Mindfulness Yoga – Right Livelihood
Lecture recorded notes on September 19, 2013
I have a student who owns a small café in Causeway Bay, a place for people to get together to drink, smoke and chat in the evening. Nights after nights he stayed in the café socializing with his guests, drinking and smoking with them. He noticed this lifestyle has taxed his body, and he became tired of gossiping with his clients about others while drinking, he decided not to continue with this business model, he wanted to offer something that is more healthy for himself and his customers. He has stopped serving alcohol in his café, choosing to close early, and also converting part of the café into a yoga-clothing store. After this change, he gains a healthier lifestyle and is also happy that he is able to offer something more meaningful to himself and others.
This student has demonstrated the importance of how Right Livelihood has an effect on our body, heart, and mind. As the 5th Noble Eightfold Path, Right Livelihood is about making a living without affecting our spiritual development. Our way of living should allow us to continue to nourish love, compassion and understanding within and around us.
Our job is Right Livelihood as long as it does not cause harm to the person doing the job or it does not cause harm to other being. Defining Right Livelihood can be more complicated than this sounds because the reality is never black and white. No job is perfect unless it is done by someone who is perfect, so our practice of Right Livelihood is to try our best to minimize harm to others and ourselves.
Imagine doing a job that asks you to go against your personal value, belief, or even your own moral system, the mind will definitely be disturbed. Imagine you are a fish vendor, every day you have to pick out different fishes, hit their heads hard with a knife until they become unconscious, then you chop their heads off and slice their bodies into different pieces selling to your customers. You have practiced the 5 Mindfulness Trainings and have realized everyday you are creating harm to the sea creatures. You do not want to continue with this job but you have to because this is your family business. Then you try to meditate, offering loving kindness to the fishes you killed, but as soon as you closed your eyes, the imagines of your bloody hands and the struggling of the fishes made you difficult to stay in your meditation.
In order for us to continue to develop our spiritual understanding, we need to find a job that is in line with our spiritual practice and personal value. There will be time when we experience stress, aversion, and struggles at work, but we do not want to have a job that causes us excessive agitation, making us hard to meditate and engage in our spiritual practice. It does take some wisdom to examine our job nature to see if it qualifies as Right Livelihood, but this can be more complex than you think. So here are a few questions to help us reflect and contemplate about our job nature:
1. Is my job an inherently wrong occupation?
Does my job involve with manufacturing, buying, selling, promoting, or using guns or other weapons? Does it involve with intoxicants or poisons such as drugs or other addictive intoxicants? Does it involve with harming or killing other living beings? Harming here does not only apply to physical harm, but emotional harm as well. For example, if we work for a tabloid newspaper or at a radio talk show that contaminates others with wrong speech, then these jobs are also considered as wrong occupations. Owning casinos or other gambling establishments are also considered as wrong occupations because such industry creates a environment for others to water the seeds of greed, aversions and ignorance within the mind consciousness.
Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether a job is considered as Right Livelihood. If you are a sales person trying to sell your customers products that do not offer what they are said to do, then your job is considered to be wrong occupation. Whereas if you work at the same company but you are responsible for the accounting department, then this accounting job is relatively less harmful than the frontline sales position. So the question you can ask yourself is, “Am I directly causing harm with my job? Am I intentionally causing harm to others?”
2. Does my job cause me to break the Five Mindfulness Trainings?
If you go back to our previous lectures, you can check whether your job prevents you from practicing the Five Mindfulness Trainings:
1. Reverence for Life – does my job involve killing and harming life?
2. True happiness – does my job prevent me to practice simple living?
3. True love – does my job allow me to be faithful to my other half and engage in a long-term relationship?
4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening – Does my job allow me to speak in a loving and kind way?
5. Right Nourishment – does my job involve with intoxicants and poisons? Can I nourish myself in a wholesome way with my job?
Please notice that some qualified job can turn into Wrong Livelihood if we are not mindful. Say a government official responsible for passing laws can either practice Right Livelihood by making decisions for the good of the citizens, or he/she can turn the job into wrong livelihood by receiving bribes and pass laws that only benefit the rich and cause the poor to suffer.
We want to engage in a job that allows us to continue to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
3. Are there other aspects of my job that disturb me and keep my mind from settling down?
As mentioned before, as long as we are not enlightened, our job will somehow stimulate our seeds of ignorance, attachment, and aversion. We are not trying to avoid all stressful situations at work, but if a job does constitute an unsolvable problem, then it is something that we need to ponder on.
Everyone has a different response to stressful situations, a situation can bother someone a lot but does not stress another person. So the best way is to check with our minds to see how the work situation has affected the tranquility of the mind.
For example, two people working for the same company have found out their bosses are utilizing the existing business to do money laundry. Person A is very disturbed by this matter, thinking how he is indirectly helping his boss with the money laundry, and he starts to become frustrated and worried about his career, also has aversion towards his boss. Whereas person B feels surprised but yet he does not feel frustrated by the act of his boss. He understands the nature of interbeing and thinks about the boss’ unskillful actions are due to many causes and conditions. Some say both employees should quit the job, but some say only person A needs to quit the job. There is no fine line to this answer but if the job causes a lot of disturbance to our minds, then we need to consider making adjustments to the situation.
We always want to do the right thing to protect and nourish the wholesomeness of our minds. So in the above example, staying in the company but numbing our feelings is not wholesome, staying in the company with aversion is not wholesome either. However, leaving the company with rage and resentment is also not considered wholesome. We need to take good care of our mind so it becomes calm for us to make the right decision, whether we stay or go.
Even though we do not want to support unethical acts at work, we still need to take our time to make wise choices at the right time. Quitting the job is one option but it is not the only one. We can choose to transfer to another branch that does not inflict (or minimizing) harm to others and ourselves. At every stage, we need to ask ourselves, “what actions can I take with equanimity, loving kindness, compassion, and care for all beings?”
If your discomfort comes from the behavior of another person or people at your workplace, remember to look into their pain, suffering, and ignorance behind it. No one wants to be unkind and mean to others. Bad people are bad people because their minds are filled with pain and they do not have space to think for others (sometimes their pain is so severe that they don’t even have space to think for themselves). We can practice sending out loving kindness to them. Nothing is permanent, including being a bad person. Wrongdoers might not choose to engage in wrong actions if they are constantly being showered by loving kindness each day.
Right Livelihood is a goal to be reached gradually as our spiritual practice matures.