Right Livelihood

Compassionate action: documentary on the how

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Often a question arises, what does it actually look like, to enact compassion, to express and live Buddhist principles in a human life? Stories come down to us from historical sources, tales repeated and retold that illustrate miraculous events in a far off land in even further time periods. These stories were most likely put together to inspire followers, but for some of us modern day folks, they may fail to do just that, in fact, they may more likely do the opposite and leave us cold. Stories are simply stories after all.

Finding inspirational stories these days, we might choose to look to other sources. Charity workers, teachers, that rare political figure whose ideals produce real change, a scientist perhaps that invents a cure for something? Others are inspired by current Buddhist leaders such as the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh. Danniel Dennet, Michael Foucault  and other great thinkers might be someone else’s hero with their challenges to thought, belief and shared illusion.

I just got done watching an immensely moving documentary that impressed me very much and the story told is a true one. The events you see in the film are still taking place today with the quiet dedication of two remarkable people. It tells the tale of Phra Khru, an ex-policeman, ex-Thai Boxing champ, and current abbot in Thailand who takes in orphaned and abandoned children and raises them along with a nun, Khun Mae Ead. Both of these characters are exceptional examples of compassionate action: the real one, not the pretend super Buddha type. They gift life skills to kids and teach them how to live, take care of themselves and each other. It is a spectacular thing to see.

Tough love is how the two define their approach to these kids and one can only remain impressed and touched by the lack of grandeur, self adulation and reference to Buddhism that the two display as they quietly get on with changing these kids’ lives for the better. Buddhism is there in prayers in Thai, some meditation, but it is expressed in its most meaningful form in the genuine heartfelt prayers Phra Khru expresses towards these kids and it seems that they act, rather than as Buddhist prayers per se, as form for the depth of care and sincere wishes this man has for these lost kids.

I am often challenged by the question of how to care, how to do something that might be meaningful and helpful in this world beyond being a decent father, teacher and husband. Phra Khru manages to provide an example not through abstract holiness, but down to Earth realness and I cannot help but feel deep gratitude for this man and woman making a difference out there.

Highly recommended. Follow the link if you want to know more.

http://www.buddhaslostchildren.com/home

The Eightfold Path: Right Livelihood (2)

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Looking at our working lives
As most of us do not work in the aforementioned unethical trades, the question of right livelihood will primarily concern the way we work. It can be useful to start by looking at whether our relationship to our job, workplace and colleagues contributes to the creation or maintenance of forms of gross and subtle suffering for ourselves and for others. This may be as simple as recognising that a poor attitude affects not only the approach we take to the events of a working day, but contributes to the establishment of an unpleasant working environment and perhaps even a culture of bad attitude that permeates the working establishment. An ethical approach to work is to honour our agreements (contractually, verbally and interpersonally) and be as impeccable as possible. We dedicate ourselves to excellence as a commitment to ongoing development and we align our use of energy with practice. We use the working environment as a sphere of activity in which we firstly learn to recognise patterns of reactivity, or aversion, and how our preferences, attraction, play out. We let go of frenetic reactivity to stressful circumstances and seek to align with the movements of our working day in a way that allows us to maintain internal balance and presence. It is an ongoing art to do so. It is likely not possible in all working environments and this is the point when a change of circumstances may become necessary. If our working environment demands too many hours, too much stress inducing work, excessive aggressivity, or the giving away of our autonomy and individuality, we may need to consider a different career path if we are dedicated to long-term meditation practice.
As we are all too aware, work takes up a considerable amount of our waking life. That may be good news for some, but for many it is not. Work is a must for a great number of people: an obligation that would be preferably avoided. Even though this attitude is being tested by the global economic crisis we are currently going through, once you step outside of job anxiety, the same dissatisfaction that so many have in relationship to work remains. 
So, what can be done about this? A dichotomy seems to emerge between two basic approaches to an unsatisfactory working life. The first is to accept your lot, view experience as experience and let go of any particular preference. In the light, this is taking a sort of Zen approach of accepting what arises, which is easier said than done, but certainly possible. In the dark it’s resigning yourself to circumstances, because to change would either be impossible, or simply not worth it. These two excuses arise as pretence voices with lots of baggage in tow.
The second approach recognises a genuine necessity for change and engages in the search for more meaningful work, and more rewarding circumstances. Both are important to recognise and develop familiarity with and are certainly not mutually exclusive. The basis for working effectively with either is having a sense of the genuine priority in a given period and a sensitivity to timing.
There have been many books written about finding the job of your dreams. Many of them are very good and have certainly helped many people change their lives and find more rewarding work. For many people this is certainly something to look at, even in challenging economic times like the one we are living in. There is no doubt that when we are enthusiastic about the activity we are investing our energy and time into, we work better and we feel better doing it and it is easier usually to remain present and open to experience. In an ideal world we would all have the job of our dreams and dedicate ourselves to doing the best we can whilst at work. 

The Eightfold Path: Right livelihood (1)

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In this blog post I explore right livelihood in its typical Buddhist format, and then I look at the relationship between affecting change on our lives and dealing with life circumstances as they are, and in particular how this plays out in the world of work. The first part then will cover the Buddhist issues of right livelihood concerning job selection and our contribution to the world through how we make a living. For those of you who’ve found my take on the world of Buddhism stimulating to some degree, the second part of this blog post will explore the relationship between the self-development field and Buddhist deconstruction of the self.

Let’s get started then
Right livelihood is an extension of right action and right speech. It therefore concerns the way we interact with the world and in this case how we interact with work. In a way this step on the eightfold Path is relatively straightforward. There are two questions that we need to ask ourselves in relationship to the work we do;
Does the way I earn money and make a living contribute to suffering in this world?
Does my work support my practise and provide conditions in which I can actually practise as I need to?
If the answer is yes to the first, your work may fit into one of the following categories. There are the classical definitions found in most traditions for determining wrong livelihood.
1.      Selling arms, or dealing in weapons and instruments of death and torture
2.      Dealing in slavery including prostitution (I would add slave labour too)
3.      Dealing in meat including raising cattle for meat, slaughtering & butchering
4.      Selling alcohol, drugs, or poison (does this include tobacco?)
In looking at these definitions of wrong livelihood, it seems that we can make a clear distinction between the first and the last two. Yet, even in exploring the first two there is ambiguity and I can’t help but feel that a decisive split from associating ourselves with these two potential forms of livelihood seems to be an expression of both excessive idealism and naivete. As general guidelines, they are on point, but as is almost always the case, there will be exceptions to the rule.