Buddhist Philosophy

Jobs and the Dharma: Finding a Balance

Jobs and the Dharma can co-exist in our lives. We don’t all have the ability, karma, or intention to leave everything behind and immediately go off into the mountains on retreat. Here, Samye Instructor Matthew Zalichin shares some observations about balancing jobs and the Dharma from his own 40 years of experience.

Those of us who have entered the Buddhist path as adults have many questions about how to find a balance. Older people with established families may discover the Buddhist teachings and then work with the decisions on how to incorporate this new element of their life into their existing situation. For younger people who may just be beginning an independent life, different issues may arise. Matthew here reminds us that we all face the challenge of how to make our way in the world in a Dharmic way.

Jobs and the Dharma: Not Opposing Factors

We do have the tendency to think of jobs as “just” samsara, or cyclical existence as opposed to the Dharma which we really want to be practicing. But this outlook won’t help us to really practice authentically. Although we may have a romantic notion of how we would like to be entering long retreat, or studying texts in their original languages, we may not have that option. Life circumstances might not allow that. Yet, we can still practice Dharma.  Matthew notes that it can be just as beautiful to practice in our own home, in our own country, and within our particular environment.

Unreasonable Expectations?

We also might consider that we can develop unreasonable expectations of what life is “supposed to be like”.  We may be fortunate enough to find fulfilling careers that pay well, and give us plenty of time for lovely vacations as well as Dharma practice. On the other hand, that may not happen. And it helps if we acknowledge that and are realistic about our plans. We do need to take obligations into account–our ground of practice begins where we are. And situations change–if we begin a job we aren’t committing to keep at it forever.  If we stick with something for a year, we can then reevaluate and determine if things are moving in a positive or negative direction. And then we can be open to other opportunities as they arise. But if we resist taking a plunge because we’re waiting for the perfect situation, we may be wasting a lot of time where we could have been practicing on the job!

Reflection Exercise: Jobs and the Dharma

Jobs and the Dharma

“Being practical doesn’t mean you are not practicing,” Matthew observes.  Can you take a look at your own work situation and see opportunities for you to practice?

Can you enter your workplace with the right intention, and with compassion and wisdom?  Perhaps you have developed a resentful attitude toward your job because you feel it is an obstacle to practice. How can you turn that situation around and see it as an opportunity instead?

With this exercise, it may be very helpful to keep a journal. Note where you see problems in your job, or where you have frustrations. Then begin to list how these issues present you with a practice situation. Can you apply patience, for example, with co-workers or a difficult boss? Or perhaps introduce more compassion into your dealings with others? How would you cultivate generosity in your workplace or in your mundane life? 

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.