Right Livelihood is a Strategy

Excerpt from Buddhism & Me: Right Livelihood by Debi H. Linton

After Right Speech and Right Action comes Right Livelihood.  It’s believable that by observing Right Action and living by the precepts, one would achieve Right Livelihood.  There is a difference and it is the same as the difference between tactics and strategy.  Right Action covers every day to day thing you do, Right Livelihood incorporates the long term decisions and plans you make. Right Action is deeds, Right Livelihood is lifestyle.  It not just about what you say and what you do, but deeper than that: how you live.

Jack Kornfield breaks Right Livelihood into five aspects: Harmlessness, happiness, growth, simplicity, service.

There are four specific areas of employment that are singled out by the Dharma as explicitly worth avoiding:

  1. Dealing in weapons
  2. Dealing in Living Beings
  3. Slavery and prostitution, but also raising animals for the slaughter.
  4. Meat Production and Butchery
  5. Selling intoxicants and poisons, including alcohol.

Choosing a trade, of course, is a privilege not everyone has. Limits come from all directions, and pressures in all forms, and sometimes it really does come down to ‘do this work or starve’. And so I stress that self-care is a vital part of the Path; if the only work available to you is one that falls within one of the above categories, then do the work. Self-deprivation benefits no one.

Happiness in one’s work comes in the following ways:

  1. Having a trade or a career. It doesn’t need to be some big special thing.  It also doesn’t have to be the work that brings in the money; I know people who are currently pursuing personally fulfilling political careers, but haven’t quite made that work pay. This happiness doesn’t come from impressing people at parties, but in being satisfied with what you do.
  2. Producing something. Either as goods or as service to other people. Creating, discovering, making, selling, teaching, helping, doing something to have some way of contributing to society, because you’re not happy if you don’t contribute.  And if you haven’t found it, it’s really a crucial part of spiritual practice to look for it.
  3. Being free from debt. That’s a good one for our country, isn’t it? Funny, it was said 2,500 years ago. How true true today.  Debt can be a source of worry, anxiety and suffering. Living within your means really has a lot to do with contentment.
  4. Being free from blame, fault or praise.  Doing a job not to please or satisfy someone else, not because you feel you ‘have’ to, but because you want to.  Your actions come because you know they are the right things to do.

Growth and Awareness
The whole point of following the Eightfold Path is to grow and to cultivate those virtues that are beneficial to oneself, and move away from fear, hate and delusion. So what’s the point in pursuing a livelihood that does not give me the space to do that?  This is partly why teaching is so great for me, because one cannot teach without learning, and one cannot teach without being present in the moment, and one cannot teach without compassion and loving kindness for your students. All of this is important for me as an educator, and as a Buddhist.

There are other ways to bring mindfulness to a job: regular meditation break; mixing up repetitive tasks by doing them slightly differently, using a different hand, for example. I use my bracelet to remind myself of my Path and how to live this moment to its fullest.

Live lightly on the earth. Take as little as possible. Destroy nothing if you can help it. Remember the intention of Renunciation. What do you really need to be happy in this world? What do you really deeply care about? Why make anything more complicated than it needs to be? It comes up over and over again in Buddhism: a happy life is a simple one.

The way of the world is that harmlessness isn’t enough – there’s enough harm going on in the world that I bear my share of responsibility to reach out and remember my interconnectedness to all of life around me. Service and generosity is not just doing something for free (although it can be), but doing something for someone else out of the joy of doing it – whether paid or not. It’s important to me to do something for the world, to reach out and remember how beautiful it is, and feel the interconnectedness with all living things.

Right Livelihood is a lot more than doing.  It involves pouring my Practice into every part of my life, and not just acting like a good person, but being the best one I can be.

About Still Water Sangha of MN

We are a community, formed with enthusiasm and joy, practicing Mindfulness and Meditation together in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. We meet on Monday nights from 7-8:30pm in a private home in Stillwater, Minnesota.
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