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Thread: Wrong Livelihood?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Juki's Avatar
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    Wrong Livelihood?

    How do we deal with work in this modern world?

    I wanted to be a lawyer since the time I was 12. Of course, the old adage says "be careful what you ask for, because you might get it." I got what I asked for, but it wasn't what I wanted.

    My ambition to become a lawyer was largely spurred on by television and movie depictions of the legal profession. I wanted to do good deeds and help the downtrodden. I wanted to be Atticus Finch. The only trouble with that plan was that they don't tell you on television that ordinary people cannot afford lawyers. They also don't tell you that lawyers who spend most of their time helping ordinary people can't pay the mortgage.

    And so, for the last 24 years, I have represented impersonal, "soulless" (for lack of a better word) corporations. My work mostly involves facilitating the transfer of large sums of money between competing groups of petty, greedy businessmen. In the process, the rich get richer and the poor get ... absolutely nothing. Not much to like there. Not much to be proud of at the end of the day.

    I get to do a little pro-bono work, but only enough to meet my Bar requirements (my firm does not want me "wasting" my time when I could be billing a paying client). But, I do finish my yoga teacher training next month, so that will provide me with an opportunity to do something a little more meaningful, something that makes people happy (albeit something that I could never make a living doing). So, maybe that will help to balance the scales a bit.

    Just to clarify, I am not unhappy. Quite the contrary. I have reconciled myself with the professional path I chose so long ago and I have accepted the consequences of the choice I made. I perform my duties and try to be "unburdened" by them (to rely on the wisdom of the Metta Sutta). But the happiness that I feel is not related to my work in any way. It is the result of my friendships and my practice and my acceptance of my situation.

    So, I return to my original question. How do we deal with work in this modern world?

  2. #2
    Hi William,

    I am a lawyer too (on paper anyway), although I probably do my potential clients a big favor by NOT practicing. I was never very good at it (and certainly never money driven, ruthless or cut-throat enough to be a lawyer like the career sometimes demands).

    Still, as a translator of legal materials I do work for lawyers who work for big corporations. In this interconnected world, where most of us do work for corporations of one kind or another, it is hard to see all the effects of what we do and the businesses we work for. In our "Buddha Basics" series on "Right Livelihood", I wrote ...

    The fifth branch of the ‘Eightfold Path’ is “Right Livelihood.” Right Livelihood means that, as a life choice, one should earn a living in ways not harmful, and helpful and healthful to the world.

    Nurse, social worker, and teacher seem obvious choices. In our interconnected economy, so too do bus driver, honest salesman, cheerful office worker, waitress supporting her kids, the engineer or businessman providing goods or services which benefit lives.

    Certainly, burgler, heroin pusher, hitman and environmental polluter fall outside the mark.

    And for all of us in careers of complexity — the lawyer, soldier, butcher (traditionally, said banned by Buddha), nuclear scientist — we must honestly follow our hearts: Are we doing what is really necessary? Are we doing it in the best ways we can? Are we leaving this world a better place?

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...-Working-Right
    I have turned down work that morally I could not approve (involving cigarette companies, for example). I will not do it. I have refused to be involved in cases in which I felt an injustice clearly would occur or someone was being cheated. I also have made sure to volunteer and donate my time and energy to people who needed it.

    But I do not believe that all corporations are bad. Some corporations do bad things sometimes, but also they do many good things. Corporations also manage to keep many people who work for them employed, and lets them put their kids through school. (On the other hand, they can sometimes abuse their employees too). The capitalist system is prone to excess, but it has also done much to bring modern conveniences to many people. Lawyers, accountants, salespeople, researchers, secretaries and even executives for corporations are facilitators who should try to avoid doing bad, but can do much good by helping their employers. For example, as a legal translator, I have worked on deals for pharmaceutical companies to introduce new heart and cancer drugs overseas. The pharmaceutical companies are not perfect but, in my heart, I feel it was a good thing to introduce new treatments for diseases. Thus, being a lawyer working for such a company is not a bad thing.

    I also decided to use my translation work to allow me to support Treeleaf. I do not make any money from Treeleaf. If there were no translation work, I could not do so (or feed and clothe my family).

