Tag Archive: Lewis Richmond


“Emptiness” is a central teaching of all Buddhism, but its true meaning is often misunderstood. If we are ever to embrace Buddhism properly into the West, we need to be clear about emptiness, since a wrong understanding of its meaning can be confusing, even harmful. The third century Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna taught, “Emptiness wrongly grasped is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end.” In other words, we will be bitten!

Emptiness is not complete nothingness; it doesn’t mean that nothing exists at all. This would be a nihilistic view contrary to common sense. What it does mean is that things do not exist the way our grasping self supposes they do. In his book on the Heart Sutra the Dalai Lama calls emptiness “the true nature of things and events,” but in the same passage he warns us “to avoid the misapprehension that emptiness is an absolute reality or an independent truth.” In other words, emptiness is not some kind of heaven or separate realm apart from this world and its woes.

The Heart Sutra says, “all phenomena in their own-being are empty.” It doesn’t say “all phenomena are empty.” This distinction is vital. “Own-being” means separate independent existence. The passage means that nothing we see or hear (or are) stands alone; everything is a tentative expression of one seamless, ever-changing landscape. So though no individual person or thing has any permanent, fixed identity, everything taken together is what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing.” This term embraces the positive aspect of emptiness as it is lived and acted by a person of wisdom — with its sense of connection, compassion and love. Think of the Dalai Lama himself and the kind of person he is — generous, humble, smiling and laughing — and we can see that a mere intellectual reading of emptiness fails to get at its practical joyous quality in spiritual life. So emptiness has two aspects, one negative and the other quite positive.

Ari Goldfield, a Buddhist teacher at Wisdom Sun and translator of Stars of Wisdom , summarizes these two aspects as follows:

The first meaning of emptiness is called “emptiness of essence,” which means that phenomena [that we experience] have no inherent nature by themselves.” The second is called “emptiness in the context of Buddha Nature,” which sees emptiness as endowed with qualities of awakened mind like wisdom, bliss, compassion, clarity, and courage. Ultimate reality is the union of both emptinesses.

With all of this in mind, I would like to highlight three common misunderstandings of emptiness: emotional, ethical and meditative.

Emotional

When we say “I feel empty,” we mean we are feeling sad or depressed. Emotionally speaking, “emptiness” is not a happy word in English, and no matter how often we remind ourselves that Buddhist emptiness does not mean loneliness or separateness, that emotional undertow remains. At various times I have looked for a substitute translation for the Sanskrit sunyata — I have tried “fullness,” “spaciousness,” “connectedness,” and “boundlessness” — but as Ari Goldfield points out, “emptiness” is the most exact translation. “Emptiness” is also the term that my own teacher Shunryu Suzuki used, though he usually added context. Once, speaking of emptiness he said, “I do not mean voidness. There is something, but that something is something which is always prepared for taking some particular form.” Another time, speaking of the feeling tone of emptiness, he said, “Emptiness is like being at your mother’s bosom and she will take care of you.”

Ethical

Some Buddhist students rationalize or excuse bad behavior of their teacher by asserting that through his understanding of emptiness the teacher is exempt from the usual rules of conduct. One student said, “Roshi lives in the absolute so his behavior can’t be judged by ordinary standards.” While it is true that Buddhist teachers sometimes use unusual methods to awaken their students, their motivation must come from compassion, not selfishness. No behavior that causes harm is acceptable for a Buddhist practitioner, teacher or otherwise.

Meditative

Some Buddhist students think that a meditative state without thought or activity is the realization of emptiness. While such a state is well described in Buddhist meditation texts, it is treated like all mental states — temporary and not ultimately conducive to liberation. Actually emptiness is not a state of mind at all; it is, as the Dalai Lama says, simply “the true nature of things and events.” This includes the mind. Whether the mind of the meditator is full of thoughts or empty of them, this true nature holds.

Conclusion

Finally, since emptiness seems so difficult to understand, why did the Buddha teach it at all? It is because of his profound insight into why we suffer. Ultimately we suffer because we grasp after things thinking they are fixed, substantial, real and capable of being possessed by ego. It is only when we can see through this illusion and open ourselves, in Ari Goldfield’s words, “to the reality of flux and fluidity that is ultimately ungraspable and inconceivable” that we can relax into clarity, compassion and courage. That lofty goal is what makes the effort to understand emptiness so worthwhile.

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In my upcoming book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice (Gotham Books, January 2012), I tell the following story:

Once, when I was on a live radio show being interviewed by a Christian talk show host, her first question to me was, “Do you Buddhists believe in God?”

I had only a few seconds to think of an answer.

“Yes,” I said.

“Good!” the host said. “And how do you pray?”

I said that we prayed in silence to reach our divine nature.

“I like that!” the host said.

When I have told this story in talks, some of my Buddhist listeners say, “Oh, that’s nice. It’s good to be polite.” But I wasn’t just being polite. I was raised in a Christian church and went to Christian Sunday school. My favorite song as a child was “God is Love.” After graduating from college, for a year I attended Christian seminary, with the idea of becoming a minister. I didn’t become a dedicated Buddhist until some time after that. I am comfortable with the word God.

It’s true that by saying “Yes” I was also making an effort to establish some common ground. It was live radio, our time slot was 20 minutes and I was there to discuss a just-released book. I didn’t want to spend the whole time trying to explain what Buddhists believe. Also, I felt that a more nuanced answer, however I couched it, would have come across as some version of “No.” I sensed the need to give a definitive answer. The answer I gave came closest to what was so for me — understanding that I was not trying to speak for the world’s 320 million Buddhists, but only for myself.

The host knew I was a Buddhist; I was on her show to discuss my book, Healing Lazarus: A Buddhist’s Journey from Near Death to New Life. I sensed from the way she posed her question that all she really wanted to know was whether I was a person of religious conviction and belief — a person of faith. And I am. I’m an ordained Buddhist priest — a religious professional. My daily religious practice is the center of my life. I lead meditation groups, I am training and ordaining other priests. In that context, “Yes” is the best answer.

However, even though most of the world’s Buddhists recite the name of Buddha or pray to Buddha, Buddha is not a deity or supreme being in the same way that the Christian God is. A lay minister of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Japanese Buddhism once told me that he tries to explain to his Christian friends that Amida Buddha is a principle, like universal love, rather than a god. Another point worth noting is that there is no word for “Buddhism” in Buddhism — that “-ism” was an invention of 19th century European translators. Gautama the Buddha called his teaching marga, or the Path.

