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The False Duality Between "Job" And "Service"

--by Zilong Wang (Jul 10, 2017)


Around the time when I set off for Asia in July, two of my dearest friends/teachers both went from full-time volunteer work to taking full-time jobs. Their decision to return to the "system" really shook me up, and made me review my assumptions around work and service.

Until then, I was not even aware that I have been holding the following assumptions: "to serve fully, one has to quit his job"; "to be the change, one has to disconnect from the dominant system"; "the more distant and opposed to the dominant system, the more virtuous one is." In my mind, I had created an unnecessary duality between "holding a job" and "living to serve".

Perhaps by being around some hard-core activists, I have been influenced by some sort of "service fundamentalism": in order to truly grow in service, you must quit your job, lose your visa, burn your passport, give away all your money and possessions, move to an impoverished and violent neighborhood, become a strict organic vegan localvore -- and maybe grow a beard; anything short of that would be pointless.

Little did I noticed the subtle ego and the "arms race of purism" embedded in these assumptions; nor was I aware of the violence in my monopolizing "what service should look like".

In the past nine months of the pilgrimage, almost everywhere I go, I am supported by the charity of householders to provide for my worldly needs. Who am I to say that my way is more virtuous and pure? Am I outsourcing my "dirty work" to others, while wearing my "detachment" as a badge of honor?

As I open my eyes to the "thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground", the following has become clear.

First, it is impossible to sever all ties with the dominant system, unless we withdraw entirely from society. It would be hypocritical to measure one's virtue by one's degree of disconnection with the System.

Second, it requires more humility and skillfulness to serve from within the system. Humility, because there is no instant moral high ground to claim, no subtle affirmation derived from austerity. Skillfulness, because one is forced to learn to hold paradoxes, to listen to the different voices, to develop expedient means, and find the nooks and crannies to "sneak in" seeds of change.

I used to flatter myself by thinking that I quit my job because the industry was not addressing the root cause -- "how righteous of me!", said the ego. But now, I am realizing that it was me who was not capable to "serve from wherever I am". If it is possible for a butcher to abide by the Dao as he carves up oxen, then we might be expected to at least make an attempt to cultivate in nice offices :)

Third, there are great benefits to "have a foot in both worlds". The conventional work (paid work in public/private/NGO sectors) helps to keep us grounded in reality, and develop "efficiency tools". The service/volunteer work helps us remember the ultimate purpose of life, and develop "heart tools". They complement each other.

Ultimately, the practice is to serve from wherever we are. No one form of service is superior and holier than another. We are all placed in the grand scheme for a reason.

Excerpted from Zilong Wang's blog post.

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On Jul 17, 2017 Lynne wrote:

 Very meaningful piece. My late husband's life's work (dealing with mysticism and schizophrenia) was interrupted numerous time and he was forced to support me and the children while doing his research. His paid job as a cab-driver was, although difficult, another way he served people. He was exceptional, a truly altruistic person. 



On Jul 17, 2017 James O'Donovan wrote:

I agree with many points made in this article and disagree with many others.  I agree that living to serve will take many forms and self righteousness is a big obstacle and that even if one is a monk or a nun living through begging one is dependent on working people and society.  But that does not mean that all jobs are helpful.  The Buddha taught that there are jobs that harm life, he listed five trades as wrong livelihoods that should not be followed - weapons, poisons, living beings (trading in humand or animals), meat, and intoxicants.  Butchers who kill living beings to make a living do not abide by the dao.  One is not more humble simply because one serves from within the system.  According to many teachers in many different traditions stepping away from society for a while usually to nature can be an important part of personal development.  Usually this is followed by a process of integrating oneself (now hopefully more kind and compassionate)  See full.

I agree with many points made in this article and disagree with many others.  I agree that living to serve will take many forms and self righteousness is a big obstacle and that even if one is a monk or a nun living through begging one is dependent on working people and society.  But that does not mean that all jobs are helpful.  The Buddha taught that there are jobs that harm life, he listed five trades as wrong livelihoods that should not be followed - weapons, poisons, living beings (trading in humand or animals), meat, and intoxicants.  Butchers who kill living beings to make a living do not abide by the dao.  One is not more humble simply because one serves from within the system.  According to many teachers in many different traditions stepping away from society for a while usually to nature can be an important part of personal development.  Usually this is followed by a process of integrating oneself (now hopefully more kind and compassionate) back into society through service. Wherever we are now is where we choose to be.  Our work should be aligned with values of truthfulness, compassion, generosity, non-violence, etc.

