The Buddha Walks into the Office

For this post, we’ve come up with… a book review!  Looking forward, we will be making this a regular staple of our posts here at Dharma in Every Wave.  Sometimes, we forget to put posts up… but we are always reading and taking notes.  If you like the idea, and have books you can recommend, please comment below and share!

Kid, you had a rough day.  Everyone has them.  And when you do – do what I do – you ask yourself: Anybody’s life better because of what I did today?  If the answer’s yes… then stop your whining.  If not, well, do better tomorrow.

- Comic book character Nick Fury.

If there is one thing that I remember after turning the last page of Lodro Rinzler’s The Buddha Walks into the Office, it would be built on the above quote based entirely on the words of a fictional character.  Not only did it make me laugh and recall Samuel L. Jackson’s rendition in the recent Avengers movie, but it also held a deep message that I could serve to refer to daily.  Indeed, if there is one thing we could all do, it is to try and make other people’s lives better.

This teaching of working for the benefit of others, directly and indirectly, is one of the core themes often revisited this poignant and often inspiring. The book itself is about applying the underlying Buddhist roots and teachings to a modern scenario we are mostly all subject to.  A place where our emotions often get the best of us.  Where our encounters with others can be a forced mix of personalities who are not necessarily the people we would spend time with in social situations.  That place, would be where we go to work.

Lodro writes that you should be “…approaching your life and work from the perspective of what is good for everyone, not just yourself.”

“When someone comes to you with an issue, they often believe it is the most important thing on your agenda as well as theirs.  To treat it as otherwise is a slap in the face.  To lean in and meet that person in that state of mind where they can sense that you value what they are working on is a gift.  When you create this kind of space for someone, they will often resolve a difficult issue in an amicable way, because you offered them your heart.”

“When we engage our speech in a kind and mindful manner, we are not just avoiding causing harm to others.  We are treating every encounter with our coworkers as a spiritual practice, an opportunity to connect with our goodness and theirs.”

Building on this way of seeing and helping others, Lodro tells us that the real goal, the real juice of meditation, is to bring the lessons of those quiet hours of contemplation to fruition in the real world in trying situations.

“If you can shift your view so that your work is spirituality, then you can bring your meditation practice off the cushion and live your hours at work with meaning and purpose.”

Lodro does not lose sight of what many of us want in life: to be, or to follow, a great leader.  Vulnerability is explored as one of the most desirable strengths a leader could possess. 

“It is said that people are more likely to follow a leader if that individual is easy to relate to in some way.  We are inspired by leaders who make themselves available.  In his book Integrity, Dr. Henry Cloud wrote, “The tension between vulnerability and strength in leaders cannot be lost.”  This is the power of bodhicitta.  It is not a weepy heart or a heart that whines a lot.  It has tremendous strength because it is a heart that is open, capable, and brave.”

“When faced with cynicism or overt threats, a strong leader will rise to the occasion with a sense of openness.  I am a firm believer that cynicism can be overcome by power of an awake heart and that uncomfortable conversations can be softened through bodhicitta.”

(Bodhicitta is a Sanskrit term.  Bodhi for “open” and citta for “heart”.)

The Six Paramitas

Building on and exploring vulnerability, Lodro works through six states of being that can help each us be more mindful at work, and bring an ease to the areas we are involved in.  In Sanskrit, these states are known as the six Paramitas.  Para can be translated from Sanskrit as “other shore” and mita as “arrived”.

1. dana (generosity)

“Pema Chodron once said on the topic of generosity, “The main point isn’t so much that we give, but that we unlock our habit of clinging.”  Whether you are giving your material possessions, money, time, service, or presence, it is about offering yourself in a way that unbinds you from your habitual way of relating to the world.”

2. shila (discipline)

“Discipline often gets a bad rap.  People think it’s something that is going to be imposed on them, like when you mess up at work and your boss calls you in to his office to discipline you.  The Buddhist perspective is much different from that and is based on developing virtue.”

“…to practice discipline is to carry out more positive actions.  The more you meditate, the more you turn the tide against the habitual way you have lived your life.  One easy way to do this is to determine what “positive actions” means to you.”

“My personal recommendation is to jot down then positive actions that you can do at work on any given day.”

When performing positive actions for others, it’s good to remember that “…the biggest jerks we know are the ones most in need of kindness and care.  So please apply the discipline of working to better their lives, too.”

“It’s always easy to be nice to those who are nice to us.  The real challenge, and the situation that can effect the most change in the workplace, and the world, is to be helpful to those difficult people who annoy the hell out of you.”

3. kshanti (patience)

“Dudjom Rinpoche has said, “The point of patience is to train so that our altruistic attitude is immovable and irrepressible in the face of those who hurt us with their ingratitude and so forth.”  Patience is not something that is based in just waiting until you get to do what you want to do, with those people you want to do things with.  It is based in relating fully with a situation, even if it annoys the hell out of you.”

 “Patience is easy to practice when you know something is going to happen eventually; it is an asset when you don’t know what will happen next.  If you can smile in the face of uncertainty, you are well trained.”

4. virya (exertion)

Exertion “encompasses both applying yourself on behalf of others and rousing yourself to think about more than just your own particular situation.”

“One thing you can do to try …this type of exertion is to take a “choose me” approach. Anytime your boss asks for volunteers for an upcoming task, be the first one to throw your hand up in the air.  Exert yourself beyond your comfort level.  Try this for up to one week and see how you feel at the end of it.”

“We can embrace the path of offering ourselves for others as a means to our own happiness.”

5. samadhi (meditative concentration

 “The simple fact is that when we are focused and truly mindful, we feel good about what we are doing, whether it is eating a good meal, enjoying a conversation with a client, or completing a successful surgery.”

