Eight Fold Path – Right Livelihood

Listen to the audio here or read the write-up below.

Tricky area this one. What people usually focus on here is the job title and area. It’s easy to disappear down a rabbit hole, trying to draw up lists of jobs which are ‘right’. But I don’t believe we should be so judgemental here.

Remember, we don’t have good and evil in Buddhism. We just look at what is wholesome for ourselves and for others. But if we are looking at our own personal spiritual progress, then there will be certain jobs that will definitely hold us back. This doesn’t mean they are evil, it means that they won’t provide a nurturing environment to take us forward. It is difficult to see, for example, how we could make spiritual progress working as a soldier. Not impossible, I believe, but it certainly makes it more difficult because of the environment we are working in.

For me, right Livelihood has to be considered in this way. Is the environment you are working in wholesome and is going to support your spiritual practise. For example, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with working for a bank. Money can be a great facilitator and can produce very positive results in the world. Poor money in to a poor region and you can transform it, taking away suffering. But, having worked in the banking sector, I personally felt that then environment held me back. The nature of it was aggressive, competitive and uncompassionate. At times, less than honest and I was often encouraged not to be totally honest with our customers. To spin messages. Therefore, for me to make spiritual progress in that environment was always going to be difficult. So I left. I do realise these are potentially difficult decisions for some of us. Our job provides our food on the table. But if we have a genuine desire to make spiritual progress in our lives then we MUST look at our job and see if it provides the space and support to nurture that.

I know of people that are extremely successful. Partners in firms and earning large salaries. They are lovely people and working extremely hard for their organisation. But, because they are working such long hours and then having to think about their job in their own time, they never have the opportunity for their spiritual practise. This is definitely revealed to us in meditation. To meditate successfully, we need a calm, clear mind. If our job is cluttering our minds then we are not going to progress.

So my advice here is clear. Look at the direction you have chosen to head, your right view. Then look at your job and see if it is supporting your direction. From the perspective of right intent, is your job actually making you take the wrong decisions. Is it forcing you down the wrong roads. Remember the analogy of the journey for the 8 fold path. The right view is the end destination, right intent looks at all the choices you make along your route to get to your destination and we can see right action,right speech and right Livelihood as the baggage we take to support our journey. Is our job too heavy a burden for our journey and is it hindering our progress.

Buddhist teaching also looks at the positive aspects of right Livelihood and examines it from 3 perspectives. Rightness regarding actions, persons and objects. Here, it looks at our approach to work rather than our choice of work. In this way it also crosses over in to other elements of the 8 fold path. Remember that the steps down the path are never separate. They intertwine and support each other. So, regarding actions, we look at our behaviour at work. Even if the job is supportive of spiritual progress, if we are not behaving mindfully, applying right speech and right action and causing harm then we clearly do not have right Livelihood. Regarding persons, this is how we behave towards our colleagues, managers and employees. Given what we know about skilful actions and avoiding causing harm, the direction here should be fairly clear. But let’s have a look at organisational culture. The culture of an organisation often reflects how people behave. Culture can be a massive influence on our lives if we don’t pay attention and notice it. That culture can be seen in a certain retail organisation not more 200 yards from this spot. There, the culture is very negative and the individuals are being collectively brought-down by it all. Not at all spiritually supportive. So this is another question we have to ask ourselves. As individuals Ina large organisation it is unlikely we will change the culture single-handedly. Within this certain retail organisation, the CEO is desperately trying to change the culture and even in his powerful position, he is failing. So we have to ask ourselves, can we step outside the culture and rise above it or, in the interests of our spiritual progress, perhaps we should just leave?

And what about objects? Well we might like to look at our advertising here and the expectation of our customers. Are we meeting their expectations? We may be in a position where we are in a support position and unable to influence the marketing strategies of the organisation. But if those strategies are dishonest in some way, that WILL influence us!

Finally, what about retirement? How should we view this from a Livelihood perspective? Well, of course, this is a golden opportunity to practise. We have the perfect opportunity to creat a Livelihood that is truly nurturing of our spiritual direction.

Meditation, mindfulness of breathing. Then we will start by going back to our right view. Which way are we headed in our spiritual practise? What is our end game. Then just tune in to your life from an emotional perspective. When you consider your job or where you are in your retirement, what emotions come up. Are they positive and supportive of your spiritual direction. Let that gently lead you into a high level, general impression of your life today. Meditation isn’t the time to “think” about things. Let it come from a position of intuitive, emotional knowledge. Opening up to how you feel. Later, when the moment is right. Perhaps over a quiet coffee, you can do the hard-nosed thinking. Right now, you need to activate the power of your intuitive subconscious and just feel.