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On Jul 13, 2017 brinda wrote:

 As so many folks commented last night, a lot of it is in the intent and attitude, and compassion/kindness that we bring to our work, in whatever form. "Serve from where you are" and "Find the nooks and crannies in the world to plant seeds"--that visual will stay with me and is very powerful. I am close to someone who has spent a lifetime as a "karma yogi" and has impacted so many people with kindness, selflessness, integrity and generosity....whether mentoring, finding just the right job for someone, creating opportunities for others to grow and flourish, leading with values and never ever thinking about the "fruits" of the labors. So this example reminds me all the time that if you "go deep", always stay true to your values, and don't worry about the "fruits", service is the natural flow.....



1 reply: S. | Post Your Reply
On Jul 12, 2017 Subhash Garg wrote:

 Work in whatever form is needed for living but does not stop from the service.
Most important thing is the attitude.



On Jul 11, 2017 Rick wrote:

This is a wonderful "problem" to have and to engage with. It challenges all of us to serve from where we stand, not from where we think we ought to be. Where we stand is ever and always the present moment - we are never elsewhere, all superstitions and "occurrings" to the contrary! And so we will always serve from where we stand, be it in volunteerism, corporate America, politics, the world of NGOs, at home with our loved ones, alone on the trail, on the line, sharing in the Circle. As we live our lives as stewards of love and possibility, where would we not choose to serve? Every venue in life calls out to us and even the most "unlikely" (the boardroom, perhaps?) are openings for healing and workability. A world that works at every level and for all time is made from all of these!



On Jul 11, 2017 manoj wrote:

 Agree now after few weeks of trying to console myself that only way is to run to other place and do my sadhna for purifying and sublimating mind desires.



On Jul 11, 2017 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

I relate to this so much! As a Cause-Focused Storyteller who chose to quit her job, sell her home and possessions to create/facilitate a volunteer literacy project in Belize in 2005 and then re-renter life in the US as a freelance Storyteller/Speaker/Trainer and Coach who currently serves as a Storytelling Consultant at the World Bank in Washington DC, I was told by some that I was "selling out." Perhaps I was learning that "wherever you go, there you are." Meaning that wherever we choose the serve, there we are if indeed we are serving with mindfulness and intention to the task, it matters not where we do it. <3 I have experienced deep sacred moments serving while I teach presentation skills at the World Bank: when I have connected heart to heart with staff reminding us all to listen, learn and value those whom we serve. Recently, 3 staff who had taken my online monthlong intensive course, then attended a face to face with me. When I asked why given it was the same content, all 3  See full.

I relate to this so much! As a Cause-Focused Storyteller who chose to quit her job, sell her home and possessions to create/facilitate a volunteer literacy project in Belize in 2005 and then re-renter life in the US as a freelance Storyteller/Speaker/Trainer and Coach who currently serves as a Storytelling Consultant at the World Bank in Washington DC, I was told by some that I was "selling out." Perhaps I was learning that "wherever you go, there you are." Meaning that wherever we choose the serve, there we are if indeed we are serving with mindfulness and intention to the task, it matters not where we do it. <3 I have experienced deep sacred moments serving while I teach presentation skills at the World Bank: when I have connected heart to heart with staff reminding us all to listen, learn and value those whom we serve. Recently, 3 staff who had taken my online monthlong intensive course, then attended a face to face with me. When I asked why given it was the same content, all 3 separately replied, "So we could be in your energy in person and hug you to thank you." This is transformation and to me sacred. <3 
To avoid "service fundamentalism" I remind myself to "serve where I am" I hope this is helpful. Hugs from my heart to yours, Kristin

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On Jul 11, 2017 Sonia R Uttamchandani wrote:

 All duality is here to serve us to move.... nothing is fixed or permanent. Hence the need to shift to serve in the manner best. 
What holds true in this moment, will not be so, in the next. And hence drememuality serves the sacred purpose of helping us see that rootedness also has "limited" purpose. To be in one place, serve the purpose, find the ground beneath, untill we are ready to move on. 
At times, the journey may be long, hard and also fraught with many msitakes, or long-turns..... but the learning is always useful so that the soul "sees" and remembers.



