“Right Livelihood”

My goal in writing this article is not to insult Buddhists, as I have learned a great deal from Buddhist teaching over the years. I want to invite open minded Buddhists to share their thoughts on what I have written so far on this topic. I was a former practicing Buddhist for many years, but since that time, I overcame my initial prejudices against Jesus. I wanted to follow a spiritual path that did not involve any form of a deity in my earlier journey. Most Buddhists come from a similar perspective. There is no need to invoke a Higher Power or God, they insist, because the Buddha did not invoke this Power himself.

However, when we look for spiritual guidance from any living guru, or deceased spiritual/enlightened being, we are naturally assuming they have/ had a better perspective on things than we have.  This much is reasonable. But the crux of the matter is how much we can put our faith in the teachings of another fallible person like ourselves.

It is easy to list all the arguments for the non-existence of a Supreme Being (God) as many have done throughout the centuries. (I know I did in my atheist days). But if you are a sincere spiritual seeker, you would be acutely aware that there is in fact a spiritual dimension to (and beyond) ourselves and the world around us. This awareness of the spiritual nature of our reality is what led me to believe in a Supreme Being. If we are endowed with needs and cravings (like hunger & thirst) that are able to be satisfied in the purely physical world, why then would we NOT be able to satisfy our desires of a spiritual or metaphysical nature?

Please dismiss what passes for “Christianity” today and just look at Jesus’ own teachings in the Gospels. For those who find it hard to accept the validity or historicity of Jesus’ recorded teachings in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, consider that these teachings were recorded in the lifetime of Jesus’ own followers. (About 30 years after the Crucifixion of Jesus).  The first recorded teachings we have from the Buddha are nearly 400 years after his death. Which is more likely to be corrupted by myth or muddied or embellished through the expanse of time?

In Buddhist teaching, there is what is called the “Noble Eightfold Path” which was supposedly first taught by the Buddha (aka Siddhārtha Gautama) after he was believed to have attained enlightenment. It is widely believed that the Buddha lived roughly 500 years before Jesus Christ.

In the Buddha’s first sermon after enlightenment, he taught his first disciples the way of living, known as the “Noble Eightfold Path” The 8 “folds” of this path are presented as such:

  1. Right View
  2. Right Intention
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration

It is well worth noting that each “fold” has the prefix of “right”; thereby necessarily implying that there IS such thing as “wrong.” For many people who are turned off by “organized religion,” (understandably so in my opinion, although Buddhism does also belong in this category as well) they may say it is because we have no right to “judge” others on a moral basis.  Most people who have rejected the grossly distorted/hypocritical version of “Christianity” that we see all around today and instead prefer a “non-judgmental” spiritual practice such as Buddhism will have to admit that there IS such thing as right and wrong. It’s right there in the Noble Eightfold Path.

The aim of this article is specifically focused on one particular fold of the eightfold path, and that is “Right Livelihood.” According to most Buddhist teaching, Right Livelihood is commonly defined as such:

Right Livelihood is, first, a way to earn a living without compromising the Precepts*. It is a way of making a living that does no harm to others…  the Buddha said, “A lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.”

*PRECEPTS are

  1. Not killing
  2. Not stealing
  3. Not misusing sex
  4. Not lying
  5. Not abusing intoxicants

On the surface, these sound like reasonable conditions for “gainful employment.” Right? (*see below this article for a brief description of where the term “gainful employment” comes from).

Here is where things get a little tricky, and this is why I have chosen to devote an article to this one point in Buddhist teaching that appears to have some overlap with what Jesus taught, but we will begin to see how vastly different they are under closer examination.

According to Buddhist teaching, it would be wrong to work at a gas (petrol) station for three reasons. I only use this as one random example of how easy it is to deem some jobs as obviously wrong, like selling heroin, while other “normal” jobs do in fact violate Buddhist core principles. Here are those 3 reasons:

1: Selling of  intoxicants such as cigarettes and alcohol, which also fit under the category of selling poisons.

