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Buddhadharma : Fall 2018
20 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY Using the metric of nonharming, who would you say has right livelihood? We are all, in an interconnected way, com- plicit to harming in varying degrees. So, what to do? What’s most important is what’s in your heart. There are many ways to live a life of nonharming. As my teacher, col- league, and friend Larry Yang says: May I be as loving and compassionate as I can be. If I cannot be loving in this moment, may I be kind. If I cannot be kind, may I be nonjudgmental. If I can- not be nonjudgmental, may I not cause harm. And if I cannot not cause harm, may I cause the least amount of harm possible. I believe we can all live within the scope of these principles. ELIZABETH MATTIS NAMGYEL: For laypeople, the Buddha’s teachings on right livelihood mean avoiding work that is injurious to others, such as slaughtering animals, dis- honest business dealings, or anything that might harm the environment. Precepts, such as a commitment to right livelihood, provide a scaffolding to hold us up in our intention to practice nonviolence. As a living practice, vows are propositions that keep us asking questions about our relationship to the world around us. Whether or not we are benefiting or harming others is not a Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel is a Vajrayana teacher and retreat master with Mangala Shri Bhuti, based in Crestone, Colorado simple matter of a job description, or of black-and-white principles we may have about what is “good” and what is “bad.” Buddhist ethics are much more nuanced than that. The Mahayana scriptures teach that bodhisattvas can appear as butchers or prostitutes, vocations generally con- demned as violating right livelihood. Kindness can show up anywhere, even where we least expect it. There is no intrinsically “pure” vocation. We are part of a matrix of contingent relationships. Just by virtue of being alive we can’t avoid causing harm, at least indirectly. The Buddha called this state of affairs “all-pervasive suffering.” If you are a poli- cymaker, for instance, it is likely the deci- sions you make will benefit some people and harm others, even if your motivation is altruistic. The Mahayana scriptures also say a bodhisattva’s greatest fear is to rest in a state of perfect peace, divorced from the suffering of beings. The bodhi- sattva is committed to engaging chal- lenging situations, to “infiltrating from within.” The workplace—like any other place —c an be a rich environment to practice dharma. To influence a situation may just mean extending a bit of warmth and kindness, or finding nonreactive ways to creatively finesse the flow around us. People need more tenderness and sanity in their lives, and they need examples. If BRONYAAGASTO