“The internet has made it so that completing a simple report can take ten times longer than it should because your friends want to g-chat with you, your ex has posted pictures of himself/herself on Facebook, and the latest gossip site has just broken a big story.”

“It may be best to cut down on multitasking and develop a feeling of well-being by bringing yourself entirely to whatever is right in front of you.”

“If you are truly present with people, they begin to feel respected and encouraged.”

6. prajna (wisdom)

 “There is great wisdom in taking the time to hear someone out and give yourself the space to understand what they are trying to communicate.  When you sit down to meet with someone, you can take the attitude of not needing to come up with an immediate solution to whatever the issue is.  You can avoid interrupting them or making assumptions and instead listen deeply.”

 “After deeply listening to a variety of opinions, you should chew on them.  See what truth sits with you and what does not.  Reflect on what has been offered to you.  There is an element of patience in this process as you continue to contemplate what you have heard, sorting through what comments ring true and which you think ought to be disregarded.”

“Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche wrote, “When our attitude is open, we can have fun with what the world presents.”  The workplace does not have to be a battleground; that is just one way to view it.  Instead we can view it as a fun factory.  You can begin by offering the paramitas to yourself, seeing how they influence your behaviour.  See if they perk you up, if you feel uplifted and joyful because of them.  See if you become more efficient at work.  Then you can begin offering the paramitas to others, both the individuals you like and those you have a hard time with.  Eventually, you can offer this perfect activity to everyone you meet.  If you are able to offer your heart in this way, it can transform not just your workplace but the entire world.”

The Six Ways of Ruling

There is another set of teachings from the Tibetan Buddhist canon whose purpose is to guide a person in their position of leadership.  These teachings, if adhered to, can help ensure that you stay a warm, open and genuine leader who inspires those around you.

1. Benevolence

“The Oxford English Dictionary defines benevolent as “well-meaning and kindly.”  In the context of the Six Ways of Ruling, however, benevolence means more than just meaning well; it is actively engaging kindness so that the lives of the people you are leading are changed for the better.

For example, benevolence might mean that you are open enough to recognize that keeping employees late ruins last-minute dinner plans with their spouse or makes them less likely to get enough sleep to be competent the next day.  Seeing their situation and feeling empathy will lead you to decide what is best for both the project at hand and the employees.  You are taking a holistic look at your work situation rather than focusing on deadlines alone.”

 “When you have a conviction in basic goodness, you develop a sense of weightiness, like the sheriff.  He knows that he is doing what is right, what needs to be done, so he is stable and solid, like a mountain.  Being true to your own goodness has that kind of power.  You can be as steadfast as a mountain when you experience the strength of your basic goodness.”

2. Truth

“The first aspect of being true is unwavering presence, that mountain-like steadiness.  Then there is the second aspect: power.  There is tremendous power within that steadiness, that Olympian ability to truly be there for a task or for others.The last element… is warmth.  “

3. Genuineness

“Durant, summarizing Aristotle again, said, “Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”  Excellence in the workplace is not a onetime thing.  Neither is being genuine. In both cases, you have to repeatedly come back to the idea that you want to be genuine with others.  If you can hold that as a mantra worth repeating, then you can spend your day coming back to this simple principle over and over again, gradually undoing negative habitual patterns and replacing them with the Six Ways of Ruling.”

4. Fearlessness

“One aspect of working from a position of power is learning when you need to be fearless.  Fearlessness is the fourth of the Six Ways of Ruling, and the first of the three under the heading of powerful.”

“Fearlessness is based in the idea that in order to truly deal with your phobias, you need to confront them with an open heart and mind.  Eventually, through repetition, meditation, and possibly even therapy, you can work through them.”

5. Artfulness

“Artfulness is the fifth of the Six Ways of Ruling.  It is the ability to flow with your life, as opposed to measuring it out in exact terms.  It is seeing what needs to happen and making it happen, utilizing the skill sets at your disposal.  When you are successful at being artful, everything looks effortless.”

“This aspect of artfulness is sometimes referred to as arranging your kingdom.  Imagine your life as a kingdom, with you as the monarch.  Knowing you cannot do everything or be everywhere, you need to appoint certain people as ministers, others as generals, others as educators, and so on, so that everyone has their rightful place in the kingdom based on their unique abilities.

“Being artful includes consideration of others.  The artful leader cares about the people they are leading and wants to know them intimately.”

6. Rejoicing

“The final quality of the Six Ways of Ruling is rejoicing.  While is sounds simple enough, many of us don’t take the time to celebrate our lives as fully as we should.  We have a knack for dwelling on all the upsets that come our way, complaining about our inconveniences, instead of celebrating everything that we have going for us.”

“It’s actually possible to celebrate whatever or not we have something specific to celebrate.  With the view that everyone and everything we encounter is rooted in basic goodness, we can find magic in any situation.”

“Rejoicing is a direct outcome of combining the previous five methods of leadership.  When you are benevolent to others, are true to yoUr own goodness, can genuinely point out the logic in any given situation, are fearless in presenting that goodness and logic, and are artful in your execution, a great deal can be accomplished.  When that happens, it’s only natural to party.”

There is a quick reminder of our daily challenges: “If we recognize obstacles as merely part of the display of our world, then we realize we don’t have to take them – or ourselves – so seriously.  You are not this heavy, solid thing but a vast conglomeration of knowledge and experience that is ever-changing.  Similarly, when you face an obstacle, you should think of it in the same impermanent, fluid way.”

The book ends with an important reminder of how we can choose to be in the world.  A mantra which, combined with some moment of silence first thing in the morning,can help create a day of ease, no matter the adversity.

Let go of what has passed.
Let go of what may come.
Let go of what is happening now.
Don’t try to figure anything out.
Don’t try to make anything happen.
Relax, right now, and rest.

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