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On September the 21st, our Wednesday evening discussion group was well-attended and the talk afterward was very interesting.  After two 30 minute sittings, we watched a video by Ch’an Master Sheng-yen on the topic, Career Planning from a Buddhist Perspective.  Below is a synopsis of his talk:

What is meant by ‘life plan’?

The term ‘life plan’ is popularly understood to refer to developing the external, material part of our lives: seeing to our education, getting the job we want, meeting the person we wish to marry, buying the house we want, building the income we desire, retiring when we want to.

What Master Sheng-yen refers to is the internal life plan that, although it is inevitably joined to the external one, stretches over many lifetimes and encompasses three areas (and showing my suggestions as to what may fall in these areas):

Growth in our spiritual cultivation

  1. An appreciation of the importance of the intangible to the tangible
  2. A growth in wisdom through observation of the Dharma in daily life
  3. Understanding that truth of the six senses and five skandhas

Growth in our character

  1. a sense of self
  2. a sense of your abilities
  3. developing self-discipline
  4. growth in confidence

Improvement of our moral quality

  1. A sense of what is right and wrong
  2. compassion expressed in thought, word and deed
  3. cultivation of humility

A life plan should have direction and grounding

Master Sheng-yen sums this up the relationship of the internal to the external with the phrase, ‘To have a life plan is to firstly have a sense of direction and secondly to be grounded.’

Confucius and when to develop a life plan

Sheng-yen asks ‘When do we make our life plan?’ by relating the experience of Confucius.

Confucius said, when one has reached the age of maturity, one should know how to plan one’s life.   Confucius, when he was already a mature thinker,  said:  “I was dedicated to learning at age 15, established at age 30, no longer confused at age 40, aware of the will of heaven at age 50, imperturbable at age 60, free and at ease in all circumstances at age 70.”

The importance of parents and society

Our life plan is a product of our intellectual development and not a product of our youth when none of the tools needed to make a life plan are possessed.   For the youth, it is up to parents, society and the media to teach us what direction to go in.  It is the duty of adults to help develop the life plan of children by planning on their behalf.  As adults we must be aware of where our qualities and abilities lay and what our resources are so that we can plan.  Through this we gain a ‘sense of direction’

A sense of direction

A sense of direction in one’s life should never change although there will always be obstacles but as long as you are certain about your direction, you can always navigate difficult waters.

Staying grounded

Always stay true to your sense of direction and know that achievement along its path will not be the same for everyone.  Differences in resources or conditions such as physical capacity, mental capacity, education, and environment will mean that you cannot expect to do a certain thing at a certain age.  Retaining your sense of direction must be paramount in your life, if you change, this will be very bad.  Set a direction according to your unique resources, stay grounded, and you will make your way down the path of life.

The Discussion

Following the video, there was a lively discussion of this topic.  Among the contributors was Professor Te-hsing Shan of he Academia Sinica who is visiting the UK at the moment.  He took refuge from Master Sheng-yen in the 1980’s and related his own experience to the topic.  The meeting carried on to nearly 9:30.