Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nourishing Work (Right Livelihood)

"To practice RIght Livelihood, you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion."  This is how Thich Nhat Hanh starts off this section of his book.  The act of working towards Nourishing Work (Right Livelihood) involves avoiding jobs that support the suffering of people, animals, plants, or the earth.  There are many jobs that contribute to suffering and according to TNH, if you are in a job that contributes to suffeirng in the world, the work you do will have an impact on your meditations and your work to follow the Eightfold path.

However, he is very clear about understanding the challenges that we can face in balancing our spiritual path and the economic realities of our lives.  He says that in times when jobs are scarce, we can be forced to take or stay in jobs that contribute to suffering.  But we must strive to move towards work that is truly nourishing and supportive of our beliefs.  He gives several examples and I will share two that I feel are particularly helpful.

Firstly, he talks about a man who owns a cattle ranch which was passed onto him from his parents.  He is a good Buddhist, so he treats his cows with as much kindness as he can.  He even runs his own slaughterhouse to be certain that the cows experience as little suffering as possible when they are slaughtered.  But he cannot leave his ranch and take another job as he must make a living to support his wife and children.  In this case, TNH suggests that the man continue to meditate and work with his teachers, in hopes that as he continues to develop his spiritual path, he will eventually discover a road out of this situation where his livelihood involves the killing of animals.  I really appreciated the insight and awareness that came with this example.  All too often, I think that high goals are placed by spiritual guides, with little understanding of the real life challenges that some of us face.

The second story is about a buddhist school teacher whose job allows them to experience Nourishing Work.  In their job, they  get to cultivate deep listening and understanding in the process of educating children.  The buddhist who is a teacher may feel that they have a higher moral character than the butcher in the town, but we must all be aware of how our Nourishing Actions have an impact on the ability of others to have Nourishing Work.  If the teacher eats meat, they must carry some of the burden of the butcher's job, for even if their job doesn't involve killing, their role as a consumer creates a need for the butcher's role in the community.  I feel that this too is a wonderful story as it showcases that we are all very interdependent and that we need to recognize how our actions and choices have an impact not only on other people, but on the choices they are able to make.

Several times in this small chapter, TNH says that if you have a job that allows for you to experience Nourishing Work you should be grateful that you do.  He also suggests that we all work to support the creation of more jobs that line up with Buddhist principles of peace and joy.

*This post is a piece of a larger discussion that begins with the post: Lessons from the Heart of the Buddha's Teachings.*