Ven. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

There is a short verse of mine which I'd like to discuss.
Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void
And to the voidness surrender all of the fruits;
Eat the food of voidness as the holy ones do,
You'll have died to yourself from the very start.
Some people are unable to understand this verse and they keep saying that the author is crazy. Nonetheless, it isn't so difficult to explain.
That we should do every kind of work with a void mind is a warning that the busy and agitated mind which jumps into things with attachment always becomes dark and clouded with delusion, is full of worries and fears, and becomes gloomy and insecure. If people insist on keeping this up, before long they are sure to suffer a nervouss breakdown or some other kind of illness. If they let these mental diseases and related physical ailments accumulate, they end up confined to a sick bed. Even though they may be intelligent, talented, and sophisticated people who do important work and earn a great deal of money, they will still end up being confined to bed with nervous breakdowns, ulcers, and other disorders caused by insecurity and anxiety. All of these illnesses begin with attaching and clinging to such things as fame and money, profit and loss, happiness and unhappiness, and praise and blame.
So, don't get involved with these things. Get free of all such attachments and the mind will be void. The mind will be brilliantly intelligent, as clear and sharp as possible. Then, do your work with just such a void mind as this. All your needs will be satisfied without the least bit of frustration or suffering. Sometimes, it will even seem to be a Dhammic sort of fun. Best of all, working like this is the kind of Dhamma practice which frees us from the false distinction between practicing Dhamma at the temple and working at home. Such a dichotomy is rather foolish; it's what happens when people think only in people language.
According to Dhamma language, we must practice Dhamma in this body and mind at the same time that we do our work with this same body and mind. Both work and Dhamma practice are done in the same place or the same thing. The practice of Dhamma is there in the work; the work in itself is Dhamma practice. In other words, to do work of any kind without grasping or clinging is a way to practice Dhamma. Wherever and whenever we practice non-attachment, there and then is Dhamma practice.
Accordingly, whether we are engaged in training the mind to be unattached and calm, or whether we are working to earn a living in some occupation or another, if we do so with a void mind that forms no attachments, right there is the practice of Dhamma. It doesn't matter if we are in an office, a factory, a cave, or whatever. To work like this without getting involved in attachments, obsession, and ego is what is meant by " Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void. "
The result of working this way is that we enjoy ourselves while working, and that the work is done well because our minds are very clear and sharp then, and there are no worries about things like money. The things we need are acquired in the usual ways and all this without the attachment forged by grasping and straining.
This brings us in the second line of the verse which is " And to the voidness surrender all of the fruits. " When our work bears fruit in the form of money, fame, influence, status, and so forth, we must give it all to voidness. Don't be so stupid as to cling to these things as "belonging to me" - "my money," "my success," "my talent," or "my" anything. This is what is meant by not attaching to the results of our work.
Most of us blindly cling to our successes and so our experiences of success increase our selfish desires and defilements (kilesa). Let ourselves be careless for only a moment and we will fall into pain immediately due to the weight of attachments and anxieties. In truth, this kind of mental or spiritual pain is always happening. Before long, if we aren't careful, the pain manifest itself physically in the body as well. Some people have nervous breakdowns or go insane, while others develop one of the numeruous varieties of neuroses so prevalent in the world today, even though they may be famous, knowledgable, and wealthy. All this pain results from the fact that people the world over have misunderstood, abused, and ignored their own religious.
We shouldn't think that the teaching of non-attachment is found only in Buddhism. In fact, it can be found in every religion, although many people don't notice because it's expressed in Dhamma language. Its meaning is profound, difficult to see, and usually misunderstood.
Please forgive me, I don't mean to be insulting, but I feel that many religious people don't yet understand their own religion. For instance, in the Christian Bible, St. Paul advises us to "Let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those that buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it" (Cor.7:29-31). This passage is found in the New Testament of the Christian Bible; anyone can look it up. It should be understood in the same way as our basic Buddhist theme of non-attachment. That is, if you have a wife, don't attach to having her; if you have a husband, don't cling to having him. If you have painful or sorrowful experiences, don't cling to them as "I" or "mine" and it will be as if they never happened. That is, don't be sad about them. Don't attach to joy, goods, and worldly dealings, either.
Unfortunately, the fact is that most people - whatever their religion - are dominated by these things. They let themselves suffer intolerably over such matters until finally they go insane or commit suicidc. But those of us who follow St. Paul's advice can go on as if nothing had happened. That kind of suffering doesn't happen to us, we remain fine. We buy things without taking anything home, which means we never get attached to what we buy and take home. We bought it, we brought it home, but it's like we didn't buy anything, because we don't give birth to the thought that we possess something.
