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Right Livelihood: Would Sid do it for the money?

posted by Lodro Rinzler

What would Sid do?

Before Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment at age 35 he was a
confused twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a
spiritual life. He had an overbearing dad, expectations for what he was
supposed to do
with his life, drinks were flowing, lutes were playing, and the
women were all about him. Some called him L.L. Cool S. I imagine
close friends just referred to him as Sid.

Many people look to Siddhartha as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. But here we look at a younger Sid
as a confused guy struggling with his daily life. What would he do as a
young person trying to find love, cheap drinks, and fun in a city like
New York? How would he combine Buddhism and dating? We all make mistakes on our spiritual journey; here is where
they’re discussed.

Each week I’ll take on a new question and
give some advice based on what I think Sid, a confused guy working on
his spiritual life in a world of major distraction, would do. Because
let’s face it, you and I are Sid.

Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and I’ll probably get to it!

Q: I just graduated from college and I’ve been job hunting for a few weeks
now. I finally got some offers, but now I’m super conflicted. I was an
Econ major in college, and I always planned to use my major to do some
good in the World. I’ve got one offer on the table now with ********,
in which I would be doing some work with infrastructure in South
Africa’s Millennium Villages, but they would pay me next to nothing
(though I would get to travel). The other offer is as an analyst with
**********, where I’d get paid really well, but benefit no one, and
possible indirectly harm some people. What should I do??? – RAB*

*names of companies removed by author

RAB, I understand the desire to take a secure job where you have a good salary. I can’t imagine anyone outright faulting you for that desire. Furthermore, I think it’s not evil but brave for people interested in bringing mindfulness and compassion to their daily life to work in major corporate settings. In those settings we are constantly being tested in our ability to keep an open heart when confronted with ruthless office politics, gossip, and manipulation.

Now I am not someone who frequents the gymnasium so commenters, please feel free to correct me here, but my understanding is that when one works out you go a little bit above and beyond your comfort zone and that is when the muscle begins to grow.

The same can be said for our heart. If we can remain open-hearted above and beyond our usual comfort level we are stretching our compassion muscle and growing as a person. In other words, I think it’s incorrect to say that working as an analyst at a major corporation would benefit no one. You could engage your workplace as a meditation hall and learn to work
with the range of emotions you encounter on the spot. That could be an
excellent practice for you.

Also, not to get too Gandhi on you but being open-hearted in the workplace (any workplace) is being a little bit of that change many of us would like to see take place in major corporations.

Now a shift. As was discussed in this column a few weeks ago the bottom line of Right Livelihood is that we do not harm ourselves or others. You may feel that the analyst job does harm others. I’m not sure which brand of poison the company you are considering working for sells but if you don’t agree with the mission statement of the company you will probably not feel comfortable working there. In fact, doing something you do not feel good about will drain your own energy (lungta), regardless of how much money you are putting in the bank. As Shantideva said,

“Some evil and lustful people
Wear themselves out by working all day
And when they return home (in the evening)
Their exhausted bodies lie prostrate like corpses.”
    – Bodhisattvacharyavatara, Chapter 8 Paragraph 73

Funny how a text written 1300 years ago can still found familiar today. Granted, the language is a bit strong (I’d never call you evil or lustful RAB!) but still. How many of us come home after a long day of work, flop down on our couch and flick on the television, spending the rest of the evening prostrate like a corpse?

The thing is I’ve only seen people act like that when they did not feel good about their daily work. As such I think Sid, if placed in your position, would take the job helping others. You stated in your question that your primary motivation for some time has been to do some good in this world. It seems from the way you phrased things that you believe the Millennium Village job would allow you to do that.

When faced with major life decisions it might be helpful to recall that our old friend Death is never too far away. We don’t know when he will come visit only that he will come. We could live a good 95 years (RIP Nana, or should I say swift rebirth) or get hit by a bus. Trust me, I’ve been hit by a bus before. However, I offer this tangent not as a downer but as a reminder that we ought to make the most of this life and appreciate the time we have.

When you are lying on your deathbed will you cry out, “I wished I watched more TV!” or “If only I had nicer clothes!”? I doubt it. I’d like to think that when confront with death we all reflect on the good we did during our time on this earth. The people we’ve helped along the way. The significant accomplishments that made a difference in the lives of others. I’m sure Sid did that. He had a whole lot to look back on because, like you, he was motivated to spend his life doing some good in this world. I fully encourage you to follow your shared motivation. And send me a postcard from South Africa.

