Right Livelihood

Right Livelihood is the fifth precept in the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path. I have found this one the most difficult for me to find a way to apply to my online interactions and communications (and, thus, write about).

The precept is meant to speak to the way we make income or take on tasks. It discourages making any profit from those businesses or dealings which harm others, ourselves, or otherwise do not respect life. In the Buddha’s time, this spoke to things such as drug dealing, weapon manufacturing or sales, slavery, butchery, and even fortune telling. While I’m sure there are people using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to help facilitate such transactions, I have not had any first hand experience with such. I certainly do not traffic in any of these nor do I ever plan to. Therefore, it would be easy for me to call this one "done" and move along.

But, I don’t think any of us should get off so easily when navigating the Eightfold Path. Each precept is meant as a prompt for our deeper consideration. Therefore, I feel compelled to seek any way my business dealings might be falling short of my greater spiritual goals. In a way, to borrow the popular Christian meme, I find myself asking "What would the Buddha do?".

Is the price of my products a fair one on both sides of the transaction? Am I paying too much attention to impermanent metrics like sales, downloads, or followers? Am I advertising my products and services in a way that is boastful, deceptive, or insensitive? All of these could just as easily fall under and be addressed by the concepts within Right Livelihood.

Right livelihood also stresses that we do not take our work for granted. That all of our actions, especially our daily tasks, are the result of all that came before and simply a contribution to a greater whole. That pride and hubris in our success is simply a recipe for suffering when change in such inevitably occurs so we should not dwell on it. So, to use social media to constantly promote our good work and congratulate ourselves on our own success simply makes this insecurity apparent to the world. Work that is consistently good speaks for itself.

I use the concept of Right Livelihood to remind me to keep my focus on doing work that contributes to the greater good, that is meaningful and helpful to those that choose to purchase my products and services, to humbly realize that any failures or successes will be fleeting, and that the most mindful path is to simply continue to do good work.

As the old Zen proverb says, "Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.