In that sense, the host’s second question — about how I prayed — was the more interesting to me. For Buddhists, what and how you practice is more fundamental than what you believe. My teacher, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, used to say that people could practice Zen meditation and also believe in God; that was OK with him. My good friend, Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, practiced meditation with us in the early days of Tassajara Zen monastery. Like many other Catholic priests and monks who have taken up, and even taught, Zen, Brother David did not feel a contradiction between his Catholic contemplative practice and Zen meditation. In fact, he felt that there was an affinity between the two. A Tibetan Buddhist teacher once said, when asked about God, “God and Buddha may appear to be different, but when we speak of the nature of God and the nature of Buddha there may be more closeness.” I learned in Christian seminary that St. Anselm’s definition of God was “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Shunryu Suzuki often spoke of the inconceivability of Buddha in similar language. In Zen meditation we seek to express and embody this inconceivability.

So when I said to the radio host, “We pray in silence to reach our divine nature,” I was not just making that up. I knew that there is a long history in Christianity of the “prayer of silence.” In the Eastern Orthodox tradition this is known as hesychasm, which is based on Christ’s injunction in the Book of Matthew to “go into your closet to pray.” A more modern version of this practice is the so-called “centering prayer,” whose ancient origins can be traced to the writings of St. John of the Cross and other early contemplatives.

My colleagues in Zen may object that it is a stretch to call Zen meditation “prayer,” or to describe its purpose as a method “to reach our divine nature.” I understand; I’m sure this post will receive many critical comments both from the Buddhist and Christian sides. My purpose here is not to defend what I said, as much as describe it, along with the thinking behind it. I think what is most important is that the host and I had a real dialogue. After the show was over, she told me that someone close to her had experienced a traumatic brain injury, as I had done, and she wanted to know more. That was a touching moment, a human connection that was more important, I think, than anything I said or she said on the show.

Interfaith dialogue can sometimes be superficial, but it can also go deep. Dialogue is the universal antidote to misunderstanding and prejudice, especially the religious kind, and I am all for it — even when it falls short, or seems unfruitful. This week’s headlines about Osama bin Laden reminds us all of the terrible cost of misunderstanding, prejudice and hatred. The hatred and the killing will not end — in fact, given our human propensity for demonizing those who do not believe as we do, such things may always be with us. But we must never stop trying to counter prejudice with efforts to find common ground. That was what I was trying to do on the radio show, and what I am trying to do here by writing about it.

I have talked in recent posts about the Buddhist teachings on self and soul, and most recently about Buddhist meditators’ tendency to “spiritual bypassing,” i.e. moving past the messy and often painful work of wounds, selfish tendencies, traumas, life problems and developmental needs to try to reach an imagined state of transcendence where all of that can be left behind.

A lot of that terrain can be summarized by the pop phrase “getting rid of the ego,” which many seem to equate with the goal of spiritual practice. This phrase, which has over 15 million Google hits, implies two things: first, that there is something intrinsically wrong with the ego, and second, that once gotten rid of, everything will be better.

“Ego” originally was a term from Freudian psychoanalysis, or rather an English translation of Freud’s original term Ich, which simply means “I” in German. I have come to believe that translations are a major stumbling block to understanding deep matters, whether it is Freudian or Buddhist or something else. For Buddhism, the words “ego-istic” and “self-ish” are more relevant than the words “ego” or “self.” “Selfish” and “egoistic” refers to behavior, whereas “self” and “ego” refer to identity. Selfish behavior is a problem; it causes suffering for oneself and others. Self or identity is just a feature of our existence. We each have an identity; even Gautama Buddha had an identity, as he walked the dusty paths of rural 5th century B.C. India offering his teaching to all and sundry. What the Buddha taught is not that we have no identity at all, but that our identity is not fixed; it keeps changing. It has no “own-being,” to use a technical term from the Heart Sutra.

“Identity” is perhaps a somewhat more workable term than “ego,” because most of us understand that our identity does change. When we are young, we have an identity as college students, or law firm interns, or brides-to-be, or new parents. We have a job, a family, friends, relationships — taken together this is our identity, which changes day by day, year by year. Because identity changes, it includes loss. We graduate from college and endure the loss of the dorm mates, the Fall leaves in the quad, the favorite professors — and move into an unknown new world. This is loss, and throughout life loss is always with us, just as the Buddha taught. But when we are young a job comes eventually, we rent an apartment, we find new friends and lovers. in youth, the renewal of our identity comes to us without huge effort. Even a failed endeavor leads to new chances. A failed relationship leads to a new one.

It is on the “downhill slope” of life that the losses to our identity begin to outnumber the renewals. If we lose a job, it is hard to find another one (somebody younger is competing with you for it). If we get divorced, it is hard to find a new partner; all the good ones seem to be taken. Loss hits us harder, and renewal requires more effort.

That is why I’ve come to feel that, as the ancient Hindus thought in their Four Stages of Life, the second half of life is a fertile time for spiritual inquiry and practice. Buddha taught that loss — dukkha — is embedded in the fabric of life. But it is when we are older that the truth of that fact truly hits home. I think the experience of loss is what brings people to want to study Buddhism, and the desire to understand and transform ours and others’ losses is what keeps us at it. That was true for prince Siddhartha and it is so for us.

There is no need to “get rid of the ego.” The ego, the self, the ever-changing landscape of identity — none of those are the actual problem. The actual problem is that when loss comes we clutch, we tend to respond fearfully and selfishly, with clinging and resistance; we become ego-istic. Paying attention to all of that, examining it closely over and over with the practices of precepts, mindfulness, and meditation, is the nub of Buddhist practice. It is the work of a lifetime. Loss is not all there is. The fundamental spiritual message of Buddhism is upbeat, not downbeat. Joy in the midst of suffering and loss is not only possible, but attainable. That is Buddha’s third noble truth: in the midst of suffering, there is release from suffering.

I actually don’t know what it means to “get rid of the ego.” But I have had cherished good teachers and wise spiritual friends who have transformed ego and identity into a vessel of awakening and compassion, and who dedicate themselves to continuing their spiritual efforts and working for the relief of suffering wherever they can.That is a good identity to have. It’s called “Buddha,” which means “awake.” Buddha is our deepest identity; it is always with us.

