I understand that awareness or mindfulness is an integral part of Buddhist practice. How can a lay person apply awareness in their work, be it in an office, a shop, a school or any profession? Also, since profit is the main reason for any profession, especially business, how can we relate to our jobs in a way where making profit can also be seen as a means of practice.
Well, there are many ways to practice mindfulness. However, if you are talking about mindfulness as a Buddhist practice, then we need to understand that its purpose is not to make our worldly-lives more comfortable but to wake us up to reality.
Normally, we consider everything we see, hear, touch, and think as real, but if we look carefully we will realize that all phenomena are just like a rainbow – bright and colorful, but with no substantial existence. In this respect, our life is often compared to an illusion or a dream.
Now, it is not the aim of Buddhist practice to make this dream comfortable, but to wake us from the dream – basically, to see reality. Does that mean, then, that nothing matters? No, although phenomena are insubstantial, we still need to work with them, because, in reality, that is all we have. However, our efforts should be aimed at waking us up, not helping us to slip further under the blankets. In this respect, mindfulness should be sharp and clear, not relaxing and chilled out.
When I trained in Buddhist monasteries in East Asia, our main practice was mindfulness. Basically, every time our minds would get distracted, we would bring them back to the present moment, and this totally changed the dynamics of all our activities. As an example, instead of washing dishes in the normal way, with our minds somewhere else and with the aim of finishing the chore as soon as possible, we would do so mindfully and with passion. In this way we were fully aware of each and every moment, noticing the weight of the plates, feeling the soap on our hands, and experiencing the temperature of the water. Furthermore, even though we were focused on the job at hand, we were not blind to the world around us, but instead fully aware of our environment. In this respect, we would be mindful not to make a sound that would disturb others and we would place the plates and cups on a rack in way that would make it easy for the next person to pick up. In this way, a normally dull activity became something cool and dynamic.
Actually, every aspect of our lives can be approached in this way. When we work in an office, for example, we do each aspect of our work beautifully and with full awareness. In this respect, we write letters in a way that conveys our message clearly and politely. Furthermore, we ensure that we arrive on time and that we do not take extended lunch breaks or attend unnecessary meetings and workshops. Instead, we put full effort into each and every activity, with the aim of benefitting those who we are employed to serve. Basically, we are mindful at a micro and macro level – we ensure that each small job is done with full attention and, at the same time, we remain aware of the bigger situation.
As we undertake these activities mindfully, we also maintain awareness that the person who is doing the chore (us), the activity, and the receiver of our action are nothing more than an illusion. Then, finally, at the end of our day, we can dedicate any merit from our work to the ultimate benefit of all beings. When we act in this way, we invite sacredness into the kitchen, into the office, and into our lives, and we transform our daily activities into something dynamic, cool, and as a means to develop merit and wisdom.
With regard to a business, it is important to approach our work with passion and not only think of profit. If we only think of the financial aspect of our business, we will find our daily routine stressful, boring, and a struggle. Of course, we need to make money, but job satisfaction, fulfilling a passion, and developing compassion and wisdom are more important.
From a worldly point of view, whatever we do in life it is to be satisfied, right? However, people in today’s society generally associate satisfaction only with wealth and status, but, in reality, this is a really superficial and uninspired view of life. Even if money is your primary goal, you should think of it like the peak of a mountain. Now, if you only focus on the peak and rush to reach it, the journey will be stressful and you are likely to stumble. Instead, you should be mindful of each step. If you can approach your work in this way, you will enjoy the journey and, in reality, it then becomes irrelevant whether you reach the peak or not, because you will have already achieved your goal – to achieve satisfaction. Therefore, to gain all round benefit from your business, you should approach each activity like an artist placing his first strokes on a blank canvas – mindfully, elegantly, courageously, and with underlying wisdom.
Finally, I suggest that you employ people who need help to move forward with their lives, such as recovering addicts or youth from broken families. Helping others to regain their lives will give you far more satisfaction than an increased bank balance or multiple trips to Bangkok.