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The Buddha at Work – “Right Here, Right Now” – Urban Dharma from High School Musical!

I was listening to Buddhist Geekspodcast recently; Vince Horn interviewed Seattle Insight Meditation Society Guiding Teacher Rodney Smith and I was really struck by his attention to what he calls, “urban dharma,” the dharma found and practiced in everyday life. [boldface is mine.]

“My focus and interest is on each moment and not specializing one moment over another. I think we do ourselves a tremendous disservice when we prioritize environments or situations as being spiritual or waiting for the spiritual to happen… I’ve just noticed because I’ve taught many retreats how many people, upon leaving the retreat would sort of put their… spiritual life on hold, waiting for the next retreat to occur…. and I know many dharma teachers talk about using your life… for your spiritual growth, but I always felt that in the back of most of those teacher’s minds, the real message was, ‘come back on retreat’ and that’s where the real spiritual focus and growth lives. I simply do not believe that at all. And I think what happens, is when we put ourselves on hold like that, because the mundane world doesn’t feel as if it holds the sacred, the routines and conditioned references of our lives, the ways that we react in relationship, the ways that we work day after day in the routines of our life, doesn’t feel exciting to us. It feels typical, normal, and usual, but not spiritual. And that we wait for some ingredient of spiritual life sublime mindstates or visions or experiences so that we can relate that special feeling as something spiritual, and then go back and try to regain access to those qualities of mind or whatever they are.  Meanwhile, our life is passing us by, and it really requires us as a group saying, ‘this is it, this moment is it. This is our whole reference. There is no other time but now.‘ And I mean that not figuratively, but literally. It’s now or never. In that now or never, you see that we really have to show up for this thing, and that if we place our life, our regular routine life on a secondary tier, to the primary experience of having a retreat, then we’re essentially betraying our spiritual orientation to life itself.”




Since so many of us spend so much time at work, it makes sense, then that our work, or livelihood, is an essential part of our practice. It’s not time we have to forbear until we get back to the cushion. This doesn’t take a way from the importance of retreat; Thich Nhat Hanh said years ago, “In our tradition, monasteries are only a kind of laboratory to spend time in, in order to discover something. They’re not an end, they’re a means. You get training and practice of the spiritual life so that you can go elsewhere and be with other people.” Smith seems to echo this in reference to retreat; our daily life isn’t secondary to our time on the cushion. Practice is just that, practice.


I know I’ve spent plenty of time, though, trying to attain something, trying to get it right. Maybe you’ve been there? Let’s see… thirty minutes of shamatha, followed by fifteen of tonglen… yeah, that should do it. As though there were some foolproof recipe for enlightenment.

But, as Thay points out, “there is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”  He tells us:

“Enlightenment, peace, and joy will not be granted by someone else. The well is within us, and if we dig deeply in the present moment, the water will spring forth. We must go back to the present moment in order to be really alive… Western civilization places so much emphasis on the idea of hope that we sacrifice the present moment. Hope is for the future. It cannot help us discover joy, peace, or enlightenment in the present moment. Many religions are based on the notion of hope, and this teaching about refraining from hope may create a strong reaction. But the shock can bring about something important. I do not mean that you should not have hope, but that hope is not enough. Hope can create an obstacle for you, and if you dwell in the energy of hope, you will not bring yourself back entirely into the present moment. If you re-channel those energies into being aware of what is going on in the present moment, you will be able to make a breakthrough and discover joy and peace right in the present moment, inside of yourself and all around you.”


And yet isn’t that what many of us are doing when we prioritize our time on the cushion above our time in the workplace, time with our families, time with our friends? We have the capacity for joy and peace in the present moment, not just when we’re in meditation, not just when we’re listening to a teacher speak, but in this very moment.

“This is it,” Thay says. “Peace is every step.”

We can live, right here, right now, not someday. At work, at home, on a plane, on a train, on a zike-bike if you wish. We don’t have a moment to waste.  

So, in that spirit, here’s a dharma lesson from that great fount of teachings, High School Musical: Right Here, Right Now. You’ll have to extract the dharma; there’s some serious ignorance going on too, but the core message is a good one.


“Right here, right now
I’m looking at you and my heart loves the view…

…right here, I promise you somehow
That tomorrow can wait for some other day to be
But right now there’s you and me.”


Comments read comments(7)
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Anan E. Maus

posted December 10, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Truth, indeed, is everywhere. But it is most concentrated, in directly spiritual images.
Retreats afford the ability to concentrate upon the path, without distraction. This removal from the world’s teeming ignorance is an essential part of the spiritual path.
But, yes, absolutely, we have to bring our spirituality into all our daily doings. But that does not mean that every daily activity is equal. Doing some mild chanting while sorting some papers in the office is indeed an effort to maintain a spiritual consciousness. But it is not of the same height or depth as a concentrated meditation when there are no distractions. And just “being in the moment” when the moment is trying to figure out how to sell more widgets to people who never really needed a widget in the first place…is not a particularly spiritual endeavor.
The spirituality that is often accessible in the workplace is our opportunity to be kind and caring to our fellow workers. That is the prime opportunity that exists. The work itself, unless, of course, it is some noble work for charity or some such thing…exists on a far lower spiritual level. So, if your boss is grumpy and you can use your spirituality to comfort him and tell him a joke and lift his mood…then you have used spirituality effectively.
But being present of mind in order to sell more vacuums or something is a real mockery of our inner spirituality.

