"If action should not injure others, one's means of livelihood should not exploit anyone, and one's work in this world should contribute, however modestly, to universal well-being and welfare." — The Aquarian Almanac"

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August 29, 2015  Theme for the Week: Right Livelihood

“We are born with faculties and powers capable of almost anything, such as at least would carry us further than can be easily imagined.”

—John Locke

“It is always a mistake not to close one’s eyes, whether to forgive or to look better into oneself.”

—Maurice Maeterlinck

Using one's time wisely has to do with with making time for benevolent meditation and honest self study. We often don't make them a priority and they get pushed aside.

August 30, 2015   Theme for the Week: Right Livelihood

” A fearless course in life, a well-earned livelihood, a well-regulated mode of living, together with a dispassionate temper and a cool mind, are replete with unrestricted ambrosial delight .”

 — Valmiki

August 31, 2015 Theme of the Week: Right Livelihood

“There’s no discouragement

Shall make him once relent

His first avowed intent

To be a pilgrim.”

— John Bunyan

“Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness.”

— Thomas Carlyle

E.F. Schumacher offered this:

“Right Livelihood” is one of the requirements of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. It is clear, therefore, that there must be such a thing as Buddhist economics."

"It is a question of finding the right path of development, the Middle Way between materialist heedlessness and traditionalist immobility, in short, of finding “Right Livelihood.”​

"The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give a man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence."

I happened to come across E.F. Schumacher in a book this past week. In accomplishing the third principle of the function of work, efficiency in bringing forth goods and services is utterly important. On a grander scale, I think of companies who offer goods and services, but at the expense of the environment, for example.

I found Schumacher's words to be quite profound as I consider the application of Buddhist economics to one's livelihood:

"...since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption."

September 1, 2015 Theme for the Week: Right Livelihood

“I am a true laborer, I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man’s happiness, glad of other men’s good, content with my harm.”

— William Shakespeare

“There is work for all of us. And there is special work for each.”

— John Ruskin

It seems like Right Livelihood not only has to do with one's occupation but could be more broadly construed as using ones time wisely and for the benefit of others. 

I suppose many of us, from "western" culture, are so accustomed to the idea of "livelihood" relating directly to capitalistic economics, that it might be a bit of a misleading translation. Literally, there's no necessary association with "work", "employment", "career", "money", etc., etc. in the original Pali or Sanskrit terms, so far as I can tell (samyak + ājīva). "Right way of living" or something like "living rightly" would seem more accurate, and would, I think, help us westerners to realize the greater meaning than simply that of finding the right employment or earning money in a ethical way (even though this interpretation is in the Pali canon). I would assume that because our world-wide society has been so immersed in economic thinking, banking, trade, etc. as the foundation of our daily lives that we've all come to blend the idea of "employment" with the idea of "living" (i.e. "making a living") to such an extent that we can hardly see beyond the merger of the two. But I bet we do need to look beyond to really understand what Buddha meant.

Is "right living" the same as what Krishna speaks of when he tells us that:

"It is better to do one’s own duty, even though it be devoid of excellence, than to perform another’s duty well. It is better to perish in the performance of one’s own duty; the duty of another is full of danger." (3:35)

or that:

"Even if the good of mankind only is considered by thee, the performance of thy duty will be plain..."?

And what might be the relation between "right living" and "dharma" or "duty"?

Jon, I think you touch on some very valid points

"...help us westerners to realize the greater meaning than simply that of finding the right employment or earning money in a ethical way... because our world-wide society has been so immersed in economic thinking, banking, trade, etc. as the foundation of our daily lives that we've all come to blend the idea of "employment" with the idea of "living" (i.e. "making a living") to such an extent that we can hardly see beyond the merger of the two."

Personally, I cringe when someone asks, "So, what do you do?" simply because of the above interpretation.  I've become profoundly aware of first glance judgements based on methods of financial support of the individual, in short; superficial analysis.  It is with this approach that one belittles their fellow people,  encouraging the separative classification based on employment and financial income, and not sensing nor recognizing the unseen efforts any given person might have undertook in this life to help aid and be of service to fellow Humanity.  Moral and Ethical reform come from within, this is Livelihood.  Such work cannot be easily seen nor measured by any other.  To understand Livelihood as a means of profit and gain is to further feed the false identification to the personality.

As you mentioned the fantastic quote from the Gita, Livelihood is perfectly expounded. [G.3.35]

"what might be the relation between "right living" and "dharma" or "duty"?"

Perhaps they are all essentially stating the same idea?  Dharma, I believe, to the the Âtmân; right living and duty are its facets.  When one becomes plainly aware of Dharma, right living and duty are employed simultaneously, though this might be the ideal situation, as it is indeed a struggle in the Kaliyug, as we all know.

