채근담 Caigentan (from 1590)

Excepts from an ancient Asian philosophy text “Texts from a plain and humble life” Thanks to my friend Jay for lending me his book of wisdom.

 

부귀영화. 명예. 공적. 너무 밝히면 안된다. 무언가를 완벽하게 이루는 것은 엄청나게 힘든 일이다. 그러니 적당히 이루고 적당히 누리다가 떠나는게 상책이다.
You must not chase after wealth, prestige, achievements … It is extremely difficult to achieve anything perfectly. It is better to achieve adequately, reap adequately and then to leave.

재능과 재주는 가볍게 아무때나 쓰거나 자랑하면 안된다. 시기당한다.
You must not use your talent and skills lightly whenever you want to, or brag about them. You will garner envy. 


간직해두고 소중하게 여기돼 쓸때를 위해 오랜시간동안 축적하고 감추어 두어야한다. 빛이 무너지는 것은 한순간이다.
Instead, you must treasure them and only use them when necessary while holding them inside yourself hidden from plain sight for a long time. It only takes one moment for all the light (attention?) to be destroyed.

너무 세속적인 마음이 되지않고 언제나 바쁜 사회속에서도 고요함괴 도를 닦는 자세를 가져라. 그리고 사회를 떠나있는 초인이 되었어도 도를 닦되 너무 세상과 떨어져있지 말고 미래에 다시 돌아갈 날을 위해서 준비해라.
Do not gain a secular mind and always exercise serenity and the attitude to improve your mental discipline amongst a busy crowded society. And even if you are a hermit that has left society, do keep working on yourself and your serenity but do not be too far distanced from the world, and prepare for the day you return to them in the future.

너무 단백하면 기계적이 되고 즐거움이 없어지니 적당하게 즐거움을 가지고 너무 즐거움만 가지면 덕이 없어지니 적당하게 덖을 기르는 시간을 가져라.
If you are too simple and overly focused on your discipline, your life will become mechanical and devoid of joy. Instead, allow an adequate amount of joy and enjoyment in your life. However, if you allow too much enjoyment only, then you will lose your virtues, so also maintain an adequate amount of time to work on your virtues and improve yourself.

너무 행동과 움직이는 것을 좋아하는 사람은 구름아래에 번개, 바람앞의 촛불과 같아서 불안정하고 꺼져버리기 쉽다. 하지만 너무 가만히 있는 사람은 죽은 재와 말라버리는 나무처럼 된다. 가만히 있어도 힘차게 물아래에서 움직이는 물고기가 되야되고 많이 움직여도 마음속에 부처님같은 고요함과 안정이 있어야 한다.
If you overly enjoy action and moving too much, you will be like a candle in front of a stormy wind under the clouds, unstable and easy for your light to be vanished. However, if you stay too much in one place and don’t do anything, you will be like dead ash or a dried up tree. Even if you stay still, you need to be like a fish that’s diligently swimming under the waters, and even if you move actively, you need to have the serenity and stability of a Buddha inside your mind.

사람의 마음은 태양의 움직임과 같아서 아침에 떴다가 저녁때 변한다.
A person’s heart is like the movements of a sun; it rises in the morning and then turns away in the evenings. 

그들을 감동시켜서 많이 사랑받을 것을 추구하지 말고, 그냥 오해당하지 않고 원망다하지 않게만 해라. 그래도 큰 성공이다. 

Do not chase after earning their love and approval by moving their hearts. Just to prevent yourself from being misunderstood or hated is enough. That alone is great success. 


사람들의 인정, 너무 추구하지 말아라. 그들의 노예가 된다.
Do not pursue society’s approval too much. You will become their slave.

모든 악마는 사심에서 나온다. 너 혼자서 생각하고 있으면 악마가 속삭인다. 번뇌속에 악마가 있다.
All evil comes from your own mind. If you keep thinking by yourself, the devil will whisper. In your mental rumination, there is evil.

욕망, 편견, 오만심, 자만 … 이런 것들이 너를 악마쪽으로 데려갈 것이다.Greed, judgment, arrogance, pride … those things will take you toward an evil direction. 

Doing God’s Work

I see younger generations wanting to do good in their work. Helping the impoverished. Protecting the environment. Shedding light on the corrupt. Changing policies. Innovating society. Challenging the status quo.

We want the heavens to open up all kinds of paths for us now that we have decided to dedicate our lives to such noble causes. You might think to yourself, ‘I’m breaking my back trying to fix the world, and nobody else is trying as hard as I can, but nobody is noticing my hard work and on the contrary, I have to live on my small salary. The world is so unfair!”

In fact, our compensation system seems to work almost exactly in opposite. If you are a public school teacher trying to teach hundreds of inner city children, you get paid just a fraction of what you get paid as a corporate employee in Finance making the rich few even richer. No matter how noble your life purpose is, you will not get be compensated in terms of material wealth. Nobody might even care.

But I don’t think that means that we all have to give up entirely and live only for paychecks. In an ideal world, the amount of money you are paid and the level of material wealth you have will be directly proportionate to the “positive” benefits that you give out to the world. In that way, the “good” people will be largely rewarded and incentivized to do more, while the selfish people who only care about themselves without positively impacting society can be compensated less. But we all know the world does not work like that. So, we accept that reality. The ideal system is not here and may never come. The ideal system only exists in heaven.

So no matter how unfair this system is, We must give our all to impact the world in those noble ways with or without monetary compensation. Hell, nobody might even give us kudos for doing good.

The conclusion I came to is this. We do the Work no matter how poor or rich we are, that’s actually completely arbitrary. My parents’ generation and previous generations before them had to scrape a living doing whatever they would. Purposeful, purpose-less, it didn’t matter as long as it brought food on the table. And that’s completely understandable because back in olden times, food was actually scarce. We can barely think about fixing society when we can barely imagine how to feed ourselves in our next meal. But it’s different now.

People like us, especially young people in developed countries in the 21st century who have never known hunger and poverty, are in a prime position to think about purposeful work because we don’t have those urgent needs to satisfy anymore. We don’t have to worry about hunger because food is abundant here and now. We do, however, have to think about the repercussions of OVER-production of meat and other activities that will impact the finite resources of this planet.

What are we going to use our education and advanced degrees for? How do we use our god-given talents, resourcefulness, intelligence and privileges to do what God would have wanted us to do all along? No matter what form or shape that “Work” is. If your destiny is not in the convenient shape of a job (that makes you feel fulfilled but also pays well), and it usually isn’t, it doesn’t matter — you still keep going.

If you currently feel “stuck” at a place that has a very low-paying salary with bad work-life balance because you made a decision to find a more “purposeful” job, you must be willing to look at your life realistically. The world is not black-and-white. It’s not a decision between “find a noble job but be poor and miserable” vs. “find a high-paying job but be a selfish corporate slave.” The answer is more complicated than that. You must find the balance that works for you. If it’s not working out, you pivot.

We all need to survive first, yes, to satisfy those needs first. And after that, that’s when we can dedicate ourselves to those higher callings.

But the most important rule, I believe, is this:
Never give up doing God’s work through your life.