On Jul 11, 2017 Cal wrote:

 Thanks so much for this piece. This is a topic that I think/talk/ponder about, quite often. Such an interesting balancing act between work/home, obligation/compassion, etc. I've experienced "regular" jobs characterized by selfless service, and "charities" characterized by turf and elitism, and of course, mostly those that are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. All wonderful opportunities to be mindfully engaged in positive change. I'm reminded of the "embrace tiger/return to mountain" concept- I need both tigers and mountains in my life. 



On Jul 11, 2017 Margaret wrote:

But when we are in the "paid in dollars" service economy, I ask that we use that "status" to bring awareness to the fact that (for far too long now) we have been pretending to ourselves that this is the only work force that matters--that worth is equatable with the size of a paycheck and the commercial prestige of a job title.  Consequently, we have come to hold MBA's in higher esteem than social workers, and (if they're lucky enough to be employed) social workers as more prestigious than unpaid parents or caregivers to the elderly.  Thanks to unfettered capitalism, the market economy has been usurping the values of human community--and wreaking havoc on our relationships with each other and with the planet.   The contributions that are Truly made when we recognize that caring and nurturing have been vastly undervalued (especially in the last couple decades) and now need deep & sincere recognition  are perhaps beyond our wildest dreams.  But as Charle  See full.

But when we are in the "paid in dollars" service economy, I ask that we use that "status" to bring awareness to the fact that (for far too long now) we have been pretending to ourselves that this is the only work force that matters--that worth is equatable with the size of a paycheck and the commercial prestige of a job title.  Consequently, we have come to hold MBA's in higher esteem than social workers, and (if they're lucky enough to be employed) social workers as more prestigious than unpaid parents or caregivers to the elderly.  Thanks to unfettered capitalism, the market economy has been usurping the values of human community--and wreaking havoc on our relationships with each other and with the planet.   The contributions that are Truly made when we recognize that caring and nurturing have been vastly undervalued (especially in the last couple decades) and now need deep & sincere recognition  are perhaps beyond our wildest dreams.  But as Charles Eisenstein says, this is the coming world that our hearts know is  possible.  If you haven't read his recent book , "The More Beautiful Wirld Thst Our Hearts Know is Possible", please do.🙏🏼

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On Jul 11, 2017 Pranita wrote:

My move from a corporate job (dominant system) to a startup job (soon-to-be dominant system!) to an NGO felt to me as my ideal way to gradual full-time service. But as a part of an NGO, we are always having to crowdfund money in the schools that we teach, which is when I realised we are being able to carry our "noble" work only because the others continue to serve in the dominant system. They support us with money because they don't have the time or sometime the willingness for hands activity. Basically, there is interdependence, and there is so much beauty in it too. This article gave me so much more clarity and insight into the topic. Very grateful! :)



2 replies: Neha, Brinda | Post Your Reply
On Jul 11, 2017 Mish wrote:

 "To serve from wherever we are".  Yes.  Says it all.



1 reply: Kay | Post Your Reply
On Jul 11, 2017 vaibhav wrote:

 Namaste, I began reading with assumption that it will be proclaiming more on service and how typical job mindset works. As i read along, I found i was also holding an assumption "to serve fully, one has to quit his job". Life always seemed difficult working in a system. There was a constant attempt to quit the system, move out of it and say all the worse about the system. Somewhere from last one year there was slow shift towards working in system. Not fitting in the system was motive but doing work without getting attached. Article came up at a time when all those questions had started again crawling inside head. One can be in or out, most important point is to grow and progress. Progress towards the light, the truth. Zilong Wang has beautifully summed this us in his last line: Ultimately, the practice is to serve from wherever we are. No one form of service is superior and holier than another. We are all placed in the grand scheme for a reason. Lots of gratitude !  See full.

