The dharma and discipline of work

  • March 21, 2023

This post is a supporting post for the developing Qultura Connect project and gives you an insight, via Buddhism, into the Qultura Connect project via our native universal system of community volunteering. This is my attempt at giving you a foundation concept or principle to work with.

Work should always be based on dharma

'Dharma' in Buddhism (the term is not exclusive to Buddhism) essentially means 'path, way, method'. It's a Sanskrit word which often appears with two other Sanskrit words:

  • 'sadana' which traditionally means 'practice' but which I suggest you to understand as meaning skillset or discipline.
  • 'yana' which in Sanskrit means 'vehicle'. Therefore mahayana Buddhism is greater vehicle or diverse vehicle, and hinayana Buddhism is lesser vehicle or focussed vehicle.

So now we come to work, and the concept of work, which we define as societal obligation. We are all, on some level, connected to society and therefore we are all obliged to do some form of work as part of our participation and membership of this society. So far so good. We have no issue with anyone regarding this societal obligation because it is the basis of our social and cultural reality.

However socially and culturally, here referring to wider society and the wider community, this societal obligation of work manifests as having a job, being gainfully employed, or running your own enterprise or business. This is where we get into the first major difference between the wider societal obligation of work and the Qultura Core definition of work. Our issue here is that having a job, being gainfully employed, or running a successful enterprise is far too narrow a definition of work. From our perspective employment, having a job or running an enterprise is only an outcome of work. It defines work as something which only has a financial or material value, and this from our perspective, or mine at least, is far too narrow a definition of work.

If you were to monetize all the unpaid work done by women in society, and assign each hour of this unpaid work the monetary value of the National Minimum Wage, and then give it some corporate identity, you would have three or four times the revenue and turnover of Battersea Power Station. At least. Maybe even ten times more. Now throw in all the unpaid work done by men in society, which is also not insignificant, and you can begin to see just how narrow the Government's definition of work is, and also, how much work is not getting paid or valued or even recognized. We're referring to something which could wipe out the entire cost of living crisis at a stroke and shut down every single food bank in the country.


The individual human experience lost to communities and society

Therefore if you're thinking that through Qultura Connect we're considering entering into some kind of sweetheart deal with the Government and Job Centres let me right here right now disabuse you of any such notion. The welfare benefit system in this country, and the welfare conditionality than defines it, is dysfunctional, inadequate and often defined by its inhumanity. The reality of the 35 hour a week of jobseeking activity is massively wasteful in terms of energy, time, resources and this model of conditionality is especially wasteful in terms of individual human experience. The costs of this conditionality model are borne not just by the individual people caught up in the system, but also by most employers.

Sure it *might* help some people into work, but all too often it prevents people from moving into work and effectively welfare traps them, condemning millions of people to a life of near destitution on benefits or trapped in corporate wage enslavement. If it wasn't for the heroic efforts of work coaches at Job Centres we would have a major humanitarian crisis and human catastrophe on our hands.

If anything the whole Qultura Connect enterprise or project is designed to mitigate the harsh reality that many people on benefits or in insecure, low paid employment have to deal with on a daily basis. We're working with Wandsworth Work Match, Wandsworth Council's employability service, we're negotiating much easier access to food and are even looking into developing access to a community washing machine where people can bring their laundry and get it done for free. Not everybody has access to a washing machine, and it is often embarrassing to ask friends and family to ask them to do your laundry. Besides some people are so isolated they have nobody to ask and have no other option but to wash their clothes by hand in a basin, bath tub or bucket.

Part of the reason why mental health issues are becoming increasingly common and widespread comes back to a lack of appreciation and recognition of individual human experience and the value of someone's work or achievements. This is further exacerbated when various social issues, such as unemployment, homelessness and multi-dimensional poverty, become long term rather than short term issues. Widespread acceptance of such social issues, sacrifices for the sake of our artificially contrived and largely imaginary economy, further degrades the value and significance of individual human life experience. Where people cease to see any value or deeper meaning or significance in their life experience, this is where depression and anxiety disorders start to manifest and develop.