"Livelihood" has indeed been restricted to the activities people do for financial exchanges. This perception limits the endless possibilities of combined actions that benefit people and create one's overall livelihood - paid or unpaid. The consequence of treating lucrative abilities as the only valuable component in one's livelihood is a robbery of one's undefinable and unprofitable gifts by mundane definitions. And so our society digests a sad perception of livelihood that can limit what it means to live one's dharma...

This is what came to mind upon reading this particular part of your comment:

"...encouraging the separative classification based on employment and financial income, and not sensing nor recognizing the unseen efforts any given person might have undertook in this life to help aid and be of service to fellow Humanity."

If you were retired and donated your time each week at the hospital or a lunch kitchen for the homeless you might consider that a livelihood.  Earning money is not the only kind of livelihood.

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Permalink Reply by Peter on September 7, 2015 at 6:02am

I see what you're getting at, Grace.  However, wouldn't we normally say that our livelihood is what we were doing up until the age of retirement and which has provided us with the opportunity to retire in the first place and then to donate time to the welfare of others?

Permalink Reply by Tamiko Yamada on September 2, 2015 at 9:41pm

Right livelihood might broadly mean  what I do in the world and how it affects others.

Permalink Reply by Shanet Rampersaud on September 4, 2015 at 4:28pm

Agreed, Tamiko. Regardless of time, location or circumstance, people can embody and practice their livelihood.

Permalink Reply by Grace Cunningham on September 5, 2015 at 11:55am

Could livelihood be expanded to include the duties an individual owes those around one.  That way it is not only business duties, but family duties and civic duties that would be included.  And in all three instances the same moral code.

Permalink Reply by Shanet Rampersaud on September 13, 2015 at 12:29pm

I suppose this depends on how "duties owed" is defined. The familial, business and civic duties that people believe they're obligated to offer may not be aligned with external perceptions of what they ought to owe.

But livelihood can very well have the same moral code in any arena of our lives.

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 4, 2015 at 2:24am

If we take Right Livelihood to mean what we do in general in the world, or right duty, or something similar, how should we differentiate this aspect of the eightfold path from the other aspects such as Right Action, Right Effort, Right Speech, Right Intention?

Also, giving that this eightfold path is traditionally taken to be the Fourth Noble Truth taught by the Buddha, how might we understand Right Livelihood in the context of the four Noble Truths i.e. The Truth of Suffering, the Truth of the Causes of Suffering, the truth of the Cessation of Suffering and The Path that leads to the Cessation of Suffering? 

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 4, 2015 at 11:50am

In regards to  Peter's first question:The concept of a "livelihood" probably was not the same meaning in the Buddha's time as it is now.  There is a sharper distinction between our "private life" and our "work life" now I suppose. (Does anyone know the Pali word used that is translated into "Livelihood"? ) Humanity was much more connected with food production and farming in earlier times and I would suspect the distinction between family life and running a farm was not that great.  That being said I think the larger point is that all of the eightfold noble path elements blend and flow into one another rather gracefully.  Those are some thoughts anyway on the topic.

Perhaps others have comments on Peter's excellent second question.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 4, 2015 at 12:14pm

The term used is "ājīva". The full term is: samyak-ājīva.

आजीव ājīva [act. ājīv] m. livelihood; way of life.
ājīvam adv. for life.

आजीव् ājīv [ā-jīv] v. [1] pr. (ājīvati) pr. md. (ājīvate) pp. (ājīvita) live.

जीव् jīv v. [1] pr. (jīvati) pr. md. (jīvate) fut. (jīviṣyati) pft. (jijīva) pp. (jīvita) abs. (jīvitvā, -jīvya) pf. (anu, ā, ut, upa, sam) live, to be alive

जीव jīva [agt. jīv] a. m. n. f. Jiva living, lively - m. life; existence; individual soul.

(translated into English from the French Sanskrit Heritage Dictionary)

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 4, 2015 at 12:38pm

The term ‘livelihood’ normally refers to the way by which we support our own existence in the world, how we put food on the table for ourselves, for our families, and how we keep a roof over our head etc etc.  Some people make what we call ‘an honest living’ others make 'a dishonest living'.  Is there any reason to think this didn’t apply to people in the Buddha’s time?

The Samyuta Nikaya contains what the Buddha explained about the Noble Eightfold Path. Below is an extract on Right Livelihood.

