Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Finding Right Livelihood in Showbiz

Isn't that what this is all about? Right Livelihood? I picked up an old favorite, Thich Nhat Hanh's The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching. It's required reading for that Interdependence Project class I'm taking. So here's TNH on Right Livelihood:
"To practice Right Livelihood, you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others."
Oh. That's all we have to do. Just earn a living without transgressing our ideals. No problemo!

Fortunately, Thay goes into more detail, particularly when it comes to artists:
"A composer, writer, painter, or performer has an effect on the collective consciousness. Any work of art is, to a large, extent, a product of the collective consciousness. Therefore, the individual artist needs to practice mindfulness so that his or her work of art helps those who touch it practice right attention."
So first, we have to acknowledge what's so. Our work has an effect on the collective consciousness. It's not inconsequential; it has a tangible impact on others. We can ignore this if we choose, but it still has an effect. Working mindfully allows us to have Right Livelihood, and to benefit those who are touched by our work.
"...everything we do contributes to our effort to practice Right Livelihood. It is more than just the way we earn our paycheck. We cannot succeed at Right Livelihood one hundred percent, but we can resolve to go in the direction of compassion and reducing suffering. And we can resolve to help create a society in which there is more Right Livelihood and less wrong livelihood."
I added those italics. Nice, right? I love that bit. Just because we can't succeed 100% doesn't mean we can't go in the direction of compassion. It's easy to throw up our hands and say, "it's impossible to ever really have Right Livelihood, so why bother?" An actor might star in a film and approach a role with compassion, with the intention of benefiting others. The actor might be working with a director or other actors who are focused on their own self-interest. If the film is successful, it might feed the profits of a large multinational corporation that might or might not share the actor's compassion. We know, however, that every cause has an effect, that our compassionate words and actions aren't lost in the void. Thay points out that we can still make a difference, to move towards our ideal of compassion, by practicing mindfulness in our work:
"If you are able to work in a profession that helps realize your ideal of compassion, be grateful. And please try to help create proper jobs for others by living mindfully, simply, and sanely. Use all of your energy to try to improve the situation.... practice Right Livelihood means to practice Right Mindfulness. Every time the telephone rings, hear it as a bell of mindfulness. Stop what you are doing, breathe in and out consciously, and then proceed to the telephone. The way you answer the phone will embody Right Livelihood. We need to discuss among ourselves how to practice mindfulness in the workplace, how to practice Right Livelihood. Do we breathe when we hear the telephone ringing and before we pick up the phone to make a call? Do we smile while we take care of others? Do we walk mindfully from meeting to meeting? Do we practice Right Speech? Do we practice deep and total relaxation after hours of hard work? Do we live in ways that encourage everyone to be peaceful and happy and to have a job that is in the direction of peace and happiness? These are very practical and important questions. To work in a way that encourages this kind of thinking and acting, in a way that encourages our ideal of compassion, is to practice Right Livelihood."
So that's what I've been going on about nonstop for the past several months. We can choose to support ourselves in a way that benefits others, and leads to happiness for ourselves and others, or we can remain ignorant, or we can create more suffering for ourselves and others. It seems pretty simple, doesn't it!

For more on Right Speech and Right Mindfulness and the rest of the Noble Eightfold Path, this book is a great place to start!

And don't forget - sponsor me in the Interdependence Project's 24 Hour Meditation Marathon! *


  1. What's funny is that I picked this book up months ago at a used book shop, and it's been sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. Perhaps someone's trying to tell me something?... :)

    Mark Bennett

  2. Hey Mark - it's a great book! Gives a great intro to Buddhism and Thich Nhat Hanh. Also I highly recommend The Miracle of Mindfulness if you don't already have it. Or anything by TNH, but those two are two good starters.