dharmic ideas that you come across. It is not enough to sympathise with something to such an extent that one agrees with it. If necessary, one must sympathise to such an extent that one disagrees.[12]

Attitudes to dharma teachings

Can you look at traditional Buddhist teachings in this critical, non-literal way? Sangharakshita writes: Many years ago, I constantly asked myself: ‘How does this teaching relate to one’s actual spiritual experience, spiritual life and spiritual development? Why did the Buddha say this? Why was the Buddha concerned with this? Where does it connect up with the spiritual life?’ And I found that very, very few scholars ever thought in those terms. In many cases it didn’t even seem to occur to them to do so — even to Buddhists themselves, very often. As though it was just a sort of game, you know, that had no relevance to life and no bearing on the spiritual life or on spiritual development as an individual.[13]

So is Buddhism, the Dharma, true? The Dharma is the Buddha’s Enlightenment objectified, and therefore falsified.[14]

One can only speak the truth to one person. The larger the number of people to whom you are speaking, the more will what you say become an approximation to the truth.[15]

Religion cannot be taught; it can only be caught. You have to catch the spirit of religion, and you do that through the influence of other people.[16]

The Buddha taught and influenced people by what he was, far more than by what he said.[17]

My personal view about Sangharakshita, having lived in the same community as him for five years, having read his stuff, having argued and disagreed with him sometimes, becoming his pupil and disciple by being ordained by him, my personal conclusion is that he is not stupid, and he is not malicious. I could say much more positive things about him than that, but I just want to try to assert those relatively uncontroversial characteristics. He is not stupid, he is not malicious.

I have sometimes heard people, including people in the Triratna Order, taking issue with what they think Sangharakshita believes, either as if he has not thought it through at all, i.e. he is stupid, or as if he’s actually trying to cause trouble. If you start from the view that he basically has a kind intention, and that he does have a reasonable knowledge and intelligence, then you can take what he says rather more subtly, rather more seriously. You might conclude that if your first response to it was ‘that’s puerile’ (to quote a commentator on some of his stuff that I saw recently), or ‘that’s nasty’, then you might pause in your response and say, ‘hang on a minute, perhaps I didn’t quite get it the first time’.

Having a project

I’d like to help his readers to see that Sangharakshita encourages them to make a difference in the world, to make the Dharma more available to people who might enormously benefit from it, if only they could encounter it in the right way. I feel quite strongly about this, though I’m not much good at it myself in most respects.

It seems to me that just about all the Triratna Order members I meet have a lot to congratulate themselves for. They are very impressive people. They have achieved something wonderful. They have found a real meaning in life. They have arrived at a sort of maturity, they’re confident, they have a lot of positivity, they are really alive. Even more importantly, pretty much all the Order members I know, as well as many other Triratna and other Buddhists, are genuinely working on themselves. They are putting into effect the first half of a saying by Sangharakshita: (1) Man can change. (2) He can change himself

It’s such an achievement to have a healthy life worked out, with a real sense of working on oneself, such an admirable and rare achievement. It’s wonderful to see it happening so much, so genuinely. I think it’s there much more now than it was amongst the practitioners that I knew forty years ago when I started coming along to Triratna activities. Much more maturity, confidence, and indeed kindness towards each other, happiness with the lifestyle each has chosen, people thinking for themselves, and making their own decisions. It’s impressive; it is to be rejoiced in.

I’m a bit scared though. I’m scared that because it is so satisfying to have reached that position, that we will stop there. Now we can be happy, now we can be fulfilled and integrated people, we can be comfortable, we can have our achievements on an ordinary human level — perhaps find a profession that helps others to some extent or is creative; perhaps find a loving partner and a good, aesthetic living situation; perhaps find financial security for our futures; perhaps raise a family. In itself, that’s not scary, it’s lovely; it’s a great relief that it is indeed possible!

But what about this poor world? What about human beings, what even about our own future selves, our long-term future selves, ourselves as we die, as we move on into the bewildering unknown.

Let’s finish Sangharakshita’s saying: (1) Man can change. (2) He can change himself. (3) He can help others to change. (4) Together they can change the world.[18]

My own feeling and hope is that a lot of people, to be truly fulfilled, need something else. We need our own projects. Projects for making a difference in the world, but projects that are genuinely our own, that we care about, not just things we have joined in with that looked nice when we were young. Have we got a project? I’ll end this post with some more sayings of Sangharakshita’s.

