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The Buddha at Work: The Six Perfections of Highly Effective People

posted by Jon Rubinstein

Remember that awesome Loverboy song, “Working for the Weekend”? Let me refresh your memory. I’m sure it’ll brighten your day:

Not bad, right? I hope you’re still with me and didn’t run out to get a perm and a headband.

The lyrics are pretty straightforward:

Everybody’s working for the weekend
Everybody wants a little romance
Everybody’s goin’ off the deep end
Everybody needs a second chance.

Thereare other lyrics, sure, but these, I think, encapsulate the song’sprofound vision. It’s pretty simple: We are not here in the presentmoment. We are living in the future, which we hope will be better thanour current, unsatisfying lives. We need “a second chance,” to live a(briefly) satisfying life, because we know that we will return toendless samsara, with hopes of another upcoming weekend respite.  

Didyou ever find yourself working for the weekend? I know I used to, allthe time. I was resigned, and there was a lot of “in order to.” I’lldo this, in order to get what I really want, which is that, and thenwhen I get that, I can start working towards what I really, reallywant, which is…

I’ve written about this elsewhere, about my personal journey, but here, I’d like to discuss how Right Livelihood and the Six Paramitas affordyou the opportunity to have a career and life that you love, righthere, in the present moment. Because a lot of us spend close to halfour waking hours at work, and we don’t have those hours to waste.

First of all, what is Right Livelihood? Here’s Thich Nhat Hanh on the subject, from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching:

“To practice Right Livelihood, you have to find a way to earn yourliving without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. Theway you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, orit can be a source of suffering for you and others.”

And from H. H. The Dalai Lama and Laurens van den Muyzenberg’s The Leader’s Way:

“Theconcept of right livelihood means that one should earn one’s living ina righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally andpeacefully.”
 
The sutras tell us of some specific things thataren’t Right Livelihood–arms dealing, raising animals for food, beinga butcher, selling alcohol and drugs. One can argue about thesespecific points and their relevance in the modern day, but what’s morerelevant to this conversation is, how does Right Livelihood allow me to stop working for the weekend?

Becausehere’s the thing. None of us has a moment to waste. Not one of us knowswhen we’re going to die. It could be tomorrow, or in ten minutes, or inten years. It’s pretty unlikely that we’ll see it coming, and we surelywon’t have the wherewithal to plan all the contributions we want tomake if we do, in fact, get that call from the doc that we’ve got sixmore months. (For a great meditation on this particular subject, checkout this podcast by Lama Marut.)

So since we’re all gonna die andwe have no idea how long we have to do the things we want to do in ourlives, it’d be nice to have a path that would allow us to be happywhile we work. Presto, here‘sLama Marut on what he calls “The Six Perfectionizers,” traditionally”The Six Perfections” or “The Six Paramitas,” which he says can help usto be happy–because what’s not going to work is the usual.

“The way to happiness, the way to the absence of pain, is to trysomething different… Rather than get another boat or get anotherrelationship or go to Ecuador on some other lonely planet country, trythis for happiness… try the Six Perfections.”

Asthey are generally described, the Six Paramitas are generosity,discipline (also described as virtue, morality, or ethics), patience,endeavor (or effort), meditative concentration, and widsom. Listen tothe podcast for a brief description of each of these:
 
He begins by talking about dana, or generosity, and how it brings us happiness:

“Theseare perfectionizers, They’re making you perfect by training yourself tothink about someone other than yourself… which is the secret of yourown happiness. The secret of your own happiness is to stop worryingabout your own happiness all the time and start worrying about thehappiness of someone else.”

Marut points out that all ourpresent happiness comes from happiness we’ve created for others in thepast; it’s the essence of karma.

So how might this look in the workplace? Geshe Michael Roach (in The Diamond Cutter)offers that there are direct correlations in business and in life,based on the karma we have created. When “company finances areunstable,” he says, “be more willing to share your profits with thosewho have helped you produce them, and be very strict about never makinga single penny through any improper action.” And when we’re faced withhigh rents, and difficulty finding real estate to expand our business,he says, “make sure you help others find places to stay when they needthem.”

