Buddhism and “laying the smack down”

Buddhism, ‘a science of mind’

Buddhism, ‘a science of mind’ (Photo credit: zensquared)

Work has been annoying of late. We have deadlines for handing things in a whole bunch of events that are crisscrossing each other on the run up to the holidays, not to mention idiotic systems of information organisation that has left people copying stuff from paper into the computer, printing it out, and then putting it back into the computer (on a different program) and printing it out again. Needless to say I’ve found myself getting a bit miffed.

I think part of the problem is that I did a reasonable amount of Analysis at university and then went into a job where I had to analysis systems for problems. So when I’m working on a job now I can’t really turn it off. This combined with my borderline OCD when it comes to time and communication, have not been the best of mixes.

It has left me wondering about the relationship between Buddhism and getting stuff done. Is it wrong for me to try and fix the problems that I come up against? Should I just accept that things are the way they are and move on? It seems to be summed up by pseudo-Buddhist a saying that it common in our work place:

You can do it willingly or you can do it unwillingly”

Ie you’re going to have to do it so just get on with it. I’ve seen a lot of this kind of thing recently and I have wondered if it is in fact a perversion of the true meaning of being Buddhist (if there is such a thing.)Needless to say, I hate the saying, as first of all it suggests that things cannot be changed and secondly because it’s a false choice. For me the saying would be better as:

“You can do it willingly or you can do it unwillingly, or you can just not do it at all.”

This would seem the most “Buddhist” version, although it would probably end up in you getting sacked.

The picture of Buddhism seems to have been painted in many ways as passive religion where the world happens and we should not fight to make it better. This seems wrong to me. If you look at what the Buddha did in his life, then one of the first things he did after enlightenment was make a choice to bring about change. He saw it would be hard and troublesome and made the choice to teach others. He chose to engage the world and to try and help with people’s problems.

There is an example of a sick member of the community (dysentery I think) where the poor monk has been abandoned by all the other monks on the excuse of “worldly problems”, and the Buddha corrects then and tells them it’s their responsibility to care for each other. There are numerous other examples. This is just the first one that came to mind where the Buddha tells people to engage and try to make people’s lives better.

Likewise there is case of the Dali Lama. While I could not answer to whether or not he is enlightened, he is clearly further along the path than I am. But when it comes to the issue of China and Tibet, he doesn’t simply say, “well the Chinese are our masters now. Let’s just do what they say.”

There is also Thich Nhat Hanh a monk whose writing I very much admire. He does not limit his teaching to spirituality, but also talks about poverty. I remember in a book I read on Anger that he wrote where he was trying to help people who were having trouble in their marriages due to a lack of communication.

Now I have to admit that the problems I’m talking about here are minor compared the above examples. But I think it does show that it is not the place of a Buddhist to be passive. We should fight for change and improvement with both the little things and the big things in life. Anything that makes people life a little easier is a good thing.

Saying that, I should also point out the place where I have been going wrong this week. Fighting for change is one thing. Getting annoyed and frustrated about it is a different thing. I do need to learn to fight without getting so caught up in it. If I fight for change and get some result it should be the same for me as if I fight and get a result.

Part of the problem for me is that anger has been effective in the past. If I’m nice and say to people “it would be nice if…,” or “is there any chance you could not…” or “This is not effective, maybe we could do it a better way.”  I am ignored and nothing is done. Yet, the times that I’ve lost it, change has often happened. I’m not sure what to do about that. Some would say pretend to be angry, but that tends to lead to me just being angry. It’s something I do need to work on, but I’ll keep fighting for change.

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