“And what, monks, is right livelihood? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood: This, monks, is called right livelihood.” Samyuka Nikaya 45.8

Instead of ‘keeps his life going,’ other translators use phrases such as ‘he ekes out a living by right livelihood’ or “earns his living by right livelihood’.
In the Angutara Nikaya, the Buddha is shown as stating which types of livelihood a lay person definitely should not be involved in:

“These five trades should not be taken up: trading in weapons, trading in living beings, trading in meat, trading in intoxicants, trading in poisons.” (Anguttarra Nikaya 5.177; III 208)

These seem as relevant now as they were during the Buddha’s time.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 4, 2015 at 12:57pm

I wonder what role the life of a beggar/renunciant plays in the scheme of "right livelihood". I mean... take the Buddha's teachings in regards to that life, and to many people it is seen as noble, and part of a higher "path", but talk to most common people in our world and I'm not sure they'd view purposeful homelessness/begging as "right livelihood". The same question could be applied to monks living in communes... what meaning does "livelihood" hold in their lives vs. the common person in our society?

I also wonder... what about those who don't live in capitalistic societies, where "making a living" isn't even a concept to be understood. I.e. tribal peoples of various areas who have no monetary system and thus no "livelihood" as we westerners tend to understand the term. Would "livelihood" then apply to a more expansive meaning?

I would also wonder about the "communities" of adepts and chelas who have removed themselves from common society... I wonder what their sense of "right livelihood" is...?

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 7, 2015 at 6:17am

Jon, the term livelihood and 'way of life' are sometimes used interchangeably to refer to the same thing.  If we take the meaning of livelihood to mean 'the way in which we support our own existence' then hunting and gathering as a way of life is just what tribes of hunter-gatherers do to support their own existence.  I imagine that individuals in the tribe each have or develop specific skills to 'earn' or keep their place therein.

The renunciant or wandering monk makes that his/her way of life: s/he depends on 'the dharma' and the good will of others (i.e. the results of others livelihoods) to sustain their existence in the world.  There are mixed views as to whether the Buddha approved or disapproved of monks begging. There are certainly suttas showing he disapproved, where the monks could accept food freely donated but not asked for.  In the quote I gave in the earlier message above, the Buddha talks about the transition from a dishonest to an honest livelihood, so, whether it be the cobbler, the shopkeeper, the bank manager or the renunciant who accepts food from others we can see how it might apply to all.

“And what, monks, is right livelihood? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood: This, monks, is called right livelihood.” Samyuka Nikaya 45.8

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 4, 2015 at 1:13pm

Just thinking about "during the Buddha's time". When I was doing research for the biography on Buddha for universaltheosophy, it was interesting to note the way northern India seems to have been at that time. It seems to have been largely a polk-a-dot of small kingdoms, each with a ruling family and their subjects, each group seeming to be a kind of "tribe" to themselves, but certainly ruled over by monarchs. Now, in regards to "livelihood", if there is a king who has all the wealth, land-ownership, etc., and the subjects are either part of his army or merely there to support the kingdom through their labours..... I wonder what form of "right livelihood" the Buddha would've recommended for one living in a tyrannical kingdom (of which there were certainly many in the area)?

I often wonder about this in relation to our own world as well, with its wealth-disparity, environmental destruction, etc.... what is "right livelihood" in a world in which many, if not most jobs may be seen to support "evils" of one kind or another? Like the struggles Gandhi speaks of in his autobiography, where do we draw the line in which things we support by our choices or choose not to support?

Take one of the buddha's examples: don't do business or trade in human beings. I would take that to mean, don't engage in slavery, etc. In our world today, exploitation of humans in near-slave conditions (if not actual slave conditions) is commonplace in most of our western commercial industries (whether it be 3rd-world factories, prison-labour, etc.).... does our employment in such industries violate the spirit of "right livelihood"? (this is just an example off the top of my head, but I hope we'll all see the essence of the question...)

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Permalink Reply by Tamiko Yamada on September 2, 2015 at 9:40pm

The picture diagram provided does a good job of taking the holistic approach  to the concept of Right Livelihood.  It includes social justice, gender equity etc.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on September 2, 2015 at 11:29pm

September 2, 2015 Theme of the Week: Right Livelihood

“True repose comes from labour.”

— Plato

” Man’s work is to labour and leaven —

As best he may — earth here with heaven;

Tis work for work’s sake that he’s needing.”

— Robert Browning

Permalink Reply by Andrey Shubenkov on September 3, 2015 at 6:53am

Dear Brothers and Sisters! Please correct me if I got the topic wrong. 

On my oppinion the "Right Livelihood" doesn't mean just your dids and general behavior. I think it goes from your very insight. Our insight gets reflected on all we do. And that is why I think that this very insight makes your life an Art.

