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Right Livelihood - Questions and Answers at Windhorse Trading

by Sangharakshita

Sangharakshita In Seminar

Right Livelihood

[Seminar held with the Windhorse Trading Chapter
At Cross House, Titchwell, Norfolk on 26th December 1993]

Those Present: The Venerable Sangharakshita, Dharmacharis Vajraketu, Ruchiraketu, Kuladitya,
Satyaloka, Keturaja, Vasubandhu, Lalitavajra, Ratnaketu, Aparimana, Sinhaketu, (apologies from
Sanghaketu, Manapa).


Session One


Sangharakshita: (subsequently indicated in this seminar as S:) So topic areas for Bhante; Right
Livelihood, a complete path or preparation? So I was wondering first of all what one meant by a complete
path, what was a complete path, what even was a path?

Ruchiraketu: This was in relation to developing Insight, and what you have there Bhante are really just
main headings, and I've got some more details here. We just thought it would be useful for you to have an
overview of the areas that we were interested in.

S: Right....I've been thinking about this question of path recently, I'll wind my way into the subject in my
own way. The point of departure was when somebody started saying, in fact two different people, maybe
one in the States, one in Britain, spoke of parenthood as a path, that being a parent is in itself a path. By
which of course they meant a spiritual path, a path to Enlightenment. So this led me to think first of all,
well, whether parenthood was a path, and then what was a path in general? So what is it about a path that
enables you to say that parenthood is a path?
So I thought a way of approaching this would be by way of an extreme example. Suppose you take the
example of say a butcher. A butcher might argue, well, being a butcher is a path, he might say that I cut
up the meat mindfully, I serve my customers honestly, so me being a butcher is a path. So where would
you say the objections to that are, if any? Or does this sound reasonable that being a butcher is a path?

Kuladitya: In the product which he is selling there is cruelty inherent in it isn't there, or harming living
beings inherent in it.

S: Yes, so there are other aspects. So it may be true that he cuts up the meat mindfully and is honest, but
you can't consider only those factors. Do you see what I mean? You have to see the extent to which the
negative factors outweigh the positive or vice-versa. If the negative factors outweigh the positive, well
you can't really talk of the trade of a butcher being a path. So one could go back to the example of
parenthood being a path or not a path, because the argument goes that well, if you're a parent you have to
develop qualities of patience, tolerance, unselfishness. Well those are all spiritual qualities, so you know
parenthood is a path, it helps to develop those qualities. So is that reasoning correct would you say?

Vajraketu: It could be... Presumably.

Satyaloka: Well following your argument you could look for what other factors....

S: Yes, so what other factors are there? So on the negative side you have to recognise well, during your
first years as a parent, especially if you're a solo-parent, you won't be able to go on retreat, you'll see very

little of your spiritual friends, you'll have no time for study, perhaps you won't be able to meditate. So
those factors have to be weighed against.

So you can't say without qualification that being a parent does constitute a spiritual path. It might
conceivably, under certain circumstances. Supposing that you did not have to work, you had a nurse maid
etc,etc. Well even then perhaps you could not say that parenthood was a path, but only that parenthood
did not prevent you from following the path, which is a different thing from parenthood being a path.

Kuladitya: Yes because trying to draw everything into the definition of a path seems to me to be
somehow different from saying "this is the spiritual path", which has its own specific definition, and other
things aren't the spiritual path. I mean it seems to me to blur the issue too much.

S: But also one could say that the fact that a particular way of life or life-style enables you to develop
certain spiritual qualities does not necessarily mean that that life-style in itself and by itself does
constitute a spiritual path. Anyhow leave aside parenthood for the moment, I don't think it concerns
anyone actually here... No?... We have to make sure (laughter), I don't want to tread on any toes. So then
the question further arises, well is there any way of life or life-style which is, which can be regarded as, a
path in itself without any sort of qualification, that does not involve any negative features, by definition.
Is there?... Perhaps not...What do you think?

Satyaloka: It's probably just more, or less, ideal.

S: Yes, well so far we have considered these various examples in those terms.

Ratnaketu: Didn't the Buddha recommend a life-style that was, if not perfect, then was very close to it?

S: Well there is the monastic one isn't there. So what about that? Could that be regarded as constituting
the spiritual path by definition almost, or are there any negative aspects of that?

Satyaloka: When you say monastic do you mean a monk, brahmacarya?

S: The traditional, yes, including brahmacarya.

Ruchiraketu: I would have thought that it was impossible to define the spiritual path in terms of life-
style. That a lot is going to depend on, for example attitude, (S: Right, yes.) that sort of thing. Because I
am sure there can be bad monks as well as good monks.

S: Well it depends on what you mean by monk, because if you define a monk in a certain way, then by
definition you couldn't have a bad monk, because if he didn't fulfill that definition he wouldn't be a monk,
not really.

Kuladitya: Can one just criticise the path by way of criticising the people trying to walk the path. (S:
Right, yes). The people might be imperfect but the....

S: Just as there can be bad parents, but that is not an argument that there can not be such a thing as
parenthood as a spiritual path. It's merely that people are nominally parents don't follow the path that they
are supposed to follow.

Kuladitya: Are we asking can there be ideal conditions? Is the path to do with the conditions under
which we can practise.

S: Well clearly the path has some connection with them, you can't separate the path. But it does seem
from the discussion so far that you can't speak of any particular livelihood, for want of a better term, or

vocation say, or avocation, as being in itself a spiritual path. (Pause).

Satyaloka: Isn't that a bit of a jump as being we were talking about (word unclear). Saying you can't
speak of a particular vocation as being a spiritual path, are you saying well....

S: Well in part because it does....

Satyaloka: Because you can be an extreme parent, but after that you are saying well there may be
degrees, or the attitude that you follow it with. You can say that it is a spiritual path, but you can't maybe
say whether it doesn't have any negative features to it, or it's....

S: Probably there is no vocation, not even that of the monk, which has no negative features. Because you
could argue against the traditional concept of monk-hood, you could say that well look the monk is
dependent on others for his material support and that is not a good thing, you could certainly argue that.
Though that is not the traditional way of looking at things.

Ratnaketu: Is the monk, (word unclear) monk, in terms of the original sense of the Buddhist.. He is
dependent on others but is there anyone else who isn't, even a rich man is dependent on...

S: Well again it depends on, it raises again the question of what you mean by dependent? Because the
rich man is dependent, in a sense, on others working for him. But in a sense of course they are dependent
on him for supplying them with work, so there is a mutual dependence. But most people would say that
he was more independent than they were, because he had perhaps more initiative than they did, and
perhaps he was free to hire them and fire them, whereas they would not be free to hire and fire him.

Kuladitya: So does this mean that we have to talk about a path in terms of practices and principles rather
than life-styles?

S: Yes it does seem that. Even though life-style is an expression of your principles. Also you can't really
separate the conditions under which you practise principles, from the principles themselves. You don't
practise the principles in a vacuum, and some ...

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