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Thursday, 27 January 2011






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Right livelihood

Samma Ajeeva is the fifth step in the middle path - the eight fold path to Nibbana preached by the Buddha. It belongs to the virtue division (moral conduct - Seela) of the path. Right speech, and right action are other two steps in this moral conduct category. Other five belong to Samadhi and Pragna. It is a path to become happier in our lives and to become awakened or enlightened at the end.

To speak of right livelihood, we must know what is wrong livelihood (Michcha Ajeeva). In Vanijja Sutta Buddha said, if a lay follower engages in five types of business ie. business in arms and lethal weapons, business in human beings, business in animal slaughter, business in intoxicants and business in poison he is engaged in wrong livelihood.

In today’s context there are many other wrong ways of earning a living. Some wrong livelihoods become right livelihoods by obtaining a government license! Although the law excuses them religion does not exonerate them.

For bhikkhus, reading marks on the limbs (palmistry); reading omens and signs, interpreting celestial events, interpreting dreams, reading marks on the body (e.g. phenology), offering fire oblations (yaga), offering blood-sacrifices, practising astrology etc are wrong livelihood. Path to Nibbana and the path to gains are different.

Then what is right livelihood? Along with right speech and right action, right livelihood is connected to the five precepts (panchaseela); abstinence from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and abusing intoxicants. Right livelihood is a way to earn a living without compromising the precepts. It is a way of making a living that does no harm to others.

Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: “To practice right livelihood 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.”

Ming Zhen Shakya suggests finding a ‘pure’ livelihood is impossible. “Obviously a Buddhist cannot be a bartender or a cocktail waitress, or even work for a distillery or a brewery.”

Sometimes which appear to be a right vocation may not be so, if practised with inordinate greed and dishonesty. If a doctor in private practice makes mints of money exploiting his patients, he is guilty of wrong livelihood even though his profession is noble.

A grocery owner’s business is good, but cheating in weights and measures is wrong. Any trade or vocation must be honest and scrupulous rendered without exploiting the public.

The first part of right livelihood is to follow five precepts. The second part of Right Livelihood is enjoying appropriate happiness. In the first place one must ‘have’ (atthi sukha). It is essential to have a trade or a career. One must have some way of contributing to society. Then he must have the happiness of ‘right using’ of what he has (bhoga sukha).

That is using the wealth earned for the benefit of the relatives (gnati bali), guests (atthi bali) the dead (pubba petha bali), kings (raja bali- taxes) and devas (devata bali).

Buddha explained in Adiya Sutta, preached to Anathapindika, five benefits to be obtained from wealth for the owner to be happy.

1. He provides his mother and father, his children, his wife, his servants and assistants with pleasure and satisfaction. And maintains that pleasure rightly.

2. Provides his friends and associates with pleasure and satisfaction, and maintains that pleasure rightly.

3. Wards off from calamities coming from fire, flood, kings, thieves, or hateful heirs, and keeps himself safe. This is similar to Arakkha Sampada in Vyagghapajja Sutta.

4. Performs the five oblations to relatives, guests, the dead, kings, and devas.

5. Institutes offerings of supreme aim, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven, given to priests and contemplatives who abstain from intoxication and heedlessness, who endure all things with patience and humility.

One can use wealth in a very simple way or it can be used in a more extravagant way. But he must not use it in a way harming others indulging in wrong activities.

The third happiness is to be fire from debt (anana sukha). Right using leads to a life free from debts. A debt may be some duty you owe to some one. Fourth is the happiness of engaging in a blameless career (anavajja sukha). You do it not to please the world around you or because of what people will think, but you let it somehow come from inside. Buddhism upholds the quality of having few wants (appicchata) and the ability to be satisfied with little (santutthi) as great virtues. One has to practice these virtues not only in consumption but in production too. In the modern world, however, these virtues have been totally lost sight of in both these spheres. Excessive production compels the consumers to over consume and leads to consumerism. This has made consumers to indulge in wrong ways to earn money in order to meet their requirements.

Real happiness is derived from a life of purity and peace; but it is obvious that without a certain degree of material and economic security no moral and spiritual progress can be achieved. But one must try to earn a living by right conduct (dhammachariya) and thereby support his wife and children. He should not do wrong things with profit as the sole objective. it has to be earned with effort and sweat by using hands and mind and earned righteously and fairly. Then he can enjoy the bliss of being without blame (anavajja sukha).

Buddhism recognizes five vocations as right livelihood. They are

1. Agriculture - this does not mean growing plants used for drug manufacturing

2. Rearing animals - not for slaughter.

3. Government service

4. Service in the armed forces.

5. Trading - not the trades prohibited in religion.

6. Other vocations: This can be a long list.

As right livelihood is a part and parcel of the Noble Eightfold Path, when it is rightly practised it leads to the elimination of greed, hatred and delusion. Just as the river Ganges is inclined towards the east, he who practices the Noble Eightfold Path is inclined towards Nibbana. Thus the correct understanding of right livelihood is essential for the Buddhist layman who is bent on his spiritual welfare.

