On Right Livelihood

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I was on the bus riding home the other day when I saw this truck. It was no ordinary truck, but super blinged-out and all fancy looking: you know, the same kind of truck a guy with small-man syndrome buys to compensate for his lack of power, the same kind of truck that sucks up diesel and spews wretched filth into the air and ultimately every corpuscle of the rest of us, the same kind of truck Jello Biafra pokes fun at in that Dead Kennedy's song about the jocks who beat up the "faggot" for throwing rocks. What caught my attention most were the mirrors: they had motors to automatically fold them in and out, which works well in a crowded city because streets are narrow and it's easy as pie to get your mirrors knocked off if you own a car.

As cool and convenient as those mirrors were, for some reason, this got me thinking about the Buddhist principle of right livelihood. Aside from paying our bills, dining our significant others and sedating our organisms, what is the real effect of our job in the world? How are we impacting all that is, was and will be? Do we toil endlessly only to increase material convenience, with the ultimate end being every person on Earth enjoying First World prosperity at the expense of emotional or intellectual development? Does our hard labor serve to create multi-million dollar fantasies that are essentially worthless to the advancement of humanity? Do other forms of life suffer because of our chosen professions? How much material waste does our means of making a living create?

Sure, we all gotta pay the bills, but when it comes down to it, does our livelihood bring tangible improvements to the human condition, either in the life of another individual or in the world at large? If not, have we figured out a way to improve the human condition in whatever livelihood we find ourselves in, whether it's flipping burgers, selling car insurance or telling jokes?

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