Right Livelihood

Jan 14th, 2018

Image copyright: Daria Nepriakhina

Right Livelihood is concerned with ensuring that one earns one’s living in a righteous way.  For a lay disciple the Buddha teaches that wealth should be gained in accordance with certain standards.  One should acquire it only be legal means, not illegally; one should acquire it peacefully, without coercion or violence; one should acquire it honestly, not by trickery or deceit; and one should acquire it in ways which do not entail harm and suffering for others.

Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering, (1984, Buddhist Publication Society)


I have spent the last few weeks afflicted with a cold.  This year it is going around, and in my case it seems to come and go in ways I have not really able to figure out.  The upside to this is that I have had time to sit quietly (or lay quietly) allowing my mind to wander.  As I consider this, I am not quite sure how it differs from formal meditation, but it seems that it does.  Perhaps the difference is that I am not intending meditation, I just am “resting”.  The point is, that this wandering is mostly directed towards thoughts of employment in a right livelihood.

Right Livelihood is a Buddhist term that deals in how one supports oneself in the world.  I live in a capitalistic society and part of this consideration is figuring out how to be part of something while attempting to dismantle it.  I think the biggest challenge to (and possibly what will destroy) Buddhism is capitalism’s effect on humanity and the fact that to succeed in capitalism, one must participate in oppression.  Capitalism is a system of economics that is based on oppression, and even if it is kindhearted, oppression diminishes both the oppressor and the oppressed.  Whatever we consume, suffering will exist.  We each make choices about what suffering we are willing to live with.  For some, the line exists in the suffering of animals.  Meanwhile they remain oblivious to the suffering created by farming vegetables in quantities that allow for human consumerism.  No one escapes this wheel of suffering. (I acknowledge that one could in fact move off the grid into a countryside farm where you produce all your food, all your tools, all your clothing, all your own electricity, water, etc.  But this isn’t actually likely on a large scale so let’s just let my statement stand shall we).

For me, Right Livelihood means I need to be employed in a way that serves others.  For the last decade or more, I was focused on being a Board Certified Chaplain.  The return to school, and so much time and energy were focused on this, that the recognition that I am likely not going to be able to do that in the way imagined has been a hard pill to swallow.  When one has always understood something one way, the change can take it’s toll.  The last year seems to have been the year where I have had to accept the premise that “This thing you always thought was so, is not necessarily so” in just about every area of my life.

So what then is the route to finding my “Right Livelihood”?  I think it starts with figuring out what the limitations are to my being able to accept a job.  So I created a list:

Must involve service. There is a difference between service and helping and I need to feel like what I do matters to more than just myself or some small subset of humanity.

Must make enough money to support myself “as-is”. I don’t live extravagantly nor do I want to, and I don’t want to lose ground.

Must have equivalent Medical/Dental/Vision insurance that start immediately.

Must be able to be answerable to my disability.  My body doesn’t work like most others, and I need to be able to live and work in a flexible way.

Must be “secure”.  Working full-time means I lose quite a bit of “security”.  Something that only lasts a year, or even two can prove problematic to regain what I give up.

Must be interesting, challenging and nourishing.

I also made a list of what I have to bring to employment:

MA in Buddhist Studies from an accredited institution (with a number of other educational certificates)

Over 20 years of experience in volunteering or gift economy positions in a variety of service/ministerial type ways. (Hospice work, Sisters work, Teaching, Etc)

Strong Communication skills.

Computer literate and savvy.

Quick learning and adaptability.

Having been out of the actual working world for over 20 years, I am nervous about my ability to actually get back into it.  Yet, I feel like it’s time.  I need to work again.  My practice and life seem to have shifted from being internally focused to now pulling me more outward.  I still don’t know “what’s next”.  There is a large part of me that wants to force something to happen, that wants to push this way or that.  That is the right call for some people.  It is even the right call for me.  But not at this time. Or at least that’s what I sense.  Who knows.  Each day I wake up, I ponder, I go about my life, checking at this and that.  Not really sure of what will come next, or from what direction.  I simply do my best to be open and to listen, trying to have faith that I will recognize it when it appears.


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