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horayangura - INTERPRETING RIGHT LIVELIHOOD UNDERSTANDING...

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INTERPRETING “RIGHT LIVELIHOOD”: UNDERSTANDING AND PRACTICE IN CONTEMPORARY THAILAND Nissara Horayangura, Independent Researcher, Thailand, [email protected] ABSTRACT The practice of Right Livelihood is a crucial aspect of the Buddhist spiritual path in that it connects inner transformation with external transformation at both the individual and social levels. Using case studies of eight seriously committed Buddhist practitioners in Bangkok, this paper examines different ways of interpreting “Right Livelihood,” both in understanding and in actual practice. The research shows that contemporary lay practitioners are re-interpreting “Right Livelihood” in innovative ways to suit modern realities and are taking pro-active steps to fashion a work lifestyle that supports their spiritual self-development and promotes service to others. However, broader interpretations of “Right Livelihood” that reflect a deeper understanding of how livelihood relates to the larger socio- economic system can still be further developed. INTRODUCTION Right Livelihood is one of the eight components of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path of self- development (See Figure 1), which leads to the cessation of suffering or, conversely, the attainment of ultimate “happiness.” In considerations of Gross National Happiness, then, an investigation of interpretations of Right Livelihood, both in theory and practice, is important for several reasons. Firstly, Right Livelihood, along with Right Action and Right Speech, comprises the part of the Path that relates to the external world; ie. the practice of morality or sila (in Pali). It is thus a bridge between inner transformation, as attained through the practice of mental discipline or samadhi (Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration), and outer transformation. The wisdom or panna (Right View and Right Intention) attained in part from mental training or meditation can lead to a dramatic change in a practitioner’s values, commitment to upholding morality, and understanding of their very purpose in life. However, these internal changes also need to be reflected in a practitioner’s external life. Spiritual practice cannot remain confined to the meditation cushion and needs to be integrated into a practitioner’s daily life for it to be considered to truly follow the Path, which is profoundly holistic. Only then will a balanced spiritual practice be realized and real happiness achieved. Livelihood or work is a particularly crucial area in which to examine how people can integrate their spiritual practice into their daily lives because work takes up such a large proportion of most people’s time in contemporary society, especially in urban areas. Moreover, work is closely tied with self- actualization, with many people seeking jobs that further their self-development and reflect their values, priorities, and aspirations in life. This is especially true of the modern world, where there are a wider variety of jobs and work is viewed not simply as a means to make a living, unlike in a simple economy.
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