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Cultivating the Bodhisattva Path at Work

On July 26, 2009, Dr. Rebecca Li gave a talk at CMC on the topic of "Cultivating the Bodhisattva Path at Work." According to Dr. Li, the bodhisattva path is the practice of trying to benefit others, and as a result, benefit ourselves.

The purpose of this practice is to lessen our self-attachment, which is the source of our suffering. When we focus on bringing happiness to others, we will reduce our own worries. This requires that we understand that the self or the ego is impermanent and not independent but rather interdependent. Cultivating the bodhisattva path is to cultivate both wisdom and compassion.

The Bodhisattva Precepts provide some guidance on how to cultivate the bodhisattva path. The three pure precepts are:

To not bring harm to others
To engage in all virtuous acts in bringing benefit to others
To vow to help all sentient beings

One of the Eight-Fold Noble Path is engaging in right livelihood. We should try to make our living while upholding the five precepts. When choosing a profession, we should not only think about whether it is legal or not, but if it is upholding the five precepts and to look beyond superficial appearances.

Dr. Li said that while this may seem challenging in our competitive job market—to find a well-paying job that upholds the precepts, we should understand that the precepts are not rules but tools to free ourselves from causing harm to others and to ourselves.

When we do things in the workplace that break the precepts, we may suffer mental afflictions such as low self-esteem, worry, and unhappiness, as well as negatively affect our work performance, and our interpersonal relationships in the workplace. By upholding the precepts, we will not only receive benefits in the forms of inner peace and happiness, but benefit others.

"When we cultivate the bodhisattva path by engaging in virtuous actions that bring comfort and happiness to others, we practice putting others needs and concerns before us. Wisdom helps us understand what is happening, what needs to be done, and compassion reminds us to do the right thing based on not what we think is right, which is self-centered, but what other people need."

Dr. Li gave examples and stories to illustrate the application of precepts in daily life. She explained how Master Sheng Yen taught that we should cultivate both wisdom and compassion together. If we focused only on cultivating wisdom, we will end up being arrogant and have poor relationships with others. If we only focus on compassion, we will end up having trouble. Meditation will help us be clear and calm minds to understand our own minds, and detach from self-centered attachment, and be kind and generous towards others in a natural way.

Putting others' comfort and happiness ahead of our own will improve our interpersonal relationships with others. This does not mean we should avoid confrontation or let others step all over us—rather, we can still argue, give directions, or fire people while giving joy and comfort.

While the bodhisattva path seems to be relevant to relatively stress-free environments such as monasteries, Dr. Li argued that it is indeed relevant in our modern workplace, which seems to be getting more and more competitive. She cited Master Sheng Yen, who said that instead of competing against others, we should compete against ourselves.

Competing with others will cause stress and suffering, and reinforces the notion that there is an "I" that is permanent and separate from others, which is erroneous view. The self is actually a result of the coming of causes and conditions, which are always changing. If we look at the world in terms of me against others, then we will not be able to see the world as interconnected, nor will we understand how others contribute to our being. By competing with ourselves, we will try to improve ourselves and this will allow us to see our competitors as resources who help us to better ourselves.

We can look at Master Sheng Yen's life, and how he interacted with world leaders by
understanding how the real world works and acting with compassion.

Finally, making the vow to help all sentient beings motivates us to be diligent.
There were some enthusiastic comments from the audience and a question and answer session at end of the talk.

(By Chang Jie)

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