    So, William, I would suggest that maybe what you need to do is something like that? Maybe do not leave your legal work completely, but begin to move it toward what strikes you as healthful, harmless and beneficial. Maybe help more start-ups with really good ideas that could make peoples' lives better. Turn down deals you find questionable. Do more work for charities. Legal knowledge is a tool that can be used for many good things.

    Gassho, Jundo-at-Law
    Last edited by Jundo; 08-22-2013 at 03:36 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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    Senior Member Juki's Avatar
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    Thank you. Indeed, the itch is getting strong to switch the focus of my practice. I am exploring the idea of setting up a non-profit with a couple of friends to do legal work that supports the reforestation of the planet. I don't know if anything will come of these efforts, but the exploration of the idea is heartening in its own right.

    Gassho,

    William (attorney at large)

  4. #4
    The Buddha, by the way, would accept donations in his begging bowl from whoever placed them there ... kings, military generals, rich people, poor people, courtesans, thieves ... even lawyers! Of course, he would not encourage thieves to be thieves in order to get donations from them (and would try to persuade them to abandon the thieving life). I am sure he would refuse any donation he knew was stolen or the like. On the other hand, I am sure that any donation coming from a king or military general might have had some indirect "gray areas" in how they were obtained (for example, the king may have gotten his money from the labor of serfs and slaves or from military plunder). Certainly, in centuries past, most of the large monasteries in Japan and China obtained part of their funding from donated land worked by serfs and slaves (which was "socially acceptable" at the time, so we have to be careful of judging them with 21st century moral values).

    The Buddha offered this advice on right livelihood. My understanding is that he only specifically forbade five kinds of trade to a lay Buddhist: trading in arms, human beings (selling slaves, pimping), flesh (including the breeding of animals for slaughter), intoxicants and harmful drugs, and poisons. (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipit....177.than.html)

    Also (and this may not be good for many a lawyer):

    And what, monks, is wrong mode of livelihood? Trickery, cajolery, insinuating, dissembling, rapacity for gain upon gain...

    — Middle Length Sayings III, pp. 118-19.
    The Buddha is also purported to have encouraged work with unrelenting effort in what we do ...

    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 are tireless. He is endowed with the power of discernment as to the proper ways and means; he is able to arrange and carry out duties. This is called the accomplishment of unrelenting effort.
    That being said, I believe that we need to live, as best we can, turning our work in good directions which avoid harm to others, avoid harm to the environment, and leave this world better than we found it.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 08-22-2013 at 04:32 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  5. #5
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Hi William.

    I know how hard it can get when your job is not so ethical.

    There was a thread about this and here's my personal experience: http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...ll=1#post69531

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  6. #6
    Hi,

    I think that most people are not content with their jobs now and then. Speaking for myself and a lot of other doctors that I know, there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the medical industry. People go into medicine thinking that they are going to save the world, make a ton of money, be respected and live a peachy life. Not the case at all.

    When students get accepted into medical school and attend the first day of class, it's all over for a very long time. The moment you step into medical school they write you a check for $30,000 to pay for tuition for the first year that you have no way of paying back. By the time medical school is over you owe $120,000 to $150,00 so you have to keep going. Medical students for sure know they made a huge mistake after their first round of exams. Not the grades that they are used to receiving as undergraduate students. There is about a decade that disappears from your life while you are in medical school and later on a resident. And afterwards, you are on your own and are always on call. Nothing like the cool shows on TV. The thought of "I should of been a pharmacist, lawyer, served burgers at McDonalds, or anything else" is a though that crosses every sane doctor's mind at some point or another.

    In the end, doctors are stuck. They are overqualified to do anything other than practice medicine. At this stage they engage in one thing at one time, fully realizing who they are, practicing to the best of their ability, one patient at a time, now. When this happens, usually sometime later in their careers, they become happy campers. That is why I usually favor going to older docs for myself.

    Anyway, I think that we deal with the modern world by dealing with the modern world. It is what it is, no other than what it is. Acceptance is the key. And do no harm in the process.

    Gassho, John
    Last edited by Jishin; 08-22-2013 at 04:14 PM.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Clark's Avatar
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    Hello William

    I am beginning to feel as a newbie, here and to active Zen, I don't want to wear out my welcome, but I do think after 20 years of working with counseling my clients on these kind of issues I might have something to contribute.

