Right Livelihood: How Earning an Ethical Living Affects Self-Care

I’ll say it here and I’ll say it clear: A good chunk of my need for self-care stems from years of not practicing Right Livelihood. What I did for a living caused other people harm. There is no question. While I never did anything illegal, I did things I considered to be unethical if not downright immoral because my employers required me to. The guilt of that left me with anxiety, depression, and ulcers.

What is Right Livelihood?

Right Livelihood is the fifth step along the Buddhist Eightfold Path, and the third moral virtue. Don’t earn your living doing things that create harm. The examples in the early texts talk about not engaging the slave trade, selling weapons, or dealing in alcohol or poison. Modern (non-vegetarian) Buddhists also include things like mistreating animals raised for food, or slaughtering them in inhumane ways. Right Livelihood also includes doing business in ways that harm people – don’t steal, cheat, or intentionally deceive people.

Right Livelihood as a Catalyst for Self-Care

My physical and mental health are wrecked because I did not practice Right Livelihood. I own that. While the situation was predatory, I still had free will. I was seduced by money. There was a fear of missing out, both in terms of material things I did not need, and essential things like health insurance. That my understanding of Right Livelihood was itself warped by my upbringing, but the values expressed by a consumer-driven society, and by the culture itself doesn’t excuse me. I was wrecked by what happened, and I continue to be haunted by it now. Now I need self-care to deal with the damage done to my digestive system and my emotional state.

I make less money being self-employed than I could working for someone else, but I get to follow my own conscience. Right Livelihood isn’t easy. You’ve probably seen me make sarcastic comments about how I’ve paid the bills with my writing for over two years, but I still get remarks about getting a “real job”. No. Not if it means compromising my values. I’m a minimalist partially because in needing less, I have more freedom to practice Right Livelihood.

Do You Have Insights on Right Livelihood and Self-Care?

We need to be honest about what our problems are. What areas of our lives are in need of better self-care? If you already have a routine, are the things you’re doing getting you results? What can you do differently that will address your unmet needs, and allow you to alleviate your own suffering? Be sure that the step you take aren’t going to end up causing you a different sort of suffering, or accidentally create suffering for others. Employing Right Livelihood, you can improve your own self-care efforts.

I want to know your thoughts and opinions on this. Please leave your comments below. Maybe we can start a discussion!

2 thoughts on “Right Livelihood: How Earning an Ethical Living Affects Self-Care

  1. And this is where some of my internal battles stem from, because you’d think that, working in healthcare and helping people would be all hunky dory in this regard, but then again I’m a cog in one of the most vicious and harmful machines in America, regardless of my intentions.

  2. Oh, I get it. Back in the late 80’s I worked in stores at a large metropolitan hospital for a couple of years while I was going to university. I worked with nurses and heard stories. I knew what we paid for supplies, and what customers were billed. There was a constant battle to cut costs and increase billing. And that was 30 years ago. I know things have only gotten worse.

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