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Excerpted from Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Laurence Boldt. Copyright © 1999 by Laurence Boldt. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.
 


"The Western view of life, inherited from Middle Eastern mythology, tends to view man as a stranger in a strange land."

Laurence Boldt,  
Zen and the Art of Making a Living

Part 1

How can we make of work a genuine art – an expression of our deepest selves? We begin by asking, What are we working for? Is the purpose of work to solve problems or to creatively express oneself? The way each of us answers this question shapes our lives as individuals and our world. It affects our psychology as well as our activities – the way we feel about the world and the things we do in it. We can’t really get too far into this without at least a brief consideration of world view, or the way we approach the world. After a consideration of the metaphysics underlying conventional attitudes toward work, we will go one to explore how our approach to career design differs form more traditional career-planning models.

The Western view of life, inherited from Middle Eastern mythology, tends to view man as a stranger in a strange land. Thrust out of the Garden into a hostile world, he is condemned to toil and sweat, to eke out his existence in a perpetual struggle against nature and his fellow man. The ancient "man as stranger" element of the religious world view remained implicit in the "scientific" world view developed over the last few centuries. Briefly stated, the common sense of the scientific worldview goes something like this: Quite by accident, man has arisen out of a dead and dumb universe. He has every reason to fear that he may fall back into it. Consequently, he makes it his business to distinguish himself from nature at every turn. This is his dirty little secret: He is a sort of bastard child of stones and slime, of animal violence and lust. Since he is embarrassed by his connection with the natural world, he insists upon his respectableness through a righteous quest to establish a rational order.

Nature is a mess he will put right. He will straighten it out, figure it out, reason this insane chaos into a predictable set of rules that he can deal with. His one great tool in this noble endeavor is his rational mind and the technologies he can construct with, it. It will save him from the ravages of wild and cruel nature. Though it cannot beat his heart, digest his food, or maintain other vital functions, that part of his brain responsible for conscious attention, he considers the summum bonum of the human species. It's as if one portion of his brain (that responsible for conscious attention) refuses to admit that it is connected to the rest of his brain, let alone the rest of his body or the rest of the natural world. It alone is "intelligent."

The world view of traditional Taoist China (and many other traditional cultures) begins with a different set of assumptions. Man was not thrust into a strange world; he came out of it as naturally as water comes out of a bubbling brook. He is not against nature; he cannot be separated from it-he is in nature, and nature in him. Nature is not dead and dumb; all of nature is alive and intelligent. It is not hostile and wild but friendly and ordered. Man's purpose is not to conquer and lord it over nature but to come into accord with it. The Taoist understands that there is in nature a profound intelligence that the rational mind can never comprehend. Even as a horse cannot run beyond the borders of its corral, so the rational mind cannot venture beyond the limits of language and the categories of thought.

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