The word “Buddha” means to wake up. More precisely it means to see what is really going on (in other words, “dharma”), and understand that it has always been so. The Occupy Wall Street movement and its 1,000 offshoots worldwide is that kind of awakening. Its overarching theme is inequality: rich and poor, haves and have-nots, just and unjust. It has always been so, but the scale of it varies through time. In the U.S., the objective reality and statistical fact of this economic divide has been brewing since the 1980s (for an excellent historical perspective, see this article by Bill Moyers in The Nation magazine).

Angel Soto, 32, of Staten Island, meditates at the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park, Sunday, Nov. 6 in New York. Now entering their seventh week, the protests have continued to attract demonstrators young and old across different income classes and cultural backgrounds.

But now in times of unemployment and bread-line level deprivation, that reality has broken through the veil of public unknowing, taken form as the Occupy movement and has been transmitted at light speed from city to city courtesy of social media and the web.

Many of my Buddhist friends are sympathetic to this movement, and want to help. Many of them, like me, were themselves youthful demonstrators once, long ago when the issues were civil rights and the Vietnam war. Just as now, that awakening in the 1960s was to perennial truths to which we had up to then been oblivious. “Black people in the South can’t vote! They are oppressed!” Yes, as they had been forever. “This war is unjust. It’s horrible! The innocent die!”–another perennial truth. In those days it was television, rather than the internet, that broadcast these truths into everyone’s living rooms and woke us up.
OCCUPY NOW

I was once one of those youthful anti-war protestors, linking hands and facing down riot police armed with batons and guns. We self-righteously referred to the police in those days as “pigs,” ignoring the unwiseness of hurling such insults at a phalanx of heavily armed men. We too were beaten, bloodied, and in a few cases killed. When I look back through the lens of my own youth at today’s protestors and their pithy slogans (“We are the 99%”) I see myself.

However, we Buddhists all need to remember that Gautama was in his time a one-percenter or worse–he was, after all, a prince. He had his own awakening from unknowing (or so the accounts of his life tell) when he walked out of the palace as though for the first time and saw what was really happening — “People are old and poor! People are sick! They die! Look, a monk!” This is an archetypal moment (referred to in Buddhist literature as the “four sightings”); I think it happens in some fashion for each generation–an onrush of awakening that keeps societies from sinking totally into the quicksand of their own corruption.

My Buddhist friends think of conveying well-meaning instructions to today’s Occupiers about non-violence, compassion, and meditation, so they will not become angry in the face of the injustice they see. This is good, but I am not sure that is exactly the right medicine. Maybe it is good that they are angry. Maybe they don’t need meditation instruction just now. Gautama, after all, was not schooled in meditation when he experienced the four sightings. He just opened his eyes, which anyone can do.

OCCUPY BANKS

Members of the Los Angeles Police Department guard the Bank of America plaza while members of Occupy LA meditate in downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 17 in Los Angeles. The protest was part of a ‘Day of Action’ marking the two-month anniversary of the movement that started in New York as Occupy Wall Street.

Others say the Occupiers need a goal, demands, a program. Perhaps. I’m not sure today’s protestors need anything right now except to be appreciated for the truths they are speaking and the role they are playing at this critical time in the development of human consciousness. They have already discovered what the Buddha taught in his second Noble Truth — that the root cause of our unnecessary suffering is grasping, clinging, selfishness, and greed — often for money, sometimes for emotional or physical safety, nearly always for power. The energy of greed is the prime distorter of human community. The Buddha clearly saw this.

My feeling is that we are seeing the first raw beginnings and baby steps of a giant leap forward, one that will transcend and outgrow whatever form the Occupy movement is currently taking. Let it develop, let it learn what nourishment it needs. If it needs or wants our gray-haired advice — and it may not — then let it ask. I am ready if anyone asks, knowing that my time on the barricades was long ago and that I may not know the answers. If no-one asks, I am content to be watchful, to appreciate, and to allow this fervent historical moment to unfold.

As part of the 15 October 2011 Global Day of Action, Occupy Dataran held a 12-hour program at Dataran Merdeka. Over 200 people attended it, the largest since it started on 30 July 2011.

One last note: much later, when I had become a Buddhist teacher, I met a policeman who had been on that police line where I demonstrated in front of the Oakland, California Army Induction Center so long ago. By now he too was a Buddhist. He told me how it was for him back then. “We were scared,” he said. “We didn’t know who you were or what you would do. We didn’t know what weapons you had or whether you would riot. And when you started screaming at us and calling us pigs, we got mad. We weren’t pigs (well, a few of us were brutes, he admitted) we were just people trying to do a job. I understood that you were angry, but I didn’t like being called a pig. I wasn’t a pig.”

The policemen, the firemen, the teachers, the workers everywhere — they are all part of the 99%. And more to the point, this really isn’t just about the 99%, it is about the 100% — in other words, all of us. Who knows what Gautama was like in the years before he walked out of the palace. He may have been a self-satisfied aristocratic twit — until he woke up. People can change. That is the unwritten liner note to the 2nd Noble Truth — the deep truth of human suffering is for everyone, it is about the 100%. For Buddhists, this 100% is not just human beings, but everything living, the air and the clouds, even the whole earth itself.

Occupy Buddha!

The baby boomer generation has been criticized for making every stage of life — whether it be adolescence, college, child-rearing and now their aging — into a self-referential adventure of transformation and improvement. From that point of view, the notion of aging as a spiritual practice could be seen as just the latest of these baby boomer projects: “We’re going to do aging differently and better than anyone!” Some commentators have concluded that the baby boomers were a coddled, spoiled generation. To them, the bumper sticker “Life is hard and then you die” is more how things actually are.

Needless to say, I see things differently. Yes, we baby boomers came to maturity at a time of great social upheaval and change, and we participated in and helped engineer that change. And due to the affluence of the postwar America in which we grew up, we had the time and energy to devote to our own inner development and outer social transformation. In the 1960s, 70 percent of college students rated “personal fulfillment” as their most important life goal, while today the same percentage mention financial success as their life’s goal. Money and career seemed easy 40 years ago; now they seem hard.

In that sense, times have changed, and today’s Generations X and Y have very different priorities than we did. What has not changed are the fundamentals of the human condition, which includes aging. There is the old saying, “Youth is wasted on the young.” If only we had 60-year-old wisdom in a 30-year-old body! There have been a number of hit movies that have explored this fantasy. Well, dream on. It has never happened and barring some medical miracle, it never will.

