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I am a software engineer. Is it shameful if I became a monk throwing away all the knowledge that I have accumulated all these years(more than a decade). In my previous years, I was amused by programming. But now, I have become dispassioned with everything about my work. I see my accumulation of ideas / knowledge as useless.

I am extremely confused.

  • You don't seem at all confused to me. Where is the confusion? . – PeterJ Jan 27 at 13:41
  • If I spend 6 years of my life getting a PhD, will it bring me out of my suffering? More precisely, if I spend my getting degrees after degrees, solving problems after problems, etc. is it a waste of time ? I am feeling the emptiness of knowledge. – uttamkhanal Jan 27 at 14:27
  • It is not a waste of time. Emptiness of knowledge is constructive. – 4N4G4M1N Feb 16 at 3:06

10 Answers 10

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If you can attain the real peace of meditation, it is like becoming a millionaire.

Since you have so much knowledge, who can easily get a job and earn a living, you can consider taking a holiday for a year or more to explore meditation.

  • Op specifies question: should he become a monk? This answer does not address question... yes he is able to take vacation for a year. But maybe he should be a monk! It sounds easy :p – 4N4G4M1N Feb 16 at 3:08
  • Becoming a monk has too many distractions. Just go to monastery and practise meditation as a layman for a year. Deciding on monkhood can be done later; after testing the waters of meditation. Kind regards – Dhammadhatu Feb 16 at 3:10
  • That there are “too many distractions” is true for a monk and a householder or even an ascetic like myself. – 4N4G4M1N Feb 16 at 3:15
  • Perhaps monkhood is the middlepath of the OP – 4N4G4M1N Feb 16 at 3:16
  • Yes. But in my experience at a later time. Becoming monk has so many formalities. With metta – Dhammadhatu Feb 16 at 4:09
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I am a software engineer. Is it shameful if I became a monk throwing away all the knowledge that I have accumulated all these years(more than a decade). In my previous years, I was amused by programming. But now, I have become dispassioned with everything about my work. I see my accumulation of ideas / knowledge as useless.

The good news is that you can become a monk without having to throw away all your SWE knowledge. You simply just switch the priority around a little bit, instead of using your skillset primarily to make money for yourself, now you can use it for more wholesome purposes for many others.

  • In a practical context, would this mean for example to switch to open-source projects that have a philanthropist goal? Would this be in line with the path of the monk? – Mast Jan 22 at 8:30
  • Notice that the path toward complete final liberation is a gradual path with various different stages/levels from low to high, and obviously the number of rules/precepts to observe are proportional to those stages. Monkhood is considered to be an advanced stage reserved for those who are willing to put enlightenment as the utmost highest priority, hence requires the most numerous number of rules to obey. The open-source approach you proposed might be legit. as long as it's being implemented carefully not to break any of the 227 bhikkhu rules as laid out in the Vinaya. – santa100 Jan 22 at 14:26
  • @Mast I think it might be debatable with some monks agreeing and some not. Many monks study or teach to some extent. It might depend on time-of-life too, with a monk doing different things -- whether more "engaged" or less -- at different times. There may be more monastics reading discourse.suttacentral.net than this site, maybe there would be a place to ask that question -- bearing in mind that community might tend to be biased or self-selecting towards being engaged. – ChrisW Jan 22 at 15:06
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If you are a software engineer, you can do wonders to propagate Dhamma. Please speak to Bhante Sujato who is the administrator of Sutta Central.

https://suttacentral.net/

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I am also a software engineer and went through this exact situation about 3-4 years ago.

My personal experience (yours may differ) is that its not the nature of work or the outlook of accumulating knowledge (useful or not) that is causing this.

Ask yourself a few questions open mindedly. Drop the assumption that it may be useful or useless to do something.

  • Why is it a problem for you to do software (or X)? Go really deep here. What exactly is causing the problem?
  • Do you wish to learn or do something else, does something else interest you? (monkhood is a lifestyle that doesn't come easy)
  • What is your current personal/financial situation? Do you need to earn a living for yourself or family or someone else?

What happened with me was that once I started meditating, I started to do things more naturally. I did whatever needed to be done. Work stopped bothering me to be honest. I should stop here to say My mind stopped bothering me.

What I think has happened is that, you were intellectually stimulated by software and the world etc., and all that has come to a standstill. The mind is rebelling and debating about the uselessness or usefulness of X, Y, Z tasks and life etc., Essentially, your mind should be taking instructions from you, not the other way round. Meditation helps with that. So I suggest you start off with 5-10 minutes of that and see where it goes. It really helps.

