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Work and money

photo of Buddhist nun

Gelongma Lhamo is a nun at Samye Ling monastery and Tibetan Centre, Scotland.


As a fully ordained nun I have a vow not to handle money or objects of great value. But these vows were designed in the time of the Buddha, two and a half thousand years ago. Never to handle money would be wonderful, but a bit impractical, so I have a very small allowance, for trips to see family, or essentials such as toothpaste and soap.


I’ve been a nun for just over ten years. Before that I lived in a city and worked as a computer programmer. When I was first a Buddhist, I thought I needed to give up my work and spend all my time practising but it gradually dawned on me that there was a wealth of opportunity for training my mind in everyday life: getting on well with the people I worked with rather than giving in to anger, ambition or greed.

These opportunities also present themselves at Samye Ling. One of the main reasons we place so much emphasis on work is that we can learn so much through it. Though most of us think that it is an excellent thing to do to spend all our time meditating, most of us find that we are not really capable of it. We can daydream. Whereas if we are working with somebody who’s telling us that really we’re doing things wrongly we’ve got no choice but to look at the situation and try and come up with some kind of solution. It’s a very useful method of spiritual development.

So in order to provide as many people as possible with a way of accessing the Dharma and benefiting from it, we spend large amounts of every day working. There are people who do building work, people who do office work, people who clean or cook: everything that needs to be done. And I work in the office mostly.

photo of Zen monk

Brian Gay is a lay minister associated with the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives (Soto Zen) at Throssel Hole Abbey, Northumberland.


I don’t think money is a problem. I think it’s what you do with it that’s the interesting thing!


What’s great about the Zen system is that we have a range of great stories of old Zen Masters. There’s the classic one about an 80 year-old Zen Master who refused food because he’d been ill and he hadn’t worked in the gardens and when they hammered on his door and said “Come on! You’ve got to have your food”, he said, “A day without work is a day without food.”

I’ve been coming to Throssel Hole since 1988 and I became a lay minister within the Order in 1993. The work I do is as a management consultant: some of my work is in London; some is local with voluntary organisations and it’s around the area of management development, organisational development and one-to-one personal development.

Although the monks have in a sense renounced the world they do an awful lot of hard work. They actually built this place. OK, the lay people helped them, but they built it, they work in the gardens, they do the stonemasonry. They repair the tractor; they planted the trees. All this is work. So I see nothing strange in having a different form of practice as a lay person, which is centred upon work.

Right Livelihood is actually part of the practice and part of my work. That’s because the practice is about helping individuals to realise who they really are and what their true nature is; and the work I’m involved with, at the individual level, is about helping individuals realise their true potential, to see situations differently, to find solutions to the problems that face them.