— (c) Work and working

1 May 2535

(c) Work and working

Work’ and ‘working’ are also terms that are understood in different ways by conventional and Buddhist economics, and once more the difference is related to the two kinds of desire. In the case that work is connected with the desire for true well-being (which includes the desire for self-development and the development of human potentialities) then the results of the work immediately and directly correspond to the desire. Work is done with desire for the results of the work itself and so provides satisfaction. If however, the work is done with desire for the things that provide one with pleasure, then the results of the work itself are not what one desires. They are merely the conditions needed to acquire the things that one desires. Work then is seen as a matter of unavoidable necessity.

The difference between the two attitudes to work lies in that in the first case work is perceived as a potentially satisfying activity and in the second as a necessary chore. Modern Western economic theory is based on the view that work is something that we are compelled to do in order to obtain money for consumption. It is the time when we are not working, or “leisure time”, when we may experience happiness and satisfaction. Work and satisfaction are considered to be separate and generally opposing principles. However, over the centuries, Western people have become deeply inculcated with a love of work and thirst for knowledge so that they tend to work and study with determination and dedication, despite their negative ideas about work. But when a society lacking that firm cultural base takes up this view of work as a condition for the acquisition of money, then there will be detrimental effects on work, the economy, on individual lives and on society as a whole.

To give an example of the two different kinds of working, let us suppose that Mr. Smith is a researcher. He is seeking to discover natural means of pest control for agricultural use. Mr. Smith enjoys his work because the things he desires from it, knowledge and its application, are the direct fruits of his research. The advances he makes, and the increases in understanding he experiences, afford him a constant satisfaction. The growth of his knowledge and the clarity of his understanding continually add to the enjoyment Mr. Smith derives from his work.

Mr. Jones is a research worker in the same field as Mr. Smith. Mr. Jones works for money and promotions. Thus the results of the work itself, knowledge and its practical applications are not the results that he desires. They are merely the means by which he can ultimately get what he really wants, which is money and position. Mr. Jones doesn’t enjoy his work, he does it because he feels he has to.

From this discussion of the nature of work, it may be seen that work in the Buddhist sense, performed in order to meet the desire for well-being, can give a constant satisfaction. People are able to enjoy their work. In Buddhist terminology it is referred to working with “chanda”. But work with the desire for some pleasure or other is called working with taṇhā. People working with taṇhā have the desire to consume, so that while still working (and thus not yet consuming) they experience no satisfaction, and so are unable to enjoy their work.

It might be objected that not all kinds of work afford the opportunity for enjoyment and satisfaction. It is not merely the desire for pleasure that is the obstacle. Many jobs, especially in industry, are dull and undemanding or seem pointless. In others the physical conditions may be difficult, even dangerous to health. In such cases the boredom, frustration, and depression of the workers has negative effects on productivity. Buddhist economics points to the need to create jobs and organize production in such a way as to maximize the opportunities for workers to fulfill their desire for well-being. However, the basic point remains valid. The attitude we hold towards our work, whatever it is, is a major conditioning factor of the effect it has on us.

As regards the subjects dealt with above, i.e. the nature of desire, of values, and of work, Buddhism accepts the fact that it is natural for people to have cravings for things (taṇhā). But at the same time Buddhism sees that human beings also have the desire for quality of life or well-being, and that this second kind of desire, is an inherent true need of humanity. There is a desire for self-improvement and for the good. Consequently, Buddhism is not denying craving, but rather is looking towards transforming it as much as possible into the desire for well-being, and to make that desire for well-being lead to self-improvement. This change of meaning has significance for many other matters, even for example the definitions of wealth, goods and services, competition, and cooperation. When the foundation of things changes, everything changes.

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