I feel it takes a little bit of inside adjustment to align ourselves with life, not mind. Meditation is required for that. Its like recalibrating yourself everyday. You will become more pleasant and aligned with everyday activity. Doesn't matter if it is software or watering the plants...

[Edit for clarification]

By big picture I meant thinking of the world and how it works as a whole and as a consequence, nihilistic thoughts arising.

Examples: Why is the world like this? Why do we have a market based economy? Why capitalist government? Why democracy? Why am I here? What are we doing here? Another similar question, What's the use of doing X? -- this is the question OP is having.

These may sound like perfectly logical/valid questions at times. In our current state of mind and body that is lacking clear perception, we will not get sufficient answers to these type of questions. In fact, they may also come from a non-achieving mind that is looking for excuses i.e., one that wants to be lazy and do nothing.

So, what's the point of anything at all? What's the point of life? I think this is where you might logically move towards. But we can also ask, what if there's no point? And we're all here doing something, anything, i.e., whatever we want or whatever is restricted by situations we are faced with.

So maybe also ask yourself, should there be a point at all?

  • Sorry, there's something I didn't understand... -- you wrote, "Drop the assumption that it may be useful or useless to do something", and, "What is your current personal/financial situation?" Aren't those two related, or contradicting each other? A "software engineer" is probably paid, a professional working for money, because the money seems "useful" and they "do something" (i.e. work as a software engineer) to earn it. Can you clarify a bit what you meant when you wrote that? – ChrisW Jan 22 at 9:37
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    Why I said drop the assumption of usefulness/uselessness, is because this kind of thinking comes from looking at a very big picture of all the things happening in the world. Why bother moving the needle everyday? What's going to happen if I don't do anything? Almost nihilistic. It probably comes to usefulness if you think of how it helps with family later on in the thought process. – esh Jan 22 at 11:19
  • One more question, to be clear... are you saying that the misleading assumption of usefulness comes from looking at the big picture? Or that the better kind of thinking or of seeing (view) comes from looking at the big picture, after dropping misleading assumptions including "usefulness"? – ChrisW Jan 22 at 13:47
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    To clarify, by "big picture" I meant the overall way the world works, why we are here, what are we doing here, what's the use of doing X, and such other "existential" questions. In our current state of mind and body, we will not get sufficient answers to these type of questions. In fact, they may also come from a non-achieving mindset that is looking for excuses i.e., one that wants to be lazy and do nothing. – esh Jan 22 at 13:51
  • Edited my answer to make that clear – esh Jan 22 at 14:01
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To answer your question: we dont need to work. We dont need to be monks. We dont need to be jobless. We dont need to need. But if we have a job we should be skillful and diligent, this is a responsibility you already undertook. To be dispassionate and useless is okay. I would argue that people accused the buddha of the same things! It is not shameful to be a monk. Lord Buddha became an ascetic “throwing away” or renouncing his right to the throne. My advice: become a monk for one year and then disrobe and come tell us what you have learned.

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Is it shameful if I became a monk

I don't think so.

I learned a lot in school that isn't useful to me any more.

I had a colleague who had been a doctor (a "paediatric microbiologist"), and who gave that up to practice software engineering.

I was reading this definition of "conceit" recently:

Māna (Sanskrit, Pali; Tibetan: nga rgyal) is a Buddhist term that may be translated as "pride", "arrogance", or "conceit". It is defined as an inflated mind that makes whatever is suitable, such as wealth or learning, to be the foundation of pride. It creates the basis for disrespecting others and for the occurrence of suffering.

  • Is learning useful, since its just accumulation of ideas ? – uttamkhanal Jan 21 at 16:23
  • You're echoing my use of the word "useful". I think Buddhism might talk about what's "virtuous", "harmless", "skilful", "wise", and so on. And as for "learning", Buddhism itself is called a "gradual training". And it's practical too and thus not "just ideas", that's how it's beneficial. – ChrisW Jan 21 at 16:36
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    I mean there are plenty of things to learn in this world. I can learn playing guitar, sky diving, mountain biking, chess, etc. But, is it worth it to spend majority of our lives pursuing such learning ? Apart from training in buddhism, I find everything pretty useless. – uttamkhanal Jan 21 at 16:47
  • Dhammadhatus's answer sounds like advice, perhaps consider that. The knowledge (of software) is dependently originated IMO, social and the result of practice -- you might find that the skill doesn't go away and that you can come back to it after a year if you wanted to ... or you might not. Incidentally I think his answer is just slightly wrong -- i.e. that "getting a job" might depend on reputation and not just on knowledge, though also on inter-personal skills and motivations. – ChrisW Jan 21 at 16:59
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All the knowledge you current have is saṁvṛiti, or knowledge of the conventional truth. Becoming a monk is in pursuit of paramārtha, or the ultimate truth. In essence you are not throwing anything away.


