Livelihood (Mangala Sutta 14)

NOTE TO READERS: I’m currently on retreat in Burma (Myanmar) through the end of September. You will see fewer posts in this period.

The support of mother and father,
The welfare of spouse and children,
Engaging in unconflicting livelihood;
This is the greatest blessing.

Selfless giving, and living by the Dhamma,
Looking after relatives and friends,
And blameless actions;
This is the greatest blessing.

The next part of leading a virtuous life, according to the Mangala Sutta, is having “unconflicting livelihood”, which essentially means doing work and earning a living that doesn’t harm yourself or others.

There are so many ways that work can generate harm: work that endangers one’s own health or others’, or work that involves misrepresentation or taking advantage of others’ innocence. I think here in particular of the ruthlessness of mortgage companies selling mortgages to naive people who had no chance of paying them back, people who risked (and lost) everything. It takes a particular kind of hard-heartedness to cheat others.

Even really wholesome work may have its downside. An incompetent manager can make life a living hell; sometimes we can lose our balance and burn out while doing “good”. Harmless work, work that reduces conflict rather than creating or feeding conflict, is still hard work. Often it involves absorbing others’ fears and frustrations, as anyone who serves the public knows first hand.

I’m thinking also of the lucky few who just manage their investments as a form of livelihood. It seems to me that such folks should have a goal besides maximizing profit, something like a commitment to investing in ways that do not support the active harm of people or the planet. For example, should we be investing in mining? Mining may result in air and water pollution, and yet it also produces power that everyone relies on. How can we sort out the consequences (and degrees of harm and good) when so many factors are unknown to us, the general public? I’m not throwing up my hands, I’m suggesting this as an area of ethical inquiry.

It might be good to list (for ourselves) what is wholesome and unwholesome, as opposed to what we like and what we don’t, about our work situation. Even in a volunteer position, there will be satisfactions and things we wish we could change. In spite of our desire to have things the way we like them, it is sometimes the hard parts that make us grow (a bit) wiser. We might also think about what a working life asks of us that we are not fully living up to yet. What part of our livelihood could we make “more right”?

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Filed under General, Livelihood, Mangala Sutta

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