All this feeds into a profound sense of alienation and isolation that job seekers experience and this is a common reality shared by jobseekers irrespective of age, gender identity, background from teenagers to older pre-retirement jobseekers. Nothing the Government is doing, has done, or is planning to do even begins to address the fundamental issues of alienation in the job market. If anything the system of Universal Credit exacerbates the sense of alienation, which is further exacerbated by the increasing difficulties and obstacles the Government keeps creating to prevent people from accessing PIP and employment support. The benefits system has created numerous barriers and divisions between jobseekers and employers which neither recruitment agencies nor human resource departments really know how to address.


Let's think about this

Assuming that you're going to live to 80 years old, by the time you start to get to grips with work and get a job a quarter of your life is gone. Now think about all the stuff you do which doesn't take you anywhere. How much time do you spend sleeping? How much time did you spend in school? How much time did you spend travelling or sitting on public transport? Most of the time you're alive is going to be unproductive and probably you won't even be able to remember what you did without needing a CV or resume to remind you.

Okay so let's move on to choices. How many of your choices have worked out as you intended? How many didn't? How many times has something you feared in life turned into reality? My second point here is that, fundamentally we are all living blindly from memory and making it up as we go along. Sure you can have your religions, your God, your Allah, your authority figures, but all these are just your attempts to validate your choices and pretend that you're being rational and practical or sensible. But this doesn't change the fact that you don't know how to make choices. You don't know what a big choice is. You don't know what a small or insignificant choice is. I'm sure you've made big choices which haven't worked out, and you've made choices which you thought didn't matter but which turned out to come with massive consequences.

This leads me to my bigger point. You don't have time to get involved in the 35 hour week Claimant Commitment nonsense promoted by the Department of Work and Pensions and Job Centre. Your entire life is going to be defined by 10 years of work, and your professional reputation can be defined in less than 5 years. Take off the 12 years you spend in basic education. Take off another 3-4 years if you have the luxury of studying and going to uni. This means that you have at least 40 flat years where you're going to have to work, maybe more, because the bastards in control of your pension and retirement will continue to chip away years so you have to work longer. You have to decide how easy or how difficult you want your working life to be and whether you want to be housebound at 50 because you'll be too knackered and too short of breath to walk down the street.

Please keep in mind that for 20 years or more, the later years of your working life, you're going to have increasingly limited capability to work due to physical health issues, mental health issues and maybe even a disability. The work you do after 50 is going to be defined by the work experience you got in your 30's and 40's. This means that you need to 'peak' somewhere in your 30's for people to still take you seriously in your 50's. This also means that you can only realistically 'grind' and work for money in your 20's when you're young enough and seem fresh enough for someone to hire you. But even then you need to have a work dharma and be willing enough to do different forms of work to be able to jump from job to job.

Furthermore you cannot not do anything because the Government and the Department of Work and Pensions gives you the money on which you are dependent, so they get to set the conditions and hoops you have to jump through to get the money. You've got to be smart about this. You cannot fight the Government because they're bigger and far more powerful than you. Besides Job Centre work coaches are civil servants and not much better off than you (some of those people on the other side of the desk need Universal Credit to survive). You cannot just take the money and be jobless because that's just throwing your life away. This is where you need the dharma and the discipline to set your own conditionality and define the terms and conditions on which you are willing to work. It's this willingness, and nothing more than this willingness which your access to benefits is based. But this willingness also needs to be conditional and based on a credible vision involving some form of work through which you can support yourself. If you don't have that, then rest assured sooner or later you will be used and put in a position where you get exploited.

As you can see you need to think about this and at all costs avoid walking into a Job Centre without work dharma and a clue about what you want to do. If you walk into a Job Centre without a clue or a plan, trust me, someone somewhere will make a decision to fuck up your life. Just because. It's 100% on you to make sure you are never in such a vulnerable situation.

dream weaving

The Palette of Humanity

If you're dealing with the benefits system then you have to deal with reality, and usually this is a much harsher reality than if you are free from the benefits system. The Qultura community is an alternative dream weaving community and as of this week Qultura Connect is our community project for job seekers and the basis of how we work with the local authority employability service Wandsworth Workmatch. Qultura Connect is based on the concept of the Palette of Humanity. But what is the Palette of Humanity?

