• Luigi

What Is the Meaning of Work in Buddhism?


I heard that young men are spreading the teachings of Master Shinran, but shouldn’t youths in their prime working years be engaged in some productive enterprise that contributes to the development of society? I can’t help thinking that what they are doing is an unproductive waste of time. What do you say?


Apparently there were people who thought like you back in the time of Śākyamuni Buddha. The following story has been handed down.

One day Śākyamuni took his disciples beside a lake, just as a great many farmers had finished their work and were starting to have lunch. As he stood before them, one who was apparently their leader said mockingly,

“Instead of always going around with these young men in their prime, loitering and begging or preaching sermons that make no sense, why don’t you plow a field for a change and produce even one grain of rice or one vegetable?”

Śākyamuni answered tranquilly, “I too am a laborer who cultivates fields, plants seeds, and reaps a harvest.”

“Then where are your fields, where do you keep your ox, and where do you sow your seed?” the farmer countered.

Śākyamuni replied firmly, “I have an ox called patience and a plow called diligence. The field I cultivate is the human mind, and I sow seeds that yield true happiness.”

The Japanese word for work, hataraku, can be read as “giving others (hata) pleasure (raku).” Work must lead to the happiness of many. Working means showing people the path that will eliminate their pain and anguish and lead them into true happiness.

Contributing to people’s material happiness by producing rice and vegetables or cars and televisions is important, as you say, but it is wrong to think that that is the only kind of work.

Baseball players and other athletes have big bodies and great strength, but instead of working to produce rice and vegetables they bring pleasure to their many fans, increasing their zest for work the following day and giving them vitality, and their remuneration for this is greater than that of ordinary workers. So material production is not the only kind of work.

By your reasoning, professional athletes are completely unproductive people who consume more than most, but the reason their paycheck is so much bigger than most workers’ is precisely because they give pleasure to so many people.

But think for a moment. They do indeed give pleasure, happiness, and vitality to many, and yet from a Buddhist perspective, such happiness is certainly fleeting, and does not last.

In contrast, the peerless teachings of the True Pure Land school of Buddhism as expounded by Master Shinran eradicate the roots of all human suffering and impart everlasting happiness. Those who share them thus are truly workers giving “pleasure to others.” Before those workers in the truest sense, they who understand the true meaning of work and devote all their energy to giving true happiness to others, I can only bow my head in reverence.

(Petals of Shinran, wisteria volume 38)


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