Along with Right Speech and Right Action, Right Livelihood is part of the “moral conduct” section of the Buddhist 8 point Path.
So, what is right livelihood?
We can understand it as work that contributes to the common good, or at least, work that does not harm others, including animals. This, I believe, is what Buddha intended.
Or, we can understand it as more narrowly defined personal fulfillment, which should also fulfill our ethical role as members of this world. Right livelihood is more like play than like work. It is the kind of work in which we often lose track of time, and which we never dread when the alarm goes off in the morning.
Ideally, our fulfillment should be work that, in the modern world, matches the tribal archetype carried in our DNA. I recently heard a talk given by Jane Burns, who describes herself as a shaman. Her concepts agreed directly with those that I have sensed intuitively for many years. We are all born with talents and propensities that benefited the community of many centuries ago. This matching is a logical tactic of evolution that contributes primarily to survival of the species, and indirectly to survival of the individual.
Jane stated that it was the function of the shaman to define the individual’s specific natural abilities, and thereby guide him or her to fulfill their specific communal role. At first we disagreed on this point. My contention was that this sounded too mystical, and that one’s natural abilities were born in us, and not assigned by a shaman, but once evident, could be guided by the shaman. She responded that that was what she meant; the shaman’s role was not to assign the person’s role in the tribal community, but to sense it — possibly through supernatural means as well as observation — and then guide the child’s development.
In any event, I believe that most of us today still acknowledge that we came into this world with inherent abilities. And there is evidence that when our livelihood does not utilize those inherent abilities, we suffer — not just mentally, but physically as well. Unfortunately for many of us, we don’t come to understand what we are best equipped to do in this world until we are well past the days when we can experiment by trying out various kinds of jobs. Employers expect that by the time we reach around age 40, we will have settled into a career that is permanent, at least until we retire. They aren’t about to retrain a carpenter as a construction loan banker, especially if the carpenter has not used his time to acquire the formal education such a job requires.
One solution to finding your right livelihood is to get tested and counseled by a reputable career counselor. But beware, the tests may show a few of the standard careers you would fit, but the matches aren’t always perfect. Personalities are too complex to advise any career with absolute certainty. Add to that the difficulty in matching the company personality to your individual personality. You are usually left with the task of matching your heart, your gut, and your brain to a specific job that is available.
My own long career path consisted of working for corporations as an electromechanical design engineer, and at times, as a manufacturing engineer. I designed products, and engineered how they were to be made. Along the way I started some 13 businesses beginning with my first at age 14. Some were successful, and other not. It is just as important to experience failures as it is to have successes. This is essential to finding our true niche.
It may seem strange that when a business was successful, such as my small manufacturing company back in the 1980s, that I didn’t grow it, and make my fortune. Instead, I sold it, and went on to start another business that helped persons change careers. Looking back now, I have concluded that I derived a great deal of satisfaction from the process of conceiving a business opportunity, starting the business, but eventually losing interest, or finding a better opportunity. Again, these seemingly frivolous expeditions are part of finding fulfillment.
After I married, most of my businesses were sidelines to corporate jobs. After all, I had a wife and two kids that I couldn’t neglect.
My corporate jobs were almost always fulfilling. I earned 14 patents on such devices as thermal connector used on the Navy’s destroyers (3,820,592), a bicycle transmission (4,820,244), and several on the first disposable laparoscopic surgical instruments (trocar, # 5,030,206 etc.).
I have always been a writer. I have written numerous articles, about 50 papers, and five books (two published by traditional publishers, and three self-published). The most current is All I Need is Money, published by Nolo, and available on Amazon.com. An older one, Make Money by Moonlighting, (1982), is listed on Amazon, but “by Lander” must be added to the title in order to find it quickly. I have also written a featured column for Inventors’ Digest magazine for the past 20 years.
Now, putting all of this together, I finally found the work I was meant to do. I now coach inventors and small startup entrepreneurs, and help them to commercialize their products. I work one-on-one with my clients, and I love what I do because it calls on all of my past experiences as well as my inborn abilities, and enables me to help persons who feel that they must try to succeed as an inventor or as an entrepreneur.
My latest book is Hire Yourself, the Startup Alternative. It’s all about how to start your own business. It omits advice about accounting, insurance, employees, etc., which is available in abundance on line or in your library, and gets to the stuff that other books don’t cover — the real guts of matching yourself to the process, and assuring yourself that you have a viable product. The book is exclusively available at www.smashwords.com.
I will give a free e-book copy to the first ten people who respond to this article. If you have further interest in inventing or entrepreneurship, visit my website, www.inventor-mentor.com for more free information. And finally, if you are interested in my services, contact me, [email protected]
Good luck with your career. May you find fulfillment and the joy of “right livelihood.”
P.S. The following questions are for your consideration and discussion with self, family, and friends:
1) As a child, did you recognize what your abilities were/are? Did you ever dream of doing a certain kind of work? Did you compromise that dream when you chose your education and your career path?
2) Does your present occupation fulfill what you consider to be your greatest natural ability?
3) Do you have any regrets about having followed your chosen career path?
4) Which is more important to you, making a good living (financially), or doing what you like to do?
5) Have you ever tried to compromise between a good living and doing what you like most?
6) If you were able to start over, as a young person again, would you choose the same path?
7) As a woman, to what degree do you resent not having sufficient opportunity to fulfill the role you sense was/is your destined role?
8) When you retire, do you have a plan that will enable you to take advantage of underutilized ability?
9) What are your career regrets?
Originally published at https://www.nfreads.com/article/right-livelihood-not-only-a-buddhist-tenet/