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Thread: Finding meaning

  1. #1

    Finding meaning

    Had to share this with everyone.

    I read a newspaper article not too long ago about a factory a short drive from my home shutting down after having been open for ages. One of those places that was the cornerstone of the community back in the day, everyone either worked there or knew somebody who did. But, like a lot of factory jobs these days, they were finally closing up shop.

    It was a food packing plant, typical factory line work of processing, canning, and shipping. In the article about the closing, they had interviewed a number of workers from the factory about their thoughts.

    One fellow they talked to was an older gentleman, though I forget how long he said he had been there. His job was just to run a machine that checked to make sure the product was fully sealed and wouldn't go bad and make someone ill. They asked if he was proud of the work he had put in for so many years, and I will never forget his response.

    "Of course I'm proud of my work," he said. "I was saving peoples' lives."

    Think of that! Just a simple job that a good deal of people would turn up their nose at because it was trivial factory work, and he had derived such a sense of purpose from it.

    When I read that, it was like getting punched in the gut. It's so easy to be cynical that you just expect it at all times. It was refreshing and a bit mind-altering to see someone say something like that. I just thought it was a nice reminder that everything we do can be significant, it's just a matter of your mindset. Who knows how many lives you touch every day without even realizing it?


  2. #2
    Thank you for this reminder. I'm so happy you posted it.

    Many people don't think of their own jobs in this context. It's a shame because most of us, in one way or another, help people through our livelihood. It's not always directly seen, but it's there. Can you imagine how amazing it would be if we all remembered this every day at work?

    Gassho to the gentlemen in your story and to all those who do a service to others.


  3. #3
    Hi Joe,

    Yes, we tend to overlook the value of what we do while we fool ourselves searching for something else. And we need a little reminder here and there to be happy with what we are and do for a living.

    Life is sacred and samu is sacred as well.

    Metta for all the workers losing their jobs. May the find better and fulfilling opportunities.


    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  4. #4

    In this interconnected world ... and interconnected economy ... we may not think that we are having any major effect. But all of us, in any job we do and in all our social interactions, has constant effects. Of course, it may be most obvious for the nurse, teacher, police officer and the like who are serving others so obviously. The little bit extra of care, patience, concern, effort they bring into their work can change lives. Likewise, if someone engages in harmful work ... drug pusher or environmental polluter or maker of dangerous goods ... one will also have effects.

    But it is true as well for all us folks, in this world of complexity. I was just reading an essay by Zen Teacher and Social Commentator David Loy who makes a clear case that, one problem of so many of us working directly or indirectly for large corporations, is that nobody is really in charge or responsible (and even the President can say that he or she is just doing what he was hired to do by shareholders ... make a profit).

    From a Buddhist perspective, the problem with modern institutions is that they tend to take on a life of their own as new types of collective ego. Consider, for example, how a big corporation works. Even if the CEO of a transnational company wants to be socially responsible, he or she is limited by the expectations of stockholders. If profits are threatened by her sensitivity to environmental concerns, she is likely to lose her job. Large corporations are new forms of impersonal collective self, which are very good at preserving themselves and increasing their power, quite apart from the personal motivations of the individuals who serve them. John Ralston Saul describes this as the “amorality” of modern organizations:

    AMORALITY: A quality admired and rewarded in modern organizations, where it is referred to through metaphors such as professionalism and efficiency . . . Immorality is doing wrong of our own volition. Amorality is doing it because a structure or an organization expects us to do it. Amorality is thus worse than immorality because it involves denying our responsibility and therefore our existence as anything more than an animal (The Doubter's Companion).
    Yet, for most of us, struggling to feed our family... far short of being the president of the company ... in this world where jobs are hard to come by, and any job has mixed effects (for example, the waiter in the restaurant may make customers smile with humor and warmth, and help families have some time together, struggling for low pay to support his or her own child back home ... yet also sometimes be compelled by restaurant policy to serve food a bit too high in calories to someone overweight) ... well, the situation is complex.

    The Buddha, 2500 years ago in India, recognized that his lay followers ... some kings, householders with family businesses, courtesans, rich landholders with slaves sometimes ... were each following careers of sometime complexity. 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. (

    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.

    A lovely essay which wrestles with these questions from a blog dedicated to "The Buddha's Advice to Laypeople".

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-14-2014 at 01:50 AM.

  5. #5
    Joe, that is a great story. That gentleman certainly saw the bigger picture of what he did and that clearly brought him purpose and satisfaction.

    I am reminded of what Mother Teresa said: "We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love."

    I so appreciate these little gems shared by members of the community here - vignettes from real life that teach us how to be fully human.


  6. #6
    Entai, Kyonin, Andy

    I like your clear and direct reflections better than my morality mulling today. I think so.

