This month we are going to take the Path a little out of order and skip to Right Livelihood, the 3rd of the conduct aspects. We are skipping over Right Speech and Right Action which we will discuss in August and September. A way to look at these three together is that Right Speech relates to the intersection between us, as individuals, and the world. Right Action relates to the intersection between our action upon the world and Right Livelihood relates to where our personal desires intersect with the wider world.
Right Livelihood is about how practice shows up in our careers, workplaces, school, volunteering – basically anything we do for income or contribution in the world. I think contemplating Right Livelihood comes from two layers. The first is whether we see our livelihood as practice or as separate from practice. The second is how we use practice within our livelihood.
In Joseph Goldstein’s book Mindfulness, he pointed out that “[i]n Buddha’s teachings, wealth rightfully gained is seen as a blessing that can be used for the benefit and welfare of [one’s self and] of others.” So this first layer involves ultimately seeing whatever we do in the world as a benefit for all beings. It means that we see our livelihood more as service to the world. We only acquire wealth by legal means, without coercion/violence or trickery/deceit and in ways that do not cause harm or suffering to ourselves or others.
The second layer is about approaching our livelihood within the context of Right View (awareness of the karmic implications of our actions) and Right Intention (desire to live within restraint, kindness and harmlessness). The Buddha listed 5 basic livelihoods that violate both of these Path aspects – dealing in weapons/killing; dealing in living beings; dealing in slaughtering of animals; dealing in poisons and dealing in intoxicants. I think the main difficulty with livelihoods in these fields is the disconnect (that would be required) between what one does and the ultimate harm caused. In this second layer we want to stay connected to our restraint from greed and direct/indirect harm from our actions even in the context of needing to earn money to live.
We will explore these to layers as the month progress. We will consider how we feel about our livelihood, how to become more connected to livelihood, whether we bring practice into the workplace and how to; ways in which our practice can support us with hectic schedules, stress, boredom, difficult people, etc. Basically, we will spend the month remembering that practice doesn’t stop at the bell. See you tonight…