We don’t worry about things we don’t care about. Worry and care go together. We care about our family and friends; that is why we worry about them. We care about the fate of the planet, or of the hardships of people losing their jobs or their homes. These things matter to us a lot, and it would seem that if we gave up worry we would also be giving up our care. That doesn’t seem right.

Buddhist teaching understands this connection between worry and care quite well. Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, spent his whole life working on this single problem: How can we relieve the unnecessary suffering that we impose on ourselves because we care so much and can’t see a perspective larger than our care?

Or to put it another way: How can we transform our conditional, limited love for just those people and things we care about into an unconditional love which cares equally about everyone and everything?

When I was a child in Sunday school, we would ask our teacher, “What is God? Who is God?” And we were told, “God is love.” I never gave a whole lot of thought to that answer at the time, I just accepted it as true without understanding what it meant. Now in our crisis-ridden world, where war and violence and hatred seem as prevalent as any time in the past, God as love seems a lot more complicated than it did when I first heard it. How is it that this unconditional love continues to elude us, generation after generation? How can we find it? What can we do?

I think this quest is the particular mission of elders, those who have lived long enough for youthful idealism to fade and deeper wisdom to dawn. The spiritual practice of aging, I think, is to add some words to that cynical bumper sticker. I would say it this way:

Yes, life is hard, and then you die, but before you do find out what love is.

I often teach that Buddhism is about how to be truly happy, so I have been studying the new research field of “happiness studies,” which focuses on the objective measures and causes of happiness. Researchers have found three factors that reliably increase happiness as we grow older — gratitude, generosity and reframing (seeing your situation from a more positive perspective). Not surprisingly, the Buddhist tradition offers these same three factors as spiritual practices for cultivating happiness. I would add two more — curiosity and flexibility.

Gratitude. When I ask audiences what they like about being older, people often answer “Gratitude,” and then say what they are grateful for: grandchildren, good health, free time, wearing what they want, the chance to travel, giving back to the community. One person included the ham sandwich she had just had for lunch. I have an exercise I call the “thank you” prayer. People repeat the words “thank you” silently to themselves and watch what comes up. It’s amazing how many and how readily images of gratitude come to mind.

Generosity. One happiness study reported that if giving weren’t free, drug companies could market a great new drug called “give back” instead of Prozac. It’s scientifically proven: giving back and helping others makes us feel happier and more content. Giving is a universal spiritual value taught by every religion, and the desire to give back naturally increases as we age. It is part of our emerging role as community elders — something we can do into our sixties, seventies, eighties and beyond. Giving is truly a spiritual practice, and it naturally lifts our spirits. My new book Aging As A Spiritual Practice: a Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser offers many tangible methods to cultivate a generous spirit. Among these is a contemplative exercise from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that allows us inwardly picture recipients of our generosity and direct compassionate feeling toward them.

Reframing. Aging includes its share of reverses, losses and sorrows. What makes the difference is our attitude about them. If a bad knee means we can’t jog anymore, we needn’t despair; we can take up swimming. If we lost money in the recession, we can cherish what we still have. If we become ill, we rejoice when we recover. I have developed a meditation called “Vertical Time” that focuses on the positive aspects of the present, rather than regrets of the past and worries about the future. We tend to think of time as linear and horizontal, but it is also vertical — one breath at a time. Vertical Time is really breath-based reframing.

Curiosity
. Curiosity is an important attitude to cultivate as we age. There’s a tendency to hunker down in our old familiar routines. It’s good to resist that temptation. Physical exercise grows new muscle, mental activity grows new brain cells, emotional engagement lifts the spirit. Curiosity keeps us young; we need to cherish it. If you see an interesting ad for a wildlife class, consider taking it. If you go into a bookstore, try browsing in sections you don’t usually visit. If you haven’t seen a friend in too many years, reach out. Children are naturally curious, and we can be too.

Flexibility
. Things change as we age, and some of those changes are irrevocable. Our youthful stamina is gone forever; a dying friend will never return. In the face of these changes, it’s important that we not become rigid and stuck in our ways. With every reversal comes new opportunity. No matter what the issue, no matter how big the problem, there is always something constructive that you can do. Never give up, never let aging get the better of you. This is how the “extraordinary elderly” do it — the ones who have beaten the odds to enjoy their old age to the very end.

The Spiritual Life. A spiritual perspective on aging is not just for personal transformation; it is a medicine for longevity and health. Research shows that people with an active involvement in church or spiritual community live on average seven years longer than those who don’t.

These five practices for aging well really work; science says so, common sense says so, and every religion says so. Aging As A Spiritual Practice builds on these truths to treat the process of aging as an opportunity for inner transformation. We deserve to enjoy our aging; it is our reward in the continuing adventure of living a whole and fulsome life.

This March I turned 64 — one year away from Medicare, two years away from Social Security. So there it is: I’m a baby boomer, a Buddhist, and one individual face to face with his own aging. But I’m not alone. Each day and every day for the next twenty years, 10,000 boomers will turn 65. This is a fact with enormous implications for our politics, our society — and, I believe, our spiritual life.

Forty years ago, when my Buddhist teacher Shunryu Suzuki was in his mid-sixties and the students around him were mostly in their 20s and 30s, someone asked him, “Why do we meditate?” He replied, “So you can enjoy your old age.” We all laughed and thought he was joking. Now that I am the age he was then, I realize he wasn’t joking at all. Some aspects of growing old can be hard to enjoy, and a spiritual practice can definitely help. This isn’t just theory; the Handbook of Religion and Health by Koenig et al. presents research showing that people who have a regular religious attendance or practice live, on average, 7 years longer than those who do not. That research result is even more significant when we remember that for the first time in human history, people will be living in relative good health into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s. What are we all going to do with that extra gift of time?

For the last several years I have been developing a contemplative approach to growing old and aging well. I have come to believe, as my teacher did, that spiritual practice can help us to age gracefully, and that the last part of life is a fruitful time for spiritual inquiry and practice. As part of my research, I logged on to Amazon, put in the search word “aging” and sorted by descending best-seller. Yes, there were a lot of best-selling books with the word “aging” in the title. But when I looked more closely I could see that most of the titles really weren’t about aging per se, but about postponing, disguising, or reversing aging. It was only when I set aside sales rank as my criterion that I found some good books with a spiritual approach to aging. Two of my favorites are The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Benedictine nun Joan Chittister, and Spirituality and Aging by gerontology professor Robert C. Atchley.

