Some of us may think that Buddhism is all about becoming a monk or nun and that it is only useful for those who intend to live a hermit’s life. The message of Buddha seems to have no place in our modern urban living.
Actually, Buddha’s teaching is about success too (i.e. success in attaining enlightenment). If we think deeper, the method for spiritual success is equally applicable for mundane goals too. Most of us just never thought of linking them together or perhaps it sounds sacrilegious?
Success in life
Right effort in the noble eightfold path
The Noble Eightfold path is a broad guideline for success in Buddhism. It teaches us how we should live our lives in a manner that is conducive to enlightenment. Within this eightfold path, the Buddha taught us Right effort.
Right effort is all about attitude. If we want something in life, we ought to pursue it with the right effort. That means we must be enthusiastic about it, and be energized by our goal. So much so that we wake up every day, looking forward to this pursuit. In our modern language, we call it passion.
And more importantly, that energetic attitude or passion is not automatic. Many of us have experienced the loss of interest in a goal. We may be energetic at first but we lose momentum after a while. In Buddhism, we recognize that this energetic mind requires rousing.
In the Mahayana system, we identify our goal with a 3rd party. This makes it less personal and therefore, more difficult to give up. For example, if we pursue career success for the benefit of our family, then we cannot give up unless our family is happy, Otherwise, we might be tempted to give in to stress and challenges halfway through and settle for less? That was how I pushed and motivated myself in my younger days.
Likewise, many working parents endured hardship for their children’s sake. That is the logic within the Mahayana practices. If we are doing it on our own, it is tempting to compromise and settle for less.
How do we rouse that energetic mind?
This can be done by thinking the right thoughts and removing the wrong ones. For example, we visualize how we will bring happiness to our loved ones when we succeed in our goals. When negative or demotivating thoughts arise, we need to stop thinking in that way. That constant discipline to think positively also falls under the scope of Right Effort. In that manner, we build a sense of hope and anticipation for a better future.
Managing our thoughts
Besides having enthusiasm, we also need to cultivate various positive attitudes to support our pursuits. For example, we need discipline. We have to rein in our minds to prevent daydreaming and focus on our tasks, Which will lead to productivity. Otherwise, we find ourselves wasting time and not achieving anything. So you see, meditation is not only good for enlightenment, it is also useful for work or study.
Next, we need to develop endurance and tolerance. This leads to an uncompromising attitude to work hard amidst challenging situations. For example, a little sleepiness or hungriness will not deter us from our work.
Besides the above, we also need to learn how to deal with fear and doubt. Discouraging situations will probably appear during our pursuits. The people that you loved and worked very hard for, maybe the ones who discourage you the most. When that happens, we must tell ourselves not to give up on them and remain steadfast in our goal.
All the above seems like we need to have a very strong character to be successful in life. But Buddhism also teaches us the middle path. We mustn’t forget how Buddha nearly starved himself to death through fasting. The lesson from that episode of His life reminded us not to take things to extremity.
While we understand that success can only be achieved through certain sacrifices, we mustn’t be oblivious to our personal health. Nor should we lose sight of our family and friends. At the end of the day, our success will only be worth celebrating if we did not harm others along the way.
May all be well and happy.