5

Slaughtering an animal for meat or a person for wealth is not right livelihood, nor is it right to pay someone else to do so. So far, so good.

Modern corporations allow individuals to amass more wealth and power than Genghis Khan while not having to lead the charge from up front.

It's easy and direct enough to link Genghis Khan to the invasion of Eurasia, but it's nearly impossible to link a billionaire to a war in Iraq or Congo, though it is common knowledge that the modern economic system since colonial times promotes wars in natural resource rich parts of the world all the time for economic gain.

The billionaire beneficiary is often on a yacht thousands of miles away, while ordering the war through middle men, board room decisions, corporate interests, political lobbyists and hedge funds.

Such specifically designed to be tenuous connections to the scene of the violence allow the shot caller to even forget there's violence.

Kind of like how when people pick up shrink wrapped meat in a supermarket it's a very different sterile experience from going out into the backyard with a cleaver and a cackling hen and returning with bloody hands.

Even in his time the Buddha did not criticize wars or say being a king isn't right livelihood. So where's the line in the sand, how many intermediaries does it take to make the wrong right?

4

As I understand the Buddhist approach to ethics we are all responsible for our own actions, and the Buddha defined significant actions as "intention" (AN 6.63 cetanāhaṃ bhikkhave kammaṃ vadāmi). It is the impact of our intention that is under our influence (control would be too strong a word).

How well we understand something like the food chain will be dependent on how much effort we put in. Clearly meat always comes from dead animals. More subtly we know that animals are often mistreated in the production of food. So free range eggs most likely involve less cruelty than battery eggs. Diary products always involve killing off most of the male calves very early, and rennet for cheese often comes from the stomachs of those same calves. A little research can reveal much about such things. But ignorance is also a karmically significant intention, especially if it is based on laziness or deliberate shying away from the truth. Intending to remain ignorant so as to continue to enjoy a sensory pleasure is an unskilful action.

On the whole we have little influence beyond our own actions. We may have some influence on our intimates, but even that is limited. The point of application of Buddhist ethics is our own mind. We certainly have little influence over billionaires. But then the theory of karma supposedly takes care of this. We take care of our karma and karma takes care of the problem of the actions of others. Everyone gets the fate they have worked towards. The multi-life perspective allows for localised unfairness to persist because the afterlife sorts out the discrepancy between action and reward/punishment.

Of course these ideas of morality were conceived in an environment with very short food chains - most people probably knew the source of their food. The rich directly exploited their serfs for wealth, but this was pretty much out in the open.

And of course bhikkhus (literally "beggars") made a decision to accept whatever food they were given, excepting only when they knew that an animal had been killed specifically for the. So the bhikkhu purposefully distances themselves from knowledge of the food chain and accepts whatever comes. The morality of this seems moot from a modern point of view. Accepting alms from someone who is am arms dealer for example, would seem to be unethical.

I'm not sure it's true that the Buddha did not criticise war. He did tend to stay out of politics. But for example in the opening pages of the Mahānibbāna Sutta he subtlety dissuades Ajātasattu from attacking the Vajjis. And keep in mind that the tradition says that Ajātasattu had already tried to assassinate the Buddha. in any case the Buddhist texts are unequivocal in denouncing violence. And war is only violence on a larger scale.

1

I can appreciate why the Buddha didn't believe in using his position for social reform, like perhaps encouraging the many kings who worshipped him to give up war.

The problem with social reform is it doesn't address the root of the problem. It can result in a superficial change - but the underlying mental conditions that caused the problem remain intact.

For example, take the racial integration movement in America - after a long and hard fought struggle there's a modicum of equality and respect for the African American community, but the engine of hate in American society remains intact and has found new targets - like gays or Muslims or fat people - essentially anyone noticeably different and vulnerable.

This isn't isolated, I am unable to find a single example where social reform changed the underlying psychological condition that caused it. The dirt merely got swept under the carpet to emerge sooner or later in a different place.

Perhaps the Buddha struggled with this too, because he didn't totally stay away from attempting social reform. "Don't butcher your own meat or cause it to be butchered" seems like one of the well meaning attempts, but in the light of over two millennia of evidence it is safe to say, it has largely failed even though there were a few isolated periods where it worked.

