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:
- Right View
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- 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.”
- Not killing
- Not stealing
- Not misusing sex
- Not lying
- 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.