Friday, November 22, 2013

What do we Mean by Success?

Deciding on what course of action to take when contemplating the work we intend to pursue after college, students frequently are confronted with a choice: select the work that will bring in the most money or select what the heart wants and will bring them the most personal satisfaction. In the Peace Weekly, a college professor mentions meeting a student on campus, who openly confided her worries to the professor. With a double major in business administration, she looked forward to the future but did not feel she would be happy in that field. At this stage in the educational process, she told the professor she felt she lacked the courage to change. Should she continue in business for a successful career, she asked, or should she do what her heart wants? That was her plight.
To be successful, you must have the grades and specifications that are better than others, consequently, you sacrifice sports and time socializing with the opposite sex, to have more time for classroom work and the library. Even with this routine there often is not enough time for study. It has been some time now that colleges have lost their image of being temples for learning and have become training schools for jobs. The romanticism of the campuses has disappeared. Everyone, seemingly, is madly  searching for a successful career. The professor wonders who is responsible for this headlong desire for success in the marketplace. Is it, he asks, the way to happiness?

Interestingly, the word for "successful career" is made up of two Chinese characters (出世), meaning "leave"  and "world." Originally, the word in Buddhism meant "to leave the world," riches and honors were not considered of much value. The word also has another meaning of "gaining fame in the world." The first character keeps  its meaning but the character for world depends on the meaning given.  Those who have a negative meaning for the word would be Buddha, Chuang Tzu and Plato. Buddha found the world full of hardships; the quicker we rid our self of this pain the better. Life for Chuang Tzu  was like an excrescence on the body, a boil we have to excise; for Plato the body was a prison that needed to be left behind. For all three, the world was a fetter from which we want to free ourselves.

The second  meaning--making a name for oneself in the world--would depend on the value one seeks. Today, making a name for oneself is the more often understood meaning of the word, in most instances. A third meaning for the word would be to seek another world much better than the one we are currently living in.

It seems, says the professor, that the early Greeks also saw making a name for oneself in the world as the ideal goal in life.  Seeing life as a place to gain possessions would help to influence this kind of thinking. This was one of the reasons, the professor notes, that oratory was so highly valued with the  Greek sophists, who were not interested in truth or falsehood, but in what would benefit oneself.  Confucius considered this thinking self-flattery.
But no matter how you understand the word, "world," it's the place we live in, we can't, the professor reminds us, completely separate our self from this world. We can only move from one place to another within it, giving up one thing for another. One man who was volunteering in a free lunch program for the elderly said something which moved the professor deeply, " I am a  person who has been fed and now I'm feeding others; I have succeeded in life." In the same way, says the professor, a person who has overcome the world has succeeded.  When a person's thinking changes, when we can relinquish the things of the world which imprison us, and we can freely choose among many possibilities, then our opportunities to find happiness will also increase.

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