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I'm a lay follower because I am too old to become a monastic and I have familial commitments, but I see the general futility in my goals in life. In specific my career goals. I was training for years to be a musician and had been derailed due to injury and health issues midway through my Ph.D. I have since recovered though it has taken a very long time and I cannot go back to finish my Ph.D since the time constraint the university had expired. Thus making it even harder to succeed, and more improbable than before. Though my biggest problem is that I somehow attached my self worth to success, and I dont know how to detach. I know intellectually that success in a career of any kind is ultimately bound with suffering especially when viewd with the knowledge that life will expire. I cannot give up all together though since living a lay life requires working. I would still like to do something but I also need to be detached enough not to get wrapped up into the suffering and clinging of desires. What are some possible practices to do this?

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"We develop skillful qualities in the mind. Yet sometimes the teachings on inconstancy [anicca] seem to undermine the developing side. You think about developing something in the mind, and something inside you says, “Well, it’s going to be inconstant anyhow. No matter what you do, the results will be inconstant, so why bother?” That’s a wrong use of the teaching.

It’s like that time when the young monk was asked, “What are the results of action?” and he said, “Stress. Pain.” The person asking him, a wanderer from another sect, said “I’ve never heard Buddhist monks talk that way. You’d better go check with the Buddha.” So he does, via Ānanda. And the Buddha says, when you’re asked about action, you don’t talk just in terms of stress. You talk about the three kinds of actions: actions that lead to pleasure, that lead to pain, and actions that lead to neither pleasure nor pain. A nearby monk happened to overhear this, and said, “Well, maybe young monk was thinking about the principle that all feelings are stressful.” The Buddha said, “This is not the time to use that teaching.”

In the same way, the teaching on inconstancy is not for use when you’re trying to develop good qualities in the mind. You have to think about what can be accomplished so that you can put forth the right effort. After all, the Buddha used the principle of change in his own life to achieve awakening. So, a willingness to use things that change is not doomed to failure."

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu "Undefeatism" https://www.dhammatalks.org/audio/evening/2023/230707-undefeatism.html

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The scriptures teach having vast learning & a suitable job is a blessing - Maha-Mangala Sutta: Blessings.

The Maha-Mangala Sutta also says the mind that is not touched by the vicissitudes (gain and loss, good-repute and ill-repute, praise and blame, joy and sorrow) of life is also a highest blessing.

As was said in the question, we cannot give up all together since living a lay life requires working.

Possibly, what is difficult in the question is being forced to give up the exciting & passionate musician career for a more mundane livelihood. I imagine so much devotion & effort towards music was performed to reach Ph.D level. Therefore, the injury and health issues resulted in a great sense of loss.

I can only guess the primary task here is dealing with or detaching from this sense of loss (AN 8.6).

In Buddhism, livelihood is regarded as a 'duty' (karaṇīya). 'Livelihood' is an aspect of the Buddhist Path, which is regarded as a 'duty' (eg. the stock closing instruction in SN 56.31).

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  • Thank you very much for your response, for the sutta links (especially since its Thanissaro I like his work very much). A question please about "duty" I have not come across this idea is Buddhism until now, is it similar to say to duty as if considered in the bhagavad gita or something else? Thank you
    – jwe
    Commented May 17 at 21:08
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    Thank you. Yes. I have heard, generally, in Hinduism, the world 'dharma' primarily means 'duty'. In Buddhism, the word 'dhamma' is used in a multitude of ways. I updated my answer with Buddhist references to 'duty' (karaṇīya). In the Gita, it appears there is a similar word for 'duty' holy-bhagavad-gita.org/w/karmani . Both words appear related to the word 'kamma' (noun) or its verb "karoti". Commented May 17 at 21:16
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I would emphasize the advantage of equanimity in the face of fortune and misfortune. To do so requires a deep insight into the inconsistent nature of all phenomena i.e. they do not last. This is developed through observing this inconsistent aspect in them whether in our pleasant, unpleasant or neutral experiences, time and time again. Eventually, this insight is accompanied by a disenchantment towards all experiences. The mind begins, instead, to turn inwardly to build a core of fearlessness and unwavering calmness. The mind begins to lose its fear of misfortune and unpleasant experiences. Begin to drop its enamourments with good fortune or pleasant experiences. It can remain on even keel and be inwardly peaceful when there is nothing happening over long periods of time i.e. not much affected by boredom, restlessness or anxiety.

Bearing this fact (the inconsistent nature of all phenomena) constantly in our mind has the advantage that as we age and approach our mortal demise, the insight and peace that it brings grow. Old age and death will eventually rob us of our worldly achievements but this insight can bring about the fruits of liberation as mentioned in MN74.

Although, there is an increasing unperturbability in the mind, one still does whatever is necessary to sustain oneself in the world but now without the worry/anticipation, disappointment/elation, fear/excitement and so on. We do whatever is required of us to fulfil our duties to others. Not in a cold robotic way but rather sustained by an undisturbed inner peace that becomes ever more precious (with each passing year) than all the gain and loss, good-repute and ill-repute, praise and blame, joy and sorrow of the world.

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