Read the new & improved version of this post: The Eightfold Path: Right Livelihood
Right Livelihood is the final practice in Ethical Conduct on the Eightfold Path and involves earning a living in a way that promotes respect and equality. To practice Right Livelihood means you must not do work or receive money for something that directly or indirectly harms either yourself or others.
This means being honest and ethical in all your business dealings, and doing your best to find work that is meaningful and life enhancing. Obviously, this isn’t always easy or even possible. Many people struggle to find any kind of work and don’t have the option of worrying about whether it is harmful or not.
Where we work has a profound effect on us because we spend so much of our time there. So Right Livelihood can also be applied to how you deal with the work you do have. Your approach to co-workers and how you deal with the stresses and conflicts that naturally arise throughout the day, provide an opportunity to practice mindfulness and compassion. If you find that your work is having an adverse effect on your health, either physically or mentally, then you will need to consider how to respond in a way that is in alignment with your spiritual practice.
Don’t be evil
The guidelines for Right Livelihood are very specific. The following is a list of all the things you can’t do if you want to be free from suffering:
- Sell weapons or instruments for killing
- Trade in slavery, prostitution, or the trafficking of adults or children
- Trade in meat
- Breed animals for slaughter
- Make drugs or sell drugs that are addictive or intoxicants
- Make or sell any kind of poison or toxic chemical designed to kill
It is interesting to note the professions that are not included: banking or usury, and espionage or spying, for example. Really anything exploitative or demeaning would be suspect, and anything that diminishes someone’s humanity or dignity. There is clearly room here for much debate, especially when many of the low paid jobs people are struggling with these days are so menial and soul-destroying. Finding meaningful work is depressingly rare for too many people.
Love the one you’re with
So for many the only option is to make the best of a bad situation. It is still possible to practice Right Livelihood by being mindful of providing the best service you can and treating others with respect even if the work environment is less than edifying. You can be honourable even if others are not. This isn’t easy, but Buddhism always encourages us to deal with reality and not run away from the truth. And reality is rarely simple or perfect.
Next time: Right Effort
Read the new version of this series here: Eightfold Path Series