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posted August 8, 2009 at 6:00 am

Would you please stop referring to the Buddha as Sid?
It’s like a Christian calling Christ “Jeez” or a scientist calling Isaac Newton “Izzy” or a philosopher calling Socrates “Socko” etc.
I realize you are trying to communicate with a young audience, but you are stooping too low with that practice. It does not exactly defame the Dharma, but it trivializes it. A tone of over-familiarity like that is not warranted and constitutes simple bad manners.
Thanks for considering this.

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Ethan Nichtern

posted August 8, 2009 at 8:23 am

Why do you take it so seriously? It’s respectful, not a name that insults in any way – obviously Lodro has tremendous respect for the Buddha as a serious lifelong practitioner – it’s just a shortened name like you might call a friend, again, respectfully. I find absolutely nothing negative about “Sid.” I don’t even think Lodro is trying to appeal to a young audience, so much as an audience that is trying to understand Buddhist ethics on a familiar and relevant level, about which we currently face a dearth of honest explorations.
The Buddha demanded not to be worshipped; he demanded you relate to his teachings on an eye-level. “Sid” does that for me, and for a lot of others, so why does it matter to you? If it doesn’t work for you, fine, but I never understand why folks have to make their personal irritations everyone else’s problem.
Basically you are asking Lodro to stop writing the way he wants to write – the way others connect to – because you don’t like it. That’s like me writing a letter to every author of every overly technical manual that makes Buddhism sound jargon-filled and arcane, and telling them to stop writing their books because their style annoys me and seems disrespectful to readers intelligence. It is really interesting how Lodro’s posts bring out the puritanical streak in folks.
I’m going to start calling Isaac Newton “Izzy.” I bet in 2009 he would like that. And if Isaac doesn’t like it, he can ask me to stop and I will. You are not Isaac.
Does anyone have any comments about the actual article?

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posted August 8, 2009 at 9:03 am

I am not “taking this so seriously.” I did not say it was an “insult.” I am not a “puritan.”
I did not ask “Lodro to stop writing the way he wants to write.” I just asked him to please stop using Sid. Aren’t you telling me to stop doing something?
My comment is not like you “writing a letter to every author of every overly technical manual…” I wrote a comment to one author about his use of one word. Chances are he appreciates the feedback.

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posted August 8, 2009 at 9:09 am

I did not ask you to stop doing anything. This just might not be the column for you.

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posted August 8, 2009 at 9:19 am

You suggested as much and are now suggesting I stop reading this comment.
Are you really unaware that your original argument aimed at my comment applies just as well to your comments?
I did not insult Lodro and have not insulted you. I am not asking you to stop writing or to go away. Not even suggesting it.
I made a simple comment expressing a fairly common attitude toward how to refer to the Buddha. That is all.

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posted August 8, 2009 at 9:37 am

Sounds Fine Bob. If you are interested in reading our blog, please do. But it seems you don’t like the basic premise of Lodro’s post to me.
I am glad to have you reading the blog if it interests you.
But if you want a highly formal attitude toward Buddhism, this might not be the place you like. Up to you.

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posted August 8, 2009 at 10:35 am

@Bob: One of the main ideas behind the ID Project (correct me Ethan if I am wrong) is to try to bring the dharma into the 21st Century and see what parts of it can be relevant and meaningful to a bunch of folks living the way we live now. What Lodro is doing by calling the Buddha “Sid,” I believe, is a literary interpretation of a larger concept. The people who write to Lodro with questions are wondering how the dharma can help them with their dilemma. They want to know how their inner Buddha might respond to a certain situation. However, a distinction must be made between the actual Buddha and the 21st Century Buddhist practitioner, because way back when, the Buddha did not have to make decisions like “should I work at X company or Y company,” but a regular 21st century guy or gal who practices meditation definitely might have to make that decision. That 21st century meditator is looking to their inner “Sid,” their 21st century-inner-enlightened-compassionate self. It might be splitting hairs, but to use the name Buddha here instead of something like Sid leaves out the important distinction that even though Buddhist principles are still very relevant to today, we have to look at them in the context of where we are now. I think “Sid” is a good literary figure. I hope that helps and I hope you keep reading our blog.
Back to the actual post…
1) Do you NEED to take the job that offers more money because you simply cannot live off of the salary the first job offers you? This is important. I don’t care what Buddhism says about attachment and materialism – are you going to have enough money to get by and be comfortable? This is taking care of yourself.
Now, assuming that the money isn’t the deciding factor…
2) Next take into consideration just what is the work you are going to be doing at both places every day? Which place, day to day, is going to make you feel more happy and fulfilled? Doing a job that you can tolerate is different from doing a job that you LOVE. Think about the hours, the location, the kinds of people you’d be working with. What are the draws of the big-name company besides the money? Career advancement? The potential to have a large-scale impact on a lot of people? Location? These are all things to consider.
3) Remember, whichever job you take is an opportunity to practice. This is a hard decision, and you simply do not know how either job will play out. Try not to be too hard on yourself, and choose the one that you think will make you feel fulfilled on a day-to-day basis.
4) Also remember that nothing is permanent. If you hate it or it sucks out your soul a little bit, it is not forever.