Now to your point. In essence, obtaining saṁvṛiti is essentially pointless when we look at the goal of nibbana. That being said, it seems that you are feeling depressed and you are considering becoming a monk (maybe thinking this will solve it).

If you want to become a monastic, I would recommend practicing in your everyday life and slowly transitioning. Take on the eight precepts and spend your time in solitude. In Each and Every Breath by Thanissaro Bhikku, he includes a considerable discussion of how to implement meditation into your everyday life.

If you find that this practice leads you to the ending of dukkha, visit a monastery and try it out for a week or a month. After that, you can be confident you are making the right choice.

In my opinion, it would be unwise to quit your job and outright go to a monastery without verifying this is what you want. Monastic life is not all rosy. They work very hard and must be constantly aware. If you do choose the monastic life, you are making the most meriful choice with life and I commend you greatly.

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In general it's not shameful to give up a lowly pursuit for something more exquisite. Although if one became a bad monk, developed wrong views and got mixed up in some sect then it might turn out shameful.

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Be gentle on yourself. It's okay to feel confused. Feelings come and feelings go.

Such an abrupt change in your life could lead to more suffering. Look deeply into why you feel the way you do. Do this by breathing mindfully. Thich Nhat Hanh has some excellent reading materials to help you with this.

Before you make a decision, take time to understand where you are and why you feel the way you do.

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Why work?

Why do we need to work?

I have asked this question myself, especially when I've become dissatisfied with my own career as a software engineer. There is much I could say in response to your question, but I feel it would be more wise to instead suggest that you ask yourself a different question.

Why do I work?

There are many different reasons why people seek employment, but to find direction and clarity, you need to look inside and find the reasons why you have chosen to work in your given career path.

For example:

  • Do you need to the income to sustain yourself or others who depend upon you?
  • Do you have financial obligations that you are expected to fulfill?
  • Do you feel that you are obligated to work?
  • Are you concerned that your education will be wasted if you don't continue to work?
  • Do you find your work engaging or fulfilling?
  • Does your work provide meaning?
  • Do you want the money to indulge yourself in various material pleasures?
  • Do you want the prestige that can come from working in your chosen field?

You have already answered some of these questions in your original post, but it's worth exploring them further.

Impermanence

Job Satisfaction

I suspect that your confusion is due, in part, to a lack of appreciation for impermanence. All things change over time, including one's job. A career that may have been nearly perfect at one point may become dissatisfying later, due to a change in the job, a change in the industry, or a change in oneself.

As an example, early in my career, I had a job that I truly enjoyed. I found the work meaningful and it wasn't overly taxing (which I prefer.) I gained a lot of valuable experience, particularly with "soft skills." As a grew as a professional, I gained a deeper appreciation for the software development lifecycle; in particularly, I learned how the way an organization was structured and how it operated could impact how effective I and my colleagues were as developers.

Eventually, I learned about Agile Software Development Methodologies. The philosophies behind it mirrored my own observations, so I embraced Agile whole-heartedly. Unfortunately, the company I was working for was slow to adopt Agile and didn't begin to experiment with it until almost 20 years after the Agile Manifesto was released. Worse, though, I foresaw many obstacles that would prevent it from being successfully adopted. For that reason, I decided it was best I move on to a new company - one where I could leverage my experience to be more productive and contribute better to my peers, my employer, and society as a whole.

The job I worked at hadn't changed substantially. I, however, had changed. My goals and expectations had changed such that I was no longer satisfied with the job I originally was so enthusiastic about.

Knowledge

Being in the software industry, you should appreciate the need to keep your skills current. Knowledge isn't some possession that you acquire and then gain value from indefinitely. It's something that you need to nurture and grow over time; the value you get from it may be more or less depending upon your circumstances.

This isn't to say your education will become worthless, but rather that leveraging your education is an ongoing decision - one that you can change at any time.

In other words, there's nothing wrong with deciding to switch careers. Don't succumb to the sunk cost fallacy; do whatever is the right thing.

Advice

My advice is to schedule some time off to sit and reflect.

It doesn't have to be much; even a day off at home would be helpful. However, if you can arrange it, I would highly recommend finding a Buddhist community nearby. They may have an introductory workshop you can attend or (if you have enough experience) weekend retreats for mediation.

Whatever you do, be informed and intentional in your actions. There are plenty of opportunities for software engineers so don't be afraid to consider a new job. Also don't be afraid to "waste" your education. You may indeed find life as a monk more fulfilling, but not if you rush into it hoping to escape from your current dissatisfaction.

Best of luck on your journey. I wish you well!

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