Zen and the art of job hunting

by Michiharu Sakata

Kyodo

Buddhist priests are launching initiatives to support students who are struggling to land jobs and to cope with the competitive stresses being generated by the worst economic slump since the war.

The priests are holding sessions to provide advice and teach traditional Buddhist practices, such as Zen meditation and cold-water ablutions, to help young people maintain their self-respect and achieve their goals.

Behind the initiatives is a growing wave of depression that is driving more young people to commit suicide. This has prompted Buddhist priests to step in and address the problem with their timeless advice.

“Your life is not entirely determined by (the results of) your job-hunting activity,” a lecturing priest told participating students at a recent session at a Tokyo hotel. “The evaluation of you at a job interview shows just one aspect of you.”

Organized by a group of Zen priests composed mainly of young adherents to the Soto sect, the lecture was intended to help alleviate the anxiety and stress of constant rejection.

Afterward, the students were invited to practice Zen meditation for 20 minutes on a tatami floor.

One participant, a junior at a Tokyo university, was concerned he might lose sight of himself if he continued to be snubbed by employers.

“I came here because I thought that Zen meditation may be good for regaining my composure,” he said.

Shudo Abe, a priest with the program, stressed the importance of maintaining one’s mental well-being when looking for work.

“An increasing number of job-seeking students get into a state of depression and commit suicide, so I thought something must be done,” he said.

According to a National Police Agency survey, the number of people under 30 who killed themselves for reasons believed related to job-hunting rejection rose to 150 across the nation in 2011, 2.5 times the number in 2007. Of them, 52 were students, up from 16 in 2007.

The corporate sector all but halted active hiring after the global financial crisis began in 2008, and the March 2011 disasters and the yen’s sharp climb only worsened the problem.

Frustration from constant rejection, uncertainty about a future without a job, and the embarrassment of not meeting peers’ expectations all conspire to put heavy pressure on young people.

Another participant in the Buddhism program, a sophomore, said he found Zen meditation helpful in reducing stress. “I will recommend it to my friends,” he said.

In Kawachinagano, Osaka Prefecture, the Shokoji Buddhist temple kicked off a lecture program for job-seeking students two years ago.

Nine men took part in a recent session that included the morale-boosting practice of immersing one’s body in an ice-cold waterfall on the temple’s premises. Before venturing into the downpour, each man shouted the chant “I will clinch a job” three times.

“What’s important is how you work after getting a job,” priest Zenkai Imoto told them. “Do not seek a job based on respectability or the opinions of people around you. You will do well if you choose a job you like.”

One of the men, Toru Kawanishi, said the lecture gave him a new perspective.

“From the waterfall practice, I’ve got a message that transcends words,” he said.

Imoto urged job-seeking students to have self-confidence. “We preach about courage, a lesson nobody else is teaching.”