This might seem like an oversimplification, and toGeshe Michael’s credit, he explains how this works in our minds ingreat detail, in a way that makes it make sense.

But thinkabout generosity for a second, and how you’ve seen it work in your ownlife and business. When someone has done something for you that appearsgenerous on the surface, but you ultimately know is motivated by adesire for reciprocity, does that feel good to you? Compare that, forexample, to someone who’s selfless, who’s helping you because they wantyou to be happy.

The genuine desire to make a difference forothers–your boss, your fellow employees, your customers–is anincredibly powerful way to have your career work for you.  Here’s Shantideva on the topic:

“Allthose who are unhappy in the world are so as a result of their desirefor their own happiness. All those who are happy in the world are so asa result of their desire for the happiness of others.”

I’ll be back to take a deeper look at generosity and how it (and the other five Perfections) can help you stop working for the weekend.  In the meantime, please let me know where you’ve seen the Six Perfections work for you in your career.



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Clay Daulton

posted October 22, 2009 at 8:14 pm


I was obsessed (like, I imagine, most of us are) with acquiring the conditions in life that would lead to my own happiness. In my case, it was mostly the pursuit of “staying in touch” with my “essential Self” that I pawed and chased. That very quest, though sincere, led me through a slew of challenges, that transformed my perspective and led me to now, where I am starting my training at Naropa University to become a Buddhist Chaplain.
The Paramitas have become my new, inspiring guidelines for which to gauge my actions, make important decisions, and confront confusion. Generosity, patience, zest for life: I can’t imagine a more applicable and relevant set of ethics to inspire my own greatness.



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Jon Rubinstein

posted October 23, 2009 at 10:58 am


Thanks so much for your comment, Clay – I can’t wait to explore them further in the context of the workplace.
Jon



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Patrick Groneman

posted October 23, 2009 at 12:03 pm


That song reminds me that the workplace is the BEST place to work on our perfections. Seemingly routine it becomes easy to make assumptions. I’m re-commiting myself right now to be workin’ for the weekDAY. Where else would I rather be than right in the middle of so much workability? Let’s do it.



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Jon Rubinstein

posted October 23, 2009 at 1:33 pm


that’s exactly it Patrick – we totally get numb by doing the same thing day to day unless we remind ourselves to work on this stuff. Sometimes it requires physical reminders – like the Buddha on my desk, the Buddha on my windowsill, my tattoo, my “peace is every step” on my window etc etc etc. Hard to remember to do this stuff. Which is why monasticism can be so attractive! (or at least retreats)



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Anan E. Maus

posted October 23, 2009 at 3:43 pm


Loverboy and Buddhism.
there’s a connection.
sounds like a sci-fi horror movie…



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Jon Rubinstein

posted October 23, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Tessa

posted October 24, 2009 at 10:57 am


Personally, and lately I’ve been singing “Loving every minute of it”. That describes how it is for me at work. I strive to bring happiness to my co-workers.
May Peace Prevail on Earth
(at least in my immediate area)



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RJay

posted October 24, 2009 at 10:59 am


Thank you so much for this. I really appreciate the additional material links. This is worth listening to daily.



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sistersilver

posted October 25, 2009 at 12:10 pm


I love the quotes I can send to friends to help them realize the truth of happiness in work. I found it is true and whenever I apply focus and love for what I am doing, I find peace and happiness in both myself, my co-workers and the woman who hires me. In my studio I do what makes me smile and it, in turn makes another pleased enough to purchase it. Doing what I do because it has to be done shuts the flow of positive energy. Always I find a reason to do it because it will bring ultimate good and happiness. Eventually it becomes a constant flow…like praying every moment of the day. It is not a difficult thing once we establish the habit. How can anyone be happy if others around us are unhappy? How can work be good if we wish we were somewhere else? Bring a smile to the customer and you bring a smile to yourself.



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