Need for vision

If one does not dream, one becomes a monster.[19]

Working on a project

If one is healthy, one has energy, and if one     has energy, one naturally wants to put it into something — that is, one wants to work, whether the work consists in digging the soil or painting a picture.[20]

Sometimes I think work — real work, work in which one believes — is the greatest enjoyment in life.[21]

You learn what it is that you are trying to do in the process of trying to do it.[22]

People who have no real work of their own to do will always interfere with that of others. They may even make their ‘work’ to interfere.[23]

Not underestimating oneself

We are usually able to bear much more than we — and others — think we can.[24]

Altruistic projects

You can’t help helping others when you are truly helping yourself… one can help others even simply by providing facilities whereby they can help themselves. The importance of being able to help others in a supportive way is also very great. In a way, even people in the forefront of our activities are only supporting the whole activity of the Sangha. This is developing the faculty of rejoicing in merit.[25]

The deeper the internal realisation, the broader and stronger should be the outflow of energy. A spirituality that is sterile in respect of ‘good works’ is highly suspect. Of course there is such a thing as purely spiritual action on higher levels of consciousness, and this is far more effective than ordinary action, but for most treaders of the spiritual path it is many, many years before this stage is reached, and meanwhile we have to busy ourselves with humble, everyday tasks of service on the mundane level.[26]

Duty

From a Buddhist point of view, your duty is what you see as incumbent upon yourself in view of the principles on which you believe, and the situation in which you find yourself.[27]

It is not a sign of spirituality to allow oneself to be exploited. Sooner or later you begin to start resenting it.[28]

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.[29]

[1] Maturana, H R and F J Varela, The Tree of Knowledge (Shambhala, 1992).

[2] Online etymological dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=aphorism

[3] Wikipedia

[4] Thus Spoke Zarathustra, pt. 1, ‘Of Reading and Writing,’ 1883-92, trans. 1961

[5] Karl Kraus, Sprüche und Widersprüche, 1909

[6] Johnson, Samuel, in Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Vol. vi. Chap. i., 1775

[7] Picasso, quoted in Dore Ashton, Picasso on Art (1972)

[8] Joubert, quoted in Auden and Kronenberger, Faber Book of Aphorisms (1962), 357.

[9] Windhorse Publications, 1995

[10] Peace Is a Fire (Windhorse Publications, 1979), 64

[11] Peace Is a Fire, 75. When I thought about this aphorism, years ago, I decided that it was suggesting that the most effective way of making a difference in the world is to band together with others who seem to be capable of making a difference in the world, referred to here as ‘the strong’ because of that capability. Help the strong in order that the world — which includes everybody, weak or strong — can be genuinely transformed in a radical and lasting way. It could also be hinting that it is a waste of time helping the weak in the sense that you need a certain amount of strength to be able to accept help. But don’t be cowed by this idea. In my opinion, your project must be your own project. Your heart, your vision, is so important. If that vision is to be involved intimately with people who are weak in the sense of being dependent on illegal drugs in extreme ways, for example, than that is admirable. You have found something very hard but very rewarding to do. Wouldn’t it be appalling if somebody was put off from a project like that by some silly little saying in Peace Is a Fire!

[12] Peace Is a Fire, 60

[13] Peace Is a Fire, 99

[14] Peace Is a Fire, 102

[15] Peace Is a Fire, 105

[16] Buddhism and education lecture, A Stream of Stars (Windhorse Publications, 1998), 15

[17] Peace Is a Fire, 106

[18] A Stream of Stars, 18

[19] Peace Is a Fire, 32

[20] Correspondence, A Stream of Stars, 69

[21] Correspondence, A Stream of Stars, 70

[22] ‘A Method of Personal Development’ Lecture, Peace Is a Fire, 30

[23] Peace Is a Fire, 30

[24] Correspondence, Peace Is a Fire, 105

[25] Door of Liberation seminar, Peace Is a Fire, 31

[26] Correspondence, Peace Is a Fire, 31

[27] Tuscany 1982 Question and Answers, A Stream of Stars, 72

[28] Door of Liberation seminar, Peace Is a Fire, 30

[29] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, May 1849

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The Buddha’s Last Words

As he lay on his deathbed between the twin Sal Trees, the Buddha’s parting words were: “Be your own light, be your own refuge, the Dharma is your light and refuge. Things naturally decay: win through by mindfulness!”