One may just show that he is "the good guy" but if his inner world is opposite and it is not chenging to the better, then is he living a proper life? I guess it's just a mask.

I think, that the Art of Living is the constant improvement of oneself and nonestop selfless sharing all you have earned with every other. Seeking the ways to help those who needs it and on the other hand not forgetting about yourself and your small-worldly-family. Personal developement and serving the huge family (all living beings) must always be in balance. And being able to keep that balance is the real Art. 

If one is able to keep one's thought allways attached to the vision that all you see, all you feel, all you think is nothink else but a part of Supreme, then that is the Art. And i think that this is just a part of right insight.

If one doesn't get pride of all he does but remembers that everyone around him are his family and he is there to help them when they are needed. Being capable to see when the help is needed and when it can be of the distructive nature, then he does a bit of the Art, but just a bit.

I agree that finding proper occupation helps to keep this Art alive. And that is definately only in our hands to find oneself such business which can be not only feeding you but will have a benifit for the world as well. But without moral and ethical basement one will not be able to find that.

Putting all knowledge we get into practice in noble way - that is "The Art of Living."

Permalink Reply by Tamiko Yamada on September 3, 2015 at 6:06pm

That is a good point you make Andrey, Right Livelihood and the Art of Living might very well be the same thing.

Permalink Reply by Sharon Ormerod on September 5, 2015 at 7:42am

Yes, I agree with you Andrey, with your "insight" as the focus, one cannot go in the wrong direction with "right livelihood".  In simpler terms I would say, your intent, to help others, support your family and strive to develop a clear connection to ones higher self is the right path.

Permalink Reply by Kristan Stratos on September 5, 2015 at 10:13am
Just a thought,

Is not the road to Hell paved with good intention?
Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 5, 2015 at 10:59am

That's where ignorance must come into the equation... a lot of people in our world today with good intentions who are, in fact, actively supporting destructive industries/practices, whether through their employment or otherwise, and simply because they're ignorant to the "bigger picture" of what is going on therein. To my mind, right livelihood must be founded upon understanding, so that our intention can work in the right direction.

Permalink Reply by Grace Cunningham on September 5, 2015 at 12:00pm

Yes as is the road to Heaven.  That is why Wisdom is needed.

Permalink Reply by Kristan Stratos on September 5, 2015 at 1:56pm

"That's where ignorance must come into the equation..."

Very true.  Often we believe our good intentions to be of pure heart.  However, time after time, we are told that we are dominated by the "evil genius" and are ceaselessly self-deceived.  For me, intention generally has no bearings, as there is a fine line, I feel between that and justification.  Unless one is able to stand in Isolation- until that time- one feels every intention is colored and tainted in some way or form by way of this "evil genius."

"The first necessity for obtaining self-knowledge is to become profoundly conscious of ignorance; to feel with every fibre of the heart that one is CEASELESSLY self-deceived."

Ceaselessly Deceived

Permalink Reply by barbaram on September 5, 2015 at 6:42pm

"The first necessity for obtaining self-knowledge is to become profoundly conscious of ignorance; to feel with every fibre of the heart that one is CEASELESSLY self-deceived."

Even so,  we can not be paralyzed by self-doubt and lulled into inaction.  We will continually make mistakes as it is part of the refinement process.     

As said - even misdirected action is better than inaction. 

Permalink Reply by Kristan Stratos on September 6, 2015 at 8:51am

True Barbara, we cannot stand still and hope not to "make waves."  Even inaction is action, the choice not to choose, is an active and conscious thought which defiantly has repercussions.

I just felt it was important to point out that intentions are quite a faulty ground to stand on when not allied with Self-Knowledge, as the first step of livelihood seems to be humility, in my opinion.  Thence, without being "profoundly conscious of ignorance" are we not swimming about in our own pool of self-deludid bliss?  No amount of "good intention" will save us from eventually drowning in a sea of ignorance. This was the idea.

We must act, and it is defiantly a process of refinement, as is everything. However, lately I'm hearing from some people, that "intention will mitigate karma."  Such fundamentally incorrect ideas will have disastrous results.

As Jon said;

"... whether through their employment or otherwise, and simply because they're ignorant to the "bigger picture" of what is going on therein."

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on September 3, 2015 at 4:30pm

September 3, 2015    Theme for the Week: Right Livelihood

“Each morning sees some task begin,

Each evening sees it close;

Something attempted, something done,

Has earned a night’s repose.

  —  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“There is no conflict between work and wisdom. Selfless work leads to self-knowledge.”   

