A few thoughts on Right Livelihood.
Right livelihood (samyag-ājīva / sammā-ājīva). This means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings.
And what is right livelihood? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood: This is called right livelihood.
More concretely today interpretations include “work and career need to be integrated into life as a Buddhist,” it is also an ethical livelihood, “wealth obtained through rightful means” (Bhikku Basnagoda Rahula) – that means being honest and ethical in business dealings, not to cheat, lie or steal. As people are spending most of their time at work, it’s important to assess how our work affects our mind and heart. So important questions include “How can work become meaningful? How can it be a support, not a hindrance, to spiritual practice — a place to deepen our awareness and kindness?”
The five types of businesses that should not be undertaken:
- Business in weapons: trading in all kinds of weapons and instruments for killing.
- Business in human beings: slave trading, prostitution, or the buying and selling of children or adults.
- Business in meat: “meat” refers to the bodies of beings after they are killed. This includes breeding animals for slaughter.
- Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs.
- Business in poison: producing or trading in any kind of poison or a toxic product designed to kill.
Pure Land Shin Buddhism
I want to look at this from a different angle. Early in the founding days of Shin Buddhist Tradition, Honen wanted to teach everyone the Path but could not until he was banished by the emperor to live among the poor and outcast and so he began teaching anyone who would listen to him about the nembutsu path; fortune -tellers, fishermen, prostitutes, ex-robbers, butchers, samurai and other elements of society that were normally excluded from Buddhist practice; the outcasts. Honen knew, that because of our blind passions, and our ego-entagled selves, we were all outcasts from the Pure Land or Enlightenment and because of the Compassion of Amida, we outcasts were welcomed home. Honen and Shinran taught that everyone was accepted and no one was excluded because of their type of work.
So what does this have to do with Right Livelihood? Lets’ look at this quote about Kuan -yin one of the manifestations of Amida Buddha.
Kuan-yin hears the sounds of the world — the sounds of suffering, and sounds of joy as well. She hears the announcements of birds and children, of thunder and ocean, and is formed by them. In one of her representations she has a thousand arms, and each hand holds an instrument of work: a hammer, a trowel, a pen, a cooking utensil, a vajra. She has allowed the world to cultivate her character, and also has mustered herself to develop the skills to make her character effective. She is the archetype of right livelihood: one who uses the tools of the workaday world to nurture all beings and turn the Wheel of the Dharma.”
Excerpted from “Right Livelihood for the Western Buddhist” by Robert Aitken.
What does this mean to you?
Sometimes, because of circumstance or maybe even karmic debt we are unable to change our livelihoods, What is to be done then? Here is a favorite story from the life of Honen,
Honen met a woman who was a prostitute, and she begged him for help. He told her that if at all possible, she should quit what she’s doing, but if this is not possible, then she should sincerely recite Amida’s Name (the nembutsu) diligently. It was said later that she kept up the practice until she died, and Honen, upon hearing this, declared that should would surely be born in the Pure Land.
Is a Buddhist who works as a Bartender a bad Buddhist? What of the soldier? The fisherman? The prostitute? What does right livelihood mean for them? And at the same time I find it hard to feel the same understanding for the Pimp, the Meth Lab Cooker.
For most of us I think, Right Livelihood ultimately mean that we are simply applying mindfulness and Buddhist principles to our daily work activities. I am not trying to say that Right Livelihood is not reflected in the Five Types of work to be avoided, but that not matter what work we do, that we as practitioners, do not separate our practice from our daily work, that our practice and work are interdependent of each other.
What do you think?