Friday, May 24, 2013

Right Livelihood

The Buddhist 8 fold path includes "Right Livelihood" as one of the central precepts.  I studied Buddhism in the 1970's reading various leading texts and eventually coming under the influence of a leading medical doctor who was also a Buddhist.  I'd first read the life of Buddha, as Siddhartha by the nobel prize winning writer, Herman Hesse.  I'd loved his "Journey to the East" and around the time I was reading this the Beattles were off in India.  The East-West fusion was well under way at the time.  I had read the Bhagadva Gita and studied Paramahansa Yoganada but found the 8 fold path, years later,  written in my journal I had well living in London England.  I was working as a bar tender then and remember thinking that this was not 'right livelihood'.
Being a bar tender wasn't my only job.  That was what I did in the evening.  During the day in London I worked as an Executive Assistant to the head of a mercantile bank, a leading lawyer and a telecommunications engineer. At the time I didn't call myself an "executive assistant'.  I just thought of myself as 'office help' or 'typist' or 'fetch' or whatever derogatory term I used in those days for work that wasn't what I dreamed of being, at that time, an actor and  play wright.  In retrospect all those jobs in London, which I saw also as solely paying for my being able to study dancing with the world champion Latin dancer, served me well.  I wanted to be a writer, specifically plays, and here I was learning a whole lot about different fields and people but disparaging my time not sitting in bars drinking guinness talking to my friends or specifically scribbling in my note book.  Life was coming at me and I was as selectively biased as a teenager though by then 20 something.
The Noble 8 fold path is one of the principal teachings of Buddha.  Buddha developed this as a means to end suffering.
1. Right View
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration.
With regard to Right View and Right Intention these refer to the wisdom of the teachings of the Buddha and various followers over the year.  Personally when I practiced Buddhist doctrine I did so with a hope of gaining enlightenment and somehow 'escaping' from the world I was in.  I've always wanted a space ship and if I couldn't get one in the outer world was content if I could go inward to get away from the apparent insanity of the world.   I was a major proponent of the "make love, not war' philosophy. Of all the Buddhist teachers I liked Trungpa the best when it came to Right View and Right Intention.  The Tibetan Book of the Dead was a favourite of mine back before I devoted my time to biochemistry and neurology.
Right speech was always best achieved by my Aunt Sally, the Baptist saint in our family who no one could ever remember saying anything unkind about another.  Personally I've had as much difficulty with Right Speech, as Pierre Elliott Troudeau,  in that I'm prone to profanity and find that the truly evil today are the 'politically correct', speaking so smoothly as the Aboriginals would say 'with forked tongue'.  Perhaps too I've let my 'brand' carry a certain sea farer 'saltiness' and biker 'street cred' with it knowing that those who only speak 'committee talk' would be targets outside of their boardrooms, not surviving a week on the streets where I've worked or the wilderness where I've lived.  Other days, I regret this and wish I was more the 'social chameleon' that the true psychopaths are.  I envy their slick slithering and admire their hard skins, scales and  capacity to survive though I'd not want their 'little reptile brains' and their lack of capacity for 'empathy' or 'spirituality'.
The idea about right speech is to be inoffensive but if one is a Christian that means telling the truth and telling the truth is 'offensive' to the liars and cheats and often many of the very powerful.  An eastern proverb gets around this by saying, "he is a fool who cannot conceal his wisdom'.  Right speech is far more than 'political correctness' and Buddhist monks spend a lifetime in their terms in the kindergarden of this endeavour. Many take vows of silence so that when they talk every decade or so for a sentence or two they get that 'sentence' right.  Indeed, if one only spoke the name of God or the one word one might well achieve Right Speech easier.  Buddhism like all human endeavours, like religion, philosophy, and exercise classes has it's multitude of controversies.  I love to tease my thoroughly beautiful and quite sainted younger Buddhist friend by pointing out that even today Buddhists are fighting over a temple.  When the Chinese invaded Tibet putting Buddhism to the ultimate test, after the first monks were slaughtered by the Chinese Communists, the remaining ones fired back, thoroughly unprepared, with bolt action Enfield Rifles before being slaughtered by the 50 cal Chinese machine guns.  The Dalai Lama, one of the sweetest finest men I have met,  has been bitching and complaining since. So much for Buddhism ending suffering.  Reality sucks? Fortunately Buddhism has a lot to say about how to 'suck up' suffering. The Dalai Lama at least didn't have a hissy fit and create more suffering through 'wrong action'.
Right Action is not what the Chinese Communists are doing but then politically there's a lot of question about who is doing 'right action'  Theoretically, make peace not war is a universal bottom line.  The 'light' religions of the world encourage 'love' though there are 'dark' religions of the world that encourage nefarious matters that are the subject of horror movies.  Buddhism expounds peace and love and lu lu lemon yoga wear.  I enjoyed later reading Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, writing about his Eastern brethren.
That brings us to Right Livelihood.  I'm a healer, a physician, a psychiatrist, and addiction medicine specialist so I've got 'right livelihood' covered nicely today. I eventually stopped being bar tender because I didn't think that was 'right livelihood' even though I enjoyed the working men's pub in South London,  all the cockney characters, the soccer fans and the drunken stumbling home after drinking my "tips' after closing with the other bar tenders and manager.  Dancing, creativity, being an assistant to bankers, lawyers, and engineers didn't even spark a question mark when it came to right livelihood.  Everything I was doing in regards to 'work' and 'money' was okay except being a bar tender. Assisting people to get drunk didn't sit well with me.  I remember studying the buddhist 8 fold path and it was clearer than my Christian teachings I'd literally got through mother's milk.  Yet I knew Jesus wouldn't approve of what I was doing for a living in the evening.
Today I have questions about 'harm reduction' therapy. I work in a methadone clinic and give methadone to heroin addicts as a stepping stone to their achieving abstinence. The Salome Project is going on with some my patients being given heroin  in that clinic. There they'll giving Heroin to Heroin addicts.  Personally I think it's all very well because it's literally retrieving human beings from the dark clutches of the criminals 'slaver's' whose sole interest in these individuals is to suck them dry of all money and self respect and leave them homeless on the street often prostituting and stealing for their next fix. What we're doing is 'redemptive' work. What Salome is doing is the same in it's own way, hopefully.  Years of 'punishment' of drug addicts has only made dealers richer and given the police forces justification for bigger guns. Meanwhile our biggest banks are laundering the money of drug cartels making being a banker decidedly no longer any more 'right livelihood' than being 'a bartender'.  I love Dylan's paraphrase of the Dr. Johnson, "Steal a little and they put you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king".  Everything is clearer to the adolescent mind than it is to the adult mind.
Marx, womanizer, kafetch and antisemitic Jew, said "Religion is the opiate of the masses'.  In Buddhist countries the poor are encouraged to be vegetarians while the leaders of industry in those same countries who are overtly buddhist eat meat.  The warrior classes have always been prone to meat eating.
I like that Sarah McLaughlan's net worth is 35 million dollars and Bill Gates net worth is 70 plus billion.  Both are creative individuals and their income has come from 'right livelihood'.  Living in British Columbia where the biggest industry is marijuana production and distribution, a multi billion dollar business coupled with the trafficking and cross border heroin and cocaine distribution, I don't think is conducive to  'right livelihood'.  Further along the 8 fold path of buddhism is the term 'right concentration' and I know no one who has 'right concentration' on drugs or alcohol.  By prescription there's a 'sweet point' in the treatment of pain where a person's pain is reduced from 8/10 to 2/10 and their concentration may increase as a result but in general all 'pain medication's and 'mood altering medications' affect 'right concentration'.  Certainly marijuana impairs right concentration for weeks after one toke yet so many of the lu lu lemon yoga mat set would argue marijuana is a 'herb'.  Buddha didn't smoke marijuana and neither did Jesus. We don't even know that Jesus drank but there is a concern regarding his mother and that raises the spectrum that Jesus might have had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Any guy who walks into the Lion's den and doesn't Daniel himself out of it is suspect in the eyes of his Jewish friends whose great toast is 'L'chaim'  "To Life'.  Yet Jews have been martyring themselves since before Christ and tragically even more after.  Jesus was a Jew and if any Jew thinks him stupid for letting himself get killed, well, the seed doesn't' fall far from the tree. Given my own Scottish Irish heritage and a long history of ancestors martyred by the English and Romans I'm not quick to judge others.
Buddha in contrast after living a life that Hugh Heffner would have admired went on to old age.
I'm not saying smoking marijuana is wrong for everyone. Paul McCartney's net worth is a hundred million dollar and it's well known that he was using his Scottish farm for mass production of cannibis at one time.  It's just that this wouldn't be called 'right livelihood' and certainly wouldn't result in 'right concentration' .  There's a price to be paid for deviation from the healthiest paths. That price is called 'suffering'.  Paul McCartney's problems with women were even worse than my problems with women when I smoked marijuana with them.  I discourage all men from smoking marijuana with women or doing drugs and alcohol of any kind.  Indeed for both men and women it might well be wise to consider drugs and alcohol only a 'same sex' activity as it once was.  I was a bar tender in a 'men's only bar' where women were only allowed in on the weekends as long as they were accompanied by a man.  There's a reason for old traditions.
When I reviewed the richest men in the world, all multi billionaires I was interested to note that none were overt crooks. Watching television one would almost think that success required being criminal.  Yet Helu the mexican multi billionaire's success began with brilliance in the telecommunication field. Bill Gates was a genius and his development of the computer industry is a business fairytale but it doesn't involve back room killings and threats to the families of coworkers. That behaviour is the behaviour of drug cartels. I don't doubt there's a lot of shadiness in industry but no more than what we see in the Canadian Senate.  It's just that to hear so many the 'rich' are only 'rich' because they're criminals and 'corrupt'.  I don't think so.
