A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who just returned from a business trip to China. He used just about every moment of his spare time to explore the environs of Beijing, including the area’s ancient Buddhist temples.
From my own travels, I know how heady that experience can be. When traveling in Cambodia, I often stopped at temples in the thickest parts of the forest to take pictures, and inevitably, one or two monks would come out to practice their English, or in more remote areas where no one spoke the language, they would stop and simply acknowledge my presence.
When I would make an offering of flowers or incense to the large Buddha at the center of the wats, the monks and the temple workers would instantly recognize that we had at least one thing in common, and we could sit quietly for a few minutes and share the day with each other.
One of the best stops was at the Wat Kirisan temple outside Kompong Trach (the wat sits at the base of Phnom Sol, the White Mountain, where a statue of the Reclining Buddha lies at the bottom of a hidden grotto).
After exploring the grotto and the caves beneath the mountain, where refugees hid during the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese occupation, I had a Coke with the monks while they chatted away in their broken basic English. What they were saying didn’t make sense, and one of them pulled out worn and dirty 1920s English/French reader that included some of the poorest English grammar I’ve ever seen.
As my friend shared his China experiences with me, I asked him about the work part of the trip. He paused. “Sean, I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” This was a conversation that the two of us had several times before.
I, too, am feeling the pull of “right livelihood,” one of the eight instructions Buddha gave his followers to develop a path that ends suffering for all beings. I find myself unconsciously categorizing my present job into “Worthwhile work” and “Work that I have to do to get paid.” And in the last couple of weeks, I keep coming back to a quotation I read from Mahatma Gandhi on the Zaadz social networking Web site:
How do you know if the next act you are about to do is the right one or the wrong one? Consider the face of the poorest and most vulnerable human being that you have ever chanced upon, and ask yourself if the act that you contemplate will be of benefit to that person; and if it will be, it’s the right thing to do, and if not, rethink it.
Having a career that Gandhi would have considered as the “right thing to do” would certainly qualify as right livelihood.
When I talked about this with my acupuncturist, she observed that quite a few of her patients reach this point in their careers, but that the majority of them are afraid to take the first step. In this regard, I am not afraid. Confused, maybe; unsure of how to go about finding a career like that, especially since my background is in corporate communications and journalism.
I have a list of Things I’d Love to Do for a Living, like public relations for His Holiness or the Tibetan Government In-Exile, or writing for a non-profit that develops and implements social justice programs. I’d love to be a flack for any of the companies that advertise on the Zaadz Web site.
Who knows. For now, lunch is over and it’s back to my job. Let’s hope for a lot more of the “worthwhile.”