“In the Noble Eightfold Path one of the themes that are overlooked in the course of study of the teaching of liberation from suffering is Right Livelihood. People tend to think, “So long as I haven’t made ammunition I am living by Right Livelihood.”
These words are those of Namgyal Rinpoche, from his book “Right Livelihood”. He is speaking of the common over-simplification of Whole Livelihood aspect. Namgyal Rinpoche goes on to give a fuller explanation of Whole Livelihood:
“Mankind is in for more suffering and upheaval in this time due to five factors: the drain of energy resources through the overexploitation of nature; pollution; population explosions; discrepancies in the balance between the haves and the have-nots (it is becoming more and more costly for the haves to have); and greed (tanha), selling people the idea of having to have more, which leads to aggression and war. Right Livelihood is finding the way to live by truth, by law.
“There are cycles of dharma that we, as beings involved in this study, must see. We must see the laws of evolution of consciousness and know where we fit in. What is our task? What is compassion? We must have alternatives, know what will occur and be there as helping hands for the benefit of all beings. To do this is necessary to pass beyond the stage of experimentation and see very clearly the right way to live.
“We want to draw a parallel for a new society. What is the right way for a human being to live to the full, an enlightened being in a fully awakened state? No only as lived in the Tibetan tradition, for example, but the way to live by truth, by law, in any society. What is right livelihood? The drain of energy resources is wrong livelihood; we should not be expending the food and resources of future generations. But above all, the greatest factor of the unwholesome is greed. At what point do you stop the motif of having to have more? When is this crisis going to come to a head, to a point of word revolution?
“This will be our first study: how to live, how to exploit life to the full, how to get the most beautiful for the least effort. […] Because the most beautiful is the transcendental, we should be on about experiencing the path of awakening in daily life. The transcendental is not a fad; it doesn’t become outdated. So if you are always involved in the latest fashions perhaps you are not getting the most for the least. […] We are now in the new dispensation of the enlightened mind and your duty, regardless of the negativity, is to ripen. So allow wisdom to unfold.”
Whole Livelihood is a piece of a supportive system to aid in your path to awakening, and in becoming a beacon of awakening for others. Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat Sensei talked about Whole Livelihood in the retreat Foundations of the Mystical Life. They described living Whole Livelihood as an exploration of what environments encourage us to be awakened beings. Do the people you spend most of your time with encourage you on your Dharma path? Is your workplace a wholesome environment, because putting yourself in unwholesome situations, such as where you are taken advantage of or treated like an object, make it more difficult to keep the wholesome in the forefront. Engaging in environments that push you to grow and give you opportunities to do good will support you in being a positive contributor to the world. At the same time, what are you contributing to the wholesomeness of the environments you are in?
To sum up, Namgyal Rinpoche said the following in “Body Speech and Mind” on how Whole Livelihood is essentially about our relationships with the world:
“Livelihood has to do with relationships: relationships to people, to places and so forth. To undertake this step of the Eightfold Path, you would first apply yourself to the mundane [lokiya] level by consideration of what you are doing to earn money. Then you would expand that to include how you are spending your time. Right livelihood does not only mean your job. It includes what crafts you are exploring and things of that nature as well. You may act very nicely, you may speak very well, but how well are you spending your time? What are your relationships with other people? That is much more relevant to the question of livelihood than whether you are working in an office or in a field. Certainly there are some ways of earning money that are definitely undesirable – for example, you should not deal in drugs or armaments, especially out of compassion for you! But that’s not because the church says not to; it’s because to refrain from going to war, to refrain from killing and harming people is a better way to live.”