Wise Livelihood [Audio]

John Goldstein talks about the Wise Livelihood in the context of the Satipatthana Sutta. It is a part of the Noble Eight-fold Path.

Wise Livelihood, by Joseph Goldstein:

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About Joseph Goldstein:

I have two main aims in teaching. The first is to spread the dharma as widely as possible, offering it to as many different people as I can. The second is to teach a smaller number of people over sustained periods of time. This in-depth teaching engages my tremendous love for intensive, long-term meditation practice, where people can immerse themselves in the retreat experience and see how it transforms their understanding.


This evening, we’ll conclude the ___ section of the ___ path. Discussing the next steps of right action and right livelihood. As with right speech, we cultivate the steps not only for the harmonizing influence in our lives, but as an essential means for awakening. It’s impossible to separate meditative wisdom from the moral understanding of the next ___. Knowing the Buddha express this integrated path in one well known verse of the Dhammapada were he said, “Avoid what is unskillful. Do what is good, and purify the mind.” So especially in times like these where there are great cultural changes and there’s ___ a useful questioning, you know, of cultural norms and values, the importance of personal integrity and responsibility needs to be continually re-articulated. So we don’t simply get lost in the confusion of our own desires and impulses. It said that what most moved the Buddha to teach after his enlightenment was that he surveyed the world with his eye of wisdom. He saw people seeking happiness, wanting happiness, and yet doing the very things that cause suffering. Knowing ___, he expressed this so well. He said, ___ senseless children who shrink from suffering, but loved its causes. So we need to really rearticulate and examine, and explore the moral foundation that makes happiness possible.

So allow these three steps of right speech, right action, and right livelihood all revolve around abstinence from doing unskillful things. Each one also contains its own positive expression that is doing what is good. So the right action is cultivating that clarity and strength of mind to abstain from the actions of the body, which cause harm to oneself or to others. So this is how the Buddha explained it. And what is right action? Abstaining from taking life. Abstaining from stealing. Abstaining from sexual misconduct.

Now, so much of what the Buddha taught seem so obvious. It’s almost as if he is speaking to children. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t harm others. It seems so clear, and so obvious that this is the proper way to live. Still, as we try to apply and practice these ___ in our lives, we can really come to the ___ edge of our understanding of them and our commitment to them. And this edge is a challenging place to be.

Now, one teacher commented: That if practicing the precepts doesn’t make us uncomfortable, there’s probably room to grow. And I really appreciate that, because it points to these steps in the path as actual practice. Things to understand, things to investigate, to explore in our lives rather than taking it for granted that we’re basically good people and then looking no further.

So the first part of right action is abstaining from killing, or physically harming other beings or ourselves. And this includes, obviously, people not killing people, not killing animals particularly for sport or pleasure, not killing things because we don’t like the way they look. I have a striking example of this in my early days in India. I was living up in the mountains during the hot summer months in a quite primitive cottage. There was no running water, no plumbing, nothing like that. And that was pretty ___ to living beings and there were these huge spiders, big hairy spiders that just live on the ceiling of my bedroom. They were pretty big. I am trying to get the right, to not, to have the right speech, right demonstration, but they were pretty big. And at first I looked at them, Oh, my God, am I going to be sleeping with these things? But there was really not much to do. You know, I didn’t want to kill him. And I wasn’t going to him. And I didn’t see any way of putting them outside in such a way that they wouldn’t come back in. And what happened is I learned to find why they were there. You know, they were on the ceiling and that was their home and I was hanging around on the floor, on the bed, and that was my home. And there was no need to, you know, to do what we so often do in the West, is you know, that’s something we don’t like, we don’t like the way it looks—we take out our spray can of Raid, you know, and just kill it. We can refrain from that. When we’re killing things, or harming. It creates the ultimate alienation and separation from other beings. You know, we really have this intent to harm. And so this part of the path is learning how to relate to other forms of life as fellow living beings. You know, each one with a desire to continue their life.

There’s a wonderful book, which I read years ago. It’s called Kinship with all Life by J. Allen Boone, and it’s just a wonderful story of this man who had just a great empathetic, telepathic communication with animals in the stories he told of the communication, both between animals and between himself, and animals. And there are a lot of stories about this one particularly dog ___, which you know, it’s not so hard to relate to, but he also told this incredible story about this telepathic connection with a fly. And he could call the fly to land on his finger—just through mind-to-mind connection. I don’t exactly know how he knew it was the same fly each time, but whenever he did that a fly landed anyway.

It’s just a very moving book. You know, it highlighted the fact that in some fundamental way, we all share life in common. So again, this are the Buddha’s word on right action—here, someone avoids the taking of life and abstains from it without stick or sword, conscientious, full of sympathy, one is desirous of the welfare of all sentient beings. So there are important consequences as we practice this aspect of the path. You know, when we’re conscientious.

If you liked this recording and would like to make a direct financial contribution to this teacher, please contact them here: http://www.dharma.org/joseph-goldstein

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About the author 

Sean Fargo

Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]

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