Right livelihood and speech

On the 8-fold path, right livelihood follows right action. What is right livelihood? It’s supporting ourselves in ways that incorporate right action and right speech; it’s refraining from untruthfulness, deceit, and from harming ourselves and others.

In thinking of how right livelihood and right speech are connected, I remembered an instance of someone (whom I don’t know) engaging in wrong speech while pursuing his livelihood. The results of his talk with a particularly naive (not to say foolish) family member led to disaster. This family member was buttonholed by a fellow selling gym memberships. He must have been very personable because my dear one was utterly convinced of his sincerity and good wishes. Meanwhile, the wrong-speech salesman convinced my dear to sign a contract on the spot that committed him to two years of giving about 10% of his limited income to the chain-gym for the privilege of membership in a club so remote from his home that it took two bus rides the one time he ever made it to the gym. The seller neglected to register that his target did not have a car and lived in a suburb quite distant from the gym he was promoting. Did the seller know that he was imposing an awful burden, both financial and of guilt, on the gullible young man? If he didn’t, it was wilful blindness.

Not everyone can protect him or herself from the charms of salespeople. The thought of transforming himself into a fit and healthy person was irresistible and overrode my dear one’s (admittedly meager) common sense. He didn’t consider that making a financial commitment without any thought of pros and cons might be unwise. There are people everywhere who are vulnerable in this way, and sadly, there are many people who stand ready to take advantage of them.

A banker told us recently of a client of his who had accepted an “interest-free” loan (from someone else) where the up-front charge on the loan was 20% of the loan’s value! There are whole industries that prey on people in difficulty who have no financial training and who feel they are (or may actually be) without support. Many people are reluctant to ask for help or advice because they are embarrassed by their situations.

These are facts; these are realities that exist in our world. For our part, we can refuse to participate in them, refuse to turn a blind eye. We can help directly when someone we know gets into a fix, but our main duty is to make absolutely sure that the ways in which we support ourselves do not involve deception or misrepresentation, that they don’t cause harm to anyone. If we underpin all of our actions with honesty and integrity, if we treat others as we would want to be treated, we are practicing both right livelihood and right speech.

The factors of the eight-fold path are:

1. Right View (of the ownership of action)
2. Right Intention (renunciation, goodwill, harmlessness)
3. Right Speech (truthful, harmonious, gentle, meaningful)
4. Right Action (non-harming, non-taking, good conduct in sensual matters)
5. Right Livelihood (legal, peaceful, honest, non-harming)
6. Right Effort (abandon the unwholesome, cultivate the wholesome)
7. Right Mindfulness (body, feeling, mind-states, dhammas)
8. Right Concentration (the four jhanas)

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Filed under Livelihood, Speech, The 8-fold path

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