DeMello vs “Buddha’s Office: The Ancient Art of Waking Up While Working Well” by Dan Zigmond

“BUDDHA NEVER WORKED A DAY IN HIS LIFE,” Dan Zigmond tells us–and you may think “what a sweeping generalization” about a “pampered prince” who left his riches behind to become a wandering monk and spiritual teacher, “all without ever earning a salary.” There is work, however, and there are “works,” and if you get past that opening paragraph, you’ll find plenty to learn in this book. Even if you’ve studied the teachings of the Buddha and internalized the philosophy, you can find something fresh and relevant in this book.

Buddha’s Office: The Ancient Art of Waking Up While Working Well

by Dan Zigmond

It’s a trendy thing to do, invoking the familiarity of Buddha’s name for a book title. “Customers who bought this book also bought…”

… Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson

… Buddha’s Diet: The Ancient Art of Losing Weight Without Losing Your Mind by Tara Cottrell

So, yes, you can see a pattern here. The question is, what new insights can your $12 buy with these ebooks?

Chapter 19, “Dealing with Distractions,” reminds us of things that Buddha never dealt with, like smartphones and laptops. “Buddha placed great value on concentration,” and “you don’t have to be an experienced contemplative or yogi” to experience being fully absorbed in some activity, i.e., an exhilarating and productive state known as “the flow.” Zigmond undermines the delusion that we 21st C workers are good at “multitasking.” A distracted mind “is not fit for any work,” as 8th-century CE Indian Buddhist monk Sativeda (I think Zigmond is referring to Shantiveda) said. And that was more than a thousand years ago.

Zigmond opens each chapter with sweeping, attention-getting generalizations, e.g., “By modern standards, Buddha was even worse at parenting and relationships than he was at holding a job,” but he soon clarifies and qualifies that, and Chapter 17 tackles the concept of “work-life balance.”

“You are not your job” is the message of Chapter 18, and it may sound like a no-brainer, but Zigmond calls on Buddha’s insight, “You do not exist,” and puts it into context with a metaphor of the car.

I do not like this “You do not exist” line of reasoning, but I can go along with it in relation to the insight that we should not identify as this, that, or the other. It’s everywhere, e.g.

I have let go of trying to change the way I feel, and of trying to become something or someone else. I am simply living in the now, and I know that only my behavior shapes my destiny, regardless of my thoughts.
You Are Not Your Thoughts and Feelings, and They Don’t Have to Bring You Down by Greer Parry

“Data-Driven Dharma,” as the title suggests, brings Chapter 23 squarely into our world. I’ll offer just one excerpt: “Pay attention to the data around you and learn from everything you try. Don’t let willful arrogance or blind faith lead you astray.” Your first thought may be, “That doesn’t apply to me,” but read the whole chapter. You’ll see.

Chapter 6 is timely for me: breathing lessons. Become aware of this basic, involuntary action of the body. Not just a mental awareness but physical as well: “You should notice the way the breath enters your body and leaves your body. You should feel it against your mouth or nose.” So far, so good. Then: “You should notice the way your chest rises and falls. you should feel your chest rise and fall.”


The same week I was reading this book, a physical therapist informed me I’ve been breathing incorrectly all my life. Engaging “secondary” muscles in the chest and neck (for more than half a century) led to my chronic daily tension headaches, it seems. Now I have to be trained to breath from the diaphragm, not just when singing (I know about this stuff!), but always. Habitually. Diaphragmatic breathing is the basis for almost all meditation or relaxation techniques. “Belly breathing,” engaging the intercostal muscles of the rib cage, not the chest, is prescribed by medical professionals to reduce stress.

Apparently the Buddha (known for his belly in all those iconic statues) did not offer us the anatomical details of how to breathe, and Dan Zigmond apparently hasn’t been enlightened on this one. It’s ok. I’m still disgruntled and mad at myself for suffering a lifetime of headaches and other malaise in large part because I screwed up the simple act of breathing.

“Awakening” is the theme of chapter 4, and I’m always in the process–never fully “woke,” as popular slang has coined it. A wise soul at Steemit articulated it so well:

The problem with being “woke” is that the moment you think you are, you’re most likely not.

Buddhism, Catholicism, the contemplative life, and the life of the working stiff: what do they have in common?

What has Dan Zigmond learned that I have not?

I forget most of what I learn.

I love the little book “Awareness” by Anthony de Mello (1931-1987), a Jesuit in India, very influenced by Buddhism.

I’m going to write a book someday and the title will be I’m an Ass, You’re an Ass. That’s the most liberating, wonderful thing in the world, when you openly admit you’re an ass. It’s wonderful. When people tell me You’re wrong, I say what can you expect of an ass?

What others have said:

“This is your wake-up call! You may not have even realized you were sleep-walking. Most of us are most of the time. Awareness is an eye-opener. It’s Anthony de Mello telling you gently but firmly, ‘It’s time to get up now.'” –Charles Osgood of “CBS Sunday Morning” and “The Osgood File”

“Awareness will be the critical test of American business in the next decade. I call it the ‘business of awareness.'” –F.X. Maguire, Hearth Communications

Good insights go in one ear and out the other. I’ve heard and FORGOTTEN so much wisdom.

Dr. Libby McGugan writes of the not-self, the idea that we are all one, which does not make me feel empathy or unity with whoever murdered my sister, not to mention the countless atrocities and injustices since the human race began. Are we all “equal,” all “one”, all to be united after the temporary journey we take in this body on this earth? Eh. No scientific evidence for these ideas, so I continue to set aside some of these estoric, heady, or enlightened ideals of my “self” being an illusion. I can strive to be “selfless,” i.e. un-selfish, caring and sharing and forgiving others their trespasses as they (I hope, beg, pray) forgive mine.

I can also put into practice the age-old insights that Dan Zigmond collects and bulletizes in this book, which is sure to appeal to Millennials.

Don’t hold your breath….

About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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