Labor of Love

"The stages of the Noble Path are: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Behavior, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration."


"There is no easy formula for determining right and wrong livelihood, but it is essential to keep the question alive. To return the sense of dignity and honor to manhood, we have to stop pretending that we can make a living at something that is trivial or destructive and still have sense of legitimate self-worth. A society in which vocation and job are separated for most people gradually creates an economy that is often devoid of spirit, one that frequently fills our pocketbooks at the cost of emptying our souls."

Sam Keen, Fire In the Belly

"Like the bee, we should make our industry our amusement."

James Goldsmith 

To what end do we labor? It used to be that you worked or you died. If you didn't hunt or plant you and your family had no food. That was pretty simple. Then somebody figured that he could make stuff better than he could hunt or plant, so he traded the stuff he made for food. Then other people started doing the same thing. Soon they had an economy, and work became increasingly separated from food production and personal survival.

Today many of us work in jobs that have little to do with survival. We work for other reasons. Maybe we work for money, which we need to survive. But maybe we just work for money because we like money and the things it buys. Maybe we work to acquire prestige or power. Maybe we work because our parents taught us that that is what you have to do in life.

Many of us made our career choices without much information or due to external pressures and expectations. Yet work is a major part of who we are. It helps define our personalities. It sets our place in society. It occupies our time. How can we ever be happy if we choose work that is not right for us?

If we are unhappy in our work perhaps we have the wrong job. Or possibly we have the wrong attitude about the job. Many of us have satisfactory work, but we approach it with a sour attitude that gets in the way of any kind of job satisfaction. Laziness, anger, resentment, and envy are a few of the negatives that may obstruct us from making our industry our amusement.

The Buddha identified right livelihood as one of the stages on the Noble Path, which was his prescription for overcoming the inevitable unsatisfactoriness of existence. Right livelihood is a simple idea, and in its simplicity it is applicable to the great complexity of the world of work. The concept is like a touchstone to help us evaluate our way of life. Below are some questions to consider as you evaluate whether you engage in right livelihood.


Create some distance in your mind from the immediate pressures of work as you think on these things. Take time to calm yourself. Breathe. Relax. Create a space for peace in your heart. Ask yourself these questions and give yourself time to hear your inner voice. Listen deeply and see if you can find an answer to each question before going on to the next.

 Why do you work?
Does your work give you pleasure?
What is most rewarding about your work?
What is most repellent to you about your work?
Do you work for a paycheck only or do you see some greater value in your labor?
How often do you feel morally compromised in your work?
Does your work help people in some way?
How does your work support individuals?
How does your work support the community?
How does your work support the world?
How does your work support your spiritual development?
What are your unique gifts?
What gives you the greatest joy?
Do you use your gifts in your work?
Do you find joy in your work?
If you find your work unsatisfactory, is it the work, or is it your attitude about your work?
How can you bring more love into your labor?

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© 2002 Tom Barrett