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Would Sid Do It For The Money? An Investigation into Right Livelihood
Submitted by Lodro Rinzler on Fri, 5/6/2011, 4:30pm
Before Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment he was a confused twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a spiritual life. Each week in this column we look at what it might be like if a fictional Siddhartha was on his spiritual journey today. How would he combine Buddhism and dating? How would he handle stress in the workplace? What Would Sid Do? is devoted to taking an honest look at what we as meditators face in the modern world.
Have a question for this weekly column? Click here and I'll probably get to it!
I'm graduating this month and have two good job leads. One is at an environment non-profit but the pay is horrible. I have always wanted my work to do some good in the world though. The other is at a global tech company which doesn't seem to me to benefit anyone but the pay is awesome. I'm mired in debt and could really use the money. What Would Sid Do? - RAB
RAB, I understand the interest in taking a secure job where you have a good salary. I can't imagine anyone outright faulting you for that desire. Furthermore, I think it's not evil but brave for people interested in bringing mindfulness and compassion to their daily life to work in major corporate settings. In those environments we are constantly being tested in our ability to keep an open heart when confronted with ruthless office politics, gossip, and manipulation.
I've been running a great deal lately. My understanding is that when I go for a long run, going a little bit above and beyond my comfort zone is when my muscles begin to stretch and grow. It feels good to go just a little more than I might normally; it's rewarding.
The same can be said for our heart. If we can remain open-hearted above and beyond our usual comfort level we are stretching our compassion muscle and growing as a person. In other words, I think it's incorrect to say that working at a major corporation would benefit no one. You could engage your workplace as a meditation hall and learn to work with the range of emotions you encounter on the spot. That could be an excellent practice for you.
Furthermore, not to get too Gandhi on you but being open-hearted in the workplace (any workplace) is being a little bit of that change many of us would like to see take place in major corporations.
Now a shift. As was discussed in this column a few weeks ago the bottom line of Right Livelihood is that we do not harm ourselves or others. You may feel that the tech job does harm others. If you don't agree with the mission statement of the company you will probably not feel comfortable working there. In fact, doing something you do not feel good about will drain your own energy (lungta), regardless of how much money you are putting in the bank. To quote Shantideva's Bodhisattvacharyavatara,
"Some evil and lustful people
Wear themselves out by working all day
And when they return home (in the evening)
Their exhausted bodies lie prostrate like corpses."
Funny how a text written 1300 years ago can still found familiar today. Granted, the language is a bit strong (I'd never call you evil or lustful RAB!) but still. How many of us come home after a long day of work, flop down on our couch and flick on the television, spending the rest of the evening prostrate like a corpse?
The thing is, more often than not, the people who act like that do not feel good about their daily work. As such I think Sid, if placed in your position, would take the job helping the environment. You stated in your question that your primary motivation for some time has been to do some good in this world. It seems from the way you phrased things that you believe the non-profit job would allow you to do that.
When faced with major life decisions it might be helpful to recall that our old friend Death is never too far away. We don't know when he will come visit, only that he will come. We could live a good 90 plus years or get hit by a bus. Trust me, I've been hit by a bus before. However, I offer this tangent not as a downer but as a reminder that we ought to make the most of this life and appreciate the time we have.
When you are lying on your deathbed will you cry out, "I wished I watched more HBO!" or "If only I had nicer clothes!"? I doubt it. I'd like to think that we all reflect on the good we did during our time on this earth. The people we've helped along the way. The significant accomplishments that made a difference in the lives of others. I'm sure Sid did that. He had a whole lot to look back on because, like you, he was motivated to spend his life doing some good in this world. I fully encourage you to follow your shared motivation, wherever that may take you.
A heads up to all New Yorkers - I'm teaching an intro meditation workshop next Saturday, May 14th, at the New York Shambhala Center. It's very inexpensive - if you're under the age of 30 it's only $25! Click here for more info.
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