2: Selling poisons, like those mentioned above, as well as gasoline (petrol) itself, which is a gross environmental pollutant. (We won’t even begin to go into HOW this fuel is acquired through the use of war…)

3: Selling meats, which nearly every gas station sells in their convenience store.

After just considering this single example of a typical job that most people would not classify as “wrong,” we can see that by applying even Buddha’s teaching, (not Jesus’ teaching) many people who reject the teaching of Jesus on the matter of working for Money vs. God,  find it difficult to see someone as “non-judgmental” as the Buddha placing severe restrictions on his followers.

It’s true that Jesus’ message about giving our time/lives to God instead of Money is a VERY radical teaching, and this may sound too severe a teaching for most people. Jesus already assumed this would be the case, as He said:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14)

In a similar fashion, the Buddha reportedly almost neglected even TEACHING the truths he discovered after his enlightenment:

According to a story in the Āyācana Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya VI.1) — a scripture found in the Pāli and other canons — immediately after his awakening, the Buddha debated whether or not he should teach the Dharma to others. He was concerned that humans were so overpowered by ignorance, greed and hatred that they could never recognise the path, which is subtle, deep and hard to grasp. However, in the story, Brahmā Sahampati convinced him, arguing that at least some will understand it. The Buddha relented, and agreed to teach.

So if the Buddha understood that we humans are basically evil and wondered if he should even waste his time teaching, could we be a little more accepting of Jesus’ attitude about His own way being pretty darn narrow?

By all means, if you are a practicing/professing Buddhist, look closely at your own spiritual tradition which also says that we have a LOT to overcome inside ourselves when it comes to greed, pride, hatred, etc.

Bringing this back to the original intention of this article, look at what you do with your time when it comes to work. What are the far reaching and often (conveniently?) overlooked aspects of your job which do not fall in line with your own beliefs? We know how easy it is to point at “organized religion” and claim they are not following the commands of THEIR teacher, but are you?

*Gainful employment is a term that is used by professing Christians who take offense at Jesus’ teaching that we cannot work for God AND Money, i.e, we have to work for EITHER God OR Money. (See Matthew 6:24-34; Luke 14:33, John 6:27; Luke 12:33)

I eagerly await your feedback.

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About livewithoutlovingmoney

Welcome to the intersection of economics & and love! We are Christians who are disgusted with the money system worship of the Churches. We call it "Churchianity" and nothing could be further from what Jesus Christ taught than what is commonly preached in most churches around the world. His profoundly revolutionary and unrivaled teachings about love, if practiced, open our eyes to the matrix of greed that he came to free us from. Read more to discover the message that centuries of church dogma & doctrine have attempted to hide from you.
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2 Responses to “Right Livelihood”

  1. Tom says:

    I very much appreciate your distinction between Christianity as it is so often practiced, which is to say, as a business, and Christianity as Christ taught it. I also read with great interest your post here about Buddhism and what you call “right livelihood.” I’ve prepared a few responses for you to think about, as I have thought about yours.

    1. You write: “However, when we look for spiritual guidance from any living guru, or deceased spiritual/enlightened being, we are naturally assuming they have/ had a better perspective on things than we have. This much is reasonable. But the crux of the matter is how much we can put our faith in the teachings of another fallible person like ourselves.”
    This is untrue and a misreading of the Dharma. In fact, if you actually read the words of the Buddha himself in the Dhammapada, he admonishes us NOT to follow him on faith, but rather to experience the teachings themselves, first hand. The Buddha taught that it is within everyone’s ability to achieve enlightenment—this, in Buddhist parlance, is called our “Buddha Nature” and it is something that makes us all equal. He did not want us to believe him for what he had done, or to think that he was somehow “better” than anyone else.

