Wise Livelihood Challenge

As my energy is returning, i am continuing my exploration into wise livelihood. Thich Nhat Hanh defined wise (or right) livelihood, which is a concept from the Buddhist eight-fold path, this way:

“To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others. [...] Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living.” (The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, p. 113)

To me, this invites a systems analysis, which shows how challenging it can be to find a wise livelihood at least if we are not willing to compromise. The most striking compromise seems to be that we somehow remain attached to the current life-alienating systems. For example, as a life designer, i help people move closer to their visions – and yet i charge money for it, remaining stuck in the monetary system. We might sell green products, which means that we’re still selling stuff, often things people don’t really need. Just take a look at the ads in the Yoga Journal. No, i don’t think we’ll save the world if we wear special sandals or swallow certain supplements. I decided not to teach Nonviolent Communication for a living because we can use NVC and maintain the system, as the many trainers who teach NVC in corporate America attest. Window dressing, not the radical changes we need to move to a sustainable system. At bottom, to expand on what Derrick Jensen points out, any personal change needs to be grounded in political understanding so that it supports systemic change.

As i dismiss one option after another, i remain stuck. And, yes, it’s slowly and surely dawning that maybe i cannot live without compromises, including using a computer, for example, to type this. Still, i yearn for a way to live contributing to the fundamental changes i see as necessary. Just how i haven’t quite figured out yet. I am guessing, though, that it will require that i take more risks, make more fundamental changes in my own life, than i have been willing to do so far. And it might also require letting go of the idea that i have to make a living, that i have to earn money, to survive.

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