After reading Jayarava’s very thorough discussion of the last sentence above, from the Pali words given in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, I thought I would produce my own re-rendering, designed for accessibility and usefulness.  Jayarava raises many points about the meanings of the various terms, and his suggested translations are different from the above; he has not checked my rendering.  It is well worth reading his whole blog entry.

 

 

Notes on right livelihood from Buddhist sources

Right livelihood is ethical livelihood (the Buddha)

1200px-Mancunian_Bees“And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong livelihood as wrong livelihood, and right livelihood as right livelihood. And what is wrong livelihood? Scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling, & pursuing gain with gain. This is wrong livelihood…

“One tries to abandon wrong livelihood & to enter into right livelihood: This is one’s right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong livelihood & to enter & remain in right livelihood: This is one’s right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right livelihood.” (MN 117, Thanissaro trs)

Monks, these five trades ought not to be plied by a lay-disciple… Trade in weapons, trade in human beings, trade in flesh, trade in spirits [intoxicants] and trade in poison. (Gradual Sayings, AN 5.177)

The Buddha’s advice on working

To a Householder

“We, Lord, are laymen who enjoy worldly pleasure. We lead a life encumbered by wife and children. …We deck ourselves with garlands, perfume and unguents. We use gold and silver. To those like us, … let the Exalted One preach the Dhamma, teach those things that lead to weal and happiness in this life and to weal and happiness in future life.”

Four conditions, Vyagghapajja, conduce to a householder’s weal and happiness in this very life. Which four?

The accomplishment of persistent effort (utthana-sampada), the accomplishment of watchfulness (arakkha-sampada), good friendship (kalyanamittata) and balanced livelihood (sama-jivikata).

  1. Herein, Vyagghapajja, by whatsoever activity a householder earns his living, whether by farming, by trading, by rearing cattle, by archery, by service under the king, or by any other kind of craft — at that he becomes skillful and is not lazy. He is endowed with the power of discernment as to the proper ways and means; he is able to carry out and allocate (duties). This is called the accomplishment of persistent effort.
  2. Herein, Vyagghapajja, whatsoever wealth a householder is in possession of, obtained by dint of effort, collected by strength of arm, by the sweat of his brow, justly acquired by right means — such he husbands well by guarding and watching so that kings would not seize it, thieves would not steal it, fire would not burn it, water would not carry it away, nor ill-disposed heirs remove it. This is the accomplishment of watchfulness.
  3. Herein, Vyagghapajja, in whatsoever village or market town a householder dwells, he associates, converses, engages in discussions with householders or householders’ sons, whether young and highly cultured or old and highly cultured, full of faith (saddha), full of virtue (sila), full of charity (caga), full of wisdom (pañña). He acts in accordance with the faith of the faithful, with the virtue of the virtuous, with the charity of the charitable, with the wisdom of the wise. This is called good friendship.

Herein, Vyagghapajja, a householder knowing his income and expenses leads a balanced life, neither extravagant nor miserly, knowing that thus his income will stand in excess of his expenses, but not his expenses in excess of his income.

Just as the goldsmith, or an apprentice of his, knows, on holding up a balance, that by so much it has dipped down, by so much it has tilted up; even so a householder, knowing his income and expenses leads a balanced life, neither extravagant nor miserly, knowing that thus his income will stand in excess of his expenses, but not his expenses in excess of his income.

(From the Dighajanu Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya VIII.54, translated by Narada Thera.)

To Sigalaka

And how, young householder, does a noble disciple, cover the six quarters?

The following should be looked upon as the six quarters. The parents should be looked upon as the East, teachers as the South, wife and children as the West, friends and associates as the North, servants and employees as the Nadir, ascetics and brahmans as the Zenith….

In five ways should a master minister to his servants and employees as the Nadir:

(i)     By assigning them work according to their ability, (ii)     By supplying them with food and with wages, (iii)    By tending them in sickness, (iv)    By sharing with them any delicacies, (v)    By granting them leave at times.