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posted August 8, 2009 at 10:47 am

Ethan, thanks for your reply.
Maybe there is a synthesis here.
I agree that what I read, and write, is up to me. But I most definitely do not “want a highly formal attitude toward Buddhism.”
I believe that Lodro can and should write whatever he wants, but if he posts his work in public with an open comments section, it seems reasonable to assume he would not be too bothered by someone actually making a comment.
In reading your posts, I notice you have a tendency to exaggerate my position. By exaggerating it, you lead yourself into a response that does not address what I have been saying. For example, I did not ask Lodro to adopt “a highly formal attitude toward Buddhism.” I just asked him to stop referring to the Buddha as Sid. The two are not the same.
His blog would work just as well with Siddhartha. If he doesn’t want to change, that’s fine, but as mentioned I would think he would appreciate the feedback.
Honestly, I am very supportive of seeing the Dharma in new ways and relating it to the world we live in today. This is a very old theme in Buddhism and a very honorable one. I sincerely hope I have not discouraged Lodro from working within this tradition.
Ethan, I admire your spirited effort to defend your friend and hope that somehow we can all come to feel that we are on the same side in this matter.

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posted August 8, 2009 at 11:10 am

Honestly, Emily, it’s a stretch to claim that calling Siddhartha Sid does all that much to help people “look at [Buddhist principles] in the context of where we are now.”
What is wrong with Siddhartha?

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posted August 8, 2009 at 12:20 pm

I think Lodro should consider using the honorific term “Mr. Sid.” Or perhaps “Hott-agatha.”

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posted August 8, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Oh, and as to the blog’s content….
This is, I think, very good advice. There’s something disingenuous about painting the high-paying job as devoid of virtue. Like Ethan said the other night in class, we need more people capable of real equanimity in leadership positions. Learning something about the existing culture of power from the inside, not to mention noticing how being in positions of power (economic, political, or otherwise) affects us and our thinking is an opportunity not many get.

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M.C. Owens

posted August 8, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Also a comment about the post in general, but @ RAB as well. I think the article is mis-titled because the answer is “No”, Sid(dhartha) would not do it for the money. His later, enlightened mind advised him and his followers to not even touch money. I’m not bringing up this vinayic point to be cute (i get the point of the article), but to say, I don’t think the paragon of samma (‘right’) behavior that we call Siddhartha/Gautama/Buddha would be anywhere near a job in the market place (sorry RAB).
Perhaps a more appropriate title would be something like “Would Avalokitesvara (or A-Kitty ;) do it for the money?” Because it seems to me we’re talking about the maha/vajrayana bodhisattva model of practicing in the world, and enlightenment through dana; not the o.b. (original buddha) model of “perfect yourself before you even think about helping anyone else.”

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Robert Prichard

posted August 8, 2009 at 12:51 pm

2 points:
Isn’t Bob short for Robert and aren’t you the Buddha too?
We need Buddhists in all walks of life. I’d rather work with a Buddhist cop when I’m having trouble entering my house than with a non meditator.