  —  Ramana

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Permalink Reply by Tamiko Yamada on September 3, 2015 at 6:04pm

Oh joy, back to the Eightfold Noble Path.  I love it because it feels so practical, yet deep enough that you cannot fully fathom it. It is like Theosophy that way.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on September 4, 2015 at 2:12pm

September 4, 2015 Theme for the Week: Right Livelihood

“Even the gods extol a mendicant who does not disdain his gains, though they be but little, who is pure in livelihood and earnest in effort.”

— Buddha

“Your daily life is your temple and your religion, whenever you enter into it take with you your all.”

— Kahlil Gibran

Permalink Reply by Andrey Shubenkov on September 4, 2015 at 7:26pm

Reading all your thoughts I remembered one economic theory given by Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar last century. He called it Progressive Utilisation Theory (PROUT). I think it is worthy to go through. One of the main ideas is settling economically independent units all over the world which will be uniting with each-other making bigger independent areas. And all that goes under control of morally strong people. 

There are many strong points in that work. Some of those points are helping to exclude any type of exploitation and therefore there is a strong opposition to it.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 5, 2015 at 1:42pm

What is the relation or cross-over between "right livelihood" and things like non-violent activism, Gandhi's satyagraha, the various rights movements, union strikes, etc.? How does one determine whether and when it is rightful to protest, become an activist, etc.?

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 5, 2015 at 1:45pm

Is there a difference in right livelihood depending on whether we're participating in a political verses a religious life? Does right livelihood manifest itself differently for a monk verses a politician, for instance?

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 6, 2015 at 1:14pm

Jon, perhaps we first need to understand what the Buddha meant by the term "right' in 'right livelihood'?


Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 6, 2015 at 2:44pm

Do you have any insights into the meaning from a Buddhist perspective? Anything from the texts?

Here are two dictionary definitions of the Sanskrit term...

सम्यक् samyak [n. samyac] adv. Overall, simultaneously | well, properly, cleanly, wisely, appropriately | rightly, correctly, exactly; really, absolutely. (Sanskrit Heritage Dictrionary, translated from French)

samyak सम्यक्. Definition: ind. in one or the same direction, in the same way, at the same time, together (with sthā - , "to associate with"). (Monier-Williams: Literary Sources: ṛg-veda, mahābhārata)

Did the Buddha mean something specific in his use of the term?

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 7, 2015 at 5:29am

Hi Jon,  I would probably start from the notion that the term “right” is context dependent, i.e. it isn’t a term that readily explains itself.  Also it doesn’t in itself carry any moral imperative.  There’s probably a ‘right’ way to explode a nuclear bomb that destroys millions of people, just as there’s probably a ‘right’ way to perform a life saving brain operation.  

If the Eightfold Path is simply a list of good ideas for each of us to think about in terms of how we might live, then the meaning of the eight aspects of the Path will likely be just a matter of personal opinion and the meaning of ‘right’ is also likely to vary according to the belief system of the individual.

If we are seeking to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as the Fourth of the Four Noble Truths as taught by the Buddha, then I would suspect that the term ‘Right’ in RIght View, Right Intention, Right Action etc etc. has a particular meaning associated with the other three Noble Truths.

I think that if we are to really appreciate the various aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path we should first study and reflect upon all The Four Noble Truths as given by the Buddha.  As students of theosophy we too often (as least to my mind) pick up and focus on aspects of other spiritual traditions without seeking to properly understand the context in which those aspects/instructions/teachings exist within that tradition.  Perhaps we believe that because Theosophy, as ‘The Wisdom Religion’, is the primeval source from which other spiritual traditions have flowed over time there is no need for us to understand those traditions beyond a superficial familiarity with their most prominent doctrines?  Just a thought.

The first aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right View, which appears to underpin all the other seven aspects of the path.  Here, in this first aspect, the Buddha reiterates the crucial importance of understanding the Four Noble Truths as a whole:

"And what, monks, is right view? Knowledge of suffering, knowledge of the origin of suffering, knowledge of the cessation of suffering, knowledge of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: this is called right view.”

The Buddha had much to say with regards to what actually comprises suffering, its causes and its cessation. This might be worth exploring if we are to gain an insight into the ‘right’ of Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 7, 2015 at 12:05pm

Thanks Peter. I think you're right, in a way, about us theosophists tending not to study each tradition in the depth (and context) necessary to fully understand them, as systems in themselves. For many of us, I suspect this is twofold: simply not enough time to dedicate to such studies, since we must pick and choose that which we wish to give our time to; and secondly that for many of us, myself included, we attempt to study the orthodox, exoteric version of each system in the light of theosophy (the light within us as well as the light shone by HPB and others). As one possible example of the latter, there is this entry in the Theosophical Glossary that has always stuck with me and caused me to examine the "noble eightfold path" from other angles than the common acceptance of them:

Mârga (Sk.). “The “Path”, The Ashthânga mârga, the “holy” or sacred path is the one that leads to Nirvâna. The eight-fold path has grown out of the seven-fold path, by the addition of the (now) first of the eight Marga; i.e., “the possession of orthodox views”; with which a real Yogâcharya would have nothing to do.

