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How does Buddhism view conscience? Do you follow your conscience or Buddhist morality? Your conscience does not always in line with Buddhist morality. For example, cakes are not poison but generally are not considered as healthy food, Buddhism does not prohibit you from selling cakes to other people. But your conscience says, it's better to sell something that can make contribution of health to people at large e.g. healthier food compare to cakes.

Do you ignore your conscience or follow it?

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Although selling cake is not wrong livelihood but your conscience tells you to choose healthier contribution. It's easy to fall into extreme. Buddhism is the middle path. How do you keep it balance and not neglecting your conscience at the same time?

If selling cake is better than selling drugs, selling healthy food is better than selling cakes and so on. I am wondering what is the use of Right Livelihood as in the Noble Eightfold Path, are they all considered Right Livelihood, except drugs?

What I meant was which one do you listen to? Listening to conscience is necessary, as you said. But what you think is right or wrong does not necessarily true or middle path. If selling healthy food is better than selling cakes, logically one will follow what is best, we consciously put the latter one into the "not to do" list and choose former one as our Right Livelihood. But how do you know if you follow this kind of thinking you're not going to fall into extreme? We create our own version of Right Livelihood. Both cakes and healthy food are not considered wrong according to Buddha.

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It's a good intention to desire to make a livelihood that does neither harm one self nor others, and conscience is very importand toward path and beyond.

As for how to use it all the way to highest liberation, best to get known the talk by the Sublime Buddha to his Son Ven. Rahula.

Mudita

[Note that this is not given for trade, exchange, stacks... but for liberation from it]

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In general, your question is about where to stop. It should be known that in Buddhism, we don't stop. We keep going all the way until the Final Result.

As you implied, for every "better" and "purer" there's "even better" and "more sublime". We don't stop, we keep going.

And as we climb this ladder from selling drugs to cakes, to healthy food - eventually we realize that if we were to be consistent to this principle, we need to expand our Right Livelihood not just to govern what we sell, but what we give to the world in all other senses.

And so we get to our words and deeds, and realize that the chain of events that we start with our deeds, and chains of thoughts we start with our words - are as important, if not more, than what we sell. We evolve from mere Right Livelihood to Right Action and Right Speech.

And then if we keep going, we realize that our thoughts are equally important, because our thoughts are where it all starts.

And THEN if we keep going, we realize that being so radical we fall into danger of getting aggressive and hateful against the people who do not live up to the same high standards we do. We realize that, if we are to stay true to our principles and keep on to perfection, we must not allow ourselves to get polarized, and must allow other people to be imperfect, which means some of them will sell cakes and maybe even sell drugs - but we won't hate them for this. This is Right Thought.

And then, if we keep going, we realize that there are natural reasons in the world, natural causes for why some people want to take drugs, and why other people want to eat junk food or cakes. We realize that these reasons are mostly psychological and perhaps social and karmic in nature. So we turn to the realization that working to improve these psychological, social, and karmic conditions must be the most important thing.

So we realize, if we truly want to help people, we need to help their minds to be less messed up. We should teach and heal their minds, that should be our new Right Livelihood now, far above selling healthy food.

But if we are to teach and heal people, we must start with ourselves. What are these thoughts of hatred, thoughts of judgement, thoughts of hopelessness, etc. in our own mind?

So, we realize that the most helpful thing we could do is to watch and heal our own mind, which is what's called Right Effort.

So we start watching our mind and engage in Mindfulness and Meditation.

And as we practice all this we finally get first hand experience of what Liberation is. Liberation is higher than meditation, higher than mindfulness and right effort, higher than right thoughts, action, and speech, higher than selling healthy food.

Once you've experienced Liberation - you can "sell" Liberation. Wouldn't that be awesome for everyone? TM

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Canonically, "right livelihood" (or rather "not wrong livelihood") for a layperson was given as, something like, "don't trade in weapons, poisons, meat, human beings, nor alcohol".

And I think that's all that's written, about that topic.

Anyway, I do just that? As a software developer myself, I've avoided working for "defence" industries.

I suppose the work I do is kind of ethically neutral -- if I help to create a telephone system for example then it's more or less up the system's users, whether they use it for good or for ill.

Similarly cakes, I guess, if you're a baker here then you'll be selling breads and cakes, and like little pre-made pizzas, it's up to the customers to choose wisely and "eat as part of a balanced diet" etc.

Later teachers might have added other guidelines, about lay livelihood, or intermixed them with other precepts -- don't lie, don't defraud your customers, be good to your employees and partners, etc.

So do that too, and try to be good outside of work, there's like DN 31 with advice for lay ethics, and e.g. ...

THE BUDDHA’S TEACHINGS ON PROSPERITY
At Home, At Work, In the World

BHIKKHU BASNAGODA RAHULA

... which is an anthology from the suttas of the advice for laypeople.

But if you want to perfect right livelihood the canonical way to do that is to become a monastic.