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Jon Rubinstein

posted December 10, 2009 at 5:09 pm

You said, “The spirituality that is often accessible in the workplace is our opportunity to be kind and caring to our fellow workers. That is the prime opportunity that exists. The work itself, unless, of course, it is some noble work for charity or some such thing…exists on a far lower spiritual level.”
I strongly disagree.
Here are some jobs where mindfulness and spirituality practice can benefit us and others:
Doctor/Dentist/anyone in health care (compassion anyone?)
Police officer (who would you want carrying a gun? I vote for someone who’ll use it mindfully and with compassion. Who would you want making life and death judgment calls?)
President (see above)
Any politician for that matter (see above)
Teacher (obvious, right?)
Any kind of artist…. (all of these have a huge impact on the world!)
Professional Athlete (remember, millions of kids look up to athletes!)
Anyone in advertising
Anyone is the defense industry – see
Real estate agent
Taxi driver
Talent and Literary Manager 😉
Bus driver
Martial Arts instructor
Personal Trainer
In fact, I don’t think I can think of ANY job that wouldn’t benefit from having someone in it who has a deep spiritual practice. Maybe some are on a ‘far lower spiritual level’ but I am certainly not able to be the judge of that. I’ve seen janitors who bring incredible mindfulness to their work, doing their work with care, environmental awareness, and good humor in the face of difficult situations. Is that a “lower spiritual level”? how about a prison guard who faces incredibly difficult situations day in and day out? Is that “lower”? When are ethics, generosity, mindfulness, compassion, and kindness unimportant? You don’t need to be chanting in the office to be spiritual. You can be compassionate. You can be generous. You can see things as they are, as impermanent and interdependent.
Retreats offer us the ability to deepen our spiritual practice, surely, but most of us live in the rest of the world most of the time, and while we’re in the world, our practice can provide peace and joy to ourselves and to others every single moment. Not just when we’re sitting on a cushion.

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posted December 11, 2009 at 3:28 am

“But it is most concentrated, in directly spiritual images.”
“But that does not mean that every daily activity is equal.”
“on a far lower spiritual level.”
Equanimity anyone?

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Pam Scott

posted December 11, 2009 at 11:44 am

Alot of people wouldn’t consider clothing retail as very spiritual, and yet it certainly can be, and be healing at that. Many women don’t like or even hate their bodies. If done in a helpful, and loving way, you can impact their attitudes toward their bodies, and their overall attitude toward themselves, and help them see that loving themselves right now, for who and where they are right now, wonderful and beautiful, is the way to live gloriously, then yes, that is a spiritual job. Don’t ever underestimate the impact you have on the people around you – it is your choice, your expression of the divine in you.

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david baer

posted December 14, 2009 at 1:22 am

. Its all about chasing shadows.
By that I mean latching on to this or that latest, most innovative idea that some self styled money making guru has put out in the hope it’ll go viral and make them a lot of money off the backs of all the headless chickens who will follow them blindly down a blind alley. Its a shame but a truism nonetheless that people will follow where someone they see as an expert leads. Even if they lead them to certain disaster, which is what most of the gurus tend to do to their flocks.
The trick is to recognize a shadow when you see it!

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posted December 15, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Jon…Thanks for this. I really appreciate it. I couldn’t agree more that we need to take it off the cushion and not just wait for retreat or that one day a week we go to class/to sit with our sangha to deepen our practice. The other hours in the day can certainly prove to be useful; maybe even more helpful to practice since it is there we can really start to work with relationships, daily stressors, obstacles, arising mind states and energies, etc.
Also, my boyfriend is a barista (and practitioner.) He makes a mean coffee and also makes people’s day with his calming presence (i’ve seen it happen and have overhead people’s responses.) I’m a social worker. Not sure what we add to the world and if its even measurable. Maybe he’s more helpful, maybe i am.
Re: David. Please clarify for me. I think i might be missing something in what you’re saying? I agree there are plenty of “faulty gurus” out there with ill intentions and there’s plenty of spiritual materialism to go around (we all have a bit of it.) However, is this a commentary on Rodney Smith as a teacher? If so, it doesn’t seem as tho his intention is to lead people down a seriously destructive path nor is he charging thru the nose for wisdom. I could be misinterpreting your words and i also don’t know him personally. I would be intersested in some clarification. Thanks!

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Jon Rubinstein

posted December 15, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Thanks Heather – I agree wholeheartedly, I’ve been around plenty of baristas and other people who serve food and drink that make a huge difference to the people they encounter by doing so with care and compassion. I’m sure the same is true for social workers! Not sure what David means but I am curious. Rodney Smith seems to be a genuine long term dharma teacher with a message similar to one we’ve heard from many other greatly respected teachers. But maybe I’m misinterpreting.

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