The servants and employees thus ministered to as the Nadir by their master show their compassion to him in five ways:

(i)     They rise before him, (ii)     They go to sleep after him, (iii)    They take only what is given, (iv)    They perform their duties well, (v)    They uphold his good name and fame.

The servants and employees thus ministered to as the Nadir show their compassion towards him in these five ways. Thus is the Nadir covered by him and made safe and secure.

[From another part of the Sutta:] … There are, young householder, these six evil consequences in being addicted to idleness: he does no work, saying:

  1. That it is extremely cold
  2. That it is extremely hot
  3. That it is too late in the evening
  4. That it is too early in the morning
  5. That he is extremely hungry
  6. That he is too full.(From the Sigalavada Sutta, DN 31, translated from the Pali by Narada Thera.)
  7. Living in this way, he leaves many duties undone, new wealth he does not get, and wealth he has acquired dwindles away….

The Four Appropriate Happinesses

“Herein, householder, these four kinds of happiness are appropriate for one who leads the household life and enjoys the pleasures of the senses. They are the happiness of ownership, the happiness of enjoyment, the happiness of freedom from debt, and the happiness of blamelessness.

“What is the happiness of ownership (atthisukha)? A son of good family possesses wealth that has been obtained by his own diligent labour, acquired through the strength of his own arms and the sweat of his own brow, rightly acquired, rightly gained. He experiences pleasure, he experiences happiness, thinking, ‘I possess this wealth that has been obtained by my own diligent labour, acquired through the strength of my own arms and the sweat of my own brow, rightly acquired, rightly gained.’ This is the happiness of ownership.

“And what is the happiness of enjoyment (bhogasukha)? Herein, a son of good family consumes, puts to use, and derives benefit from the wealth that has been obtained by his own diligent labour, acquired through the strength of his own arms and the sweat of his own brow, rightly acquired, rightly gained. He experiences pleasure, he experiences happiness, thinking, ‘Through this wealth that has been obtained by my own diligent labour, acquired through the strength of my own arms and the sweat of my own brow, rightly acquired, rightly gained, I have derived benefit and performed good works.’ This is called the happiness of enjoyment.

“And what is the happiness of freedom from debt (ananasukha)? Herein, a son of good family owes no debt, be it great or small, to anyone at all. He experiences pleasure and happiness, reflecting. ‘I owe no debts, be they great or small, to anyone at all.’ This is called the happiness of freedom from debt.

“And what is the happiness of blamelessness (anavajjasukha)? Herein, a noble disciple is possessed of blameless bodily actions, blameless speech, and blameless thoughts. He experiences pleasure and happiness, thinking, ‘I am possessed of blameless bodily actions, blameless speech, and blameless thoughts.’ This is called the happiness of blamelessness.

“When he realizes the happiness of being free from debt, he is in a position to appreciate the happiness of owning possessions. As he uses his possessions, he experiences the happiness of enjoyment. Clearly seeing this, the wise man, comparing the first three kinds of happiness with the last, sees that they are not worth a sixteenth part of the happiness that arises from blameless behaviour.” (A.II.69, from a Ven. Payutto Web Page.)  These four can be applied to your work, and summarised as: Joy in what you’ve got (enjoying the career and work that you already have, and the benefits you get from them, including financial); Joy in what you do with it (this is enjoying the products of your work — creativity and as well as material productivity); Joy in non-dependency; and Joy in a free heart.  See the Jack Kornfield talk, reference below.

Working in Buddhist teams

Defining TBRL

‘Team-Based Right Livelihood Businesses’ (TBRL) “were team-based because they consisted of a number of Buddhists working together. They worked together along broadly co-operative lines. And they were right livelihood businesses, because they operated in accordance with Buddhist ethical principles.”

(Sangharakshita, The integration of Buddhism into Western Society, 1992)

” Team based right livelihood businesses have four distinguishing characteristics.

