May this work be done in a spirit
Not driven by ego, greed,
May kindness sustain us and
prevail in conflict,
And compassion guide us and lead
us to understanding.
May we rejoice in the successes
And remain unmoved by praise
—Upaya Zen Center
At Upaya and at many Zen centers, work periods (samu) are preceded by reciting this short text (gatha). It’s a reminder of how one’s attitude toward work can color consciousness. Usually the work being done is cleanup in and around the shrine room and its connected areas.
I especially appreciate the last two lines. In the context of a “scarcity society,” it may seem strange to “rejoice in the successes of others,” but why would we not? Being envious or disapproving of others’ success sets up negative judgment of success itself—and yet we all aspire to be successful in the actions we undertake. Thinking of success as a bad thing could counter that aspiration. (It should go without saying that success here does not mean cheating, stealing, or harming others.)
“Remaining unmoved by praise or blame” suggests that we release ego attachment to being better-than or less-than. It doesn’t mean that we ignore blame, nor does it mean that we ignore praise. The important thing is to remain unmoved by these external responses and not be either lifted up or put down by them. Instead, consider the facts. Did you clean the toilet well or not? Does the path still look dirty? Were you mindful as you completed your chores, or were you rushing? Was your mind elsewhere?
Put briefly, consider whether a competitive attitude, the desire to come out on top and be the best, has colored your engagement with your tasks. What happens when you lay that aside?