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Mark McCormack

posted August 8, 2009 at 5:03 pm

We need more people working on the Millennium Villages. It could truly be the first initiative to end extreme poverty by 2025. I volunteer 90% of my free time to the Make Poverty History campaign and in supporting the Millennium Villages as a tangible aspect of the campaign.
I have been living this way for the past 2 years since I first found out about the Make Poverty History Campaign. I only found out about the Millennium Villages and Millennium Promise this past year. Ever since I decided to give more to others through these very intelligent and highly energetic initiatives (highly energetic as in their energy patterns are highly synchronized with current momentum in the patterns of the universe) it seems as though my spirituality has grown tremendously unlocking a truly synchronistic and adventurous life for me. My family life, personal life, professional life, finances have all improved making me feel like I could not live life any more to the fullest. There is literally so much to experience in the world and giving to these projects in an intelligent and balanced way (ie. don’t sacrifice your own spiritual energy level because if you cannot look after yourself, then how can you effectively give energy to anyone else?) has unlocked this for me.
Previous to Make Poverty History, I was very much focused inwardly on developing myself spiritually and looking for spiritual dialog but it felt as though I was fighting an up hill battle everywhere and that I was constantly losing ground here and there. But as soon as I synchronized with Make Poverty History and the Millennium Villages I developed a vision for the world that brought everything together that I had learned and was trying to put into place from the spiritual practice of 10 years length in a very natural way.
But I had to break free of the system and consciousness of our societies current awareness level. This meant I had to do the unthinkable. I withdrew from university for these past 2 years. This NEVER crossed my mind previous to MPH. In fact, I was happily trying to plan my way into grad school to go work on the Large Hadron Collider…but once I broke free, the synchronicity and energy levels poured in once I removed the fear and energy blockages of moving outside the comfort zone that society had created for me.
One last thing. When I broke free of the system, I am not saying in the traditional stereotypical view of being a young naive activist. I very much understand the role and successes of he corporate world and the economic pressures that rest under much of the social disorder and unfairness in the world. I am a realist, but my subconscious programming synchronized so completely with the patterns (especially in marketing) with the Make Poverty History campaign and the Millennium Villages, that passion was unlocked within my conscious experience and I had energy. I had energy to do things that most people could not bear. But I was intelligent about breaking free of the system and respectful in the ways that I fashioned the change I wanted to see.
So I would say that either way, if you join Millennium Villages or the corporate world, you can still unlock the synchronicity and attach your outflow of energy to everyone else whereby the balance of the universe will increase the flow of everyone else into you. Its just a question of efficiency (an economics type question). Which choice will result in you being able to utilize your subconscious programming to increase the awareness levels across the world so t hat everyone can unlock the beauty of such a spiritual existence?
To me, I felt leaving school temporarily for MPH and the Millennium Villages would have the most impact in comparison with my grad school studies. I plan to go back to school, but the probability of me going to school is greater through my life time than helping out with time bound energy patterns like MPH and Millennium Villages…there are a host of reasons why I made this decision rationally and logically, but also had elements of intuition come into play to help navigate.
Good luck on your choice! I’m sure Sid would go about things with this level of thoughtfulness.

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posted August 8, 2009 at 11:11 pm

At the beginning of my career, I accepted a postion working with Native American children, which had long been a passionate dream of mine, for about the lowest pay one could possibly earn in my field. I connected with the children and loved my work during those years more than at any other time. I left because one of my own children became sick and I couldn’t care for his needs in a rural setting. I certainly don’t regret leaving for that reason, but I remember those years as the ones that really mattered – the ones when my work made a real difference. Not earning much money just didn’t enter into the picture regarding my work, but it did make a difference when my son got sick. He is fine now, by the way. Full recovery! Now I have gratitude for all of it, having been able to do the work I loved in the first place, and then finding suitable work that enabled me to provide the care my son needed. Just gratitude. Make your choice based on the most important components of your well-being.

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posted August 9, 2009 at 2:22 pm

it is certainly disrespectful to use the word “Sid.” Just as it would be disrespectful to use the word “Chris” to describe Christ.
If you disagree, then I would suggest you email the various dharma centers around the country and ask them to reign in. I don’t think it would be even close. I would think at least 90% would say it is disrespectful.
But, of course, that would take work and effort, why bother? I think it is extremely important to throw out all journalistic ethics. They just get in the way.
I have no objection to this blog. My only objection to this blog is it being included in a “Daily Buddhist Email.” It does not belong in a place where it, in any way, represents Buddhism. I can’t see why Beliefnet can’t get an official respresentative of a major Buddhist organization to blog.
The blog is good writing and it is cute, but it does not represent Buddhism and should be on Beliefnet as some kind of official representation of Buddhism.
To say things like the Buddha was a confused 20-something? This kind of comment is just absolutely pure nonsense. The Buddha was never a confused 20-something…ever. He was a pure, brilliant and extremely talented human being, from the get go. But hey, why allow historical facts to interfere with appealing to your base?
What would be the point?

