Right Livelihood and Minimalism

Reducing our needs and wants grants us greater flexibility, so that we have more control over how we earn a living.

A revised version of this essay is collected in the book Eightfold Minimalism: Essays from A Minimalist Abroad, now available from Amazon.

There are a lot of interpretations regarding what constitutes Right Livelihood. Buddhist doctrine says that there are specific ways of earning a living that we should avoid: don’t be a drug dealer, don’t be a poisoner, don’t be an arms dealer, don’t engage in human trafficking, and so on. Generally, don’t do things that are morally and ethically reprehensible. It’s the reason I got out of the corporate lifestyle, because I couldn’t do some of the things I was required to do and maintain a clear conscience.

Others say that it boils down to being honest in your business dealings, no matter what you do. We shouldn’t hold a job that prevents us from practicing Right Speech and Right Action. Which is obvious enough; we shouldn’t do work that requires us to say or do things that create or extend suffering.

Another more modern interpretation of Right Livelihood sees it as maintaining work/life balance, so that the way we make a living don’t prevent us from fulfilling our responsibilities to our families, or prevent us from taking care of ourselves. We should do work that we find meaningful, that supports the whole of our life, and does not cause or mind and our spirit to suffer.

From a minimalist perspective, it means having a job or career that doesn’t introduce things into our lives that we don’t need or want, but leaves us with the resources to pursue the things that we do. We don’t work for the sake of working; we work because we need to pay bills, or because we enjoy it, or because we have some sort of calling to it. We don’t work more than we need to, because we have other things in our lives that we need to do.

Right Livelihood should either be what we need or want, allow us access to what we need or want, or provide us with the resources to acquire what we need or want. It doesn’t  introduce clutter into our lives, either by encouraging or requiring a materialistic lifestyle. It should not bind up hour time by requiring a ridiculous schedule and pointless activity. It should not squander our relationships by forcing us to endure rude, cruel, and willfully ignorant people. Minimalism, by reducing our needs and wants, also provides us with greater flexibility, so that we have more control over how we earn our livelihood.

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