Working with Others

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Right livelihood

According to the concept of "right livelihood," from the original eightfold path enunciated by the Buddha, monks have not been permitted to engage in worldly pursuits. They receive their food as alms, and in some cultures they are literally forbidden to touch money.

For laypeople, right livelihood originally stressed abstention from any occupation that harms living beings, such as slaughtering animals or selling weapons. Social thinker Theodore Roszak writes, "The Buddha, in his wisdom, made 'right livelihood' (another word for vocation) one of the steps to enlightenment." At first, Roszak's interpretation sounds oversimplified, but it prompts a closer look at possible links between vocation and awakening.

What are your criteria for right livelihood? What aspects of vocation matter to you?

Today, even when harmful activities are avoided (to the best of one's knowledge), the personal, ethical, and economic issues are so complicated that it is no longer clear what qualifies as right livelihood. New definitions cite new criteria, such as work that provides personal fulfillment, serves other people, and makes a difference in the world.

A key test is whether or not one's job accords with one's deepest intentions: the best kind of work is "on purpose."

Are certain jobs simply immoral? Are the privileged obliged to use their privileges to help others? Is it wrong to want money?

On the eightfold path

Right livelihood is one of the paths of the Buddha's eightfold path.

Right Livelihood means to avoid any life that brings shame. It embodies the other seven steps along the eightfold path to enlightenment: Right Thought involves love and devotion through work. Right Mindfulness means consciously choosing your path and your work. Right Understanding evolves from consciously choosing work that is the best of ourselves and having knowledge of our values. Right Speech implies compassion relating to others through our work. Right Concentration means doing work with care and intense awareness and love. Right Action implies doing your work and having no attachment to the results. Right Effort is about choosing work you can do a whole life, keeping yourself in a state of constant learning and beginner’s mind.   Jack Kornfield

Reflect on this by Jack Kornfield:

The bottom line is this: work that embodies love, devotion, and service is as much an attitude as the actions we take.”