White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 94: Seeing People of Right Livelihood

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, December 18th, 2010

The crow broadcasts through the still, cool air of this December morning.
[in response to crow crowing outside on the grounds]

What's the crow broadcasting?
Well, maybe his job availability. [students giggle]
What's their job?

Well, you may have not noticed or you may have noticed not,
but those crows,
very busy guys.
They're the ones dealing with road kill.
Have you ever wondered where all those little flattened squirrels go?
Well, often it's the crows who clean them up.

Bits of burger left in McDonald's wrappers that people throw around?
Crows, they deal with them,
and there's more and more of them around the city.

Why is that?
Because we're getting messier and messier, I guess.

But anyway,
that's what they're doing,
they're doing what they do,
they're cleaning up the messes that other beings leave:
their right livelihood, they're doing what needs to be done.
Then they're flying in the air while doing this, as birds do.

Today's verse:

Seeing people of right livelihood,
"May all beings
Succeed in right livelihood
Never needing to do what should not be done."

"Oh good, now she's going to give a list and I can tick off whether I'm in the right livelihood group or not... I'm pretty sure I am..." [students laugh]

Thank you. [students laugh heartily]

But no, no, I'm not going to give you the eightfold path,
if you want to find out about the eightfold path of
right livelihood, right conduct, and so forth,
you can google it, you can go to the website, to our website, you can do an internal search...

if indeed
you are a sincere student
who wants to understand. Well, there you go...

And, the question of right livelihood is intimately connected to the precepts
and you can apply what I just said to the precepts.
You can search them out,
you can read "Cutting the Cat", the Roshi's texts on the precepts,
and that will give you more insight than if I were to just say some words,
which of course since you don't have pencil and paper with you right now
you most probably wouldn't remember anyway,
if you're anything like me.

So, there we go,
let's not waste the air time
by doing things
that don't need to be done right here, right now.

Seek them out,
it's interesting,
looking into what is meant by right livelihood when it's spoken of in Buddhism
and here
may reveal to you that indeed
we're talking about two different things
in many cases.

Right livelihood can mean something that does not compromise the precepts,
it can mean a way of making a living that does not hurt beings.

Now, it is said that the Buddha said, and it's recorded in the Tripitaka,
that business in weapons,
business in human beings,
any business dealing with meat,
any business dealing with intoxicants, any business dealing with poison,
are not right livelihood.

Well that's just too easy, isn't it?
Because I think most of us can agree that many doctors,
many pharmacists deal in materials that are very useful to human beings
depending on the circumstances, but too much of it...
well, what do we have? We have a poison.

Business in meat:
well, in some cases, people who eat meat,
even though they may consider themselves to be Buddhists in various schools,
won't kill something themselves,
but they will buy the product from others
who are in the business of killing animals.

So we might have different views come up about that.
It might be an interesting topic for debate.

So there's no one answer for what is right livelihood, there's no big comprehensive list,
but indeed
the verse itself points to the fact
that the wish is for all beings to succeed in right livelihood,
livelihood that is not harmful to other beings,
and it points to what we can do something about
which is look into our own points of view about what we're doing, how we're doing it,
and generally what's going on.
We Canadians tend to
somehow have this assumption that we're better
than lots of other people because of the things we don't do.

Well, this is just nonsense.
Look into the weapons industry:
guaranteed we'll find little bits of weapons
that are made probably right here in our fair city, or if they're not made in this city,
they're designed in this city.

So we contribute just as heartily
as any other country does to the trade in arms,
which I think we may agree
can be harmful. [students giggle]

We look into something as simple as say
working in a clothing store.
Well, look at the label.
Made in which unnamed Eastern country?
May very likely have been made by people of diminished capacity
or children who are paid very little
if anything
and are worked inhuman hours.
Is it wrong livelihood to be part of the chain of perpetuation of what one could say is slave labour?

What about being a diplomat?
Well, as the recent scandal revealed, diplomats play around with the truth. Hmm.

Are we shocked?
Of course not.
Do diplomats do a good job?
Let's not go there.

So there are many other respectable professions that,
when you look a little closer at them,
perhaps reveal themselves to be based
in playing around with the truth.

Oh dear, oh dear! What are we doing to do? How can we have right livelihood?

Well, there are no dictates that can be made as to what you should or shouldn't do.

Only you can do that
and the fact that you're here,
sitting on this Saturday morning,
facing the wall,
looking into the process of being a human being, does in fact show your sincerity,
does in fact show that you're willing
to look into and to answer
these sometimes difficult questions.

Now the other..., a couple of weeks ago—
most of you know about this by now—
our big white koi disappeared.