 Namaste,
I began reading with assumption that it will be proclaiming more on service and how typical job mindset works. As i read along, I found i was also holding an assumption "to serve fully, one has to quit his job". Life always seemed difficult working in a system. There was a constant attempt to quit the system, move out of it and say all the worse about the system. Somewhere from last one year there was slow shift towards working in system. Not fitting in the system was motive but doing work without getting attached.
Article came up at a time when all those questions had started again crawling inside head. One can be in or out, most important point is to grow and progress. Progress towards the light, the truth.
Zilong Wang has beautifully summed this us in his last line: Ultimately, the practice is to serve from wherever we are. No one form of service is superior and holier than another. We are all placed in the grand scheme for a reason.

Lots of gratitude !

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On Jul 10, 2017 Pastor Liz wrote:

 Work is absolutely an avenue to demonstrate our love for God. The apostle Paul sees all work as God's work. 'whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord'. Service requires humility and always a joy to make Christ known at the workplace. 



On Jul 10, 2017 david doane wrote:

 Many actions can be of service.  I define service fundamentalism as service done by obligation or rule, that is, it is based on should, have to, can't, must, and got to, all of which are positions or attitudes of obligation and are ways of telling ourselves that we are powerless and victims, which is likely to result in feeling resentment and depression.  What makes service virtuous is it being done freely, done out of choice.  Obligation is toxic.  The setting doesn't matter.  That is, it doesn't matter whether a person is on the job or unemployed or what kind of job a person has.  What matters is where the service is coming from.  Service out of obligation or rule lacks virtue and may even be toxic, and service out of free choice is virtuous and healthy.  For me, sacredness is wholeness, and wholeness involves freedom, so service that is in harmony with wholeness and done freely, is sacred service.  Knowing this helps me to avoid th  See full.

 Many actions can be of service.  I define service fundamentalism as service done by obligation or rule, that is, it is based on should, have to, can't, must, and got to, all of which are positions or attitudes of obligation and are ways of telling ourselves that we are powerless and victims, which is likely to result in feeling resentment and depression.  What makes service virtuous is it being done freely, done out of choice.  Obligation is toxic.  The setting doesn't matter.  That is, it doesn't matter whether a person is on the job or unemployed or what kind of job a person has.  What matters is where the service is coming from.  Service out of obligation or rule lacks virtue and may even be toxic, and service out of free choice is virtuous and healthy.  For me, sacredness is wholeness, and wholeness involves freedom, so service that is in harmony with wholeness and done freely, is sacred service.  Knowing this helps me to avoid the trap of service fundamentalism.

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1 reply: Manoj | Post Your Reply
On Jul 7, 2017 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 Work is worship-no matter what kind of work we do.There are many faces of work. No one face is better than the other face.The face that looks down on other faces is not a service face. Humility is an integral part of service. Service done from the heart induces inner joy, inner reward and a deep sense of fulfillment. Recognition or admiration for the service we do is like frosting on the cake. We cook the food for serving with no expectation in return. We are a part of the system-social, financial and political. When a system serves the need of a privileged group of people by excluding others, it needs to be changed. Such self-serving systems need radical change to survive and flourish. I have witnessed the great service work done by Mahatma Gandhi for untouchables in India. He blazed a new trial which slowly became a high way. Work does not have to be against service. This is my personal experience. I have been working as a teacher and counselor all my life. It has been my inwa  See full.

 Work is worship-no matter what kind of work we do.There are many faces of work. No one face is better than the other face.The face that looks down on other faces is not a service face. Humility is an integral part of service. Service done from the heart induces inner joy, inner reward and a deep sense of fulfillment. Recognition or admiration for the service we do is like frosting on the cake. We cook the food for serving with no expectation in return.

We are a part of the system-social, financial and political. When a system serves the need of a privileged group of people by excluding others, it needs to be changed. Such self-serving systems need radical change to survive and flourish. I have witnessed the great service work done by Mahatma Gandhi for untouchables in India. He blazed a new trial which slowly became a high way.

Work does not have to be against service. This is my personal experience. I have been working as a teacher and counselor all my life. It has been my inward call. It has brought great joy, happiness and fulfillment in my life. Many lives have been gracefully touched by the work I l love do and my life has also been graciously been touched by many hands.

It is the spirit of the work that makes it service. Work and service join hands making living blissful.

May we make our work worship by doing greater good!

Namaste.

Jagdish P Dave



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