Monthly Archives: June 2013

Buddhist Grave

C. Ansel Adams

C. Ansel Adams

Walking at Work

Recently I was asked about whether I felt that there is any benefit from the work that I do. It struck me as an important question because, from the standpoint of right livelihood, no matter what work I do, it should matter. It should be of benefit to beings. In fact, taking the precepts means vowing to work toward making every moment a moment of benefit to all beings. This is a lofty aspiration, and yet it can be very mundane in its expression.

To some this concept of benefit might be understood as “merit,” a word Merriam Webster defines as “a spiritual credit held to be earned by the performance of righteous acts and to ensure future benefits.” However, since there is no spiritual accountant adding up credits and meting out future benefits, it might be better understood as positive energy whose benefit is in the creating act itself and in its dissemination. Typically, in traditional Zen ritual, we close by dedicating any merit that may have been generated to others, that they may be supported by our positive actions. That is, the most basic view of merit is simply that if you have a positive intention and you direct it toward someone else, they benefit and you also benefit by generating that positive intention. This is pretty intuitive. Any number of psychological studies have shown that when we have good feelings about someone else, this usually improves our own well-being. This is the Bodhisattva Way.

Returning to the matter of work – how is it that I can be of benefit? The person I was speaking to wanted to know. I paused to consider. The teaching of Zen is that there is nothing anyone can give you, because you are already an expression of that perfection which is more perfect than our idea of it. Certainly, as a person with my own set of illusions and hindrances, I recognize that it’s not possible for me to improve anyone else, nor is that my intention. So how is it that I can be of service?

I responded by saying that, in talking with me, people find courage and that helps them heal. “So,” this person replied, “you give them courage.” Well, no, not exactly. I walk with them in their journey of self-discovery, and they find their own courage, the courage to acknowledge what is. If they are open to it, they find that their life is a unique expression of that which is greater than them. This discovery helps them frame their experience and their response to the experience. It helps them to be more skillful with what arises.

As the woman haiku poet Chiyo-ni wrote:

Full moon –

Keeping it in my eyes

On a long walk.

Or in the words of Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, Happy Trails to you…

c. Nat'l Park Service

c. Nat’l Park Service