    You write: “For those who find it hard to accept the validity or historicity of Jesus’ recorded teachings in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, consider that these teachings were recorded in the lifetime of Jesus’ own followers. (About 30 years after the Crucifixion of Jesus).  The first recorded teachings we have from the Buddha are nearly 400 years after his death. Which is more likely to be corrupted by myth or muddied or embellished through the expanse of time?
    The real answer to this question is not a matter of “likelihood.” The reality is both texts have been “corrupted by myth,” and embellished. They are historical documents and as such are inherently subjective interpretations of oral tradition—and the oral tradition in Tibet and India were far more ritualistic, and thus “likely” to be faithful to original teachings, than they were in the West. This is inescapable and true of all historical texts—there is no such thing as an objectively true history of anything. The author of any text chooses to omit and include those elements he finds offensive and irrelevant on one hand, and essential and important on the other—objective history is a myth.

    In your discussion of the Eight-Fold Path, you write:
    It is well worth noting that each “fold” has the prefix of “right”; thereby necessarily implying that there IS such thing as “wrong.”

    The problem here is that you fail to understand that the word “right” in each step is an English word, translated from the original Sanskrit word “samyak.” In very few Sanskrit—English translations to we find the word “right” used for this word. More frequently, we find words such as “complete,” “essential,” “full,” or “total.” While each of these words certainly has its opposite (incomplete, superfluous, empty, or partial), none of these more accurate translations carries with it the negative connotations of the word “right” and the implicit judgment that goes along with that very loaded term. So you base this entire argument, that Buddhism is as “judgmental” as Christianity on the fundamental mistranslation of one single word. But the reality is Buddhism is not, contrary to Christianity, judgmental—there is no “judgment day” on the Buddhist calendar.

    This, unfortunately, contaminates the rest of your argument about working in a gas station.
    You write: “According to Buddhist teaching, it would be wrong to work at a gas (petrol) station for three reasons. I only use this as one random example of how easy it is to deem some jobs as obviously wrong, like selling heroin, while other “normal” jobs do in fact violate Buddhist core principles.

    This is problematic from the inception. It is, under Buddhist teachings, not “wrong” to work in a gas station. It might be considered “incomplete” or “empty” but not “wrong.” If one works at a gas station and does her job to the best of her ability, without harming anyone, she is, in fact, doing a service to the many thousands of people who come to her for the very real need for petrol. Yes, of course, petrol is a poison, and it harms the environment as well, but this is not the type of poison the Buddha was concerned with. It is a fool’s errand to take writings out of the historical context in which they were written and pretend they mean the same thing today that they meant 3,000 years ago. That goes for the Bible too by the way, lest we start stoning all the cheating spouses in the world.

    The historical fact is that, when The Buddha was alive, there was a great number people who actually made a living as a “professional” poisoners—silent assassins of sorts. People would hire them to concoct a poison to take out business rivals, politicians, military leaders, lovers, and the like. This is the type of job The Buddha was concerned with, not people who pump gas. Moreover, the “business of meat” is, of course, the butcher—they didn’t have Slim Jims and 7-11s in the Buddha’s day. A man who makes his living by harvesting and killing animals is qualitatively different from a man who sits in a chair, perhaps even occasionally offering a smile, and takes your two dollars for that summer sausage that you elected to buy.
    As for alcohol and intoxicants, you’re right—gas stations, (in some states) do sell liquor. However, you must be mindful that the precepts are not “commandments” as we find in Christianity. They are simply a list of the qualities or attributes of an enlightened being—if you want enlightenment, follow the path, if not, don’t; there is NO judgment, period. Buddha is not sitting on anyone’s shoulder saying “do this or else,” or “don’t do that, or else.” To the contrary, he provides the tools to achieve enlightenment and the rest is up to you, and hopefully your teachers will assist you along the way. He encourages empirical exploration of the teachings, not blind faith. Avoiding intoxicants is a way to achieve the clarity of mind that is necessary for enlightenment, nothing more, nothing less—there is nothing inherently “evil” about beer. The gas station man selling a six-pack of Bud Light is not in any danger of damnation for doing his job; but he is, in doing his job, (albeit indirectly) inhibiting another human being from achieving the clarity necessary to attain enlightenment—thus, it is not the best role in society—I would argue that the Anheuser Busch corporation is far more culpable than our gas station worker. Are there more “full” jobs, more “complete” jobs than working in a gas station, yes, certainly; but if you do your work dutifully and don’t actively harm others, then it can easily be considered a job on the path.

