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Right Livelihood: Sustaining Compassionate Callings

On a background of out of focus grass, two hands hold a green ball etched with the markings of a globe.

 “We are the custodians of the earth. Let’s take care of it like our own child.”- unknown

The Noble Eightfold Path guides us to live a life that leads to awakening and frees us from the discomforts (suffering) we often feel.

A picture of the eight spoked dharma wheel. Spokes are labelled Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Concentration, Right Mindfulness.

We can remember the sections of the Noble Eightfold Path with the acronym VISA LEM C.

‘Right’ doesn’t mean the only acceptable way, rather it is guidance given by Buddha, recorded in the Dharma, and supported by Sangha. Connection with our sangha and our teacher helps us keep the compassionate view of no judgments, and no errors, just stepping back on the path when we see we’ve fallen off. Rising Lotus Sangha understands life's challenges are growth opportunities; dharma is life, and Zen is navigating life, even when it's muddy. 

"No mud, no lotus."  - Thich Nhat Hanh.

A major influence on Western practices of Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh is historically recognized as the main inspiration for engaged Buddhism. This encompasses meditation, mindfulness in daily life, involvement in one's family, and responding skilfully to social, political, economic, and environmental situations; based on Buddhist ideas, values, and spirituality.

Continuing our exploration of the Noble Eightfold Path, we arrive at Right Livelihood. This aspect is often understood as solely about one's profession. However, it also delves into how we sustain ourselves and contribute to the world.

Clearing our view:

Image of a pair of glasses in front of the forest canopy. The left lens is blurred, whereas the right lens is clear

When we live the Buddha Way, we are frequently stretching and challenging what we’ve come to know.”- Kyoji (Teacher and founder of Rising Lotus Sangha)

Buddhism calls us to focus on the necessities of life, and answer for ourselves “What are they?”, “How much do we need?”, and “How do I contribute?” When we talk about the concept of Right Livelihood, it's essential to approach it with compassion and objectivity. We need to take a closer look at how different cultures provide for their basic needs and reflect on our perceptions of those who work in these positions. People often label some professions as "ethical" and others as "unethical" based on their personal opinions. For instance, people might consider doctors and waitresses to be ethical, while meat packers, hunters, and sex workers: unethical. Some Buddhists view vegetable farming as unethical too, as harvesting still ‘takes a life’. Buddhism doesn’t overly critique acquiring wealth either, rather it asks us “What is the intention behind the need to acquire money?”

In today’s growing global culture of acceptance, the larger view is that some, simply do not have the option to seek recourse. The bare necessities of life are there regardless of people’s individual views, privileges, or lack thereof. Constantly clearing our view and cultivating the way of 'Right’ intentions can guide the way we approach our lives and the tasks within. Everything, regardless of ‘good and ‘bad’ labels is interconnected. Everyone has worth regardless of their productivity: Mahayana Buddhist philosophy believes that all humans have the seed of Noble Nature within them already. This is a non-ego-driven dignity that’s within everyone. It has the potential to grow. 

Whether we work in a challenging role, live with unemployment, or have disabilities that limit traditional work options, a paradigm shift in how we perceive ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually might be required to accept life as it is. Often our self-worth has become tied to judgments around our productivity - a result of Western consumerist culture.

Life is full of uncertainties and sometimes, harsh judgmental statements from others. Therefore it helps to think before we speak. Thinking first, “Is what I'm about to say; true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?

Right Livelihood, with these contexts, transcends the conventional constraints and invites us to explore alternative ways of contributing to sustainability.

Sustaining ourselves:

‘You can't pour from an empty cup’☕ 

Sentiments like this may sound selfish and clichéd to some, and when I first heard them, I thought they were too. However, now I believe it is selfless

If we look after ourselves holistically: physically, mentally, and spiritually, we ensure our sustainability in caring for ourselves and others.

Right Livelihood urges us to view all our activities as integral to our spiritual journey. Whether at work or elsewhere in our daily lives. It invites each of us to consider the well-being of ourselves, those around us, and the earth we walk upon. Recall the Three Poisons of greed, hate, and delusions. The antidotes are generosity, lovingkindness, and wisdom/discernment. How we weave these antidotes into our lives supports harmony. 

Our conversations and physical activities provide opportunities to develop respectful relationships with ourselves, our family, friends, people at work, neighbors, communities, and our environments. We are enriching everyone's lives by nurturing support, sustenance, and confidence. All of us have these common needs. We all lead busy lives, but taking time to appreciate our surroundings, and enjoying everyday moments, including the unusual, helps us appreciate what matters to ourselves and others. When we find ways to keep learning, life's challenges can be ‘fun’, and with any feelings of satisfaction, confidence grows.

Sharing our skills, talents, and resources generously, whether through our profession or personal endeavors, contributes to the interconnected web of life. Helping friends, strangers, and the planet, links our happiness to a wider community and is rewarding, especially when it is done without the thought of getting something in return. Acts of kindness, no matter how small, can be considered a form of livelihood that nurtures compassion.

Sustaining the planet: You may like to consider aspects from the list on Friends of The Earth’s Points on Living Sustainably.

Do we always get life ‘Right’? No!  None of us are Zen robots, we are human after all. Beautifully flawed and imperfect. 

Journal Prompt: In my last post I offered the prompt: What are my core values and how do they influence my actions? These will feed into this week's prompts:

  • Identify tangible steps to bring your life into harmony with your values. This may include seeking opportunities for ethical and sustainable practices, including self-care.

  • Are there aspects of your life where you can advocate for ethical practices?

  • Explore your interests and talents; is there a potential to shift towards an ‘off-setting’, a way to ‘balance out’ the impact we have? One example is carbon footprint offsetting.

  • Identify one skill or talent you possess that brings you joy. How can you cultivate and share this gift more intentionally?

As we refine ourselves following these aspects of Right Livelihood, we start becoming the change we wish to see in the world. Individual small changes accumulate, creating ripples of positive change and they resonate with others. Slowly the world around us changes. Be kind to yourself as the process unfolds. May your reflections be a lantern, illuminating the path toward a more intentional and compassionate existence. 🙏

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