Right Livelihood: A Personal Economy

This blog post by Tony Bernhard, a community dharma leader at Spirit Rock, seized my heart. I have alternated between thinking, or avoiding thinking, for years about this topic.

“For us, livelihood is most often simply equated with our job, with what we do for a living, how we make our money. In the midst of our practice, we might pause for a quick mental check to confirm that we aren’t supporting ourselves through any particularly egregious line of work, but we then move right along to consider the demands of the other seven factors of the Eightfold Path.”

He discusses the paradoxes and difficulties in addressing this step of the Noble Eightfold Path for non-monastics. “Balancing our means of support with the lifestyle we are fashioning constitutes a broad, personal economy that each of us is constantly creating with our actions.” That phrase “personal economy” was exceptionally resonant for me. The abstractions inherent in our contemporary lives–where do our food, clothing, gadgets come from?–and our almost total reliance on money as a way to get what we need, usually creates a livelihood that can be easier to ignore, or give a nod to (“I work for a non-profit, I’m OK.”), than deeply examine.

Bernhard stresses it is not about judging this work, or that job as good or bad. “…extricating ourselves from the web of social connections… might make the actual activity we perform less important than the constellation of intentions we bring to it.”


Though again, I would stress, not to simply give the matter cursory attention. After reading, and re-reading (and I’m sure I’ll read it over and over again) this post elegantly captures the fine line we walk as practitioners in pursuit of realizing the Noble Eightfold Path and how challenged we are by this step of Right Livelihood in an economy driven by consuming.

“What does it take to sustain and live a wholesome life in contemporary society? And how will we answer that question as a practical matter with our actual lifestyle, i.e. the things we do in the course of our daily lives?”

I would love to hear what folks have to say about this. And it relates to mindful eating-it is, after all, about consuming. 🙂

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