What other resources do we have for accepting aging with grace, about learning the lessons of wisdom that aging teaches, about investigating the deep questions of our human life? 2,500 years ago, the Buddha had a lot to say about the inevitability of loss and change. What could all of us aging folks learn from his teaching today?

The Buddha taught that “everything changes,” and many of today’s Buddhists repeat that teaching as a patent truism. But suppose we were to rephrase those words to say, “Everything we love and cherish is going to age, decline, and eventually disappear, including our own precious selves?” Suddenly this “truism” takes on a different coloration and urgency. It’s all going to go, the Buddha is saying, all of it — everything that matters to us. In fact that process is always happening; everything is aging, all the time. How is it that we didn’t notice?

When we are young, we don’t notice. In youth, life is full of opportunity, and when things go wrong there are do-overs and second chances. But on the downhill slope of life, we start to notice the worrisome finitude of time. We go to more funerals, we visit more hospitals, we view the daily news with more distance, and we start to feel an autumnal chill in the air. There are joys too, of course — grandchildren, time for travel (if we can afford it!), the pursuit of long-dreamed-of avocations and new beginnings, as well as the energizing impulse to “give back” to community and society.

There is also a fresh opportunity to look to the inner life, to revisit the deep questions that a busy career and family responsibilities might have long pushed into the background. A regular contemplative practice can indeed be a part of this journey, and Buddhism offers rich resources in this area. In my upcoming book Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser (Gotham Books, January 2012) I offer many such contemplative practices — from traditional meditations on breath, gratitude, and compassion, to more innovative reflections on time, worry, fear, and what I have ecumenically termed “the inner divine.” The last section of the book — “A Day Away” — is a guided personal retreat that uses these contemplative exercises as a way to reflect on aging in all its many dimensions. I use the term “elderhood” to refer to the totality of this effort.

Elderhood is the culminating stage of a life fully lived. When the time comes, we can (although we may not always ) assume the mantle of elderhood as a kind of birthright, and traditional cultures have all honored and supported elderhood, giving their elders specific roles and tasks to do. In today’s wired, youth-oriented world, elders don’t typically garner that same kind of respect. These days, each of us has to imagine and construct our own expression of elderhood, and find ways to bring it forward.

Recently I read an online article which described a group of elderly Japanese who volunteered to help with the cleanup of the damaged nuclear reactors. They vigorously refuted any notions that they were some kind of “suicide squad.” They were just being practical, they said. “I am 72 and on average I probably have 13 to 15 years left to live,”one said. “Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 or 30 years or longer to develop. Therefore us older ones have less chance of getting cancer.” Some might say these elderly Japanese were just expressing a strong cultural value of sacrificing individual well-being for the good of the group. But elderhood is culturally specific; it shows up in different ways in different times and places. Elders are not the same as identified leaders; often elders are invisible, behind the scenes, shining like gold nuggets at the bottom of the stream.

I thought their offer was a particularly courageous expression of elderhood. Elderhood means to take responsibility, to mentor, to offer perspective. The nuclear crisis in Japan is only one of many dire situations the world over that cry out for a mature, seasoned response. I think contemplative practice can give us inner strength and help us develop the resources to assume our elders’ role in a troubled and often rudderless world that needs us, now perhaps more than ever.

In my upcoming book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice (Gotham Books, January 2012), I tell the following story:

Once, when I was on a live radio show being interviewed by a Christian talk show host, her first question to me was, “Do you Buddhists believe in God?”

I had only a few seconds to think of an answer.

“Yes,” I said.

“Good!” the host said. “And how do you pray?”

I said that we prayed in silence to reach our divine nature.

“I like that!” the host said.

When I have told this story in talks, some of my Buddhist listeners say, “Oh, that’s nice. It’s good to be polite.” But I wasn’t just being polite. I was raised in a Christian church and went to Christian Sunday school. My favorite song as a child was “God is Love.” After graduating from college, for a year I attended Christian seminary, with the idea of becoming a minister. I didn’t become a dedicated Buddhist until some time after that. I am comfortable with the word God.

It’s true that by saying “Yes” I was also making an effort to establish some common ground. It was live radio, our time slot was 20 minutes and I was there to discuss a just-released book. I didn’t want to spend the whole time trying to explain what Buddhists believe. Also, I felt that a more nuanced answer, however I couched it, would have come across as some version of “No.” I sensed the need to give a definitive answer. The answer I gave came closest to what was so for me — understanding that I was not trying to speak for the world’s 320 million Buddhists, but only for myself.

The host knew I was a Buddhist; I was on her show to discuss my book, Healing Lazarus: A Buddhist’s Journey from Near Death to New Life. I sensed from the way she posed her question that all she really wanted to know was whether I was a person of religious conviction and belief — a person of faith. And I am. I’m an ordained Buddhist priest — a religious professional. My daily religious practice is the center of my life. I lead meditation groups, I am training and ordaining other priests. In that context, “Yes” is the best answer.

However, even though most of the world’s Buddhists recite the name of Buddha or pray to Buddha, Buddha is not a deity or supreme being in the same way that the Christian God is. A lay minister of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Japanese Buddhism once told me that he tries to explain to his Christian friends that Amida Buddha is a principle, like universal love, rather than a god. Another point worth noting is that there is no word for “Buddhism” in Buddhism — that “-ism” was an invention of 19th century European translators. Gautama the Buddha called his teaching marga, or the Path.

In that sense, the host’s second question — about how I prayed — was the more interesting to me. For Buddhists, what and how you practice is more fundamental than what you believe. My teacher, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, used to say that people could practice Zen meditation and also believe in God; that was OK with him. My good friend, Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, practiced meditation with us in the early days of Tassajara Zen monastery.

Like many other Catholic priests and monks who have taken up, and even taught, Zen, Brother David did not feel a contradiction between his Catholic contemplative practice and Zen meditation. In fact, he felt that there was an affinity between the two. A Tibetan Buddhist teacher once said, when asked about God, “God and Buddha may appear to be different, but when we speak of the nature of God and the nature of Buddha there may be more closeness.” I learned in Christian seminary that St. Anselm’s definition of God was “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Shunryu Suzuki often spoke of the inconceivability of Buddha in similar language. In Zen meditation we seek to express and embody this inconceivability.