There is no room for reform if people don't fundamentally change. Change has to be at the individual level, not at the social level. They have to become deeply aware of their intentions leading to actions, and optimise their existence for freedom from suffering.

Where the Buddha or Buddhists did attempt social reform it has become farcically tragi-comic. Some Asian Buddhists release birds to gain merit, except it produces a thriving trade in trapping birds to sell to Buddhists. Likewise, since slaughter is against Buddhist ethics butchers in Thailand are generally from the Muslim minority. Neither attempt at social reform actually works as intended.

This isn't a purely Buddhist finding. It is a very Indian sentiment. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna doesn't ask Arjuna to stop being a warrior or give up fighting, for he knows that his destiny in this life is to be a warrior. However, he teaches him to stop reacting to pain and pleasure with aversion and desire. As far as I know, nothing is ever said of what happened to Arjuna in later life times, but if he did follow the teachings of Krishna, I imagine he became a non-violent person in a few lifetimes.

I was hoping to trigger a reexamination of platforms like right livelihood with this question - because too often I see examples of arms trade or butchery as proscribed activities, but both continue to happen in Buddhist lands.

My personal view is intentions matter. Right livelihood isn't so automatic as not being a butcher or arms dealer. Many people are looking for a table of modern professions with a checkbox of wrongness or rightness next to it. That's never going to happen because it is a doomed exercise. After all, these days a company like Monsanto can even turn selling farm supplies into an unethical profession.

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    FYI I have more than one non-Buddhist neighbour who kills their own farm animals, and won't buy animal products from the supermarket: they say that their own animals have a good life and a stress-free death, unlike animals which/who are farmed, transported, and slaughtered commercially. – ChrisW Aug 22 '15 at 11:14
  • I know those who can't stand the sight of blood and like to share videos of cute animals, but neither stops them from digging into meat. Likewise, I have seen people speak at length about the environment and then speak about looking forward to their holiday at the other end of the world. :-) – Buddho Aug 22 '15 at 11:23
1

Consider this: the billionaire is not an entirely independent decision-maker. He too is a subject to the corporation's interests, not an absolute sovereign. The life of a billionaire is only as pleasant as it aligns with the needs of his god, the corporation.

As long as billionaire's life revolves around his corporation, it may resemble paradise as far as physical comfort. But that is no freedom. It's not what you imagine it is. You could say the billionaire is possessed by the corporation, not the other way around. Naturally, since corporation involves extracting profit - money being its blood -- some of it is used to keep the human puppet (the billionaire) on the hook.

As far as karma is concerned, a corporation itself is a sum total of karma created by a huge number of people: consumers, vendors, partners, investors, politicians, etc -- it is a living embodiment of their karma. Your question is, with corporations doing much harm, to what extent should their human agents expect retribution. The answer is, it does come, though not always immediately but over the course of many lives. Some of today's harm being done by corporations is fruition of karma performed 2-3 hundred years ago or more!

Karma is like a heavy wheel rolling, there is a lot of inertia passed on from generation to generation. The king may temporarily enjoy being the head of the dragon but if his karma is of such nature that fruits as negative experience, it will fruit as negative experience in this life or in future lives, you can count on that.

  • Corporations, software, technology and bots throw up so many twists on old problems. For example right speech would be refraining from breaking bad news to someone who's engaged in a dangerous operation like driving on a highway - yet with cell phones and other tech lots of people experience unintended consequences like that all the time. I'm reminded of Marshall McLuhan's "The Medium is the massage". – Buddho Aug 24 '15 at 17:40
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My thinking on this is along the lines of, a king isn't only functioning as a general for his people; he (should) be maintaining social order, providing aid to those in need, providing security to his people. And if he is acting morally, should be defending his people from invasion if the situation arises and is unavoidable.

In this way, as not to disturb the social order, I would imagine the Buddha did not speak against the "agency" of kingship, but rather probably tried to impress upon the royalty the need for morality and skillful means.

It is clear to see, I believe, with this in mind, the distinction between a king, and a billionaire on a yacht orchestrating foreign conflicts to drive up profit margins.

