“To practice Right Livelihood, (samyag ajiva) you have to find a
way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and
compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your
or it can be a source of suffering for you and others.”
Thich Nhat Hanh in
The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace,
Right Livelihood is one aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path,
which is the way to well-being. Other aspects are Right View, Right
Mindfulness, Right Speech, Right Thinking, Right Diligence, Right
Action, and Right Concentration.
We can think of
Right Livelihood in terms of choosing an occupation that does not add
to suffering and we can think of it in terms of how we perform our
work. Some jobs would not qualify as Right Livelihood under any
circumstances. Assassins, drug
dealers and arms merchants obviously have not chosen career goals with
Livelihood in mind. What of the person in a helping profession, though,
appears to serve others, but does it with a harmful attitude?
Any occupation can be
destructive if it is not carried out in an ethical manner. When
supervisors demean those they supervise, when case managers treat their
clients as cases rather than persons, when nurses turn bitter and
distant, when doctors lord it over
the nurses, when those entrusted with confidences break
when spiritual leaders use their position for self gratification, or
artists degrade the culture rather than enhance it, suffering is
and the livelihood is wrong.
To avoid harmful
is wise and virtuous, but to perform even the most elevated work with
uncaring attitude is a mistake. Life is stressful. We must learn to
the stress so that we can treat other people with compassion. We must
to see the people we work with or that we serve as individuals
of kindness. In order to do these things we must take care of ourselves
that our bodies and minds are strong and flexible. We can assure that
are by attending to the Eightfold Path.
As you prepare
for work each day, consider the attitude you wish to bring to work.
the state of your emotions. If you notice anger, resentment, anxiety or
other negative emotional conditions related to your employment focus in
on what is really troubling you. Sit with the feelings and the
thoughts, and seek to understand their causes. Look past the surface
to deeper levels. If your boss triggers your anger, look at how that
happened in other situations where someone had authority over you, such
as with parents or teachers. Is the source of your anger in the
of the other person solely? How much of your emotion is the consequence
of your own thoughts and beliefs?
Develop an intention to
bring greater understanding and compassion to your work. Whatever you
do, do it with caring.
Notice the type of
conversations you engage in at work. Are they right speech, or do you
contribute to a
culture of complaining and gossip?
Do you give diligent effort
Do you allow yourself to
relax enough that you don’t lose sight of your own needs and those of
your family? Workaholics are not practitioners of Right Livelihood.
As you move through the
workday, remind yourself to pay attention. Seek to be mindful of your
actions, thoughts, emotions, and interactions. Breathe more mindfully.
Smile more as an expression of the loving kindness you wish to embody.
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© 2002 Tom Barrett