The Buddhist principle of Right Livelihood in our modern-day workplace

As modern-day Buddhists, many of us work in companies and we often love our work, our colleagues and our workplace culture. But ethically, we can be challenged by the harm some enterprises inflict on our planet. As Buddhists, how do we respect “right livelihood” and keep the jobs we enjoy?  

It is fitting in our pursuit of “right livelihood” to consider the harm that our employers may be causing our world. It is also equally fitting to recognize that our employers — whether pharmaceutical companies, banks, social media businesses, energy corporations — do tremendous good for others, fostering health, well-being and safety for billions worldwide.

For Buddhists, holding such a paradox in our hearts can be a noble and inspiring challenge rather than a distressing intellectual puzzle: how can we strengthen the compassionate impulses of modern-day enterprises while limiting the harm?

First, we can recognize the toxicity and damage unfolding from the workplace, but not be blinded by it. As Buddhists, we are committed to helping others in distress and what better place to lend a hand than where it is most needed.

Second, be engaged — as scientists, teachers, computer programmers, truck drivers and more. As engaged Buddhists, we can cheerfully promote what is healthy, fearlessly confront what is toxic or compassionately protect what is vulnerable. Whatever our choice, our intention is central: we go to work not just for a paycheck, but to inspire the best in others and encourage health and wellbeing for all sentient beings.

Finally, bring the wisdom we discover in meditation into the workplace and that begins with engaging livelihood as awakened activity. For, in the end, “right livelihood” is less about standing up for what is “right” but more about authentically and skillfully helping a world that, in so many respects, has lost its way.