Life is vigilance

Vigilance is the path to immortality; non-vigilance is the path to death; the vigilant do not die; the non-vigilant, though alive, are like unto death.

Knowing this outstanding feature of vigilance, the wise delight in vigilance, rejoicing in the ways of the Noble ones the (Ariya).

Those wise ones, contemplative, ever-striving sages of great prowess, realize Nirvana the incomparable this of Yoga (union).

(Dhammapada Ch: 2V: 1,2,3). The peaceful ways of life is an intense process of cleansing one’s speech, action, and thought. It is self-development and self-purification. The emphasis is on practical results and not mere philosophical speculations, or logical abstractions or even mere cogitation.

The Buddha warns his followers against book learning thus: “A heedless man though he utters much of the canon, but does not act accordingly is like unto a cowherd who counts the cattle of others. He is verily not a sharer of the fruits of the monastic life. A man though he recites only a little of the canon but acts accordingly to the precepts of the sacred law; who having got rid of his lust, hatred, and dilution has firmly established himself in peaceful thoughts and clinging to no worldly possessions.

They who strive to overcome craving, hatred, ignorance, because we regard them as evil forces, that obstruct our way.

Craving is an urge for over-indulgence. Hatred is rebellious passion that arise from anger, aversion and ill-will.

Ignorance; is not knowing that the concerned person is the creator of good consequences or ill-consequences by his actions, or trying like a dog whirling round and round to catch up with his tail.

The self-disciplined ones possess common sense sincere and know what they are talking about. They believe in the dawn of a better new year and a day. They are an influence for good. They are thoroughly dependable and would fulfill obligations. They are free from resentment and acknowledge their mistakes. They are habitually cheerful and have a keen sense of humour. They practise what they preach and do not boast, able to check their outgoing exuberance. They are amenable to advice and are interested listeners. They do not be little others and give praise where it is due.

The world in all its astounding vastness takes off from the six sense bases. The eye, nose, tongue, ears etc.

The Buddhist method of grasping the highest truth is awakening from ignorance to full knowledge does not depend on mere academic intellectual development but on a practical teaching that leads the follower to enlightenment and final deliverance. This knowledge of the truths the Buddha tried to impart to those who sought it and never forced it upon others. He never compelled or persuaded people to follow Him, for compulsion and coercion were foreign to his method of teaching. He did not encourage His disciples to believe Him blindly, but wished them to investigate His teaching which invited the seeker to come and see. It is seeing and understanding and not blind believing.

”Thus I directed my mind to the knowledge and recollections of former habitations. Thus one birth, two births, three births four hundred thousand births and many aeons of the world’s integrations and disintegration.”

(Majjima Nikaya 4:)

“With the mind thus composed, quite purified, quite clarified, without blemish, without defilement, grown soft and workable, fixed immovable, I directed my mind to the knowledge of former habitations in all their models and details.” (Vinaya Pitaka III)

Modern discoveries and methods of communication and contact have produced startling results. All these improvements though they have their advantages and rewards are entirely material and external.

Within the conflux of mind and body of man however there are unexplored marvels to occupy researchers for many many years. Really, the world which the modern technologist are trying to improve is according to the views of Buddhism subjected to so much change at all points on its circumference and radii that it is not capable of being made sorrow free.

Our life is so dark with ageing, so smothered with death, so bound with change and these traits are so inherent in its that not all the magic and witchery of modern technicality can ever transform it. The immortal splendour of an eternal sunlight awaits only those who can use the light of understanding and the culture of behaviourism conduct to illuminate and guard their path through life’s tunnel of darkness and dismay.

The people of the world today mark the changing nature of life. Although they see it they do not keep it in mind and act with dispassionate discernment. Though change again and again speaks to them and make them unhappy, yet they pursue their crazy career of whirling round the wheel of existence and are twisted and torn between the spokes of agony.

for an understanding of the world within, material comfort of the external world may not be of much help to us, because ultimate truth cannot be found in that.

The world has arisen in the six and holding on to this six the world is in a fix.

If one stops eating something happens to him physically. If he stops wanting to learn, something will happen to him mentally grotesque untrue. If he has no real religion something will happen to his spiritual life emotionally. Enlightenment is liberation from all forms and detachment from all object thought, emphasizing benefits in social work valuing peace and cooporation instead of esoteric.

Progressing in meditation

Previously we discussed about what one practising meditation has to do at the initial stages. What should that person do at the initial stages? He has to generate mindfulness, retain it and develop it. What has he got to do later? It is the same thing. Generating mindfulness and retain and develop the mindfulness so generated. Why should it be done that way? What do we expect from meditation and what happens from meditation? It is the development of mindfulness. It is the development of mindfulness that is expected from meditation. What do we intend to do by developing mindfulness. Isn’t it the liberation from Sansara?