So when I said to the radio host, “We pray in silence to reach our divine nature,” I was not just making that up. I knew that there is a long history in Christianity of the “prayer of silence.” In the Eastern Orthodox tradition this is known as hesychasm, which is based on Christ’s injunction in the Book of Matthew to “go into your closet to pray.” A more modern version of this practice is the so-called “centering prayer,” whose ancient origins can be traced to the writings of St. John of the Cross and other early contemplatives.

My colleagues in Zen may object that it is a stretch to call Zen meditation “prayer,” or to describe its purpose as a method “to reach our divine nature.” I understand; I’m sure this post will receive many critical comments both from the Buddhist and Christian sides.

My purpose here is not to defend what I said, as much as describe it, along with the thinking behind it. I think what is most important is that the host and I had a real dialogue. After the show was over, she told me that someone close to her had experienced a traumatic brain injury, as I had done, and she wanted to know more. That was a touching moment, a human connection that was more important, I think, than anything I said or she said on the show.

Interfaith dialogue can sometimes be superficial, but it can also go deep. Dialogue is the universal antidote to misunderstanding and prejudice, especially the religious kind, and I am all for it — even when it falls short, or seems unfruitful. This week’s headlines about Osama bin Laden reminds us all of the terrible cost of misunderstanding, prejudice and hatred. The hatred and the killing will not end — in fact, given our human propensity for demonizing those who do not believe as we do, such things may always be with us. But we must never stop trying to counter prejudice with efforts to find common ground. That was what I was trying to do on the radio show, and what I am trying to do here by writing about it.

Aging As Spiritual Practice with Lewis Richmond

Book Summary of Work As A Spiritual Practice
A guide to developing and maintaining a spiritual life on the job, drawn from the teachings and practices of Buddhist tradition.

Most people associate Buddhism with developing calmness, kindness, and compassion through meditation. Lewis Richmond’s Work as a Spiritual Practice shows us another aspect of Buddhism: the active, engaged side that allows us to find creativity, inspiration, and accomplishment in our work lives. With over forty spiritual exercises that can be practiced in the middle of a busy workday, Work as a Spiritual Practice is based on the principle that “regardless of your rank and title at work, you are always the chief executive of your inner life.”

Drawn from the author’s diverse professional experience–as a Buddhist meditation teacher, business executive, musician, and high-tech entrepreneur–Work as a Spiritual Practice addresses a wide variety of on-the-job problems. Here you’ll learn how to:

perform spiritual practices while commuting to and from work

meditate while sitting, walking, or standing–a minute at a time

understand ambition, money, and power from a spiritual perspective

Work as a Spiritual Practice is an essential guide for anyone who wants to bring his or her spiritual life and work life together.

Work as a Spiritual Practice
From “Work as a Spiritual Practice: A Practical Buddhist Approach to Inner Growth and Satisfaction on the Job” by Lewis Richmond
Posted by: DailyOM

The Koan of Everyday Life

To find joy in your work is the greatest thing for a human being.
–Harry Roberts: agronomist, cowboy, woodworker, welder, boxer, gun-sight maker, spiritual teacher in the Native American tradition, and Ginger Rogers’s dance partner

“So. What do you do?”

How many times have you been asked that question and answered, without thinking, “I’m a lawyer,” or “I’m an aerobics instructor,” or “I’m a musician.” But beyond small talk, that question suggests a deeper inquiry. What, indeed, do you DO, here on this earth, here in your life? What is your work? What is your passion? What is your aspiration, your dream, your calling? Do you find joy in your work? Have you given up hoping that joy is something you might expect from work? Or do you love your work so much that you have no time to enjoy anything else? Why do you have the job you do? Is it just a way to make ends meet, or is it something more? What is the relationship between your inner self and your outer, public life on the job?

This book seeks to guide you on a path of spiritual discovery about the work that you do and offer practical ways to make that work more connected to your inner life. I don’t know if what you learn will improve your job in a conventional sense. Who knows, it might make you upset enough to quit your job and find a better one! But it may help you in a spiritual sense.

I am a Buddhist, which means I am also a realist. In our society, work is not expected to be spiritually satisfying. For the most part, our jobs are designed to make someone somewhere a profit. Listen to what one recent writer to Ann Landers had to say about his job:
Why should anybody give their best effort on the job? No one cares about the worker anymore. Growing up in the ’60s, we were taught that giving your best would always ensure your employment. That’s baloney. It’s all a matter of random chance whether or not your job continues. I’ve been laid off twice through no fault of my own.

Perhaps someday work will evolve to the point where it is once again integrated with family, community, spirituality, and nature, as it was in preindustrial times. Until then, the Buddhist worldview begins with today, just as it is, for good and ill–today’s job, today’s life, today’s “you.”

What this book offers are ways to help you become more aware, more awake, and more engaged in your work life. Even the worst job has its compensations, and even the greatest job has its demerits. This book can’t make your job perfect, but it may make it more workable. The reason I think so is because, spiritually speaking, you are in charge. Your employer may dictate every aspect of your work life, but no matter what kind of job you do, you are the boss of your inner life.

Most people think of Buddhists as people who meditate. That’s partly true. I spent many years living in a Buddhist retreat center, where I did indeed spend many hours each day in silent meditation. But Buddhism has its active side too, and some of its practices are adaptable to a busy, engaged life. Many of them aren’t meditation in the usual sense of the word but rather exercises in awareness and focus. Some address various emotional states, such as anger, fear, frustration, and boredom. Others work on how we interact with people, or on the speed and pace of our activity. All of them are designed to awaken the fundamental spiritual inquiry: Who am I? What am I doing here? How can I fulfill my life’s potential? These practices are all based on the conviction that we have the resources we need to make that inquiry come to life, and that the circumstances of our daily life can be the raw materials in that effort.

One thing’s for sure: You don’t have to be a Buddhist to benefit from these practices. During my career as a meditation teacher, I have taught and practiced with Catholic monks, rabbis, Protestant ministers, Muslims, nature worshipers, agnostics, atheists–people of many religious and nonreligious persuasions, many of whom, I’m sure, didn’t think of themselves as Buddhists. But they all benefited from Buddhist practices.