This is how to buy and live as though having no goods, but if you discuss this passage with some Christians, you will find that they don't understand it at all. Even some of the clergy, the teachers of their religion, couldn't explain to me correctly how to practice in accordance with St. Paul's instructions. Their explanations were vague and obscure. They beat around the bush and didn't give any practical interpretation of the passage. In fact, this passage has the same meaning as "Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void and to the voidness surrender all of the fruits," which, of course, many Buddhism don't understand either.
The third line of the verse is "Eat the food of voidness as the holy ones do." Here, some people might ask, "Then, what do we eat?" If everything is void or given away to the voidness, what will there be to eat? The answer is to eat food that belongs to voidness, the same way that the Noble Ones do. We work with a void mind and turn all the rewards over to voidness. Voidness then stockpiles it all and preserves it safely. When it's time to eat, we can eat from the stock of voidness too.
If you earn a million dollars from your work and store it in a safe or the bank, offer it to voidness and don't think "it's mine, it belongs to me!" When you spend the money, do so with the same void mind. Simply use the money to buy some food to eat, or whatever we need to consume. This is what is meant by "Eat the food of voidness as the holy ones do."
In this line, "holy ones" means those who understand deeply and have no attachments. We ourselves ought to eat in the same way that these liberated ones eat. The Buddha ate food and all the enlightened disciples ate foods. So, we aren't saying that a Buddha doesn't have to eat food anymore, but from whomever he gets his food, it's always the food of voidness, for it's received and eaten without any feelings of possession or attachment. And yet, a Buddha always has more than enough to eat. This is the meaning of "Eat the food of voidness as the holy ones do."
We can do the same. When we give all the rewards of our work to voidness, they don't disappear. Nothing is lost. Physically, in worldly terms, everything is still there. It's stored and protected in the usual ways and the law still recognizes that it belongs to us. If someone tries to snatch it away, we can battle to protect our rights in court, but always with the same void mind. That is, we needn't get angry or upset, we needn't suffer, we needn't feel personally involved, we needn't attach. In fact, with complete non-attachment we will be able to argue our case even better. We needn't create any problems for ourselves, things won't become complicated and difficult, and we will be able to protect our rights most effectively.
To pursue this point a little further: even when caught in an argument or involved in a lawsuit we should be restrained and mindful at all times so that the mind is free of attachment. Take care not to be attached or emotionally involved. In other words, first make sure the mind is void, then argue and fight out the case to the finish. In this way, we will have the advantage. Our side will debate more cleverly, will argue more skilfully, and will experience a higher level of victory.
Even in cases when we are forced to be insulting, use the usual words but do so with a void mind. This may sound funny and hopelessly impractical, but it really is possible. The word "void" includes such strange aspects; they are all implications of working with a void mind, willingly giving all that we get to voidness, and always eating food from the pantry of voidness.
The fourth, final, and most important line of the verse is "You'll have died to yourself from the very start." We already have died to ourselves - that precious inner "me" is gone - from the very first moment. This means that when we re-examine the past and reflect upon it with clarity, mindfulness, and wisdom, we will know for a fact that there never was a "person" or "individual." We will see that there are only the basic processes of life (khandha), the sensory media (ayatana), the elements (dhatu), and natural phenomena (dhammas). Even the things we had previously clung to as existing no longer exist. They died in that moment.
Everything has died at the moment of its birth. There never was an "I" and there never was a "mine." In the past, we were stupid enough to lug "I"and "mine" around all the time. Now, however, we know the truth that even in retrospect they never were what we took them to be. They're not-me, they're not-mine, the me-ing and my-ing died from the very start right up to this moment. They're finished, even in the future. Don't ever again fall for any "I" and "mine" in your experiences. Simply stop thinking in terms of "I" and "mine." So you see, we needn't interpret this verse to mean that we must physically kill ourselves. One has to be trapped in ones ego to understand it in such a way; such an interpretation is too physical, too superficial, and too childish.
This"I," this ego, is just a mental concept, a product of thought. There's nothing substantial or permanent upon which it's based. There's only an ever-changing process flowing according to causes and conditions, but ignorance misconstrues this process to be a permanent entity, a "self," and an "ego." So don't let attached thoughts and feelings based on "I" and "mine" arise. All pains and problems will end right there and then, so that the body becomes insignificant, no longer a cause of worry. It's merely a collection of the five aggregates (khandha), functioning according to causes and conditions, pure in its own nature. These five aggregates or component processes of life are naturally free of attachment and selfishness. As for the inner aspect, those habits of desire and selfishness, try to do without them. Keep striving to prevent them from being born until the defilements and selfishness have no more opportunities to pollute the heart. In this way, we force ourselves to die, that is, we die through the elimination of polluting selfishness and defilements (kilesa).