The Burmese lay teacher Satya Narayan Goenka, said: “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 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.

Knowing that the economic aspect of a community profoundly affects its other aspects, he once said, “The layperson’s objective [is to] live a long and dignified life with the wealth obtained through rightful means.” He 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… And aren’t we seeing that now… how quickly our ideas and behaviors change… we all have the right to work, to feed and house our families.  A hungry person is an angry person. When we’re 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…

So, the Buddha taught that there are Five Aspects of Right Livelihood. These are:

  • One should have “a peaceful occupation” and should not gain from harming living beings or violating their rights.
  • Growth and awareness – We can use our livelihood to grow in consciousness
  • Simplicity – To have spiritual aspirations and build on those in our work without complicating either
  • Service – To help others, to serve with love and compassion no matter what livelihood we have chosen; and
  • One should have an appropriate happiness. There are five aspects considered conducive to an appropriate happiness:
  • To have work and to be skilled, efficient, energetic, earnest, and learned in whatever profession on chooses;
  • To earn a living wage;
  • To be content and live within one’s means; to conscientiously protect one’s income and family’s means of support;
  • To have good work that is honest and contributes to the well-being of all
  • To make a steady effort and work well to make a useful contribution to society

I read this, by Krishnan Venkatesh, today as I was preparing for this talk: “Many of us crave careers about which we can be wholeheartedly enthusiastic, but it can be a good thing to be in two minds about our jobs and to not identify with them too strongly. In Pali, the prefix samma means “complete, perfected,” rather than simply “right,” with its connotations of orthodox correctness. Thus, samma-ajiva may mean something more like “livelihood fully understood and rightly conducted, with all its tensions.” This would involve a saner relation to our work lives, in which we strive to be the best we can, and yet do not expect our jobs to give us the impossible, namely complete happiness and fulfillment.”

Then the Buddha taught that there are Three Positive Aspects of Right Livelihood:

  • Rightness regarding actions: as workers we should fulfill our duties diligently and conscientiously, not wasting time, claiming to have worked longer hours, padding the expense account or pilfering from the company’s goods.
  • Rightness regarding persons: due respect and consideration should be shown to employers, employees, colleagues, and customers. An employer, for example, should assign his workers positions according to their ability, pay them adequately, promote them when they deserve a promotion and give them occasional vacations and bonuses. Colleagues should try to cooperate rather than compete, while one should be equitable in one’s dealings with customers.
  • Rightness regarding objects: business transactions should be presented truthfully, without misrepresentations of the work to be provided, the quality or quantity of work, deceptive advertising, or subterfuge. Even when we present ourselves, we should be honest about what we can do, how we’ll do it, and when we’ll have it done.

And finally The Four Standards for Gaining Wealth:

  • One should acquire wealth only be legal means;
  • One should acquire wealth peacefully, without coercion or violence;
  • One should acquire wealth honestly – not by trickery or deceit, and
  • One should acquire wealth in ways which do not entail harm and suffering for others.

Thich Nhat Hanh taught that Right Livelihood is not just a personal matter…but that it is our collective karma.  We humans have created an elaborate civilization in which we depend on each other for everything. Our work provides goods or services to others, and we get paid to support ourselves and our families. Maybe your work brings you great joy and fulfillment; maybe it’s just a way to pay the bills, either way we can appreciate the value of our work.

Jack Kornfield wrote, “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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