Work Life and Spiritual Life

Have you ever heard the saying “It’s not my wife and it’s not my life”? It’s something to say when things go badly at work. Well, your job may not be your wife (or husband), but it is your life, or a big part of it. Studies show that the average American is working 150 more hours a year than in 1910–a sobering thought! When we disassociate ourselves from our work by saying, in effect, “This is not the part of my life that really counts, I just do this for a living,” we close ourselves off from what my teacher Harry Roberts used to say was the greatest thing for a human being–to find joy in our work.

How do you feel about your job? Do you love your work but find that it takes up so much of your time that it really is your whole life? Or, is your work dull and drab, but you don’t mind because you are going to night school to prepare for a different, more satisfying career? Perhaps you work in the helping professions or in education, and it is not your boss but your clients (or patients, or students, or parents) who drive you to distraction.

Regardless of your situation, there are certain characteristics of work that are universal. Unless you work at home, you travel to work. When you get there, you perform some task, such as computer programming, carpentry, or management, for which you are financially rewarded. You interact with other people in an environment where power is unequally shared. Your job performance is measured in some way. You compete with others for rewards. You can quit your job. You can lose your job. And you have (we hope) a life outside your job.

Let’s contrast this description of life on the job with the life of the spirit. In our spiritual life, we are not in competition with anyone else for spiritual rewards. How well or badly we do is beside the point. We honor and appreciate all people (including ourselves!) for their intrinsic humanity. We care for others, we share and are generous, we forgive. The world of the spirit is not a matter of bonuses, promotions, or awards. Advancement is not the point. We are already whole and complete just as we are.

So it would seem that spiritual life is close to the opposite of work life! But suppose we stop for a moment and ask ourselves why the modern workplace is the way it is. Is it because evil tyrants created the modern workplace to torment us? Or is it because over the last few hundred years people have cooperated to create a world in which we live better, longer, and happier, and can provide a more secure future for our children? We are all collectively responsible for the way work is today, and to whatever extent that situation is far from perfect, we must keep exploring, experimenting, and trying. It may be that over time the nature of work will undergo some grand transformation. Some social theorists think that kind of change is already under way. I think so too, and in chapter 19, “The Transformation of Work,” I explore some of those trends. But let’s not wait for that great moment. Today there is something we can do. Today we can make a change. Today it is possible to make a difference.

As you begin exploring this book–and you need not read it from front to back; it is designed to be browsed–I ask you to make only one commitment, and that is to trust yourself. Trust your own instincts, your intuition, your judgment. The knowledge you need to change your work life for the better is already within you. Set aside, for now, the notion that on the job you work for somebody else. In your spiritual life, you are self-employed. You work for yourself. No one need know about this inner job. It can be your secret. Whatever efforts you make will be outside the realm of success or failure. I don’t know what will happen if you try the practices in this book, but I am sure of one thing: Something will happen.

The reason I am so sure is that something is always happening. The world is full of spiritual opportunity. The trick is to be alert enough to notice it. That is the real work, and the joy of work, and if we catch on to that trick, it doesn’t matter in the short run what our day job is. In the end, if we are kind to ourselves, our efforts will be fruitful.

The Koan of Everyday Life

But what kind of fruit will it be? A raise, a better job, a happier work and home life? Perhaps, but not necessarily. Spiritual practice is more about questions than answers, more about searching than finding, more about effort than accomplishment. In one school of Buddhism, those who practice ponder spiritual questions called ko-ans. There are hundreds of memorable stories, usually taken from the lives of ancient Buddhist teachers, that are used as koans. Some of them have even become part of popular culture. For instance, the question “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” was featured in an episode of The Simpsons television show.

In addition to these prefabricated questions, there is another kind of koan, called the koan of everyday life. Human life itself, the mystery of being thrust into the world by birth and swept out of it by death, is an imponderable puzzle, one that we can try to ignore but cannot escape. So much of what passes for “ordinary” life is, when seen through different eyes, not ordinary at all, but full of potential for spiritual learning. To practice the koan of everyday life means to confront every situation as though it were a profound spiritual question. In that sense, every koan story is a specific instance of the koan of everyday life.

One such koan story goes like this:

A monk asked his teacher, “What is the Buddha?” and the teacher answered, “The cypress tree in the garden.”

What does it mean? What does a cypress tree have to do with Buddha, that is, our awakened self? Let’s imagine this cypress tree, spreading over the path in the monastery garden. What could be more ordinary, or familiar, than the aged tree that each monk passed every day for the whole of his life? In that sense, the cypress tree means the most familiar thing. What familiar thing do you pass? Is it your kitchen table? Your car? Your good friend? Your spouse or children? Your coworkers? The copy machine in the office corner?

This book is based on the premise that our ordinary routine contains numerous treasures and the details of our workday, from the morning commute to the coffee break, the lunch hour, the afternoon meetings, the evening ride home, contain within them any number of gifts for our spirit, if only we would allow ourselves to receive them.

Here is a true story to illustrate this.

A woman named Julie managed a customer service department in an insurance company. Because of budget cuts, in addition to her managerial responsibilities, she had to spend a couple of hours each day taking overflow calls. The worst part of her job, she told me, was the unpredictable ringing of the telephone. As the week went on, she found herself resenting that sound more and more. She would try to turn the volume down, but if it got too soft she couldn’t hear it in time, which was even worse.

One day, without really thinking about it, she found herself pushing the button to lower the volume on the phone in rhythm with the ringing itself and suddenly thought, “I’m the one doing the ringing.” From then on, every time the ringing got on her nerves, she would raise and lower the volume of the ringing in time with the ringing, as though her finger were making the phone ring.

“It’s a silly thing,” she said, “but it made me feel in charge again.”

In this case the koan of everyday life took the form of a ringing phone. Anyone who works in an office understands only too well how large that ringing phone can loom. We all have to deal with it, none of us likes it, and yet that ringing phone can be a wake-up call to our inner life. In having to confront the irritation of the ringing phone, we also confront the fundamentals of who we are and want to be. The ringing phone stands for everything in our life that we cannot control, everything that makes our life unpredictable, confusing, and difficult. For those of us who think of spiritual life as something to be found in a church, a retreat center, or a walk by the seashore, the ringing phone is the last thing we wish to hear.

But for those who are willing to see a spiritual opportunity in the ordinariness of everyday circumstance, the ringing phone is no less profound an encounter than the cypress tree in the garden.

What makes the difference is the resource of spiritual practice, which is a way to transform the mundane into the sacred, the ordinary into the profound. In Julie’s case, her instinct to embrace the ringing not as something outside but as something inside was an example of a practice we will be exploring later as “Seeing and Hearing with the Heart.” She was hearing that phone not with her mundane ear, but with a more spiritual organ.

