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Labor Day

We celebrate Labor Day. This term labor has many variational meanings.

This day is designated as the first Monday in September. It is recognition of the laborers who built this nation. Which by definition must include Native People, Asian, slaves and women– an interesting body of labor.

Labor is defined as one who toils. My grandparents on my Mother’s side were laborers. They were also itinerant. They move from place to place following job opportunities. Farm hands, building trade, factory hands, all made up their resume. During WWII, they worked in shipyards building Liberty Ships. They then found work at a cotton mill in Macon, Georgia. There, my Mother to be, met my Father to be, before he left for the war in Europe, and I was born nine months later, through the labor of my Mother.

In India 2500 years ago, labor was manual and womanual. Staying alive was dependent on the strength of one’s body. Birth, sickness, old age, and death, came soon in the labor force of the day. Sakyamuni Buddha taught that one showed-up each day to truge the same path. Yet, the amount of suffering varied based on caste. The dominant forces of the time funneled people into labor teams dependent on high birth rates to keep meeting the needs for labors in the society. Getting a day off for a celebration for which they did not have to work so others could celebrate was indeed rare recognition.

My Father’s side of my family were farmers and woodsmen and woods-women, who grew potatoes in season and logged the Maine Woods in season. There were seven in my Dad’s family including five boys who worked the fields and woods from a very early age. Pulling one’s weight was a phrase I heard early in my life and resonates with early Zen teachings:

Humans are creatures of labor. “A day without work is a day without food,” Tang Dynasty Zen master Baizhang Huaihai famously said. He made a point to never miss group work at his temple, even when he was 90 years old. His students were so concerned about the health of the aging monk that they hid his farming tools, but true to his word, he began fasting when he was not working.

Right Livelihood is part of the Eightfold path and implies integrating one's efforts and doing what one agrees to do, for the exchange of action for mutually agreed upon, results of the labor. This is “pay-ment” for the specific action. So for practitioners in 2022 how do we labor and what do we celebrate?

Another view is our being grateful that enough people get-up each day to do the things that keep us alive.

As Bodhisattvas we labor (not all of us in a vineyard) to help reduce the suffering in ourselves and others:



productive activity, especially for the sake of economic gain.

the body of persons engaged in such activity, especially those working for wages

verb (used without object)

to perform labor; exert one's powers of body or mind; work; toil.

to strive, as toward a goal; work hard (often followed by for):

to labor for peace.

verb (used with object)

to develop or dwell on in excessive detail:

Don't labor the point.

to burden or tire:

to labor the reader with unnecessary detail.

British Dialect. to work or till (soil or the like).

Please join us on Tuesday night at the Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha, September 6, 2022, at 7PM/Eastern Time as we explore “Labor.”

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