what does right livelihood mean?

which jobs to reflect on

overtly, the lists five professions that are to be avoided

—trading in poison, weapons, human beings as slaves, trading meats, intoxicants.

—if we do work as bartenders, or waiters in steakhouses, we start by being aware of what effect our work has on our mind.

The buddha was not a proseltyzer and didn’t set out on a crusade against specific professions. Only if he was pushed would he condemn a particular occupation.

—when a soldier came to the buddha 3 times refused to answer when pressed if his occupation was unskillful. eventually the buddha replied: "if, while, in the midst of battle, the desire for the killing or causing harm to other beings arises, that mind state will take you to future realms of suffering.

—note PTSD

from the precepts, the buddha's teachings ask us reflect on whether or not our livelihood:

1) harm other beings?

2) does it steal from other beings?

3) Does it involve lying?

4) Does it involve unskillful mental states such as promoting greed or aversion?

5) Does it involve becoming intoxicated or practicing any kind of harmful sexuality?

the notion that we can engage unskillfully in one area of our lives without it bleeding into the rest of our endeavors is ignorance:

—like mines that pollute the groundwater, toxins don't stay in a region, they spread

—unskillful thoughts and actions spread throughout our endeavors

levels of attachment

another issue with right livelihood is reflecting on the levels of attachment our work results in:

are we thinking about work while we're relaxing? while we're being creative?

is the level of mental energy remaining charged/adrenalized?

if the feelings/stress of work stays with the body into the rest of our lives?

—does the breathing changes during work and afterwards?

so we can see that right livelihood isn't a checklist of wrong occupations; its a concept of mindful awareness

—equanimity or balance is key

—even jobs that help other beings can be unskillful if we can't put them down

a good way to conceive of right livelihood introduced as the four requisites:

we need food, shelter, clothing and medicine to survive, and we use them responsibly to live comfortably enough to practice, but not to the point where we're seeking lasting pleasure or developing attachment.

its helpful to reflect

—why am i buying or consuming this?

—is this really needed?

—is there an underlying level of stress i'm trying to cover with food or purchases?

the effects of consumption

marxists are not the only folks aware of commodity fetishism, wherein we don't see the exploitation that goes into the production of the goods we consume. ajahn geoff points out that that the food we’re eating—the farmers who worked, the animals who gave up their lives—didn’t provide it in fun.

—we're eating not to stuff ourselves, but simply for the nourishment of the body, so that we can practice in ease without hunger pains

Geoff: one has "to look at your impact when you eat, when you buy clothing, when you buy any of these things and use them: What is your impact on the world? The fact that you’re alive and breathing

means that you have a lot of needs, and the needs can be met only by relying on others. What way can you rely on others so that you’re not harming them or causing them unnecessary pain?"

Ajaan Chah’s simile: Westerners are like vultures. we fly very high, but when we eat, we eat very low

what this means is that we aim to achieve peace in our meditation & yoga practice, but what we do to survive often completely undermines the beauty of our practice.

—we overly consume things that cause harm to others.

sometimes the insights we need to give up consuming will need harsh contemplations:

—the buddha once reminded students of a couple who had to kill and consume their only child to avoid starvation. (unlike the 'starving children of africa' routine parents tell children, this was to get people to eat responsibly)

—if someone's consuming cocaine, they may need to reflect on all the human misery and death they're participating in.

—if someone's needlessly consuming electronics or plastic bags, the level of pollution this entails.

so where do we find our pleasure?

first, there's the custom of the noble ones, which is cultivating contentment with our material


—we practice developing gratitude for what we've acquired skillfully and getting the most out things by using them properly.

—we don't fall into the buy a shiny thing, use it for awhile then dispose for something new cycle.

—this is not attachment to things, but a true understanding of how much went into producing

—you find that you’re buying less, using less, because you’re looking elsewhere for your happiness

the buddha compared the mind to a castle under siege by an enemy, the outside world and all its distractions and dramas. our allies are

—wisdom, a sentry who knows how to spot the enemy;

—mindfulness, the gatekeeper who remembers who to let in to the castle and who not,

—concentration/focus, the inner stores of food.

The more pleasure, wellbeing and stability we can derive from focusing the mind inwards, the lighter your kammic footprint on the rest of the world, the less harm you’re causing as you search for your livelihood, both physical and mental.

the buddha's teaching was based on the concept of the middle path, which is founded on neither indulgence nor deprivation.