I have always wondered why it was eight and not, as one might expect, seven, so when reading this years ago I considered that it may be rather true: that the eighth was a later, orthodox or exoteric addition. Perhaps this is incorrect, but perhaps not. In any case, studying Buddhism from the perspective, and within the context of its exoteric garb would never lead one to even contemplate that the eight might rather be seven, and this is one reason why I tend to study all exoteric religions with a fairly large "grain of salt". That said, I do try to study the exoteric well enough to understand their interpretation of the Buddha's teachings. For me, though, the idea of "right view" as one of the cornerstones of the path has always tugged at my mind as though something is just not "right" with that idea.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 7, 2015 at 12:42pm

Thanks for that Jon, thanks for the questions Peter.  I have always appreciated the point Gandhi made when he said that in the end each man has their own religion and that is the manner in which they choose to live their lives.  The Teachings, in their broader sense is a vast treasure house of wisdom.  We are able to learn and put to use what we can of these resources in varying degrees based on our individual capacities and circumstances.  Wisdom, as we theosophists know all to well, is not the possession  of scholars and academics but instead the possession of the active intellect intend upon practicing what one knows and learns.  In other words we don't need to be a scholar to benefit from the Buddha's teachings or any other great teacher.  Perhaps this is where Right Motive comes in and to look at the Eightfold Noble truths as an integrated whole as students are suggesting. It is better to know one thing well and to thoroughly blend one's life with it than to know hundreds of things that stay on the shelf so to speak.

Permalink Reply by barbaram on September 7, 2015 at 8:22pm

To justice to any tradition, I would like to first understand the teachings in its original context and meaning as much as possible before interpreting it based on my own beliefs and values.  Otherwise, I would see everything through my own colored glass, which is incompatible with the spirit of truth inquiry.  Granted, I do not have time to study all the teachings in depth, nor am I interested in this pursuit.  However, whenever I can glean from the "original" source, it has always deepened my understanding and appreciation of the teachings.


Permalink Reply by Peter on September 8, 2015 at 7:57am

Hi Jon and Gerry,  thanks for your good thoughts. 

Just to clarify - I haven't said that we should study buddhism or any other spiritual tradition 'in depth'.  I suggested that when we pull out specific aspects of those teachings to reflect upon, it might be a good idea if we sought to understand the context of those specific teachings. 

You're quite right, Gerry, we don't need to be academics to benefit from the Buddha's teaching (and no one has suggested that we should), but don't we need to know what the teachings actually are if we hope to benefit from reflecting upon them? 

Judging from the second object of the Theosophical Society, put in place by the founders, there is an expectation that we students of Theosophy will study other spiritual traditions.  The second of the three objects is: 

"To promote the study of Aryan and other Scriptures, of the World's religion and sciences, and to vindicate the importance of old Asiatic literature, namely, of the Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian philosophies."

I get the impression that HPB and the Founders were encouraging us to study these traditions ourselves rather than asking us to promote the idea that other people should study them.  After all, how can we vindicate the importance of such "old Asiatic literature…and philosophies" if we don’t really know what they contain or if we see them as systems to be largely dismissed as exoteric? 

The prominence of the Four Noble Truths (the fourth being 'The Path that leads to the cessation of suffering) varies across different buddhist traditions. HPB says that there are different ways to understand the Four Noble Truths - implying exoteric and esoteric.  When asked by Archibald Keightley,

 "…do these four truths; the first of sorrow, the second of sorrow’s cause, the third sorrow ceasing and the fourth the way, do they represent the four noble truths esoterically?"

HPB replies, "Yes, I think they do. You will find in Buddhism all about them."  She then goes on to say, "the four noble truths meant one thing  for the priests of the yellow robes, and meant different things to the mystics."  (From 'The Secret Doctrine Dialogues' p46)

It may be among 'the mystics' HPB Refers to that we find the "real Yogacharya" from the passage in Mead's 'Theosophical Glossary', from which Jon quoted the passage on Marga.

