January 4, 2012

Toward Right Livelihood

Hours before my 96 year old grandfather passed away years ago, he addressed me as I stood at his bedside. His voice was fading, but he gripped my hands strongly as he looked into my eyes.

The dad of my dad knew he had only a few precious moments left, and the usual joking twinkle was gone from his eyes. He looked at me and said, "Do something with your life to make the world a better place." I didn't know it at the time, but he was talking about right livelihood.

The concept of right livelihood is usually associated with Buddhism. Basically it means that one should earn one's living in a righteous way and that it should be gained through moral and peaceful means.

Examples of 'wrong' livelihood are highlighted to help guide those on the path. Accordingly, work one would want to avoid would be:
  • manufacturing or dealing in weapons
  • dealing in living beings - the slave trade and prostitution are more extreme examples, but this could include any exploitation of other living beings.
  • meat production - Buddhists are vegetarian
  • producing or dealing in drugs or poisons - or industrial pollutants
Also out are widely accepted business practices such as scheming, lying, exaggerating, persuading, hinting, belittling, and pursuing gain with gain.

The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980 to honour and support people working toward making the world a better place, and has become known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize'. David Suzuki, Canadian environmental activist, shared the award in 2009 for his many decades of selfless work.

The award is recognized as an important source of support for individuals and groups implementing social and environmental transformation.

The recipients of the 2011 awards highlight and celebrate the good work taking place globally:

Huang Ming (China)

“… for his outstanding success in the development and mass-deployment of cutting-edge technologies for harnessing solar energy, thereby showing how dynamic emerging economies can contribute to resolving the global crisis of anthropogenic climate change.“

Jacqueline Moudeina (Chad)

“… for her tireless efforts at great personal risk to win justice for the victims of the former dictatorship in Chad and to increase awareness and observance of human rights in Africa.”

GRAIN (International)

“… for their worldwide work to protect the livelihoods and rights of farming communities and to expose the massive purchases of farmland in developing countries by foreign financial interests.”

Ina May Gaskin (USA)

“… for her whole-life’s work teaching and advocating safe, woman-centred childbirth methods that best promote the physical and mental health of mother and child.“

My grandfather's words have resonated with me, and guided me, since the night he imparted them. They helped me decide that it is not true that any job is better than no job. What good is having a job if it contributes to the destruction of people or the planet?

I strive to do no harm while I earn my living and conduct my affairs - it has become my prime directive. I want to make the world a better place.


  1. Gregg, thanks for sharing this touching story. Certainly the work you have done and continue to do with this blog is making the world a better place. Thanks!

  2. Savoring Servant,

    Your handle says it all - 'servant' - we are all servants. Being of service to others is where it is at, whatever form that takes.

    I appreciate your kind words, and response to this post.



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