The richest woman in the world is Gina Hope Rhinehart, Australian mining magnate, at over 100 billion net worth making her possibly the richest person by some estimates.  Christy Walton, once the richest woman,  inherited the Walmart fortune.  Warren Buffet , inherited his initial wealth too, in his case from his father, U.S. Represative. He's to be admired for having held onto his money so long. From the millionaires I've known, and I've not yet had the privilege to meet a billionaire like these folks, seem to have had as much trouble holding onto their money as they have had making it.
It's an amazing lesson in human behaviour and guarantee to change one's basic attitudes towards 'money' and 'livelihood' when one looks at the follow up lives of the winners of lotteries. So many are poor rapidly after and so many are dead.  When the First Nations folk got their millions especially in the land deals in Alaska so many were  back to being poor shortly after too.  The wealthy not surprisingly have a tendency to come from 'good families'.  It's not 'necessary' since there are certainly examples that are not such yet it clearly helps as even a simple study of race horses shows the value of genetics but more importantly the importance of gentle but firm parenting.    I've been especially interested to note that the most successful are usually a part of a very successful group.  Freud and his associates are an amazing group of men who changed our very understanding of ourselves and the mind and all were quite successful following.
Money is a spiritual energy.  I like to spend money.  Some people like to make money.  My brother, wiser than I in the ways of money, likes to manage it. He loves seeing money get the most value.  I barely understand this but know that 20 richest women in the world who controll a combined 250 billion dollars know much more about money management than I do. Hence a local lottery winner a year later after an amazing windfall was drunker than he'd been before the windfall, broke and complaining vehemently about his poor luck.
Theoretically, Right Livelihood would be associated with a good income. I'm delighted to note that Bill Gates and Melinda are principally 'philanthropists' today like Oprah.  In contrast to me, they are giving money away but with immense wisdom and eschewing 'giving pearls to swine'.  I am reminded of the two women I hired who stole from me and nearly destroyed my practice in their piggish behaviour, shitting all over the lives of others in their stupid pursuit of self interest. My poor judgement put money in their hands.  I hired and gave respectability and credibility to a couple of sows in the metaphor of pearls.  Whose fault was that?  Mine. My poor judgement. My poor concentration. I married women and we didn't live happily ever after because of my bad choice and bad behaviour.  I tire daily of people who blame their 'fortune' on others.  In that case Bill Gates fortune would be the 'fault' of others rather than acknowledging that our fortunes good or bad are a major part our own doing.
I love the serenity prayer, God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.  Central to this is the realization that one needs courage mostly to change ones self.
A major Christian parable is the one about the master and three servants. . The master leaves them each with seeds. The first puts his in a vault. The second trades his for a donkey and the third plants his.  When the master returns the first man can only show mouldy seeds, the second an old donkey while the third gives back the masters seeds ten fold.  So the master gives more seeds to the man who planted them. The master isn't stupid.
Oprah started a school in Africa for young women.  It's not based on the public school model we have in Canada and the chaotic public school models in the states where teachers are often feeling their lives threatened but rather it's based on a private school model with the girls in uniform and taught to be well mannered and courteous and respectful to their elders.  Her school is producing amazing graduates.  Oprah has shown what is called 'discernment' in Christian literature.  The Buddhists might call it 'right concentration'.  Philanthropy is certainly 'right action' .
The greatest philanthropist of all time was Dale Carnegie. I love to pass his library on the way to work each day.  I am forever thankful to the libraries of my life.  My friend spent her life as a librarian and I know that that was 'right livelihood'.
Proverbs in the Bible has a collection of sayings that overlap with the teachings of the 8 fold path. The 10 commandments that Moses brought down the Mountain from God overlap clearly with the 8 fold path.  Jesus's teachings make it pretty clear that being a drug dealer isn't 'right livelihood' for a Christian.  I don't know of any 'spiritual' tradition that would support that 'right livelihood' is being a torturer or a thief or a murderer.  Self defence is a very different matter from pre meditated murder.
Like all great questions of life, the issue of 'right livelihood' comes around again and again.  If I as a doctor in Canada am required to do abortion or promote abortion or even direct people to abortionists, or similarly with euthanasia, would it be 'right livelihood' to be a physician in Canada. I loved studying Bonhoffer and his life in Nazi Germany. Most of the religious leaders of the day got it completely wrong in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.  Bonhoffer was an exception though not in all eyes.  The Hitler physicians in the camps weren't practising 'right livelihood' and the same question was asked about 'Michael Jackson's physician'.
I'm thankful to the Buddha for giving us the very idea of 'right livelihood'.  I like that he and Hugh Heffner lived to be old men.  I still believe there's merit in the adage, "make love, not war'.  War has always been a failure of diplomacy.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very well said....

did you also go to the Globe Stage
when you were in London???

for me that was the highlight of my Play is the Thing in life