  1. They provide those who work in them with a means of support. They do not pay wages or salaries, and they give each worker what he or she needs according to their individual circumstances.
  2. They engage only in such activities that are ethical, ie. in accordance with the precepts. Morover, the team based right livelihood businesses are run in an ethical manner, and the workers treat one another ethically.
  3. They provide opportunities for the development of spiritual friendship within the work situation. [enumerated as number 2 in The integration of Buddhism into Western Society (1992): “they enabled Buddhists to work with one another”.] This is particularly the case where the workers not only work together, but live together in a community.
  4. Profits of the business are distributed as dana, for the benefit of FWBO/TBMSG activities of various kinds.” [In The integration of Buddhism into Western Society: “they gave financial support to Buddhist and humanitarian activities”.]

(Sangharakshita, Looking Ahead a Little Way, 1999 and The Six Emphases of the FWBO.)

“If anything is to be added [to the above four] it should be something to the effect that a right livelihood business would be one in which all the skills necessary for the success of the business were present – managerial and other skills.” (1987 Men’s Order Convention Questions)

Cooperative working

“If you have a co-op you’ve got a group of people who have equal responsibility in principle.  That doesn’t mean… that they’re interchangeable in terms of skills, but… there are no employers and no employees regardless of the specific functions the individual members of the co-op are performing. So you’ve got a situation in which people all accept responsibility, and that isn’t easy, because one usually finds within a group of people working together, that some … take on less responsibility, which means that the others have to take on a bit more responsibility to take up the slack… Usually those who take on more responsibility are in the minority, those who take on less responsibility are in the [majority]. Then those who take on less responsibility for the same reason that they take on less responsibility are resentful that other people have taken on more responsibility … In this way resentment develops, all sorts of criticism develops and so on. So you need really, to have a co-op at all, a group of really mature and responsible people.” they need to be concerned for the co-op as a whole, not just their job (at least full-timers).  So probably only order members should work in our ‘co-ops’…

“If you have to think in terms of a career, well think of it as a career within the Movement as a whole.”

(Sangharakshita, 1987 Women’s Convention.)

It’s not difficult to start an FWBO centre, it’s more difficult to start a single-sex community, but the most difficult and demanding of all is to start a TBRL.  “But it’s also perhaps the most worthwhile of all because, …in some cases you not only work with other people but you live with those same people and living with them and working with them, you can develop a very close spiritual friendship.”

“You work best on your relationships within the Team by all of you, more and more devotedly co-operating for the fulfilment of the aims and objects of the business.”

“I regard the [FWBO] housewife as, in a way, working, you might say, in a Team Based Right Livelihood project, perhaps on a rather small scale, depending on the number of children.” (Sangharakshita, Dhanakosa Opening Questions, 1993)

Also, ” the work situation is very important for developing a more virile kind of spiritual friendship.”

“Unless they are manned entirely by stream entrants, all organisations and Movements will have an in-built tendency to degenerate. So err on the side of adherence to the ideal, if you have to err at all.”

(Sangharakshita, Windhorse Trading Right Livelihood Questions)

Subhuti’s five categories of right livelihood

  1. Doing work that is not unethical.
  2. Having contact with Buddhists in the same line of work.
  3. Working with other Buddhists.
  4. Setting up a Buddhist business, paying normal wages.
  5. Team-based right livelihood with a semimonastic lifestyle.
  6. (Summarised in: Working Life, an Exploration of Right Livelihood, Talk by Jnanavaca, London Buddhist Centre. I would add number 1a, Vocational work, which might be altruistic or artistic.)

Historical spiritual communities, especially in the 19th century in America

“Some of these communities developed business enterprises, and these business enterprises were quite successful, but they ended up absorbing all the energies of the people involved, and the spiritual communities became, sometimes officially and legally, business corporations; one or two of which, I think, continue still. And the whole spiritual community side of [things was lost. Broadly, they failed because there was] no common way of life, no common spiritual practice, and no real emphasis on individual growth and development and on helping one another to grow and evolve; and no emphasis on the community as a situation with a structure which helps the individual to evolve.”