    I also originally wanted to become a lawyer. I didn't like the environmental destruction I saw all around me and felt like I could do something about it. I graduated from undergraduate school with a degree in History, and a minor in environmental studies and was intending to go into environmental law. I even worked in an acid rain lab, a water filtration company, and an air filtration company trying to get experience valuable to my career.

    Something happened to me along the way. First I began to realize that if I became an environmental lawyer I would probably not be working so much for the environment as much as for the big evil corporations that were trying to avoid regulations. Second, I began to realize that I wanted to do something more "spiritual". As it turns as a result of this I ended up becoming an acupuncturist. Surely being a healer is more spiritual right?

    Something happened along the way. I grew up. Maturity wise and spiritually. As it turns out I made the right career decision, not because it was spiritual, but because I like it and I am good at it. I would have made a horrible lawyer! But somewhere in all this process, growing up and being exposed to many things, I saw that it isn't so much the what you are doing (with exception of the clearly unethical professions as discussed by Jundo) but the how. There are plenty of "healers" out there doing unethical things. Just as there are numerous lawyers doing highly ethical things. Maybe I am really not so spiritual if I perceive my healing to be MORE important than the honest lawyer who is trying to get just compensation for a company that cheated his well meaning company out of millions. That company may provide jobs food education shelter wholeness to numerous families that depend on it.

    Finally I would say that you make a good deal of assumptions in your comments. I don't think that the Modern World has more ethical challenges than the ancient world. You seem like you have found "acceptance" with your work, well that is good and very Zen, but it doesn't mean you cannot change jobs or even careers if you really find that the issue is more you just don't enjoy doing what you are doing any longer. Maybe it isn't your career at all, but the way you are perceiving it to be no longer within your new ideal. Perhaps like you said the Yoga WILL give you a better sense of balance and give you an outlet to make a difference on a more personal one on one level with people. Just don't be an unethical Yoga instructor! I see plenty of those too!

    By the way, some of my best friends are attorneys and I still have dinner with them!

    Gassho C

  8. #8
    Senior Member Juki's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John C. View Post
    Hi,

    I think that most people are not content with their jobs now and then. Speaking for myself and a lot of other doctors that I know, there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the medical industry. People go into medicine thinking that they are going to save the world, make a ton of money, be respected and live a peachy life. Not the case at all.

    Gassho, John
    Yes, John. I see this in real life. I have a friend who is a gifted cancer surgeon, but who has a truly hard time dealing with the gap between theory and practice in the medical profession (or maybe the gap between expectation and reality). She spends what little spare time she has crying and drinking and watching the Red Sox (which also involves crying and drinking).

    Gassho,
    William

  9. #9
    Senior Member Nengyo's Avatar
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    Lawyers? You guys have it easy when it comes to "right profession" You should try being a soldier in an unconventional war...whew! Hahahaha On the upside, if all goes well my next career will be healing the sick, so I should be able to make up some ground!
    "You yourself must strive. The Buddhas only point the way." - Shakyamuni Buddha

  10. #10
    I work for a large corporation. One of our executives said, and I paraphrase, "if people of good conscience don't work here and do what is right, we are lost". Those cutthroat lawyers and rip-off artists are me. I can't point the finger, and running doesn't solve anything. Of course if you weren't happy that would be one thing, but I try to be a good influence by doing ethical and good work.. even in a corporation. I give up, then how the hell would I expect anyone else to make a change? Ok, now I'm getting preachy and I'm going to rip off Ghandi, but change starts with ourselves. Saving all sentient beings happens in samsara, here, not in some ideal place we feel is "good" vs. that "evil" over there. Good Bodhisattvic work can be had in a corporation; it is damned well necessary too because this is reality and they aren't leaving. And what are corporations? Sure there is greed, but that's not the entire truth. Greed will exist anywhere there are human beings. And that is what a corporation is. It is a group of human beings. If we can't be Bodhisattvas there we can't anywhere ,can we?

