I know we'll be getting to the topic of workplace practice in Joko's book sometime within the next month or so, but I just came across this nice article on The Worst Horse (an irreverent little Buddhist pop culture blog) and thought I'd share it.

Here's a link if you prefer. The full text follows.


"GOOD WORK: Uncovering the Dharma in Even the Crappiest Job"
by Joe Evans

When we are at a Buddhist teaching or on our meditation cushion, we are open, ready to alter our views. So why are we immediately sucked back into a mind of aversion when it comes to doing the work that gives us our paychecks?

We may perceive our work as mundane or tainted in some way, but since we are the ones in charge of transforming our minds -- from the green caterpillar that it is, into the majestic butterfly of awakening -- shouldn't we also be able to create a purified view of the workplace?

Yes. We have a choice:

We can see the world as a place were things are ugly, stupid, boring, or counterproductive to our dharma practice. Or we can see it as it is, in its ultimate reality.

In reality, our meditation cushions and our work uniforms or desks are in fact the same. They all exist in dependence upon limitless causes and conditions. If we can take advantage of this innate oneness of phenomena we can transform how we view our day-to-day universe. How? Well, let's just say that I am a waiter at a chain restaurant that has a uniform that makes me feel like a moron. The uniform includes a lot of really gimmicky buttons and catch-phrases designed to get the patrons to buy poorly prepared foods. The restaurant itself is noisy and dirty and there is plenty of gossip and bad attitude.

Okay -- now that we have a sufficiently crappy setting, let's see what we can do to transform it into a suitable place for the cultivation of the mind of enlightenment.

Let's look closely at my waiters' uniform and see what it is made of. It is cloth and bits of metal and various other bits of material. Now, let's look at our meditation cushions. Cloth. Metal zippers. Hmmmm. . . . Same stuff. Really, even this tacky uniform is composed of the same material as the robes that our teachers may wear, or which is used to make a thanka.

Now, let's get to the generic American cuisine I'm serving. As we investigate it, we can see that it may not be the best, but we can still work with it. If we are to cultivate the mind that wishes to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings we can think of this food as something different. We can imagine that we have blessed the food and transformed it into a beautiful array of the finest offering that can bring happiness to sentient beings.

As we deliver this food, who is to say that someone at the table isn't a Bodhisattva or a Buddha or a Rinpoche or a Roshi or whatever? We can't know such a thing, so why not offer this food to them with a mind that wishes for any and all who receive it to become free from pain and suffering? In this way we can even transform the duties of a seemingly mundane "service industry" job into true service for the benefit of others.

The appearance of the world is what it is. Our real "job" is to look deeper and to recognize that while we are functioning within that reality, it does not have the power to control us. Only we can choose whether or not we take seemingly counterproductive conditions and turn them into steps on our path to enlightenment. By utilizing the tools that samsara gives us, we can build a place for the potential enlightened mind that resides within us all to flourish. And generating a virtuous mind at work makes going to work much more appealing; itís no longer separated from our spiritual practice.

While I don't work at a restaurant like the one I've described here, my job does entail the selling of wine to customers. In selling a potentially harmful substance I am given the opportunity to exert more effort toward transforming and working with my daily environment. Dharmaraksita says in "The Wheel of Sharp Weapons:" "In jungles of poisonous plants strut the peacocks, though medicine gardens of beauty lie near. The masses of peacocks do not find the gardens pleasant, but thrive on the essence of poisonous plants." In the verse that follows, the peacocks are likened to bodhisattvas living in the world of samsara and working for the benefit of others. Likewise, we as ordinary people going to work have the opportunity to "thrive on poisonous plants."

If we can maintain a level of mindfulness that allows us to even transform difficult situations into virtue then we are skillfully working with samsara. Rather than running away from suffering (and our difficult or frustrating jobs), we can use our eight hours a day to train our minds. In that way we too will thrive like the peacocks, and benefit others like the bodhisattvas.

If I can create an offering of fine wine with the motivation of bringing bliss to all sentient beings, I will be transforming all the seemingly mundane moments of a work-shift into a day of mindful activity. Through constantly striving to maintain an open and mindful attitude that is rooted in compassion we can even transform ordinary moments into bodhicitta. Through serving a quality wine to my customers with the wish that they attain complete and total awakening I am serving them by trying to enhance my mind of awakening. The more aware we become the more we can benefit those around us.

Through such a mental transformation -- which we might often leave behind once we've gotten up from our meditation cushions -- we can transform our clothes, our job, and even our customers. When we can transform our seemingly mundane daily activities into a means by which we can increase our compassion for others, we're doing the work of a bodhisattva. We have increased our merit, fortified our compassion, and earned a paycheck all at the same time.


JOE EVANS lives in Boston with his girlfriend Charlotte and their dog Rufus. He's a former worker for and member of Gehlek Rimpoche's Jewel Heart Tibetan Buddhist Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and has volunteered his time for the Tibetan Nuns Project and Students for a Free Tibet.

Joe can be reached through his MySpace page.[/u]