    I am reading David Loy and he has got me thinking serious thoughts on capitalism and right livelihood and such. I think I missed the point of simple care in work. Reminds me of the story of Dogen in China and the tenzo temple cook out buying shitake mushrooms.
    Dogen was staying on a ship. He met a tenzo who came aboard to buy shiitakes.Dogen:*Your monastery is far away. Please stay and let me offer you a meal.Tenzo:I'm sorry, but I can't. If I'm not there to prepare*tomorrow's meal, it won't go well.Dogen:*But surely someone else in the monastery knows how to cook?Tenzo:*This is my practice. How can I leave to others what I should do myself?Dogen:*Venerable sir, why work as a cook in your old age? Why not meditate and study the*koans.Tenzo:*Hahahaha! My foreign friend, it seems you don't really understand practice.The monk left for his temple immediately.
    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-13-2014 at 09:16 AM.

  7. #7

    I have serious concerns about capitalism, especially the form currently presented through Neo-Liberal ideology. However, I also think that any system of economics or government can be made to work when people adopt the right attitude of taking joy in and responsibility for what they do, how much they need, and the well-being of others. Conversely, without that attitude, any system of economics or government can be manipulated to be self-serving rather than achieve what is best for all.

    Also, that story from Tenzo kyokun is lovely. So much wisdom in there.


  8. #8
    Thank you Joe ... I agree with what Entai has said as well. Directly or indirectly the jobs we do are for the benefit of others ... I cannot thinking of any off the top of my head at the moment that are not. I wonder if we came from that mind set that the work we do primarily is for the benefit of others - would this create less greed and the need for power over others? =)


  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Entai, Kyonin, Andy

    I like your clear and direct reflections better than my morality mulling today. I think so.

    Gassho, J
    I liked your morality mulling simply b/c we have to look directly at ugliness/things we don't like, too. It's nice to hear a good story and it's important to appreciate the small things we can do, but the world has some pretty ugly things in it, and looking at those things directly is definitely necessary. I'm with Andy (though I don't have any idea about Neo-liberal this or anything and don't really approach it from that angle), and would add that there's a sort of danger in just avoiding looking at the messed-up-ness of some things.

    I mean, the story of the guy is nice, but the only reason we're reading it is b/c the guy lost his job, and he probably lost his job to corporatism in some way, which means that the little guy (i.e., other workers), most likely, is suffering here, so that that big ego conglomerate can grow more powerful. I don't mean to bring in not so pleasant stuff in an otherwise pleasant thread, but what if this guy lost his job when he was thirty-five and had nowhere else to go, rather than losing it at the end of a long career - would he be reacting the same way and would we be reading about that reaction in the same way? I doubt it. It's wonderful that he found meaning in his job, and like everyone has said, it's a good reminder for us to do the same, but my problem with a story like this is that it isn't simple, it's reductive. Like, what if everyone was like this? Well, who is everyone? Is it just the guy working the "trivial" job - if so, he's being exploited, and that happens all the time. Also, maybe this guy had other things to say; maybe he wasn't too happy about losing his job, etc - the paper chooses what goes in. So, I have a slight aversion to these types of stories because they have a hallmarky sentimentality that often blurs out harsh realities - this is a nice story about a guy losing his job, being accepting of his station in life and it feels good to us; but they're not all like this (his may not even be as positive as reported here), and that's buddha too, seeing that the stories aren't all like this, and in reality, there's probably much more to this picture than that quote.

    There are beautiful and kind things going on every day, and at the same time, we live in a culture that celebrates self, and money, and power, (we have people who are famous for being famous - is there a larger piece of symptomatic evidence that we're a culture obsessed with self, ego, that many of these people no longer even have a talent, that they have become a corporate brand as beings?) all things ego-related, to some degree, and we're only just starting to "celebrate" things non-ego (like caring for the environment, for instance). Anyway, I don't mean to be cynical, and in fact I don't see this as cynical; it's good to be reminded that the small things we do matter, matter to ourselves, to the people around us, and in that interconnected butterfly-effect way, matter to all existence, and I thank everyone for that reminder, but, for me it's equally important to be aware of what we're being given, day in and day out, by a culture that doesn't have a lot to do with buddhism.


  10. #10
    "I do not have anything against Western Practitioners of Medicine any more than I have anything against practitioners of Eastern Medicine. What I have issue with, is practitioners of ANY medicine who are not present for their patients" _ Jeffery Yuen, Acupuncturist and Taoist Priest, and one of my favorite teachers.

    Thanks for all your comments here


  11. #11
    This is a great discussion. What a humble attitude this man has. He is an inspiration. It's easy to look at the kind doctor, teacher, or nurse as a hero in our society, but really, we all have the opportunity to show kindness to others, no matter what we do.


  12. #12
    Hi Jundo,

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    I am reading David Loy and he has got me thinking serious thoughts on capitalism and right livelihood and such.
    I think you might enjoy watching David Loy's speech he held at last year's Buddhist Geeks Conference. Truly fascinating. If you are a Tricycle member you still might have the possibility to get access to it. (or directly at BG?)


    no thing needs to be added

  13. #13
    Thank you.

    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Joyo View Post
    This is a great discussion. What a humble attitude this man has. He is an inspiration. It's easy to look at the kind doctor, teacher, or nurse as a hero in our society, but really, we all have the opportunity to show kindness to others, no matter what we do.

    I certainly wasn't suggesting my 2 cents implied a specific kind of person being present. Right now my accountant is MY hero!


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