You are born into a life as a member of the human species - literally 8 billion human beings on this planet. You have maybe 80 years of life, maybe more but within the first 50 years of your life you need to come up with some kind of contribution to society and the community which benefits others as well as yourself. What I'm referring to here is a legacy. Babies are being born every day. You cannot just take from others and society, which is how we have the kind of society today which legitimizes the exploiters and abusers. You've got to have some skin in the game, something of value to offer and something to give back. You need to have something which adds a new colour to the Palette of Humanity.

This is where you need disciplines and your work dharma. Your work dharma, which is always conditional to where you are in life, your age, and your individual personal circumstances - i.e. your individual reality, should be based on all three following things:

  • what you are able to do better than most other people
  • what you really enjoy doing and take pleasure and pride in doing, what makes you happy doing, what you love doing
  • what other people appreciate you doing for them, consistently - not just your friends and family, but also complete strangers

Your work dharma, which is symbolized by a colour on the Palette of Humanity, should be specific, unique and individual to you and be based on your natural humanity and not just your Ego - your qualifications and work record. If you spend some time thinking about this, you should find that your dharma changes as you get older. But there should always be a main point and focus to what it is you want to do and this main point and focus should always legitimize your individual human experience of life.

This is where we get into the nitty gritty of the Qultura Connect project. The clue is in the name of the project, 'Connect' and developing connections to other people in the community, the business community and the environment. This is really all you have to do, and that is to turn up to meetings, connect to other people, and connect online to the community. The emphasis is on the connections you make to others, so it's not work focussed. If you want a more work focussed experience then you can go to Wandsworth Workmatch, but if you need much more emphasis on connections, you come into Qultura Connect - as a community support volunteer by default. A community support volunteer gets involved in mutual community support, sits around drinking tea and coffee, and just talks and listens to other people, getting to know other people. Being there and being involved is what Qultura Connect is all about.

This is why there are four components to Qultura Connect. Everywhere else is work-focussed, such as the Job Centre, Wandsworth Work Match, other employability services, so it makes sense to have somewhere which isn't work-focussed and is much more community focussed. Let's deal with the reality of living on benefits. Part of that reality is the fact that some days just getting out of bed is difficult. Not having food is difficult. Waiting for a clinic or hospital appointment is difficult. The fact that you've got through another month in social isolation and social exclusion, where nobody asks you how you are, is especially difficult. Dealing with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety is both difficult and draining.

Sometimes you just need that pressure drop, that mental health period, times when you just need somewhere to go to talk about bullshit, talk about what's going through your mind in a social environment which is open-minded, friendly, non-judgmental. Sometimes you just need a place where you can come, grab a coffee, sit in a corner and read a book or play with your phone. You know? You're around people, you're not cooped up in your messy flat, but where other people leave you alone. Sometimes you need to be somewhere and around people who believe in you and who will remind you of your humanity so that, a couple of hours later, you can go back home feeling much, much better and have access to community support you can count on.

How to get involved in Qultura Connect

You can find out more about Qultura Connect here. Or you can simply turn up to any Qultura community meeting and ask about it. Qultura Connect is only accessible to members of the Qultura community, but becoming a member of our community is simple and straightforward. If it isn't, because not everyone is tech savvy, we're more than happy to walk you through the steps and help you out.

About Qultura

Qultura is a developing mystical community resource which is both an alternative dream weaving community and a Human Library project. Centred in Nine Elms, London we offer free access to Qultura methodology, the Qultura community and regularly scheduled Human Library events. Through what we do we offer opportunities to develop consciousness, mindfulness and community to anyone interested in exploring and developing ways of living alternative to modern mainstream social and cultural values.