During the past few months I have presented the Eightfold Path. These are the guidelines for living a life that will help to overcome suffering and attain enlightenment. The fifth of the Eightfold Path is Right Livelihood.
It is important to understand that Buddhism does not deal in moral judgments, but rather in absolutes. Right Livelihood is engaging in an occupation that causes no harm to living beings. Some of the occupations specifically outlined as “wrong” livelihood are dealing in armaments, intoxicants, prostitution and the military. Remember, this is not a statement about the good or evil of people who do pursue these occupations. Good and evil change from culture to culture, time to time. A prime example of the good or evil of being in the military exists in today’s events. In the war in Afghanistan we view our soldiers as good and the Taliban as evil. However, from the Taliban perspective the opposite is true. Personally, as an American, and even more specifically as a person from New York, I cannot help feeling that our cause is good. As a Buddhist I can only hope that the current conflict will lead to an end to the cycle of suffering. The Eightfold Path is a guideline that individuals follow to attain their personal enlightenment. Does this mean that in all cases an occupation that causes no harm is Right Livelihood? The simple answer is “No.”
Right Livelihood is about more than the occupation alone. Right Livelihood also includes the reason for having this job and your level of happiness while doing the job. Attachment to worldly things acts as an obstacle to reaching enlightenment. Gautama Buddha left his family, castle and wealth behind when he went seeking nirvana. Buddhism does not say we should abandon these things in our own life. Buddhism is practical and recognizes that individual circumstances dictate how people live. Right Livelihood simply means that until you live an occupation that you truly love you will have inner conflict. This inner conflict leads to suffering. As an example, suppose a person is a minister but every day is torn because he would rather be a bricklayer. He goes through each day tending to the needs of his congregation but feels no inner joy. From a Buddhist perspective, although he is helping others he is not practicing Right Livelihood. The key to Right Livelihood is to perform work that causes no harm and brings you joy. Buddhism teaches that we constantly face choices. The decisions we make when presented with these choices are what lead to our suffering or overcoming of suffering.
For those of you interested in learning more about Buddhism, a non-sectarian Buddhist group is starting in Kenosha. The purpose of this group will be to act as an information center of Buddhist activities and resources in the area. For more information contact me at BudTempChi@aol.com