Today is December 5, 2019, Day 5 of the Bodhi Season 2019. Today we’ll take a short look at the 5th item of the Eightfold Path, Awakened Livelihood.
This is probably the most “pragmatic” item of the Eightfold Path. We are creatures of Earth and all creatures provide some sort of value. Most creatures can’t choose their livelihood, it’s baked into them. A tiger can’t be an rabbit, just a perfect tiger.
But not for us. We humans can become whatever is needed at some given place and time. If programmers are needed we could be programmers. If farmers are needed, we could be farmers. We get to choose.
So are there good and bad livelihoods? As with all of the items of the Eightfold Path we’ve explored so far, there is a view from “normal daily life” and that of the Awakened View. For the view from normal daily life, by the norms of the society we’re in, there are obvious lines of livelihood we should avoid. But then again, I can’t think of any line of work that’s immune from criticism somehow from somewhere.
The point of Buddhism isn’t a matter of good over bad. It’s about accepting that what we experience and interpret as our lives is just ethereal phenomena emerging from a relentlessly churning Universe. All phenomena comes with a guaranteed shelf life of an instant. The Universe is a wondrous dynamo of opposing forces, multi-dimensional tapestries of Yin and Yang.
We grow fond of these ethereal phenomena and suffer as what we fell in love with churns away into something else. Therefore, through the method of the Eightfold Path we train our minds to let go of what we cling to, releasing the cause of our suffering. That’s Buddhism.
But we’re also flesh and blood creatures of Earth requiring ongoing sustenance. So we need to make a living … which means engaging in this world of suffering souls and limited physical resources. We’re caught in a seeming hell between making a living in a world where whatever we gain immediately slips through our fingers.
So Awakened Livelihood isn’t about the line of work you choose. Rather, it’s about using your work, your livelihood to hone your Awakened View. Rather than work from the view of material gain, we work to smooth out the ride.
Let’s look at one of the Zen Arts, a martial art, for an idea of how to approach Awakened Livelihood.
Tori and Uke
In judo, one form of training is kata where there is the notion of Tori and Uke. In kata, Judo athletes (judoka) pair up taking turns to practice throwing one another. The one practicing the execution of the throw is the tori. The one being thrown in the uke (oo-keh).
While it’s more fun to be the tori (the one practicing the throw) the role of the uke (the one being thrown) is of equal importance for both. The uke isn’t just a dead weight to be thrown. An assailant in a real conflict won’t be anything like mere dead weight. The skill of an uke is to challenge the tori just enough, but not so much that the tori can’t execute the throw.
It’s of great value as well if the uke senses a weakness in the tori’s skill and provides the appropriate resistance to train that gap away. Additionally, playing the uke role provides the judoka essential insight into what a tori should not do.
The best part about being an uke is that it’s a small price to pay for the immense value of someone else being a worthy uke for you when you switch roles. Take no offense at being someone’s uke in the world in general.
Rei … Hajime!
A custom in judo is to respectfully bow (rei) to our opponents before each session with each other – no matter their ranks, and whether it’s kata or a full-contact randori bout. It says to our opponent, with honor and respect, thank you for helping me to improve and I ensure you that I will do my best in return. That is Awakened Livelihood.
Improvement of yourself is very different from the goal of beating your opponent. In daily life, winning is what matters. From the Awakened View, even if you “lost”, recognize that as long as you were fully present with the spirit of improvement, you improved. In fact, for most “wins”, there often isn’t as much to learn. Therefore, the opponents again bow to each other after the bout, “winner” and “loser”.
Now, you can probably imagine bowing to someone at your corporate job, thanking them for teaching you about their “unique point of view” and receiving no bow in return. It would probably be more of a look of confusion or it’s taken as sarcasm.
Yes, the corporate world isn’t a Judo dojo. But it doesn’t matter – you are still on the path of Awakened Livelihood. That is, faithfully and patiently, you practice your work maintaining the beginner’s mind, you have 100% acceptance of what is, and you’re fully present to what is right here, right now. It is the foundation of the Eternal Fishnu’s teachings.
Whatever livelihood you choose, it must be practiced with that spirit of training your sentient mind to see from the Awakened View. Approach every day in the “dojo” of your chosen livelihood to hone your Zen. And of course, to produce valuable goods we exchange with our fellow students, since there is still that physical side of us that requires ongoing sustenance.
Faith and Patience to You!
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
Bodhi Season/Day 2019: