Episode 119 - Right Livelihood

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This episode dives deep into Right Livelihood, one of the Noble Eightfold Path as laid out by the Buddha. The Eightfold Path is a spiritual path that leads us to deeper and deeper levels of peace and happiness. Ultimately, following all eight of the Eightfold Path until our mind is purified of ignorance, attachment, and selfishness, leads us to enlightenment. When we talk about a path, it signifies a way that leads us somewhere. For anyone who has ever been given the wrong directions to a destination, we know there are things that lead us in the right direction and also in the wrong direction. When we talk about Right Action, Speech, or Livelihood, Right is meant not as a judgement, but pointing to behavior that leads us toward peace and enlightenment. Right Livelihood speaks of how we can acquire wealth and work that still leads us toward inner peace and Buddhahood.

Right Livelihood also addresses a deep and pressing question: how do we integrate our spiritual practice with our everyday life? We spend ⅓ of our days at work, and, if we could make our work part of our practice, we would see progress so much more quickly. We would also lessen the stress we often feel at work. Right Livelihood can also increase our sense of curiosity and purpose at work.

First, Buddha explains ways of acquiring wealth that directly lead away from enlightenment and serenity. In the Vanijja Sutta (from the Tripitaka), the Buddha said, "A lay follower should not engage in five types of business.

  • business in weapons,
  • business in human beings,
  • business in meat,
  • business in intoxicants,
  • and business in poison."

Ultimately, Right Livelihood means we try not to avoid causing suffering through our means of obtaining money. The Buddha mentions five specific kinds of livelihood that cause suffering to others and are therefore to be avoided: dealing in weapons, in human beingsa (slave trade and prostitution), animals (including raising animals for slaughter and meat production) in poisons, and in intoxicants.

The Thai treatise discusses the positive aspects of right livelihood. Rightness regarding:

  • actions
  • persons
  • objects.

“Rightness regarding actions” means that we should fulfill our responsibilities conscientiously, not claiming to have worked longer hours than we did, pocketing what belongs to the company, or idling away time. “Rightness regarding persons” means that we are kind, honest, and respectful to people as we work: to employers, coworkers, employees, and customers.

An employer, for example, should pay employees adequately, not overwork them, promote them when they deserve it, and give them adequate rest and vacation. Colleagues should try to help each other rather than compete, and speak kindly to one another and about each other. We should be honest and fair in dealing with customers. “Rightness regarding objects” means that objects being sold should be represented without deceit. With mindfulness, we can check how our work affects our mind. Though most of us have many jobs throughout our life, our mind goes with us to each one. I think it is more important to practice mindfulness and kindness at work than it is to “get ahead.” Our heart and mind will dictate whether we are happy or unhappy. We will not always be at the job we are at currently, but, wherever we go, there we are.

“Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living." (The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching [Parallax Press, 1998], p. 104) —Thich Nhat Hanh

Watchful in speech and well-restrained in mind,

Do nothing unskillful with your body.

Purify these three courses of action;

Fulfill the path taught by the sages. (281)

—Buddha, The Dhammapada

References and Links

Buddha.The Dhammapada. Translated by Gil Fronsdale. (Kindle). Shambala, Boston and London, 2011, pp. 72 (Link)

Bodhi, Bhikku. The Noble Eightfold Path. Buddhist Publication Society, 1999, pp -56. BuddhaNet. http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/noble8path6.pdf

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