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posted August 9, 2009 at 2:24 pm

oops. typo, sorry.
it should NOT be on Beliefnet as an official representative of Buddhism…

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Ethan Nichtern

posted August 9, 2009 at 3:02 pm

@ anonymous. I believe you have made your comments before, which might be why you are posting anonymously. Again, we are a Buddhist organization, and Lodro Rinzler is a certified instructor in a Buddhist lineage (Shambhala). In fact, the amount of Buddhist practice that Lodro has done by the tender age of his late twenties is pretty amazing.
I, as the founding director of IDP and the starter of this blog, am an experienced Buddhist teacher and college professor of Buddhism. Tricycle and Shambhala Sun – widely considered the two main Buddhist magazines in America – frequently link to our blog, and MANY Buddhist teachers are supporters and readers of our work. Sharon Salzberg, one of the foremost teachers of Buddhism in the Western world, blogs for us. So if you don’t like this blog, that is wonderful. If you want to disagree with points made in Lodro’s posts, you have our full support to do so, and we’d love the dialogue. But please don’t question the “Buddhist” legitimacy of our blog. We would never question the authenticity of your practice if we disagreed with you. I think “Sid” is plenty respectful, but I would never say you weren’t being Buddhist for voicing your disagreement with that.
All the very best to you, please keep reading and commenting as much as you like.

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posted August 10, 2009 at 9:54 am

As for calling Siddhartha “Sid” it sound a little funny to me but it doesn’t bother me in the least. It’s more like calling Yeshua (Jesus, known by some as “the Christ”) “Josh” and I don’t see a huge problem with that either. He’s not shortening the honorific (ie Christ vs. Buddha) he’s shortening the given name. For you SAT kids, Sid:Siddartha as Josh:Joshua.
Back to the post:
I find myself struggling with this on a regular basis. I work for a defense contractor and I often feel “guilty” that I’m not following Right Livelihood in its truest sense. Unlike our buddy Sid I didn’t start to really understand the interconnectedness of our lives until I had already started down the path to my career and it’s not just a simple matter to quit my job and go work for a non-profit. As a meditator, I try let my practice inform how I approach my job and the people I work with. In addition, I do what I can within the community to help those in need. My goal is to eventually transition into a position that will allow me to be of greater benefit but that will take time. I think it’s a good thing to have a few of us meditators here in the corporate world.
I heard a dharma talk once on this (don’t remember who gave it right now, I’ll have to dig it up) and the teacher pointed out that in this day and age, its almost impossible to live and work in the US without negatively impacting some one some where in the world.
When I consider Right Livelihood, I think we need to look at a more holistic than the one that has been traditionally taught. Its not as simple as “don’t work for a butcher” anymore. Where do we shop? What clothes do we choose to wear? What do we choose to eat and feed our family? You may find the most altruistic job in the world but when you put on your fox-fur coat and snake skin shoes, get in your hummer and drive to Wal-Mart to pick up your Chilean salmon on the way home.. I’m not too sure you’re really practicing “Right Livelihood” anymore.

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Lodro Rinzler

posted August 10, 2009 at 11:39 am

Hello everyone,
I really enjoyed so many of the comments so far. I think it’s great when people bring out their own life experiences on this weekly column. I’ve learned a lot from those responses and hope they continue to flow in.
However, I too am getting a bit tired about the “Sid” vs. “Siddhartha” controversy. I will continue to abbreviate the name in future posts. That will not change. I do not mean any disrespect by it nor have I ever heard anyone take offense in dharma talks I’ve given. Furthermore I’ve never heard feedback from other teachers in Buddhist lineage that take offense.
Maybe in the future people can e-mail their “Sid” vs. “Siddhartha” comments to me directly which would allow for a richer dialogue about each week’s topic in the comment section? Just a thought. I’m also always open to receiving topics for each week’s post as well. My e-mail address is in the introduction to this week’s post.
Yours in the dharma,
Lodro Rinzler

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posted August 10, 2009 at 11:56 am

Thanks for the clarification Lodro. It’s your post.
BTW, just thought I’d pass this along for this who find us controversial.
The following article, Who Would Buddha F-CK?, is written by a Zen Roshi on a softcore porn website. Again, talk about the article all you want, but Brad Warner is a lineage holder, so you can’t really question whether or not he’s a legitimate Buddhist just because it bugs you on a personal level:

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