Liberation from Sansara means avoiding the nature of getting attached to Sansara. We have to develop mindfulness in order to get transformed to the nature of being attached. We must realize that wherever there is no mindfulness, getting tied down occurs there. If we develop mindfulness at least little by little the nature of getting tied down decreases. If someday we develop mindfulness completely the nature of getting tied down will be completely over.

Isn’t it getting rid of attachment that we expect from meditation? To annihilate the nature of getting attached to Sansara? Doesn’t saying that meditation has been developed completely mean that there is complete liberation from Sansara? Free from the bond of Sansara. That happens when mindfulness is developed completely.

The day he develops mindfulness completely he will be completely liberated from that nature of getting tied down. So as disciples who are meditating what we must do is generating mindfulness, retain that mindfulness and develop it. If we do not do this during the initial stages it will not be possible to develop a meditation successfully. Therefore the activity we should think of carrying out well from the beginning is generation of mindfulness and develop it while retaining it.

That fact has to be remembered well. The idea that the ordinary man gets is that immediately after commencing the practice of meditation he should spend a long time on it. Give up that idea. Duration is not the important factor. It does not mean that the duration is not important. One cannot get liberated from Sansara after meditating for one or two minutes or even five minutes.

This should be done extensively. To do something extensively what is the qualification that we should have? The possibility of doing it should be there. Otherwise how can that be done extensively? Can the individual who cannot do it for one or two minutes do it extensively? No. Therefore we must practice little by little at the beginning. What have we got to practice little by little? Generation of mindfulness and retaining that mindfulness.

That is what has to be practised little by little. There is nothing else. There is nothing strange or secret in this. It is not a secret thing that is being done. It is the generation of mindfulness in oneself. Development of that mindfulness while retaining it is what is done in meditation.

The plan I mentioned previously is a small strategy for generation of mindfulness at the beginning of meditating. Practise it. Then we can generate mindfulness in that manner, retain it and develop it. Also we should get an opportunity to learn the Dhamma facts appropriate to it.

We must realize that the development of mindfulness takes place in meditation. The next matter that we should realize is the factor on which development of mindfulness is based. Based on what does mindfulness develop? Earlier we learnt that development of mindfulness takes place during meditation. What is the next thing that we require to develop mindfulness?

We must realize the factor on which development of mindfulness is based. Otherwise we cannot comprehend how the mindfulness can be developed. We understood that mindfulness improves during meditation. Now we must understand how the mindfulness is developed. Otherwise can we develop mindfulness? How is mindfulness developed? Based on what is mindfulness developed?

On Satipatthana. Mindfulness is developed based on Satipatthana. On nothing else. Mindfulness is developed based on Satipatthana. With Satipatthana as the basis and in Satipatthana. That is what the Buddha explained to us. To develop mindfulness in the four Satipatthana, to practise to establish mindfulness.

Mindfulness does not develop anywhere else. Where does mindfulness develop? In Satipatthana. If mindfulness develops in Satipatthana, if it is made to develop there we must have confidence in being able to develop mindfulness in Satipatthana. If we have no confidence in the ability to develop mindfulness in Satipatthana can we develop mindfulness there? No.

Earlier we learnt that mindfulness is developed by meditation? We understood that mindfulness develops in Satipatthana. If we do not know that mindfulness is developed in Satipatthana can we carry it out? We must therefore have a strong confidence in Satipatthana. Will a person without a strong confidence in Satipatthana meditate to improve mindfulness?

If an individual has confidence in Satipatthana, if he has a good impression of Satipatthana or if he had a belief in it he will meditate. Even an individual without confidence in Satipatthana may mediate. But he is just imitating the others. Meditation will not be of any benefit to him. He just does it. It will not be convenient to him. Why? Because he has no confidence in Satipatthana.

For the person who has a belief in Satipatthana and has confidence in it, meditation does not become a worry. He practices it with ease. Therefore we must develop belief and confidence in Satipatthana.

The person who develops belief and confidence in Satipatthana will not be in a hurry. Also he will not be lazy. Many people have this indecent hurry. They are in an unnecessary hurry. That is why they try to practice for hours at the beginning itself. Such a person is in an unnecessary haste.

That unnecessary haste is due to impatience. One who has trust in Satipatthana or has confidence in it is not in haste. What does he have? Patience. The nature of one who is pleased with Satipatthana, who trusts it, who understands it becomes patient. Patience arises in him. Why does he have patience? Why does patience arise in him?

Why is he not in a hurry? Because of confidence. What is his confidence? He believes in the understanding of the Buddha. He has confidence in the understanding of the Buddha. What is that understanding? “Oh Monks, this is the only path. For what?

For the purification of beings, to escape from suffering and sorrow, to get liberated from the nature of being sorrowful, to achieve the unique wisdom, to understand the Nibbana. For all these there is only one way. What is that way? Satipatthana (Maha Satipatthana Sutta – Digha Nikaya).

Compiled with instructions from Ven Nawalapitiye Ariyawansa Thera



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