Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Buddhism and Decision Making

This is something I wrote on the Buddhism boards. Mostly here for posterity, but please read and comment on it.

I know this isn't an advice column... but I'm looking for advice, sort of. Currently, I'm in a situation where I have to decide between two job opportunities. I've more or less made my decision, but my question is more about the decision making process. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this and during the whole process I was considering what sort of criteria ought I, as a Buddhist, use to make decisions?

"Do not judge by any standards" (from the Sandokai(Harmony of Relative and Absolute))
"The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences" (Sosan?, third Partriarch of Chan/Zen)

Maybe I'm taking these too pithy "Zen Sayings" out of context, but nevertheless I feel that there is a lot of rhetoric about decision making in Zen. A lot of it has to do with being "in the moment," being able to make decisions without attachment to the outcome or to the conditions that led to the decision. No past, no future, just act. Now.

This method of decision making favors intuition as the compass to guide our decisions. But if there's one thing I've observed about myself in the past week I've been mulling my decision over in my head, is that intuition changes. In the morning, choice A sounds good, in the evening, choice B. The decision happens only when I decide when to decide, and then my intuition at that moment shall take the day. But why is my feeling at that moment necessarily better than at any other moment?

I suppose another approach might be more "Utilitarian," in that we should consider which decision would be the most beneficial to the most people, or in Buddhist terms, be the most compassionate. This seems to be a good criteria, but in my particular case, it's not very obvious which choice would be most beneficial: One job will likely put a strain on the school I would teach at, (hosting an inexperienced foreigner) but because they wouldn't have anyone in my position otherwise, I could do a lot for the school. The other, my time is spread among many schools, and will likely be doing very little actual work, and if I turned it down, some other poor jobless college grad would be right there to take it. But which choice would benefit more people? Who knows?

Maybe my decision should appeal to basic reason. One pays more and would be less work, so I should take that one. Simple. Though maybe some reasons outweigh others... should the mere opportunity to help sentient beings nullify any monetary gains? Which reasons are worth considering?

Well, I've already gone on far too long, but my original question remains: What sort of criteria or method ought a Buddhist use to make decisions? I mean big decisions, of course, ones that will dramatically change one's life.

I hope I'm not beating a dead horse with this bu, thanks in advance for your input!


P.S. If you're interested in the specifics of my decision, please visit my blog: thedailytommy [dot] blogspot [dot] com , though I would rather that this discussion not be a case study in my life.


Ben Cox said...

If I were a Zen master and you came to me with your question, I think I might smack you upside the head. Perhaps that would jar you into some kind of sudden enlightenment.

That said, I'm glad to see that you ultimately decided to go with the Japan option. You're very fortunate to even have that as a choice.

Do make sure you visit all the major temples - Horyu-ji, Todai-ji, Ise, Byodo-in... and if you're really adventurous and have some time to spare, consider doing the Shikoku pilgrimage. I certainly would if I were there.


Thomas Bradford Newhall said...

Haha, you're probably right. But how did He make the decision to hit me??? I suppose in retrospect, it's really just a call for some more concrete conception of "values" in Buddhism. Unfortunately, if Buddhism is anything, it's not concrete.

I've been to some of those temples you mentioned in a previous trip, but I definitely plan to do some temple hopping while I'm there. And the Shikoku pilgrimage is also a possibility if I can find the time.

Thanks for reading.


Cindi said...

Back to hitting you upside the head (what is the sound of one hand clapping? the sound of the master's hand striking the student!).

Perhaps, Tom, its personality. Like feeling and thinking or something similar.

But, in the end, it seems like things are working out.

So, is that culture shock chart true?