  • Billionaires would say the same - they offer jobs to thousands, and products people love. They are acting on behalf of people too. Charity contributions and art are often funded by such people. – Buddho Aug 21 '15 at 1:01
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Here is a quote on "Right Livelihood" from the book "The Noble Eightfold Path" by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, p. 55-56:

Right Livelihood (samma ajiva)

Right livelihood is concerned with ensuring that one earns one’s living in a righteous way. For a lay disciple the Buddha teaches that wealth should be gained in accordance with certain standards. One should acquire it only by legal means, not illegally; one should acquire it peacefully, without coercion or violence; one should acquire it honestly, not by trickery or deceit; and one should acquire it in ways which do not entail harm and suffering for others.

The Buddha mentions five specific kinds of livelihood which bring harm to others and are therefore to be avoided: dealing in weapons, in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), in meat production and butchery, in poisons, and in intoxicants (AN 5:177). He further names several dishonest means of gaining wealth which fall under wrong livelihood: practicing deceit, treachery, soothsaying, trickery, and usury (MN 117). Obviously any occupation that requires violation of right speech and right action is a wrong form of livelihood, but other occupations, such as selling weapons or intoxicants, may not violate those factors and yet be wrong because of their consequences for others.

The Thai treatise discusses the positive aspects of right livelihood under the three convenient headings of rightness regard- ing actions, rightness regarding persons, and rightness regarding objects. “Rightness regarding actions” means that workers should fulfill their duties diligently and conscientiously, not idling away time, claiming to have worked longer hours than they did, or pocketing the company’s goods. “Rightness regarding persons” means that due respect and consideration should be shown to employers, employees, colleagues, and customers.

An employer, for example, should assign his workers chores according to their ability, pay them adequately, promote them when they deserve a promotion and give them occasional vacations and bonuses. Colleagues should try to cooperate rather than compete, while merchants should be equitable in their dealings with customers. “Rightness regarding objects” means that in business transactions and sales the articles to be sold should be presented truthfully. There should be no deceptive advertising, misrepresentations of quality or quantity, or dishonest manoeuvers.

There are 3 important points here:

  1. One should acquire it only by legal means, not illegally; one should acquire it peacefully, without coercion or violence; one should acquire it honestly, not by trickery or deceit; and one should acquire it in ways which do not entail harm and suffering for others.

  2. He further names several dishonest means of gaining wealth which fall under wrong livelihood: practicing deceit, treachery, soothsaying, trickery, and usury (MN 117). Obviously any occupation that requires violation of right speech and right action is a wrong form of livelihood, but other occupations, such as selling weapons or intoxicants, may not violate those factors and yet be wrong because of their consequences for others.

  3. “Rightness regarding objects” means that in business transactions and sales the articles to be sold should be presented truthfully. There should be no deceptive advertising, misrepresentations of quality or quantity, or dishonest manoeuvers.

One more thing to add to all this is the intention / volition behind the actions.

If a billionaire acts in a way that violates the above mentioned points then it would, according to the text, make it wrong livelihood.

  • I don't think illegality is a good test. In fact, winning in business is socially sanctioned violence. Whenever we humans depend on external things for happiness we will use violence to protect it. Self defence, defence of the family, of the realm etc. is essentially this, defending what gives us identity and makes us happy. Rich people, at least those willing to persist at something until they make billions derive happiness more from money and status than most humans. – Buddho Aug 21 '15 at 1:31
  • Most normal humans would stop and take it easy or give wealth away after a few millions, a billion is a lot of money. Unfortunately there are more people out there to steal money or take away business success than there are people who want to destroy families and so on. So a billionaire defending his profit is as justified as a man defending his farm. – Buddho Aug 21 '15 at 1:32
  • If we try to sum it up isn't it then wrong livelihood is the actions are based on the 3 unwholesome roots, i.e. greed, hatred and delusion? – Lanka Aug 21 '15 at 1:34
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    Friends, i would love to continue this interesting and important discussion but it's almost 5.00 in the morning here. I need some sleep:) I will be back later to answer questions. Good night. – Lanka Aug 21 '15 at 2:22
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    I am also going to sleep, goodnight everyone :) – Ryan Aug 21 '15 at 2:23
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If anyone feels he is guilty of doing bad behave yer, they should correct it immediately, otherwise they get the natural reaction. (Low of karma).
Money or wealth is not the happiness.
Are the all great personals are rich?.

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