    Lastly, I address the following. You write:

    “He was concerned that humans were so overpowered by ignorance, greed and hatred that they could never recognise the path, which is subtle, deep and hard to grasp. However, in the story, Brahmā Sahampati convinced him, arguing that at least some will understand it. The Buddha relented, and agreed to teach.”

    First of all, you copied and pasted this from Wikipedia, which is a pretty sad way to engage in a debate, and a rather flimsy platform on which to base fundamental decisions about spirituality. Alas, I’m hesitant to even address this profound lack of scholarship, but in the interest of dialogue…I will.
    You write: “So if the Buddha understood that we humans are basically evil and wondered if he should even waste his time teaching, could we be a little more accepting of Jesus’ attitude about His own way being pretty darn narrow?”

    First, I’m not quite sure how you translate “overpowered by ignorance, greed and hatred” into “we humans are basically evil.” I think many of your misunderstandings of Buddhism are based on a fundamental misreading of terminology and reading poor translations (like Wikipedia). In any case, I would point you to a superbly researched and elegantly written article on this story of the Buddha’s alleged “reluctance,” written by Dhivan Thomas Jones of Cambridge. You can find it here: http://www.academia.edu/2514515/Why_Did_Brahma_Ask_the_Buddha_to_Teach

    To address the specific words here, however, “ignorance” in Buddhism has absolutely nothing to do with being a bad person, or, to use your term, “evil.” Ignorance simply means unenlightened—one who has not seen the true nature of reality, the inherent ephemerality and interconnectedness of all things. Greed and hatred are, again, in no way related to “evil.” Greed is simply wanting more than what is necessary for survival, a departure from The Middle Way. Hatred stems from these two—greed and ignorance. Because we cannot see what truly is, we believe that our happiness lies outside of ourselves, that somehow we will be happy if we just get that new job, or graduate, or find that new girl or guy, or that new house, or whatever. And when we see others who have achieved what we think is the solution to our own problems, hatred and jealousy develop for absolutely no reason. These are essentially taught in the first and second Noble Truths: All life is suffering, and craving or desire is the cause of that suffering. This fact is what the Buddha lamented, and for good reason. But if you read the article by Professor Jones, you’ll see that there was no reluctance on the part of the — in fact the story isn’t even about the Buddha. What is more important, though, I wonder, that he may have actually debated whether to try, or that he actually did it for the remainder of his life? Isn’t that what matters in the end?
    I enjoyed your comments.
    Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your thoughts and time invested in them, Tom. I think we would agree that the Buddha had many good things to share, however, the goal of the article is to question a significant compromise made by him that unites just about every spiritual leader/teacher before and since.

      It’s the notion that we can attain true peace, happiness, enlightenment, whatever, WITHIN the confines of an inherently corrupt system. While there is SOME truth in that idea, this is where we see Jesus parting ways with the rest, in that he proposes the most profoundly radical solution: stop working for pay and START working for love instead!

      Unlike the Buddha at least implicitly, if not directly taught, Jesus didn’t teach that there would need to be a special, “spiritual” class of people, i.e. monks and nuns, who would be provided for by others who must continue to slave away for the system to help take care of them. It’s nice to be able to speak as a spiritual authority while others tend to all of your needs by staying chained to the rat race, but we think (as former Buddhists ourselves) it would be better to help free these wage slaves AS WELL AS “enLIGHTening” them along the Way.

      And that’s the beauty of this radical proposition–it enables everyone, not just the spiritually elite, to engage full time in a new and exciting world where the fullness of “neighbor love” could be practically implemented across the board. All resources COULD be literally shared in this vision to the point that first noble truth that “life is suffering” loses its defeatist meaning at once.

      Like

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