We can not fully understand this point of the Noble Eightfold Path unless we realize how closely Right thought and Right Action go together, because earning or living requires both thought and action. Every boy and girl ought to give serious thought to selecting the way they plan to earn their livelihood when they grow up. There are many important points to think about.
First of all, we ought to try to choose an occupation likely to be a source of helpfulness and happiness to others. For example, a young person who wishes to study to be a doctor, is planning a life-work that will be a blessing to many. His work will ease human suffering. This sort of work is considered by Buddhists to be very meritorious.
Those who grow food or build houses, make roads and bridges, work in the postal service or any other occupation that is of real value to the human race, are all earning Right Livelihood.
No sincere Buddhist will work at any occupation that causes misery or suffering in any form. The slaughtering of animals, the sale of animal flesh, the manufacture or sale of alcohol or stupefying drugs, trade in deadly weapons or in promoting gambling or low pleasures, all are forbidden to true Buddhists. There are many trades and occupations from which we may select our way of earning our living. If our choice of occupation is not especially helpful to others, at least we must make sure that it will not be harmful to any one
In addition to the main meaning in this fifth point on Lord Buddha’s Path, there are lesser meanings. For example, many boys and girls, as well as older people, have hobbies. We must make sure that anything we do is harmless to others. If a hobby will bring happiness to others, then it is a very good hobby indeed. To grow flowers brings happiness to the grower as well as to all who see the beautiful blossoms. If the owner of the garden shares his flowers with the sick, the aged and those whose hearts are troubled, then he has a very meritorious hobby.
Now, let’s take a look at another kind of occupation or pastime. Let us imagine a man who delights in shooting wild creatures. Perhaps he sells their flesh and thus gains a living for himself. Or he may kill only because he enjoys such a cruel hobby. Such an occupation or pastime is not one that a genuine Buddhist can follow. Those who cause pain or unhappiness to others, even to animals, will sooner or later find much unhappiness in their own lives.
There was a young man in north Malaya who lived in a village that is partially surrounded by forests. In these forests there are many birds, wild-boars and game-animals.
This young man happened to be very skilful at hunting with a rifle and he took much pride in that fact, boasting to his fellowmen, showing them the heads of the boars and animals he had killed and which he kept as trophies. Once on a public holiday, he gathered five of his friends to go hunting. When they were about to go, his cousin, a lay-preacher, arrived from a neighbouring village. He came up to this young man and said, “I heard that you are quite a marksman and very good at hunting”. “Yes, I am,” came the reply. “You should see my trophies of animal heads,” he continued with a rather proud air.
The preacher then asked him, “Think about it, why should intelligent men like you go hunting and putting an end to animals’ lives?”
“Well I get the honour of being a good hunter, don’t I? Besides I enjoy hunting.”
“I see. Suppose you don’t know how to handle a gun, and you are just as ignorant at hunting, would you have the urge to hunt as you have now?”
“No, of course not. It would not be sensible.”
“You are right. Then it will follow that the animals will not be as endangered as they are now, won’t it? Well, I see no reason for you to endanger them now.”
“I quite agree, but I do desire to hunt. It’s just that I enjoy it.”
“That is the main trouble, young man. Your desire for enjoyment at the expense of others’ sorrow, pain and death just cannot be fair, can it? Don’t you think that it is rather cruel and selfish on your part? If you think of it thus: You kill the animals to satisfy your desire, and it brings you further satisfaction in your friends’ praise of your skill, what have you done that is really worthy of a reward to be given you by Right Thinking men who have Right Living? You can surely see that there is nothing worthy in your ability to shoot and bag game, other than the praises showered upon you by thoughtless men, and you will be further obsessed with your desire, so that you will be blinded to the fundamentals of Right Livelihood. So why not live and let live?”
“You are right. Up till now, my friends and I have not realised that fact and we have been hunting and killing just to satisfy our own desire. It is good that you opened our eyes for us.”
Thus saying the young man and his friends hung up their guns and abandoned their hunting, promising not to hunt any more, and to concentrate on Right Livelihood. The lay preacher proceeded to another village with the satisfaction that he has opened his cousin’s and friends’ eyes to practical use of the Buddha’s doctrines.
Tread thou the path of rectitude
The precepts five observe,
Lest base desire or lure of gain
Thy resolution swerve.
Let love they spirit dominate
And let thine heart be kind,
That all in sorrow, pain or need
A friend in thee may find.
Pure in thought, thy word and deed,
So let thy life be spent,
And thou shalt make thy progress sure
To full enlightenment.
-A. R. Zorn.
1. Does livelihood mean –a) Earning our living?
Which one of these is the right answer?
2. Ought we to select our trade or profession early in life or late?
3. What kind of work ought we to select?
4. Name some ways of earning a living that Buddhists consider good ways?
5. What are some bad ways of earning a living?
6. Can a man who sells whisky or opium be called a true Buddhist?
7. What is a hobby? Do you have a hobby?
8. Name some good hobbies and some bad ones.
9. If our way of earning a livelihood harms anyone, is that Right Livelihood?
10. When we are not working and have spare time, what are some good ways to use that spare time?