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Continuing the theme of work from previous threads, I have been deeply considering right livelihood and the spiritual life over the last few weeks. There are several different angles from which I'd like to examine what it means to be a "working Buddhist" in our modern western world.
First of all, the Right Livelihood angle. The Anguttara Nikaya III.208 asserts that the right livelihood involves not trading in weapons, living beings, meat, alcoholic drink or poison. That's reasonably straightforward, because there are a lot of professions in the western world which do not involve these things.
Second, I came across this quote while researching Right Livelihood:
Right Livelihood is an important aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha encouraged his disciples to make their living in a way that does not cause harm and ideally that is ethically positive. However in the East, where most serious Buddhist practitioners have been monks, this has been given little attention.
Given that almost everyone’s life includes an economic dimension, work and career need to be integrated into life as a Buddhist. Most of us spend the majority of their waking lives at work, so it’s important to assess how our work affects our mind and heart. How can work become meaningful? How can it be a support not a hindrance to spiritual practice — a place to deepen our awareness and kindness?
This is setting a higher bar, not just being harmless in the work we do but in fact trying to support our spiritual practice through the work. There are many jobs that give opportunities to bring new situations into our practice, but I think there will be a division between those where it brings challenges, and those where it supports the practice.
Third, I have been thinking about how to go a step further, how to positively contribute to society while furthering the dharma. This is particularly hard because I'm not sure I'm suited to be a yoga instructor or mindfulness teacher or Buddhist psychotherapist or Buddhist lay prison chaplain, and the pool of jobs where you have an opportunity to talk about the dharma to an interested public is not at all large.
As you get successively more ambitious in how much Buddhism you want to include in your working life, the niches seem to get smaller. In part that is because there just aren't that many Buddhist businesses in Europe, where the percentage of Buddhists is somewhat lower than in the US.
Anyway, I've not yet decided how to proceed... in the short term I may take a job of the first type, while trying to line up something that satisfies the second or even third points.
I would welcome your thoughts...