(Sangharakshita, Tuscany 82 Q&A)

Team-Based Right Livelihood as spiritual practice

“If the work is ethical it’s a spiritual practice. If the business is generating funds for dharma projects, for dana, obviously that’s a spiritual practice. One might even say that if it’s providing its workers with support, that’s a spiritual practice. It’s again a form of dana. And if it provides kalyana mitrata well certainly it’s a spiritual practice.” And you get your energies going through working hard.  (Sangharakshita, 1987 Men’s Order Convention Questions)

Mindfulness and insight through working

Mindfulness is important, but would you necessarily develop more mindfulness, say, at Vajraloka that at work?  “In your work there is an objective check up. You’re made more quickly aware if you have been unmindful.”  “There is a constant means of checking, objectively, how well you are doing. Not only in business terms, but even to some extent in spiritual terms. You may not get that in a more relaxed and, as it were, spiritual situation, unless you have a very fiery Zen type master perhaps.”

Insight at work?  By its nature, insight doesn’t depend on any particular set of conditions: it arises in dependence on non-Insight.  The Indian  tradition in particular says that Shamatha is most conducive, but Zen provides many examples of insight in different situations.  Nevertheless, an extreme situation, pushing you to the edge, is most likely to give rise to insight, whether you are meditating or not.  Are you sometimes pushed to the edge at Windhorse Trading? “Maybe there are financial problems, and you tell yourself well yes there are these problems, but what is the challenge? Not to be disturbed, and just face the possibility of total failure with equanimity. … That’s the edge towards which you are being pushed. That you are not deep down really, ultimately concerned about success or failure. At least not in a personal sense.”  You can cultivate all the spiritual faculties at work, but to keep them healthy there are probably more specialised situations such as Puja and meditation and retreat and study which are also necessary, and are allowed for at Windhorse.  Sangharakshita would take a daily meditation practice, the weekly chapter meeting, and one month of retreats each year as a minimum.  If Windhorse was really a complete situation, why not commit yourself to it for life, as the Benedictines did in their monastery?  Those not suited to it could found other kinds of right livelihood businesses, especially those involved with providing the essentials of life, especially food, clothing and housing. (Sangharakshita, Windhorse Trading Right Livelihood Questions)

Jack Kornfield’s five aspects of right livelihood

  1. Non-harming

Avoiding livelihoods that, for example, involve weapons, exploitation, drugs, or whatever hurts people; and helping others avoid them, too.

  1. Appropriate happiness

(See above)

  1. Growth and Awareness

‘Waking up’ in your livelihood.  Practising mindfulness, and facing reality in your work.

  1. Simplicity

Keeping your work uncomplicated and straightforward, using it to support a simple life, not consumerist.

  1. Service

Seeing your livelihood in terms of offering benefit to others, acting in a loving and selfless way.

[I would add:  6. Fellowship: communication, friendship, kalyana mitrata, co-operation, empathy, Sangha etc.]

http://www.cheraglibrary.org/buddhist/kornfield/jkliveli.htm

Dogen on the Tenzo

The job of cook is an all-consuming pursuit of the way. If one lacks the way-seeking mind, it will be nothing but a vain struggle and hardship, without benefit in the end.

When washing rice, preparing vegetables, and so on, do so with your own hands, with close attention, vigorous exertion, and a sincere mind. Do not indulge in a single moment of carelessness or laziness. Do not allow attentiveness to one thing to result in overlooking another….

The ancients said that cooks regard [rolling] up their sleeves as the way-seeking mind.

Treat utensils such as tongs and ladles, and all other implements and ingredients, with equal respect; handle all things with sincerity, picking them up and putting them down with courtesy….

Do not argue with the store officers over the amount of ingredients you have received. Without worrying about their quality, simply make the best of what you have. …

Even when, for example, one makes a soup of the crudest greens, one should not give rise to a mind that loathes it or takes its lightly; and even when one makes a soup of the finest cream, one should not give rise to a mind that feels glad and rejoices in it.

…When we work attentively, therein lies the principle that makes it possible to surpass our predecessors.  That you still do not grasp the certainty of this principle is because your thinking scatters, like wild horses, and your emotions run wild, like monkeys in a forest. If you can make those monkeys and horses, just once, take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward, then naturally you will be completely integrated. This is the means by which we, who are [ordinarily] set into motion by things, become able to set things into motion. …

Harmonizing and purifying yourself in this manner, do not lose either the one eye [of transcendent wisdom] or the two eyes [of discriminating consciousness]. Lifting a single piece of vegetable, make [yourself into] a six-foot [Buddha] and ask that six-foot body to prepare a single piece of vegetable. Those are [the cook’s] spiritual penetrations and magical transformations, his Buddha-work and benefiting of living beings. …