Or, I remember a canonical story (but not the reference for that story) -- the story was that someone had to support his ageing parents. So he'd get clay from the river bank (without digging it!) and make it into pots ... then leave the pots (without asking for money) and people would take the pots and leave behind money ... and he'd use the money to buy food for his parents -- and that was an example of right livelihood.

I doubt whether "my livelihood" is especially "right" -- but as you said, "not considered wrong".

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  • I think the OP misunderstood the meaning of middle path as something between extreme good and extreme bad, you can clarify the meaning of middle path in your answer – Sriram Goutam P Dec 8 '19 at 1:10
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As I see it, conscience is a natural expression of human awareness; it is, in a way, enlightenment personified. Buddhist practice is meant to develop our sense of awareness (or being-ness), and the natural outcome of that practice is that we become more and more attuned to the natural expressions of conscience. This is not a binary equation, this is the development of a deep faculty.

So yes, healthy food is better than sweets, sure. But that's merely the physical dimension, and becoming overly attached to the physical can be problematic in its own right. People like to celebrate; they like to enjoy themselves; they like to treat others to good things and be treated in turn. Sweets in that context are good things, and any Buddhist baker could happily and conscientiously contribute to those acts. A wedding cake is an expression of joy; is it appropriate to dilute that joy by insisting that the cake be 'healthy'? Conscience might enter into it if we run across someone who has a dangerously unhealthy diet. That is a matter of compassion, because we don't want to feed into someone's sweetness-cravings. But by the same token, we don't want to feed into someone's health-cravings, either.

Buddhism deals directly with cravings, not with the targets of those cravings, which are (ultimately) irrelevant. Don't try to piece it out as a set of rules about specific things; let yourself grow into it organically.

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The Buddha clearly advocates a sense of conscience in MN8:

MN8:12.39: ‘Others will be conscienceless, but here we will have a sense of conscience.’

Conscience is not listed by itself. In fact, a sense of conscience is listed with forty-three other items to consider. Please consult MN8 for the full list (it is too long to repeat here). From MN8, we can understand that true conscience requires relinquishing identity view. I.e., conscience considers all.

Conscience is a spectrum. It is not an absolute. We need to consider what is more skillful and what is less skillful. Making and selling cake is more skillful than making and selling drugs. Making and selling healthy meals is more skillful than making and selling cakes. But we may only have the resources and talent to make cake. If all we can do is make and sell cake, then we do that to the best of our ability. Perhaps we can make special healthy cake and suggest that for customers. Conscience is a spectrum. We start with where we are and see how we can be more skillful.

In discussing selling food, we're also touching on Right Livelihood:

MN117:30.2: Right livelihood is twofold, I say.

MN117:30.3: There is right livelihood that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment.

MN117:30.4: And there is right livelihood that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path.

Conscience should inform our Right Livelihood. Selling healthy food is a good deed and certainly better than selling cake. But if we become preoccupied with our business and our good deeds, we run the danger of focusing on gain for gain. In that case we should heed our conscience and choose the right livelihood that is noble and undefiled. To understand this, we study the suttas and nurture our conscience with insight, wisdom and learning.

And what should guide our conscience? DN16 addresses this directly by framing the three practice categories:

DN16:1.14.3: “Such is ethics, such is immersion, such is wisdom.

DN16:1.14.4: When immersion is imbued with ethics it’s very fruitful and beneficial.

DN16:1.14.5: When wisdom is imbued with immersion it’s very fruitful and beneficial.

Let our conscience be guided by the practice of ethics, immersion and wisdom.

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  • Although selling cake is not wrong livelihood but your conscience tells you to choose healthier contribution. It's easy to fall into extreme. Buddhism is the middle path. How do you keep it balance and not neglecting your conscience at the same time? – B1100 Dec 5 '19 at 9:41
  • Thank you. I have added a new paragraph about selling cake. – OyaMist Dec 5 '19 at 14:14
  • If selling cake is better than selling drugs, selling healthy food is better than selling cakes and so on. I am wondering what is the use of Right Livelihood as in the Noble Eightfold Path, are they all considered Right Livelihood, except drugs? – B1100 Dec 7 '19 at 3:34
  • Conscience does indeed affect livelihood. Added references. – OyaMist Dec 7 '19 at 5:51
  • What I meant was which one do you listen to? Listening to conscience is necessary, as you said. But what you think is right or wrong does not necessarily true or middle path. If selling healthy food is better than selling cakes, logically one will follow what is best, we consciously put the latter one into the "not to do" list and choose former one as our Right Livelihood. But how do you know if you follow this kind of thinking you're not going to fall into extreme? We create our own version of Right Livelihood. Both cakes and healthy food are not considered wrong according to Buddha. – B1100 Dec 7 '19 at 9:00
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Buddhism does not tell you to sell cakes. Just because Buddhism does not tell you to not do something does not mean you should do it.

Buddhism has taught addiction to sensual pleasures is suffering, for both monks & laypeople. Therefore, if you have a good conscience, you should try to reduce addictions & unhealthy lifestyles.

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    What is your answer? – B1100 Dec 2 '19 at 6:55

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