The words of Hanh are yet again resonating vibrantly within me. His work in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings: Transforming Suffering into Peace and Liberation, is some of the most powerful writing I have read this year. During his chapters on the Noble Eightfold Path he discussed principles that persist outside of Buddhism, and stand to improve the lives of all who read them. Though each has its own beautiful correlation to our lives, the one I wanted to focus on today is Right Livelihood.
What I’ve gleaned from reading is that Right Livelihood is living freely, without capitalizing on others. It is gaining your livelihood while also lifting up the world and others around you. Our livelihood must come from the elevation of the existences in experience around us. As soon as we seek to make a livelihood by extracting it from someone else we are not in “Right Livelihood”. Once our mission becomes to capitalize or manipulate someone into giving us money, we are outside of Right Livelihood.
I have never identified as Buddhist, and still wouldn’t dream to claim myself to be, but this idea of Right Livelihood is the epitome of the combination of ideas that have always driven who I am at my core. Growing into adulthood and desiring to make money led me to the darkest and most suffering times in my life. I have never been in a darker place than when I was led by money, and being convinced that money was the path to success and freedom, but that couldn’t be more wrong.I had always felt that money was necessary, and that for me to be free or happy I would need to maintain a certain amount of money. A baseline budget I would call it. However this enchained me into a system of trading time for money and never receiving the value of the time traded, it was not freedom.
Freedom cannot be derived from anything else, especially material items. Freedom cannot be freedom when we tie it to something else. This concept plagues humanity, especially citizens of the U.S., the supposed “Land of the free.” How can a land be free when freedom is contingent on an imaginary number listed next to our names in some database. How can we be free if our entire freedom requires us to exchange green notes of reservation to obtain water, air, or shelter? How does a person claim freedom behind the bars of monetary confinement, where the laws of the land are easily thrown aside if you have enough of those flimsy green notes. We laugh and jest at family board games, the insanity of the “get out of jail free” card, as if a person could ever. Then we watch as pale man after pale rich man lives a life of lawless leisure demonstrated by that same game. We endeavor to free ourselves of constraint by tying ourselves to the bricks of earthen earnings.
This is quite the opposite of Right Livelihood. Hanh says those selling drugs, scams, and taking money at every turn are the ones living in Wrong Livelihood. My soul soars with the knowledge that this is the Way. The path of freedom and Right Livelihood paved with the simple desire to do good by our brothers and sisters, the extensions of existence all around us. Bringing ourselves to freedom of servitude, by embedding our mission with service to existence in all our actions, thoughts, and especially our livelihood. Gaining only because you bring gain to all things. Feeling intensely the loss that comes when we are all detrimentally impacted by greed and fear.
Choosing to Decide
Hanh explains that once we resolve to make this change in our life, to live livelihood based on the elevation of existence, then existence will show you the path to achieve it. It is clear however, that making the decision, or having the knowledge of Right Livelihood doesn’t mean we can simply walk away from our jobs. We cannot abandon the needs of our family in an effort to find a more “right” way of living, but that is not what is being asked of us. We only have to gain the desire, see the mission. Emerson wrote “Once you make a decision, the Universe conspires to make it happen” and this sentiment is mirrored in Hanh’s belief that once we acknowledge RIght Livelihood, and seek it out, the Way will naturally begin to illuminate in front of us. We have to be willing to make the change, and see it become real in our life, before the actual events of change have the room to transpire.
Maria Popova of the Marginalian wrote in her article “16 Life-Learning from 16 Year of the Marginalian” that we should “Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone.” Note that she didn’t say to forsake money. She didn’t say elect to be broke. She, one of the most successful writers and genuine thinkers of our time, simply said to do it for more than these material things. It is fine to receive them, and in fact you probably should, but ensure you are doing it for more. The first ever article of this blog, and the credo of my life since is to “Work for More than Money” the moral being the same. Accept money for your livelihood because that is required of us at this time, but ensure that we are not devoting our entire livelihood to money, because then we are not free, but dominated by the concept of freedom.
How can we use the perspective of the four elements, earth, water, air, and fire, to understand this idea of Right Livelihood? Elemental earth demonstrates itself inside of our routine, our work, and our foundations, however Right Livelihood requires more than that. It is an earthen routine invigorated with the fire of consciousness. It is where our established routine provides our life with sustenance and foundation. If we only live the earthen routine, focused only on the monetary sustenance, then we become imbalanced. It bogs us down and makes us heavy with this dense earthen energy. This is why Right Livelihood is so important, it provides the foundation of the rest of our path, while maintaining connection to our purpose. Mindfully understand the relation between earth and fire, remember that your livelihood is your immaterial sustenance, and only allow yourself to gather form and solidarity from what the Buddhists would call “Right Livelihood.”