We thought, being the innocents that we are,
that perhaps he'd been snatched by a big bird.
A student who is a biologist said this was impossible,
there is no bird that could carry away that fish. So, at my doctor's office,
I mentioned this and the doctor said:
"Oh, he's been stolen because big white koi are considered to be very lucky for certain populations.
I was in Toronto a few weeks ago and this Chinese couple, doctors, friends of mine said:

"Don, you know we're the most superstitious people ever.
We're going to take you on a little field trip because we want you to see something."

And they drove out to Scarborough to a Chinese restaurant 
and they walked in and there in the middle of the room was a huge tank with a great big white koi in it.
And, the friends said:

"See? The owner paid $40,000 for that fish because of its good luck."

I wish I could say it was our Doug, but it wasn't,
or we don't know.
But $40,000!...
so I told this story to someone and they said:
"Well, why don't you raise white koi?" [O-sensei and students laugh heartily]

Well, that would be trafficking in beings.
Yeah yeah yeah,
but what about the fact that we have koi in the pond?
Is that not enslaving them?

Well, yes it is,
but the Chiden and I,
after the Chiden with help built the ponds and the waterfall,
we thought it looked kind of empty to have these beautiful ponds and no occupants,
no fish swimming around.

So we talked to the Roshi
and the matter was discussed
and then lo and behold
we were in a store—
a purveyor of trafficked beings known as a pet shop—
and there were some koi.

So we picked them up.
They were quite tiny then
and have been used (and been useful) many times.

As the verse says:

"the bird flies like a bird... the fish swims like a fish"

so we can see beings in their environments doing what they do.

And they're beautiful to watch.
And you know, they think,
no question about that.
There are nasty rumours around that fish have a three second memory, well it's not true.
They can communicate,
they're interactive,
they like playing around with you,
they like call and response,
so that's all very very interesting,
but our intention would never be to just raise white koi because
when you think about it,
then what would you do if one changed colour...?


Do you retire it?
Does it go to sleep with the fishes? [student laughs]

Questions, questions, questions.

And the goldfish that we have, well,
we can say they were rescue fish. We got them from a store.
Their destiny?
To be fed to other fish, feeder fish.

Now was the lady who scooped them out and put them in the plastic bag,
was she engaged in wrong livelihood?

Well, the job is,
as I see it,
just to look at what's going on
and think about things
that we may never think about ordinarily.
We may never think ordinarily
about that chain of events
that occurs in any trade endeavour,
when we open our eyes
we can start to see
that there are lots of things that
we have never considered before,
and that makes it interesting,
that makes life
more and more

One of the most interesting things that comes up
is that contraction into a self
that wants to get everything right on that quiz!!
That wants to know that it's engaged in right livelihood, that wants to know
that it's doing the right thing all the time!

Well kids, you know what?
It's getting more and more difficult to actually even come up with a list.
Are the religious in right livelihood?

Well let's just ask a lot of Catholic families
who over the years are revealing things that occurred
that are not, I would say,
part of anybody's right livelihood.

But it's not just confined to that particular area.
There are lots of Buddhist teachers
who are engaged in all sorts of, oh dear,
inappropriate behaviour, let's say: lying, cheating, stealing: nasty.

So, "seeing people of right livelihood"...
how do you know?
And what are you doing looking at them and judging them?

But again, this was written 1600 years ago,
so it may indeed have been easier,
and if you were in a village,
there were far fewer people than what we are normally used to
and what our large cities are normally used to,
so you probably knew what everyone was up to.

Is the fashion industry right livelihood?
Is being a model agency right livelihood?
Or is that trafficking in human beings
with the sole purpose
of convincing other human beings to buy stuff made by small children for no wages
right livelihood?

I think not.

But that's just a little bit of fun that's going on here right now.

So "seeing people of right livelihood": notice the seeing,
notice how self-image wants to judge,
turn it back on yourself,
recognize that you can question into anything, you can look and say,
hey, what's really going on here? And you can do it just for fun.
"Oh my, no, not fun, is that right? Is that something that's good?"

Well, apparently it is
because when beings have what they need to eat,
when beings have shelter,
when beings have what they need for life, they start to play around,
that's the first thing they do.
Isn't that interesting?

They start to want to have fun.

You people,
I know most of you are intimately connected to
and have had experience with right livelihood.

I know that many of you have pets that were rescued from situations caused by other human beings
where they were being indiscriminately bred
just so puppies could be sold,
when they had been abandoned,
at a whim most probably.

And I must tell you yesterday
I had a hard time keeping my hand off the phone or off the SPCA website
because I read in the paper that a three-month-old dachshund,
my favourite kind of dog,
had been abandoned at a toboggan hill in the freezing cold.

I mean what's going on? What are people up to?

So when you see what you're doing, when you see tendencies that come up, no problem,
they're not you,
you're the Knowing of them.

Feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze.

The verse again:

Seeing people of right livelihood,
"May all beings
Succeed in right livelihood
Never needing to do what should not be done."

Ho ho ho.

Thank you for listening.