Does this mean the Four Noble Truths are only of value if understood from an esoteric or mystical standpoint?  The Mahatma KH doesn't appear to think so, judging from His letter to A.P.Sinnett in which He defends the role of Buddhist temple life and lamas in Tibet: 

 'If it is objected that we too have temples, we too have priests and that our lamas also live on charity . . . let them know that the objects above named have in common with their Western equivalents, but the name. Thus in our temples there is neither a god nor gods worshipped, only the thrice sacred memory of the greatest as the holiest man that ever lived. If our lamas to honour the fraternity of the Bhikkhus established by our blessed master himself, go out to be fed by the laity, the latter often to the number of 5 to 25,000 is fed and taken care of by the Samgha  (the fraternity of lamaic monks) the lamassery providing for the wants of the poor, the sick, the afflicted. Our lamas accept food, never money, and it is in those temples that the origin of evil is preached and impressed upon the people. There they are taught the four noble truths -- ariya  sakka, and the chain of causation, (the 12 niddanas) gives them a solution of the problem of the origin and destruction of suffering."'   (Mahatma Letters to Sinnett, no.10, Barker  edition.)

Perhaps there's a clue in the Mahatma's last sentence as to how the Buddha intended the Noble Truths and the Noble Path (whatever the number of steps) to be understood and used: "as a solution of the problem of the origin and destruction of suffering." To explore the various steps or aspects of the Path with that in mind might be of value, I would imagine. 

In that same letter the Mahatma goes on to translates a portion of the Mahavagga (found in the Samyutta Nikaya) for Sinnett, which gives the Buddha's explanation of the chain of dependent arising (12 Niddanas) i.e how our ignorance, thoughts and actions lead to suffering and cycling on the wheel of suffering. He advises Sinnett to read it "…not with the prejudiced Western mind but the spirit of intuition and truth."  So, the Mahatma clearly felt the study of such Buddhist texts had real value.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 9, 2015 at 10:59am

Below is the extract from the Mahatma Letter referred to in my previous message in which the passage from the Mahavagga is translated by the Mahatma KH for A.P. Sinnett: 

'Read the Mahavagga and try to understand not with the prejudiced Western mind but the spirit of intuition and truth what the Fully Enlightened one says in the 1st Khandhaka. Allow me to translate it for you.

"At the time the blessed Buddha was at Uruvella on the shores of the river Nerovigara as he rested under the Boddhi tree of wisdom after he had become Sambuddha, at the end of the seventh day having his mind fixed on the chain of causation he spake thus: 'from Ignorance spring the samkharas of threefold nature – productions of body, of speech, of thought. From the samkharas springs consciousness, from consciousness springs name and form, from this spring the six regions (of the six senses the seventh being the property of but the enlightened); from these springs contact from this sensation; from this springs thirst (or desire, Kama, tanha) from thirst attachment, existence, birth, old age and death, grief, lamentation, suffering, dejection and despair. Again by the destruction of ignorance, the Sankharas are destroyed, and their consciousness name and form, the six regions, contact, sensation, thirst, attachment (selfishness), existence, birth, old age, death, grief, lamentation, suffering, dejection, and despair are destroyed. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering."  

 Knowing this the blessed one uttered this solemn utterance :

“When the real nature of things becomes clear to the meditating Bikshu, then all his doubts fade away since he has learned what is that nature and what its cause. From ignorance spring all the evils. From knowledge comes the cessation of this mass of misery, and then the meditating Brahmana stands dispelling the hosts of Mara like the sun that illuminates the sky.” 

Meditation here means the superhuman (not supernatural) qualities, or arhatship in its highest of spiritual powers.'

 (From Mahatma Letter to Sinnett, no.10, Barker Edition)

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 8, 2015 at 12:34pm

Jon, I hadn't forgotten your passage from the Theosophical Glossary, I'm just trying not to write too long a post in one go.  The passage states the definition of Mârga: 

Mârga (Sk.). “The “Path”, The Ashthânga mârga, the “holy” or sacred path is the one that leads to Nirvâna. The eight-fold path has grown out of the seven-fold path, by the addition of the (now) first of the eight Marga; i.e., “the possession of orthodox views”; with which a real Yogâcharya would have nothing to do. 

I don't think it matters too much whether we count 7 or 8 aspects of the Path, since the Path or Way remains as the fourth noble truth in Buddhism whatever the number of aspects or steps it contains. Tibetan Buddhism doesn't appear to say much on the 8 Fold Path, relying more on the five path system and/or the six paramitas. The Voice of the Silence makes 7 of the latter. 

 I don't fully understand the reference to " “the possession of orthodox views” in the quote from the Glossary.  Isn't that just one of the dictionary definitions of the term samma-ditthi (pali) or samyag-drsti (sanskrit)? As I understand it, it can be translated as  'right view' or 'right insight' or 'the possession of right orthodox beliefs'.   

