Right Livelihood

Satya Narayan Goenka, a leading Burmese lay teacher, says: “This is the Teaching of the Buddha as it affects the lay-person’s life. It is at once an ideal and a method. As an ideal, it aims at the evolution of a person toward the attainment of Nirvana — in this very life itself, by one’s own efforts. As a method, it teaches us that the ideal can become real by the practice and development of the Noble Eightfold Path. Each of us develops according to our own ability; according to our needs, using our own minds, by our own efforts come to know ourselves, train ourselves, and free ourselves from craving and attachment, aversion, and most of all — from ignorance. The Buddha taught Dharma – the way to liberation – which is universal. He never taught a sectarian religion.”

The great thing about the Buddha-Dharma is that it is a teaching for everyone. The Buddha’s teaching opened the doors of social freedom to all, regardless of caste, color, sex, or class. In his teachings all people unite “even as do the waters of the rivers that flow into the sea.” Our religion or our parentage or social class doesn’t really matter, what does matter is the skillfulness of our actions.  In many, many of his talks, the Buddha gave practical guidance for the lay life and sound advice to cope with life’s difficulties. The economic aspect of a community profoundly affects its other aspects. The Buddha said that society, as with all conditioned phenomena, “has no finality of form and therefore changes with the passage of time.” People are driven to action by beliefs and desires; so social change is created by ideology and economics… we all have the right to work, to feed and house our families, to earn our own self-respect.  A hungry person is an angry person. When we are restless, irritable, and discontented we can hardly be in a condition to develop our spiritual or our ethical life. Economic insecurity leads to all kinds of problems not just tension and irritability, but loss of self-respect…isolation… we have to feel valuable; that we have a place in the world.

Jack Kornfield said, “You know, you can work and treat each person you meet as somebody else to deal with in your work, or you could treat each person you meet as your brother or your sister, or you could do what Mother Teresa did in her work and treat each person you meet as Jesus, and care for them, and wash their feet, or love them, or do whatever you do in the same way you might love Jesus or the Buddha. You can work on one day and just get through the day or the night. And you can work on another day and have each person that comes to you, and each person you meet, be a place where your heart really opens, and where you share a love and a caring and a tenderness.”

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