Prajnaparamtia. The Eightfold Noble Path. Upright Livelihood.

Dear Friends,

“What is there to write about Upright Livelihood that has not already been written in previous posts and the millions of commentaries over 2500 years?” is what I have been sitting with while preparing for this post. Nothing that is written here is new but writing it here, whether it is read or not, is a little way for me to practice upright livelihood. Thank you for being mirrors for my practice.

There are recipes in the sutras and commentaries for Upright Livelihood which seem to mirror the precepts outlined in the practice  of silaparamita or discipline.

I vow to cherish life, not to kill.

I vow to accept gifts, not to steal.

I vow to respect others, not to misuse sexuality.

I vow to practice truthfulness, not to lie.

I vow to practice clarity, not to intoxicate the mind or body of self or others.

The practice of Upright Livelihood would be putting these precepts into practice in how we subsist, make a living, or the actions we take to sustain this body-heart-mind. Like other formulas or recipes for spiritual practices, these are applications that when practiced diligently, bring awareness to the habitual, ingrained and unconscious habits of body, emotions and mind that may cause suffering. And it seems that the more we can apply them in this life, that there is a lightening of our burdens. However, there are limitations to these external applications when we step out of our temples of selfhood and begin to engage with the worlds of communities and when we try to convince, or impose these practices on, others. If we look closely at all of the livelihoods in the world today, there are clear, justifiable and contributive instances where our or someone else’s livelihood is not in alignment with these precepts. There are actual livelihoods that relieve suffering and are also the antithesis to some of these precepts. Enforcing these applications of upright livelihood universally, is stepping off the path of prajnaparamita,  wisdom-before-wisdom and back onto a path of suffering and causing suffering.

So, I have been asking “What could Shakyamuni Buddha be saying about livelihood? What way of being in livelihood, will contribute to the end of suffering, the intention of the Eightfold Noble Path?”

This question leads my thoughts back to danaparamita, generosity, or the way of pure selflessness. In many of the stories, commentaries and sutras that I have had the fortune of reading ( especially the Avatamsaka Sutra, The Flower Ornament Scripture, there are references to the buddhas or bodhisattvas, doing whatever it takes to fulfill the wishes of others in order to relieve suffering. They do not judge those wishes or try to redirect them to “better” wishes. They just fulfill them with absolute equanimity. Their livelihood is a natural, nonconceptual, no-recipe-needed outflow of their awakening to the realization of no separate self. The buddhas and bodhisattvas know that no matter how many lifetimes or eons of fulfilling others wishes it takes, that each being will ultimately see, that no matter how many wishes are fulfilled, no matter how many times I finally get what I think I have to have, there is still suffering. With that understanding, that prajna, then there is the awakening to realizing the absolute sustenance of just what is here, what has always been here. 

I am enjoying playing with the word “livelihood”. It sounds like “living in the neighborhood”. That is what I sense when I remember to practice Upright Livelihood. It is diving, with all six senses awake and open, into this neighborhood, this life, this time, these habitual thoughts, these emotions, these actions, and seeing what they are made of and then seeing or at least asking how they contribute to an awakening to the cessation of suffering. Then, holding that open, equanimous question in my heart-mind, living out into the neighborhood, the sangha of the world, and getting a taste of how all livelihoods of all lives, all beings, animate and inanimate, fulfill infinite wishes and contribute to the cessation of suffering.


With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.


There are still a few openings for the upcoming retreat: The Art and Wisdom of Being Human. June 20 – June 24. Click here for more information.


Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

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  • Mondays: Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
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