The Buddha devoted his life to showing people the path to freedom from suffering -- including suffering at work. Here are five simple mantras to help you suffer less -- and profit more -- from your workday:
Mantra 1: Every day is a good day.
Yun Men addressed his monks and said, "I do not ask about before the 15th of the month; tell me about after the 15th." Nobody said anything, so he answered himself: "Every day is a good day." ("The Blue Cliff Record, case 6")
The past is gone and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Likewise, the future is not here yet and there is nothing anyone can do about that either. No one can predict the future. Zen Teacher Yun Men is testing whether we are worrying uselessly about time, past or future. He is asking about now, the moment of awakening. It is pointless to divide up our years and days, living as if we were calendars. From a pure Zen perspective, there is no future or past.
We're not like calendars, we're more like clocks. We tell the time as it happens. Our hands are always pointing to now. There is no 15th, nor any day before or after. All we really have to work with is today -- and today is a good day.
Mantra 2: Nothing wanting, nothing extra.
It is completely open,
Nothing wanting, nothing extra.
Hold or reject and
You lose its thusness.
-- (Sengcan, "Trusting in Mind")
The third Zen Ancestor, Sengcan, describes the great way, the path of the sages. No "too much" here. It is we who create categories such as "too much" and "too little." But In the Buddha mind there is only what is -- no evaluations of excess or insufficiency. And since there are no evaluations, there is also no distress caused by judgments and assessments -- nothing wanting and nothing extra.
The Buddha mind surveys your email, the piles of paper on your desk, the work in your briefcase, and simply says, "Thus." The Buddha mind does not suffer, because it has no preconceived ideas about the volume of work. Without suffering, we are free to work without the distraction of holding on to our imagined reality or rejecting our actual reality. We are free to find the ease of openness.
Mantra 3: Be kind to yourself, first.
May I be physically healthy.
May I be mentally happy.
May I be free from fear.
May I find peace.
-- (Variation on the metta [loving-kindness] prayer)
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has told us, over and over, the simple truth is that the purpose of our lives is to be happy. But do we listen, really listen? Seemingly not, since we always slip back into the patterns that continue to frustrate us.
But ask yourself: What if the Dalai Lama had decided he'd never be happy until he freed Tibet? He would have been too miserable to share his wisdom with others; too angry to win the Nobel Peace Prize; too drained to devote his life to freeing his people. But there's Tibet, still dominated by China, and there's His Holiness, still working and still smiling. Why? Because true happiness -- ours and the Dalai Lama's -- comes not from external success but from the internal peace of feeling that your life is aligned with your values and beliefs.
How can you be happy? Start by being kind to yourself and you immediately can expand that kindness to others. Just as the Dalai Lama does with China.
Mantra 4: It's fine to be wealthy.
When he uses his wealth properly, kings don't take it, thieves don't take it, fire doesn't take it, floods don't take it, and unworthy heirs don't take it. His wealth, used properly, goes to good ends, never to waste.
-- (Samyutta Nikaya 3.19)
The Buddha had no problem with people making money, or even getting rich. The sutra quoted here tells that, when people of integrity become wealthy, they provide for their families, underlings, and friends -- and they give to worthy causes, aiming toward supreme happiness. There simply is nothing wrong with this picture.
Wealth is neither good nor bad: wealth is neutral. Money is a tool we can use for noble and laudable purposes -- or to wreak havoc and destroy others. Goodness follows from neither riches nor poverty. Goodness follows from wise choices.
Mantra 5: Other people's troubles are other people's problems.
Treating others the way he's treating me,
He'll be destroyed and then I shall be free.
-- (Jataka 278)
We've all had the experience of working for a bad boss and/or with difficult people. Perhaps you're having that experience right now.
First, know that this is not your problem. Problem people's troubles are theirs, not yours. You might feel the consequences of your boss's or teammate's difficulties, but the difficulties and troubles stay with them.
Next, there's that little old thing called karma. In this case, you'll be happy to see karma in action sooner or later. But remember, it's not your job to even the score ... you are not the hammer of karma. Stay out of other people's karma and take care of your own.
If you really want to be a good student of the Buddha and you're willing to take on a difficult learning assignment, here's a radical suggestion: love your problem people. They can teach you lessons that wonderful people never can. Someday you may look back and realize that you became stronger and more resilient, patient, kind, and compassionate as a result of working with jerks.