Importantly, in the suttas the Buddha does not state that "Right View" means "the possession of orthodox views."  Perhaps because his aim is not to tell people what one of the dictionary definitions of samma-dtthi might be.   He appears to want to tell his disciples what it is that comprises a Right View or Right Insight for those who wish tread the path towards Liberation.   In the section titled 'Analysis of the Path' (Magga-vibhanga Sutta) the Buddha defines it as follows: 

"And what, monks, is right view? Knowledge of suffering, knowledge of the origin of suffering, knowledge of the cessation of suffering, knowledge of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: this is called right view."   (in Samyutta Nikaya 45:8) 

In other words, what the Buddha appears to be saying in the Suttas is that Right View or Right Insight is, ultimately, a direct realisation of the Four Noble Truths. So, from that point of view it could well be placed as the last stage of the Path as well as the beginning.  

The Theosophical Glossary, from which the definition of Marga is taken, was published by G.R.S. Mead, whose work I like very much.  It has some really interesting stuff in it, all of which is attributed to HPB.  I'm also conscious that it was published after the death of HPB, who only ever saw the first 30 pages, according to Mead.  My 1918 edition has 350+ pages, so there's a lot of entries she never got to see or overlook.  I've never certain to what extent the definitions actually belong to HPB or to what extent they reflect Mead's own understanding mixed with HPB's.

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 7, 2015 at 5:57am

The Four Noble Truths

Now this, bhikkus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering…

Now this, bhikkus, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving that leads to renew existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination…

Now this, bhikkus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and ceasing of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non reliance on it…

Now this, bhikkus, is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is this noble eightfold path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration…

(Samyutta Nikaya 56.11)

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 12, 2015 at 9:00am

Following on from the above post on the Four Noble Truths:

In the First Noble Truth the Buddha lists a number of things that are classed as suffering and summarises these with "in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering…"

The five aggregates are the skandhas which HPB refers to a number of times in the Key to Theosophy when talking about the personality.  These are the mental and physical characteristics that make up the personality, which we develop - for good or ill - over a lifetime (indeed, many lifetimes).  It is these characteristics, drives, and impulses that await the reincarnating ego and attach themselves to it in its next birth.  The Buddha says that it is these 'skandhas subject to clinging' which are the source of our suffering and which ensure our continual rebirth upon the wheel of suffering. 

The Second Noble Truth explains what 'subject to clinging' entails.  Eessentially it is craving in its many forms that leads to suffering and to renewed existence. All the things we crave for and cling to have no lasting existence: some are momentary some last longer, but all fade.  Integral to all our craving is the notion of a personal self that has to be satisfied in one way or another - through pleasure, security, power, fame, knowledge etc etc.  Yet, the Buddha points out that the skandhas are a collection of aggregates or characteristics only. The self we impute on them and which we are always seeking to satisfy is itself illusory.  Hence all our grasping and efforts along those lines will ultimately lead to dissatisfaction and sorrow.  Meanwhile, through this process we develop further those characteristics of mind and desire that will simply repeat the process in the next lifetime and the next & so on.

The third noble truth is that there can be a cessation to this ongoing cyclic pattern of suffering.  The fourth noble truth  states there is a way, The Noble Eightfold Path, which leads to the cessation of suffering.  From looking at the Four Noble Truths as a whole we see that each of the aspects or steps of the Path are there to undercut this craving which leads to our own suffering and to the suffering of others.  At the same time, this craving for the impermanent, the illusory, is based on a lack of awareness or understanding of the true states of things. We seek permanence in things which change, and we attribute a 'self' to that which is 'self-less'.  So the first step on the Path is Right View, i.e. a right perception or understanding of the way things really are.  And Right Intention, the step which follows is going to include the intention to avoid those thoughts, words and actions that lead to suffering, and strive to develop those that lead to freedom from suffering, for ourselves and others.  "Cease to do evil, learn to do good."  All the other steps of the path rest on this same base.  

As the Mahatma KH states in ML 10 to Sinnett: - the Four Noble Truths and the 12 Nidanas were taught "as a solution of the problem of the origin and destruction of suffering."  So, whenever we reflect upon the various aspects of the Eight Fold Path, whether it be right speech, right action or right livelihood & so on, we need to keep their aim and purpose in mind insofar as they constitute the Fourth Noble Truth of the Buddha's teaching on suffering and its removal.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 7, 2015 at 11:47am

I found this interesting. This is from the Theosophical Glossary:

Samyagâjiva (Sk.). Mendicancy for religious purposes: the correct profession. It is the fourth Mârga (path), the vow of poverty, obligatory on every Arhat and monk.

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 8, 2015 at 8:05am

Good find, Jon.  Thanks