To understand that a sound is not something outside ourselves, but something within, is a shift of consciousness that can lead to a different understanding of who we are for others and who others are for us. From that insight comes generosity, compassion, and wisdom.

It may not seem like such a great accomplishment to tap our fingers in time with the ringing of a phone. But spiritual learning is nothing other than the accumulation, over time, of such small, modest awakenings. Eventually this can lead to a fundamental shift of perspective, a change in the sense of who “I” am and what “the world” is.

It is said that the monk, on hearing the words the cypress tree in the garden, experienced such a shift in perspective. In understanding such a story, it is important to realize how intimately that tree was a part of the monk’s daily life, just as the ringing phone was a part of Julie’s. The cypress tree in the garden was already in his heart. He passed it every day as he carried water to the kitchen, or firewood to the bathhouse, just as we might pass the office copier or the paper cup dispenser as we walk down the hall. That is why hearing the words the cypress tree in the garden caused his heart to open. Through spiritual practice, through concentrated attention over a long period of time, the tree was already growing within him.

The cypress tree in the garden can be anything, as long as we really see it and hear it, are open to it, and have an alert, caring, questioning mind.

This is the koan of everyday life. This is the potential of the workplace to be, for each of us, a spiritual place. This is the world seen with the eyes of awakening, a world in which everything we see and touch is offered to us as a gift.

Lift your eyes from this page, look up, look around you. Notice the first thing you see. What is it? A desk lamp? A window shade? A pencil? These humble objects are, indeed, capable of becoming your close spiritual friends.

Greet them as friends, because as you peruse this book, they will befriend as well as challenge you.

If nothing else, the next time the phone rings I hope that you will remember Julie, her tapping finger, the monk, and the cypress tree, and consider the possibility that the voice on the other end of the line might be someone other than the person who placed the call.

It might be you yourself.

Excerpted from Work as a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond Copyright © 1999 by Lewis Richmond. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Lewis Richmond is a Buddhist teacher, workshop leader, software entrepreneur, and musician/composer. Formerly Executive Vice President of Smith & Hawken, Ltd., he is the founder and owner of Forerunner Systems, Inc., the leading provider of inventory management software to the catalog industry. Lake of No Shore, his debut solo piano album, was released by Artifex Records in February 1999. An ordained disciple of Buddhist master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Mr. Richmond co-leads Dharma Friends, a meditation group in Mill Valley, California, where he lives.


Lewis Richmond

Buddhist writer and teacher

The baby boomer generation has been criticized for making every stage of life — whether it be adolescence, college, child-rearing and now their aging — into a self-referential adventure of transformation and improvement. From that point of view, the notion of aging as a spiritual practice could be seen as just the latest of these baby boomer projects: “We’re going to do aging differently and better than anyone!” Some commentators have concluded that the baby boomers were a coddled, spoiled generation. To them, the bumper sticker “Life is hard and then you die” is more how things actually are.

Needless to say, I see things differently. Yes, we baby boomers came to maturity at a time of great social upheaval and change, and we participated in and helped engineer that change. And due to the affluence of the postwar America in which we grew up, we had the time and energy to devote to our own inner development and outer social transformation. In the 1960s, 70 percent of college students rated “personal fulfillment” as their most important life goal, while today the same percentage mention financial success as their life’s goal. Money and career seemed easy 40 years ago; now they seem hard.

In that sense, times have changed, and today’s Generations X and Y have very different priorities than we did. What has not changed are the fundamentals of the human condition, which includes aging. There is the old saying, “Youth is wasted on the young.” If only we had 60-year-old wisdom in a 30-year-old body! There have been a number of hit movies that have explored this fantasy. Well, dream on. It has never happened and barring some medical miracle, it never will.

We don’t worry about things we don’t care about. Worry and care go together. We care about our family and friends; that is why we worry about them. We care about the fate of the planet, or of the hardships of people losing their jobs or their homes. These things matter to us a lot, and it would seem that if we gave up worry we would also be giving up our care. That doesn’t seem right.

Buddhist teaching understands this connection between worry and care quite well. Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, spent his whole life working on this single problem: How can we relieve the unnecessary suffering that we impose on ourselves because we care so much and can’t see a perspective larger than our care?

Or to put it another way: How can we transform our conditional, limited love for just those people and things we care about into an unconditional love which cares equally about everyone and everything?

When I was a child in Sunday school, we would ask our teacher, “What is God? Who is God?” And we were told, “God is love.” I never gave a whole lot of thought to that answer at the time, I just accepted it as true without understanding what it meant. Now in our crisis-ridden world, where war and violence and hatred seem as prevalent as any time in the past, God as love seems a lot more complicated than it did when I first heard it. How is it that this unconditional love continues to elude us, generation after generation? How can we find it? What can we do?

I think this quest is the particular mission of elders, those who have lived long enough for youthful idealism to fade and deeper wisdom to dawn. The spiritual practice of aging, I think, is to add some words to that cynical bumper sticker. I would say it this way:

Yes, life is hard, and then you die, but before you do find out what love is.

“Work is not just a job. It is the sum of all our purposeful activities. Seen in this light, work is our whole life.” — — from A Whole Life’s Work What is work in the truest sense of the word? For Buddhist priest and acclaimed author Lewis Richmond, work is more than just having a job, or a means to a profitable end. It is the key to cultivating inner life and contributing to the developing consciousness of all humanity.

In this companion to his national bestseller, Work as a Spiritual Practice, Richmond applies his Buddhist understanding to address what is perhaps one of the primary struggles of contemporary Western life: how to achieve a healthy balance between professional ambition and personal happiness. Here he adapts Buddhist categories of spiritual virtue in defining eight important modes of work�the Earner, the Hobbyist, the Creator, the Monk, the Helper, the Parent, the Learner, and the Elder�along with their corresponding eight modes of inner work: Precepts, Vitality, Patience, Calm, Equanimity, Giving, Humility, and Wisdom. How to internalize these modes of work, and lead a more meaningful and spiritual life, is what this groundbreaking guidebook is all about. Whether we are professionals, artists, hobbyists, parents, students, or spiritual leaders, A Whole Life1s Work can teach us how to reconcile our outer livelihood with our inner lives…and reap the benefits of hard work well done.

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