    Gassho,

    Risho

  11. #11
    I saw this post a couple days ago and it has been sitting with me (or I have been sitting with it) since then. I am a teacher of young children, and I agree with Jundo Roshi that it is one of the obvious choices for right livelihood. However, like anything else, it is not so simple. I find frustration quite often in various things such as parents and families not supporting their child's education, administrative policies keeping me from doing what I believe would be of benefit to my students' education, and an emphasis on memorization and rote learning to better enable high scores on standardized tests. I sometimes see the system working against certain students' best interests, and repeatedly need to step back and breathe. And maybe in a strange twist I have occasionally thought how much more good I could have done if I had gone to law school or medical school. My practice has really helped me to stay in each moment, each interaction with my students, each decision I make.
    As I have grown I have realized how much we need economies of scale that can invest in things such as wind and solar energy, making and shipping shoes to rural areas, providing opportunities for entrepreneurs, and many other things. And people who help make those things happen are doing good as well. I think sometimes the assumptions we have about what is "good" and what is not are more simple than the situation actually happens to be. For me, I feel though the system in which I have chosen to work may not be as "good" as I thought before I became part of it, I can really only control my interaction with it. Hopefully, in dealing with students, families, the public, colleagues, and such I can live the dharma and make everything I do as "good" as possible.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Bengalidan View Post
    I saw this post a couple days ago and it has been sitting with me (or I have been sitting with it) since then. I am a teacher of young children, and I agree with Jundo Roshi that it is one of the obvious choices for right livelihood. However, like anything else, it is not so simple. I find frustration quite often in various things such as parents and families not supporting their child's education, administrative policies keeping me from doing what I believe would be of benefit to my students' education, and an emphasis on memorization and rote learning to better enable high scores on standardized tests. I sometimes see the system working against certain students' best interests, and repeatedly need to step back and breathe. And maybe in a strange twist I have occasionally thought how much more good I could have done if I had gone to law school or medical school. My practice has really helped me to stay in each moment, each interaction with my students, each decision I make.
    As I have grown I have realized how much we need economies of scale that can invest in things such as wind and solar energy, making and shipping shoes to rural areas, providing opportunities for entrepreneurs, and many other things. And people who help make those things happen are doing good as well. I think sometimes the assumptions we have about what is "good" and what is not are more simple than the situation actually happens to be. For me, I feel though the system in which I have chosen to work may not be as "good" as I thought before I became part of it, I can really only control my interaction with it. Hopefully, in dealing with students, families, the public, colleagues, and such I can live the dharma and make everything I do as "good" as possible.
    I really do not think that the situation for monks in monasteries back in the 15th century was much different, and they were probably filled with the same doubts, fears, joys and frustrations about their "career choices" and work place (the monastery), their colleagues (fellow monks) and the like. People who think monasteries are "places of perpetual serenity" have never been to a real monastery, which perhaps is like any large institution filled with hundreds of people bumping into each other ... like a company or college campus. There are also constant ethical choices, good people and not so good, questionable policies (yes, monasteries of old went with the flow of the traditional societies they lived in, accepting money from and welcoming support from kings and warlords, owning slaves, benefiting from and not overly resisting society's inequalities and injustices ... both because such things were more accepted then and Buddhism tended to "look beyond" the ugly in this world, and because they needed cash to keep the roof on the place and everyone fed, and the kings and warlords would burn down the monastery if anyone protested too loudly.).

    The only difference from your school or company, perhaps, is that the Buddhist enterprise is meant to see through all the "beautiful vs. ugly", the hunt for fame, wealth and material reward, division, and point to a gentler way and an ideal of wise and compassionate human potential we call "Buddha".

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 08-25-2013 at 01:39 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  13. #13
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    William, I would say with metta. You may not be able to be Atticus Finn, but you can show metta to your clients. You can help them with kindness and compassion in their time of need, perhaps with something simple like a kind deed or just a warm heart, and attitude, sympathetic to their situation.

    I have been wondering this same thing. I have considered working in elementary schools as a teacher's assistant, when my children are older. However, I home school because I have a very different philosophy about children and education than the school does. So, how do I force children to learn things that are causing them stress, and take away their recess and gym class for not getting their worksheets done when this goes against my views? Again, I come back to what I said, by showing metta to those around us.

    Hope this helps.

    Gassho.
    Treena

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