Buddha talked about productivity? Yeah, well, not in the ways you might think. Productivity for productivity’s sake wasn’t really Buddha’s bag. Buddha had a lot to say about how to live your life, though, and much of the wisdom still applies today. Being a good person, living well, and living with mindfulness are the basics of using Buddha’s words for a more productive life.
Most people have some mystical childhood story about how they came to be interested in spirituality, but mine is decidedly lame. First, I became obsessed with tea, and read The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura. Then during my big hipster PDA/GTD/productivity kick, Merlin Mann posted about mindfulness on 43folders.
Soon I found like minds at Zen Habits and Buddhism and productivity were inextricably linked in my mind. Once I really started practicing Buddhism, though, I realized that Buddha had a very different definition of productivity.
Without further ado, the top 8 things Buddha had to say about productivity:
1. How to be a good parent
“There are these four grounds for the bonds of fellowship. Which four? Generosity, kind words, beneficial help, consistency. These are the four grounds for the bonds of fellowship.”
If there are any four things that describe what holds a modern family together, generosity, kindness, help, and consistency would definitely be those qualities. You can run a “productive” household like a successful business – scheduled, organized, and to the point. But to produce togetherness, you have to dig deeper.
2. How to be a good friend
“The friends and associates thus ministered to as the North by a clansman show compassion to him in five ways:
(i) they protect him when he is heedless,
(ii) they protect his property when he is heedless,
(iii) they become a refuge when he is in danger,
(iv) they do not forsake him in his troubles,
(v) they show consideration for his family.”
This one sorta sounds like the Buddha knows you hang out with some dudes who like to get crazy. If you just substitute the word “drunk” for the word “heedless” then you might have an accurate assessment of last Friday night. The message is still clear. Protect each other, don’t abandon each other, and respect the family.
3. How to avoid offending people
“ In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings.”
Okay, so you can never really avoid offending people. But can you imagine an entire day where you only spoke what was a fact, true, good, AND pleasing? I probably wouldn’t say much that day. The point isn’t to keep your mouth shut until you’re perfect, it’s to elevate your own awareness of the intention behind what you’re saying. Look carefully.
4. How to stop making excuses
“It’s too cold,
too late in the evening —
people who say this,
shirking their work:
the moment passes them by.”
There are a lot of things to complain about, and complaining can quickly become an energy drain that leads you further and further away from getting on with life as it is. The Buddha directly addresses procrastination and asks us to kick the habit. No, not just when we get around to it. Wake up now.
5. How to have a positive attitude
“Staying at Savatthi. “Monks, if someone were to give a gift of one hundred serving dishes [of food] in the morning, one hundred at mid-day, and one hundred in the evening; and another person were to develop a mind of good-will — even for the time it takes to pull on a cow’s udder — in the morning, again at mid-day, and again in the evening, this [the second action] would be more fruitful than that [the first].
“Thus you should train yourselves: ‘Our awareness-release through good-will will be cultivated, developed, pursued, handed the reins and taken as a basis, given a grounding, steadied, consolidated, & well-undertaken. That’s how you should train yourselves.”
Okay, I don’t know about pulling on a cow’s udder, but this passage speaks to modern life more than it might seem at first glance. In the US, we often outsource our goodness simply by donating money to a charity or cause while still remaining the same angry, judgmental people every day. Spending time cultivating our own mental good-will just might be more productive (but don’t stop giving money to that charity).
6. How to eat in moderation
“And what more is to be done? ‘We will have a sense of moderation in eating. Considering it appropriately, we will take food not playfully, nor for intoxication, nor for putting on bulk, nor for beautification, but simply for the survival & continuance of this body, for ending its afflictions, for the support of the holy life, thinking, “I will destroy old feelings [of hunger] & not create new feelings [from overeating]. Thus I will maintain myself, be blameless, & live in comfort”
Buddha asks us to see food as medicine for the body, and not a crutch in dealing with emotions, trying to make ourselves bulky or gorgeous, not for stuffing down our emotional problems with a Twinky. This contains a great guideline – eat until the hunger’s gone, but stop before you create new bad feelings from overeating.
7. How to lead a balanced life
“Four conditions, Vyagghapajja,3 conduce to a householder’s weal and happiness in this very life. Which four?
“The accomplishment of persistent effort (utthana-sampada), the accomplishment of watchfulness (arakkha-sampada), good friendship (kalyanamittata) and balanced livelihood (sama-jivikata).”
For the householder (that’s the guy who lives in the everyday world, dealing with regular problems, family issues, money, and work), the Buddha lays down the truth about how to deal with things. Work hard, so that no question can be asked about your integrity. Be watchful of your own efforts. Cultivate good friendships with trustworthy people so that you have a network of support. Balance your livelihood with your family and spiritual life.
8. How to respond with kindness in the face of anger
“Monks, there are these five aspects of speech by which others may address you: timely or untimely, true or false, affectionate or harsh, beneficial or unbeneficial, with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. Others may address you in a timely way or an untimely way. They may address you with what is true or what is false. They may address you in an affectionate way or a harsh way. They may address you in a beneficial way or an unbeneficial way. They may address you with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. In any event, you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading him with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with him, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.”
Anyone can say anything to you at any time, for almost any reason. People can become overwhelmed by their emotions and erupt in a fit of anger and your only choice is how to respond. Especially in the workplace, keeping your cool can mean keeping your job. The above passage doesn’t ask you to stuff down your feelings so you never respond in anger – it asks us all to remain sympathetic to the other person’s welfare even in the face of their hostility. This kind of calm is unshakable.
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