Last week I asked my newsletter readers and my blog readers to answer a few questions about the content for the “right livelihood” e-course I’m currently creating.
One question I asked had to do with the term “right livelihood.” I was interested in how people responded to it as a possible name for the course.
I found it quite interesting that a number of people didn’t seem to realize that the term is a Buddhist one. It’s part of the “Noble Eightfold Path” — eight precepts that all begin with the word “Right.”
never assume . . .
I assumed that most people who are spiritually-minded would recognize the term, but I was wrong — and we all know what they say about assuming!
A number of people objected to the term as they felt it implied that there is a “wrong” way to earn one’s living. And actually, according to Buddhism, they’re right. (I’m not a practicing Buddhist, so please correct me if I’m wrong here.) The Eight-Fold Path directive is to earn your living in an ethical manner, that does no harm. Specifically, there are injunctions against: trading in weapons; trading in people (slavery or prostitution); trading in meat (including breeding animals for slaughter); trading in alcohol or addictive drugs; trading in any poisonous or toxic product.
All of those would constitute a “wrong” livelihood. We could make our own list of injunctions which, in this day and age, might include things like trading in products that require a huge carbon footprint.
earn your living with great joy and be of service to the world
The connotation of “right livelihood” today, especially to those of us who came of age in the 60's, is about more than finding an ethical way to do business (as important as that is). It has more to do with earning your living while being of service to the world. And, for me, it assumes that the thing that gives you the most joy is the way you can best be of service to the world. In fact, if something does give you great joy, that’s a significant clue that it is the unique gift you have to offer the world. And the world is waiting for what you have to offer.
“Vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need,” wrote Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner.
What does “right livelihood” mean to you?