As a teen and well into my twenties my private nightmare was being asked, What do you do? I so longed to answer with work I was proud of. That the enquirer, quite frankly, would be impressed with. I wanted to BE somebody when I felt like a nobody. I wanted to say I am a photographer! Then one day walking on the streets of Calcutta, 1979, I decided I didn’t. A short time after that I got my first job as a photographer. All a very long time and far away now.
Yesterday I was asked by somebody needing to fill out a form. What do you do? I responded, I’m a Buddhist Monastic. A unknowing shadow fell over the questioners face. By way of clarification I added, Err, I teach Buddhism. I could see the light go on, Oh, you’re a teacher! I imagined the enquirer thinking. Sometimes one needs to at least appear to fit into a box! For administrative purposes.
Do take a look at Alain De Botton’s TED lecture, A kinder, gentler philosophy of success. Thanks to Walter for the link to this talk.
And all the quotes on Alain De Botton’s Twitter page are, to say the least, thought provoking.
8 thoughts on “What Do You Do?”
You wrote, Sometimes one needs to at least appear to fit into a box! For administrative purposes.
Sometimes I find the answers would be to tick all the boxes and none. There’s often no straight yes/no answers.
Well, I’ve always seen you both as a photographer and as a Zen Master. I was thinking too of the late John Daido Loori, of whom I think you have written. He talks about his photography here – ‘getting out of the way of the photograph’. Thomas Merton was another monk photographer.
Yes, this whole ‘what do you do?’ question is so tied up in our culture with what is your employment. And people define each other that way. Not good. But I am surprised there is not some kind of ‘box’ for Monastic. I wonder what the form filling situation would have made of Bodhidharma… the emperor wasn’t too happy with his response when asked to state who he was. I bet there isn’t a box for ‘I have no idea’! Come to think of it I’ll bet some admin system somewhere would not be happy to leave him staring at the wall after his short interview with the emperor. Plus ça change (plus c’est la même chose).
I like Alain De Botton’s TED lecture but two things came to mind: 1)His position is that of philosopher; he has a place and it seems quite comfortable. 2)I think he misses something in regard to our relation to what is known as ‘nature’.
For me getting over wanting to BE somebody was a great liberation. Then comes the more challenging being through DOING what arises.
When I was younger & was asked what I did I would answer “do you mean for a living?” The brashness of youth. What we do is certainly not who we are.
The koan (question/problem) that’s being pointed to, it seems to me,is really about existing, of being an entity. Being somebody you will know next time you look in the mirror, so to speak. I think we need that don’t we. Just to keep a sense of continuity. What it must be like to loose the sense of being a being distict from others. We talk about ‘letting go of self’ and that can be so easily thought to mean that having or being a self is undesirable or ‘a problem’. [I seem to be in a mood for reflection] Anyway, as you know, the second of the four noble truths goes something like, the root of suffering is tanha – translated as thursting.
I think I’ve got something to write about – tanha. Thanks for writing Angie, much appreciated. Comments do help to stimulate ideas so all are much appreciated.
Yes, you make me smile when you say you think of me as a Zen Master. I never do!
Interestingly, given my early ambitions to be a photographer, hearing you say you think of me as a photographer gives me a small twang of satisifaction and even joy. There is something to recognition, of say somebody liking ones photographs. Or ones singing voice. Or the craft work you’re turning out. Here’s another subject to write about – the merits of recognition.
Try having to choose ones title when there isn’t a Rev. box to tick. Not a Ms. nor a Miss. And they do need an answer.
I love Bodhidharma, now adays we would say he had ‘front’. Being through doing what arises? Have you heard the quote, ‘there is no doer that does the deed nor one who reaps reward’. Did I make that up?