Some perspectives on work

Posted in: Applying Wisdom

I think a lot about the role work should play in a meaningful life, so I thought it would be helpful to gather a list of (mostly) ancient wisdom type quotes about work or almost about work for some perspective.

I offer these without commentary.

Work for the sake of rest

The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath.It is not an interlude but the climax of living.

– Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

Work as a way to please God

The only way of living acceptably to God was not to surpass worldly morality in monastic asceticism, but solely through the fulfillment of the obligations imposed upon the individual by his position in the world. That was his calling.

-Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic

Work to move past the ego

All actions are performed by the gunas of prakriti. Deluded by identification with the ego, a person thinks, “I am the doer.” 2But the illumined man or woman understands the domain of the gunas and is not attached. Such people know that the gunas interact with each other; they do not claim to be the doer…

Those who are deluded by the operation of the gunas become attached to the results of their action. Those who understand these truths should not unsettle the ignorant. Performing all actions for my sake, completely absorbed in the Self, and without expectations, fight! – but stay free from the fever of the ego.

– The Bhagavad Gita

Work as vocation

God calls each of us to different vocations. Or, rather, God plants within us these vocations, which are revealed in our desires and longings. In this way God’s desires for the world are fulfilled, as we live out our own deepest desires. Vocation is less about finding one and more about having it revealed to you, as you pray to understand “what I want and desire.” – Father James Martin, SJ, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything

Work as ethics

To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others. – Thich That Hang, Heart of Buddha’s Teachings

Work just enough

Better to stop short than fill to the brim.
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.
Retire when the work is done.
This is the way of heaven.

– Tao Te Ching

Work to manifest results (not just wishing for stuff)

That no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another; and that there is not for man except that for which he strives. And that his effort is going to be seen. Then he will be recompensed for it with the fullest recompense

 – Quran 53 : 38-41

Work for virtue

Then what should we work for? 

Only this: proper understanding; unselfish action; truthful speech. A resolve to accept whatever happens as necessary and familiar, flowing like water from that same source and spring.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Work as a (potential path) to unrestrained desire

Spiritual disorder cannot be resolved—or joy worthy of the name produced—by wealth however great, by popular acclaim and respect, or by anything that causes unrestrained desire.

-Epicurus, Vatican Aphorisms (via The Art of Happiness)