We provide access to over 300 transcripts by Sangharakshita!

Social network icons Connect with us on your favourite social network The FBA Podcast Stay Up-to-date via Email, and RSS feeds Stay up-to-date
download whole text as a pdf   Next   

Right Livelihood

You can also listen to this talk.

by Sangharakshita

The Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path

Lecture 51: The Ideal Society: Right Livelihood Venerable Sir and friends, I think the statement which I am going to make to begin with will not be disputed by anybody, at least I hope not.

And that is the statement that everybody dreams. That is what the psychologists, that is what the psychoanalysts tell us: that everybody, each and every one of us, dreams every night, they dream some four or five times. We're even told that animals dream, as we can sometimes see in the case of our own pets. So let's start with this statement that everybody dreams. And we can go a little further than this, I think, and say that not only does everybody dream when they're asleep at night but also, we may say, everybody daydreams. You all know how it is when it's a nice warm sunny afternoon, maybe you're sitting on a park bench, it's all very cosy, very comfortable, you're quiet and you just start daydreaming. This is something which everybody does at some time or other. And of course the daydream is usually a sort of wish fulfilment, a sort of Walter Mitty exercise. You dream of all the things you'd like to do and the things that you'd like to be - because, the reason for this is that only too often we find that our everyday life, our everyday existence, is very dull, is very drab, colourless, uninteresting, unsatisfactory and so on.

We may have a tiresome and monotonous job, we may be in circumstances which we dislike. We may be having to associate with people with whom we're not particularly friendly and so on. It may even be that we find life not only dull, not only uninteresting, not only monotonous, we may even find it positively painful. So we want to get away from it, we try to create a world of our own outside ordinary existence and therefore we start as it were daydreaming in various ways. We start imagining a better state of affairs We start as it were dreaming up some ideal world or even an ideal society, ideal community in which the imperfections of this world and this society do not exist. Here there's misery, here there's unhappiness, but we like to think, or we like to imagine, we like to daydream about some other place, some other world where everybody is happy and where, no doubt, we can be happy too.

Now we may say that daydreaming of this sort is not altogether a bad thing, provided of course we don't indulge in it too often or when we ought really to be doing something else. It's true that most daydreaming is what we may describe as unproductive fantasy but on the other hand we can also say, we can also even assert, that daydreams are very often, or at least sometimes, at least occasionally, blueprints of the future. We may even say that today's dream, in some cases, may be tomorrow's reality. And if we look at the history of the world, at the history of culture, or the history of religions, history of the arts, history of philosophy, we very often find that the greatest men of the past, the greatest men and the greatest women too are sometimes, or have sometimes been, the greatest dreamers. If we go back to the days of ancient Greece, if we think, say, of someone like Plato, surely one of the greatest men who have ever lived, we find that Plato too dreamed his dreams. And the greatest of his dreams, the most famous of his dreams is of course the Republic, that great classic, that great dialogue in twelve books where Plato dreams his dream of the ideal society, the Republic, a society based upon truth and upon justice. In the same way if we come to other traditions, other cultures, other classics, we find similarly, say, the dream or the vision of the Bible, the last book of the Bible, that is to say the book of Revelations where we have this wonderful, even this marvellous vision of the new Jerusalem, with its walls made of precious and semi-precious stones and all the rest of it, with a great mythical and archetypal significance.

And so it is down the ages, we may say. Coming nearer to our own times, there's Sir Thomas More's has anything to do except just this. And of course to crown it all, especially from our English point of view, we may add, we're told that in the Pure Land, in the Happy Land, the weather is always perfect.

So this is Buddhism's dream, or Buddhism's daydream, or if you like its vision of an ideal society and an ideal world. But you may of course be feeling, you may be thinking that this is all rather remote, this is all rather ideal, this is all rather archetypal, this is all rather mythological - it doesn't concern us very much. But we should also remember that though upon occasion Buddhism does dream and dream very beautifully, it isn't content merely to dream. We may say that on the whole the approach of Buddhism, of the Buddha's teaching to all these questions, is very sane, is very practical, is also realistic. So Buddhism isn't content to dream about the ideal society of the future or about some ideal world on some other plane. It tries to create also the ideal society, the ideal community if you like, here and now, on this earth. It tries therefore to transform, it tries to transfigure this society and this world into the image of the future, into the image of the ideal. And it does this in a number of different ways. And one of the ways in which it does this, one of the ways in which it tries to transform, to transfigure, this world and this society is with the help of its teaching of what we call Right Livelihood.

Now Right Livelihood is the fifth step of the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. And as most of you know, especially those who have been coming here faithfully week by week, we are at present in this course of talks studying this very path, the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. And every week of course we're directing our attention to one step or one stage or one aspect of that great path.

Now before proceeding with the present stage, the stage of Right Livelihood, let us just try to see, let us just try to understand this step or this stage in the context of the total path. And of course for those who have been following week by week this should be quite easy, or at least not very difficult. You'll remember of course that the first stage, which is the stage of Perfect Vision, consists in a sort of initial insight into the nature of existence, seeing a little deeper than people usually see, seeing a little further, seeing more truly, having at least a glimpse, a vision of Reality. This is not just an intellectual understanding, this Perfect Vision, but primarily a sort of spiritual experience. And this first step or first stage of Perfect Vision by itself - just this one step or one stage - constitutes what we also call the Path of Vision, the first of the two great sections in which the whole Eightfold Path is divided.

Now Perfect Vision as it were descends into and transforms different aspects of our being. That is to say we have this vision, we have this glimpse of Reality, and this alters our whole outlook, our whole way of seeing things, our whole way of doing things. And this altered outlook gradually communicates itself to different aspects of our being so that little by little, aspect by aspect, we are gradually transformed from top to bottom. And this process of transformation is represented by all the remaining seven stages of the path which are collectively known as the Path of Transformation. The Path of Vision consisting of the first step only; the Path of Transformation consisting of all the rest. The second step or the second stage of the Eightfold Path which is Perfect Emotion represents the transformation of our entire emotional life. Perfect Speech, the third stage, represents the transformation of our communication with one another, and Perfect Action, the fourth stage, represents the transformation of our ordinary everyday behaviour.

So today we come to Right Livelihood, or rather Perfect Livelihood, or in Sanskrits samyak ajiva, which is the fifth step or the fifth stage or the fifth aspect. And we are of course still on the Path of Transformation. We're concerned with the transformation of yet another aspect of ourselves, our total being and our total life. But this time with this step or with this stage, though we're also concerned with the transformation of an aspect of ourselves as before, this time there's a difference, a very great, a very important difference. So far as we have come along this Eightfold Path we've been concerned with the transformation of ourselves individually, with our own individual, separate life. But with this step or with this stage - Right Livelihood - we are concerned with the transformation of the collective life, not just the individual life but the collective life, the life of the community, the life of society, if you like even the life of the state. Now this is not an aspect of Buddhism which is usually very much emphasised, in fact sometimes it's rather played down. But it is very definitely a part of the total teaching - this idea that we should try to transform also not just our individual lives but the community, society at large, the world, the state.

Now a collective life or collective existence has various aspects and we may say that there are three principal aspects. There's the strictly social aspect, there's also the political aspect, and there is the economic aspect, and Buddhism has teachings which cover all these three aspects. For instance, if we look at the social side we find that Buddhism has various social teachings especially in the context of ancient Indian life - we find that the Buddha was not at all in favour of the dominant feature of social life in India at his time, that is to say the caste system, the system of hereditary caste which is still very much a feature of the social scene in India today. According to that system your position ...

download whole text as a pdf   Next