A lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five?  Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison."

     ~ The Buddha

Simple, sound and straight forward advice, but the Buddha didn't have to deal with space travel, gene splicing, genetically modified organisms, cloning, media relations or the internet.  How can his uncomplicated advice be used in today's world? 

 

For the vast majority of us, work is doing something and getting paid - an exchange of dollars for our time, our mental acuity and our physical labour.  It is a way of getting money to buy what we want or need.  In Buddhism and the Nature of Work, Horner takes an in-depth look at what, Buddhism and its related values might bring to the workplace.  We explore four main areas; the history of work in society, work culture, the changing face of work and the intersection of Buddhist values and practices to the workplace as employee and owner.

Our work, when done with vigour, mindfulness and care, contributes, in ways both great and small, to the betterment of our fellow man.  To work is to be part of a continuum that stretches back to the time of earliest man. 

6" X 9" 277 pages, paperback, perfect bound  ISBN: 978-1-7771539-4-6

Buddhism and the Nature of Work

Spring 2021

Book Excerpt

 

THE ILLUSION OF INDEPENDENCE

Everything has arisen from that which has come before.  Anything we think about, say or act upon is the result of something which has come before.  Anything we call ‘our own’ we owe to circumstances that arose before we arrived.  In short, as Carl Saga wrote;

 

 “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

 

As human beings, we are taught to aspire to independence from a very early age.  Growing up we hear hundreds of bromides that profess to the virtues of independence;

 

“Learn to stand on your own two feet”   

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”

“Get out there and fend for yourself”

“Be your own man”

“Knit your own sandals"

“Get over that hurdle, no one else is going to do it for you.”

“Paddle your own canoe’

“Under your own steam” and

“Plough your own furrow.”

 

 The list of sayings about the virtues of autonomy is almost endless, yet its length says a great deal about the almost universal delusion that much of humanity operates under.  

 

I’m not suggesting for a moment that we shouldn’t be able to make our own way in life or be our own person and express ourselves - that’s all good.  The mistake comes in believing that when we ‘paddle our own canoe,’ we are no longer part of the world which has given rise to us or that we are not part of a larger society and therefore have no obligations nor ought we express any gratitude for those things.  

 

Unlike a drop of rain falling into the ocean and losing itself, people can be part of a society and still have their own sense of self, their own identity and their own way of thinking and doing things. We only need to remember that we do not exist in and of ourselves. 

 

Getting out of bed in the morning requires that we have a bed to get out of – and few of us have the skills or motivation to build our own beds.  It requires a floor upon when to stand and the vast majority of us didn’t lay down our own hardwood floor.  When we dress, few of us don the clothes we personally made from fabric we’ve woven on the loom from yarn that we produced ourselves from the sheep we raised on our sustainable farm.  Independence is a delusion. 

 

“We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty.”

~ G.K. Chesterton 

 

We speak of, ‘financial independence,’ which itself is, at best, questionable.  Without a global financial system to support our country’s currency, we only have paper promises that can be destroyed by water or fire.  We are absolutely and utterly dependent upon someone else accepting our money.  How, independent do you feel when the debit/Transac machine isn’t working at the store and you’re left standing there, in front of the cashier, dumbfounded about how to pay?  

 

Without a bank to store your money, where would you put it, the stock market? Then you are at the mercy of the stock traders and their goodwill – and their goodwill extends exactly as far as your margin account allows.  Would it be safer in a money market fund?  Maybe, but they are invested in the stock market and dependent upon the vagaries of that machine as well – and we know the investment houses have your best interests at heart.  You only have to look at the loving-kindness they displayed around packaging bad mortgages with other bad debt and selling them as, ‘investment quality,’ instruments, back in 2008.  Only through the interventions of your elected officials did this self-serving pack of jackals not drag the whole bloody world financial system back to the middle ages.  

 

  “Phenomena adorn emptiness, but never corrupt it. If you have a thorough understanding of the way phenomena appear through dependent arising, it will not be difficult for you to understand the view of emptiness while remaining in meditation. On arising from such a meditation and entering the path of action, you will recognize clearly the direct relationship between actions and their results. This will enable you to discriminate easily between positive and negative actions.”    

~ Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

 

So, to say or believe you have financial independence is, really, a bit too much to accept.  In the end, if you truly believe you are the Warren Buffett of your world and control your own financial destiny, you are still utterly and totally dependent on hundreds of thousands of people who are charged with enforcing the banking laws, trading practices, internet security, bank vault designers, accountants, lawyers, judges, etc, to protect your money.  Your, ‘independence,’ is really ‘interdependence.’  Without the legions of, ‘others,’ you are quite frankly, screwed.  

 

We have this crazy idea that we are ‘independent.’  We are not.  We are absolutely dependent on the existence of other people, other things and other conditions having existed before us in order for us to exist.  

 

 The idea of independence is utter nonsense.  If we were to replace the term ‘financial independence’ with ‘financial freedom,’ then we might have a more accurate idea of what having and using money might mean.   

 

“Impermanence and selflessness are not negative aspects of life, but the very foundation on which life is built. Impermanence is the constant transformation of things. Without impermanence, there can be no life. Selflessness is the interdependent nature of all things. Without interdependence, nothing could exist.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

 

The world all around us is constantly supplying us with the necessities of life; air, water, food, a stable climate, sunlight, trees for shade, etc. and asks nothing in return.  These resources are free for all to use and are the very thing that keeps us alive, yet we still insist on some idea of ‘independence.’  It’s all rather silly.

 

When we are at work and doing whatever it is we do to earn a living, we need to keep this idea of interdependence in mind throughout the day.  We must not fall into the trap that we’ve succeeded in finishing some project on our own and try to take credit for it, when, in fact, the materials, logistics, resources and money for us to complete that project have been provided by others.  We would do well to remember that we were part of a team and be sure to thank the efforts of everyone who contributed to our success. 

 

“The main cause of suffering is our clinging to a sense of an independently existent self, adding that if we were to trace the source of anger and attachment we would find that it is ignorance. He also observed that things appear to be independent when they are not, so their appearance is like an illusion.”

~Dalai Lama