Wise Livelihood is often discussed in terms of “shoulds.” We should earn our living in a righteous way, gain wealth by legal, peaceful, honest and harmless means. And there are 5 specific kinds of livelihood the Buddha said should be avoided: dealing in weapons, living beings, meat production and butchery, poisons, and intoxicants. These point to noble relationship to work. Yet, there is a risk that we will reflect on wise livelihood as a series of rules that, if we follow the “shoulds” and avoid the “should nots”, will mean we can check off that limb of the Path as fulfilled.
Yet what is most alive for our contemplation of how to practice wise livelihood is not separate or apart from all of the Ennobling Eightfold Path. No matter what detail we focus on in walking the Path of a wise and compassionate life to freedom, we see that when we practice Dhamma, we are always working with mind and mind states. Wise Livelihood engages all the Path factors—Wise Intention, View, Speech, Action, Effort, Concentration and MIndfulness as the bases for how we earn our livelihood. What intentions and mind states do we bring to our choice of work, how we work and our co-workers, employees, employers, customers moment to moment?
Mindfulness and insight yield awareness of emotional responses leading to action rather than reactivity. Comparing, resentfulness, complaining and other such states of mind can be replaced by a sense of gratitude for the ability to work, to earn a living. Every moment at work can be fertile ground for awakening.