Harmonizing and purifying yourself in this manner, do not lose either the one eye [of transcendent wisdom] or the two eyes [of discriminating consciousness]. Lifting a single piece of vegetable, make [yourself into] a six-foot [Buddha] and ask that six-foot body to prepare a single piece of vegetable. Those are [the cook’s] spiritual penetrations and magical transformations, his Buddha-work and benefiting of living beings. … (Dogen, Advice to the Cook, http://www.stanford.edu/group/scbs/sztp3/translations/eihei_shingi/translations/tenzo_kyokun/translation.html )

And an unsourced quote from Dogen: ” when the cook takes the vegetable stems, it must be with the same power with which the Buddha turned the wheel of the Dharma…”

Right livelihood reading list

Author Title Subtitle Publisher
Date
Notes
Badiner, Allan Hunt (ed) Mindfulness in the Marketplace Compassionate responses to consumerism Parallax 2002 Essays on consumerism etc, mainly by various American Buddhists
Buchan, James Frozen Desire An Inquiry into the Meaning of Money Picador 1997 Nature and history of money and its illusory nature.  Not Buddhist.
Carroll, Michael Awake at Work 35 practical Buddhist principles for discovering clarity & balance in the midst of work’s chaos Shambhala 2006 Based on Tibetan mind training, using slogans
Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler The Art of Happiness at Work Hodder and Stoughton 2003 Conversations with the Dalai Lama on job satisfaction etc
Inoue, Shinichi Putting Buddhism to Work A New Approach to Management and Business Kodansha Internation’l 1997 Japanese businessman, mainly on Buddhist economics, a little on RL
Kinder, George Seven Stages of Money Maturity Understanding the Spirit and Value of Money in Your Life Random House 1999 Vaguely Buddhist angle on understanding spiritual and psychological issues around money.
Kulananda & Dominic Houlder Mindfulness and Money The Buddhist Path to Abundance Broadway Books 2002 By two Order Members
Lamont, Georgeanne The Spirited Business Success stories of Soul-friendly companies Hodder and Stoughton 2002 Transforming your workplace to be more spiritual, with many case histories
Lewin, Roger and Birute Regine The Soul at Work Unleashing the power of complexity science for business success Orion Business Books 1999 Business organisational dynamics, prioritising genuine relationships and mutual respect, connecting people to values.
Low, Albert Zen and Creative Management Charles Tuttle 1976this ed 92 Solving management problems using Zen ideas
Maitland, Arnaud Master Work Master of time Dharma Publishing 2000 Disciple of Tarthang.  Communication, cooperation, responsibility, awareness & concentration; caring; mastering the flow of time.

 

Padmasuri Transforming Work An experiment in Right livelihood Windhorse Publicat’ns 2003 On Windhorse Trading
Payutto, P A Buddhist Economics A Middle Way for the Marketplace Buddha Dharma foundation 1994 (2nd edn) Ethics of making money
Pratley, Peter The Essence of Business Ethics Prentice Hall 1995 Study text for managers
Richmond, Lewis Work As a Spiritual Practice How to bring depth and meaning to the work you do Piatkus 1999 Buddhist approach, including the energy wheel, dealing with stress, worry, anger, boredom, failure etc and developing positive qualities.
Roach, Geshe Michael The Diamond Cutter The Buddha on managing your business and your life Doubleday 2000 Business strategies from the Diamond Sutra
Simpson, Liz Working from the Heart A practical guide to loving what you do for a living Vermilion 1999 Making work more fulfilling, vaguely Buddhist
Tarthang Tulku Mastering Successful Work Skilful means: wake-up Dharma Publishing 1994 Making work into a path of realisation and transformation
Tarthang Tulku Ways of Work Dynamic action Dharma Publishing 1987 Accounts of working for Dharma Publishing etc
Whitmyer, Claude (ed) Mindfulness and Meaningful Work Explorations in Right livelihood Parallax Press 1994 Essays based on the eightfold path applied to work, mainly by American Buddhist teachers.
Witten, Dona and Akong Tulku Rinpoche Enlightened Management Transforming yourself — and then your team — for maximum success Rider 1998 Applying Buddhist principles to managing

Compiled by Ratnaprabha

Thoughts from John Berger

John_Berger-2009_(1)

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

On Writing

What has prompted me to write over the years is the hunch that something needs to be told, and that if I don’t try to tell it, it risks not being told. I picture myself as a stop-gap man rather than a consequential, professional writer.

After I’ve written a few lines I let the words slip back into the creature of their language. And there, they are instantly recognised and greeted by a host of other words, with whom they have an affinity of meaning, or of opposition, or of metaphor or alliteration or rhythm. I listen to their confabulation. Together they are contesting the use to which I put the words I chose. They are questioning the roles I allotted them.

So I modify the lines, change a word or two, and submit them again. Another confabulation begins. And it goes on like this until there is a low murmur of provisional consent. Then I proceed to the next paragraph.

On Translation

True translation demands a return to the pre-verbal. One reads and rereads the words of the original text in order to penetrate through them to reach, to touch, the vision or experience that prompted them. One then gathers up what one has found there and takes this quivering almost wordless “thing” and places it behind the language it needs to be translated into. And now the principal task is to persuade the host language to take in and welcome the “thing” that is waiting to be articulated.

John Berger, Guardian Review, 13.12.14

Advances in Science

chap7The Enriching of Memory, a collection of quotations on the site, should be a bit easier to navigate and search now.  Here is something from Michael Roukes on how Science progresses.

“While we keep our futuristic dreams alive, we also need to keep our expectations realistic. It seems that every time we gain access to a regime that is a factor of 10 different—and presumably “better”— two things happen. First, some wonderful, unanticipated scientific phenomenon emerges. But then a thorny host of underlying, equally unanticipated new problems appear. This pattern has held true as we have pushed to decreased size, enhanced sensitivity, greater spatial resolution, higher magnetic and electric fields, lower pressure and temperature, and so on. It is at the heart of why projecting forward too many orders of magnitude is usually perilous. And it is what should imbue us with a sense of humility and proportion at this, the beginning of our journey. Nature has already set the rules for us. We are out to understand and employ her secrets.

“Once we head out on the quest, nature will frequently hand us what initially seems to be nonsensical, disappointing, random gibberish. But the science in the glitches often turns out to be even more significant than the grail motivating the quest. And being proved the fool in this way can truly be the joy of doing science. If we had the power to extrapolate everything correctly from the outset, the pursuit of science would be utterly dry and mechanistic. The delightful truth is that, for complex systems, we do not, and ultimately probably cannot, know everything that is important.

“Complex systems are often exquisitely sensitive to a myriad of parameters beyond our ability to sense and record— much less control—with sufficient regularity and precision. Scientists have studied, and in large part already understand, matter down to the fundamental particles that make up the neutrons, protons and electrons that are of crucial importance to chemists, physicists and engineers. But we still cannot deterministically predict how arbitrarily complex assemblages of these three elemental components will finally behave en masse. For this reason, I firmly believe that it is on the foundation of the experimental science under way [sic], in intimate collaboration with theory, that we will build the road to true nanotechnology. Let’s keep our eyes open for surprises along the way!”

Roukes, Michael, in Scientific American, Vol 13 No1, 100.

The Enriching of Memory

EVOLUTIONlizard

Yet into this world of the machine  – this mechanical disturbance surrounded by desert silences – a ghost has come, a ghost whose step must have been as light and imperceptible as the first scurry of a mouse in Cheops’ tomb.  Musing over the Archean strata, one can hear and see it in the sub-cellars of the mind itself, a little green in a fulminating spring, some strange objects floundering and helpless in the ooze on the tide line, something beating, beating, like a heart until a mounting thunder goes up through the towering strata, until no drum that ever was can produce its rhythm, until no mind can contain it, until it rises, wet and seaweed-crowned, an apparition from marsh and tide pool, gross with matter, gurgling and inarticulate, ape and man-ape, grisly and fang-scarred, until the thunder is in oneself and is passing – to the ages beyond – to a world unknown, yet forever being born.

Loren Eiseley, The Firmament Of Time (Atheneum, 1967), 55-6.

This quote is by one of the finest science writers of the 20th century.  I’ve added hundreds of quotes to this site, writing I’ve collected over the years, in alphabetical order of topic.  Browse here.