MAYBE THE 8.5 FOLD PATH? A FUTURE JATAKA TALE

MAYBE THE 8.5 FOLD PATH?

The Eightfold Path is the way to alleviation of suffering that has been part of Buddhist practice for a long, long time. Three of those pathways lead to ethical character and moral action: right speech, right action, right livelihood. Some skillful re-description reveals that something is missing.

Here is a jataka tale of the future Buddha. Find the lesson.

No Difference?: A Future Jataka Tale

Alex is angry. He applied for more than a dozen colleges and got accepted by none. Behind a desk his high school guidance counselor sits patiently and listens to the young man’s incredulous raving. The counselor reminds himself that this isn’t the first time a prospective college student held a fundamental misunderstanding of what a successful application process required.

Fourteen applications and not one acceptance. It isn’t fair.” Alex shoves forward a handful of papers crumpled in his fist. “I’ve got a great grade point average. I’ve played on the football and baseball team since I was a freshman. I’ve been active in student government. Why wasn’t I accepted into at least one? It just doesn’t make sense.”

The guidance counselor, Mr. Whitman listens.

My brother I couldn’t be more alike, we are twins after all. Wade got acceptance letters from ten of the eleven he applied to. It just isn’t fair. We both played sports, both have good grades, and both are in student government. I just don’t get it. Must’ve been that they didn’t liked my college application essay. You told me it was good.”

Mr. Whitman nods. “It was. I don’t think that was the issue. What do you think it might have been?”

Alex gets even more frustrated. He yanks a yellow folder from his backpack and flips it open. “I’ve checked my copies over and over for mistakes. Didn’t find any grammar, spelling or syntax errors. Answered all the questions fully. Looked over Wade’s but I didn’t see anything that should’ve made this much of a difference. Ten acceptance letters for him, zero for me.”

Mr. Whitman shakes his head. “No differences?”

Alex throws up his hands and exclaims, “Not that should’ve got me rejected.”

So, there were differences. Set aside the similarities between you and your brother. Focus on the differences.” Mr. Whitman sits back in his chair and waits.

Alex pulls what looks like a duplicate of his own set of application forms. He puts that set and the other set side-by-side on the desk. One is his, the other his brother’s. Page by page he flips through them. Coming to a particular page in each stack he stops. Leaning forward he reads them carefully. His comment when he looks up at Mr. Whitman is, “Really?”

What Alex sees is a page of questions about extracurricular and volunteer activities. The brothers participated in many of the same activities connected with the school; it is in the category of volunteer activities and interests outside of school that Wade’s application is much different. Wade had taken on two internships during junior and senior year. He’d volunteered on some weekends for organizations that helped the less fortunate such as a food bank and a nursing home. Alex gave Wade a hard time about not having much time for his friends, not much time to party. In school the brothers did engage in similar activities, it was when they were not at school that things were different.

Mr. Whitman nods and remember how many times in Alex’s sophomore and junior years he had highlighted the issue that Alex was just then coming to a full realization of.

The moral is: Right livelihood should be in equanimity with right life-lihood.

Livelihood as it is an aspect of the Eightfold Path is one of the ways, along with speech and action, to develop wholesome ethical character and engage in wholesome moral choices. Viewing high school as a metaphor for a job, then like a job it could reasonably be called a livelihood. With this view the college application process reveals that what a person does outside of work has equal value. To the traditional Buddhist philosophical ideal of appropriate livelihood the contemporary practitioner can add the ideal of life-lihood, what the practitioner does when they are not on the job. Live- and life-lihoods are both critical in developing wholesome ethical character and moral action.

Life-lihood is the time you aren’t working at your job or career. It is when you are engaging daily life with family and friends, pursuing a hobby, volunteering with an organization, or just relaxing. Life-lihood must also be appropriate.

Gaining an appropriate view of Life-lihood requires a practitioner to take a rigorously self-honest look at what activities they choose to pursue when not at work. Like how the extracurricular questions on a college acceptance application are answered result in a particular karmic consequence, so to does the answer to what a practitioner does when not at work have particular karmic consequences. This doesn’t mean that a life-lihood can’t be fun. Absence of fun is not a requisite for good karmic consequences. A life-lihood that promotes harmony, health and happiness (human flourishing) is a requisite for good karmic consequences.

What life-lihoods do you engage in? Now is the moment to engage in some rigorous self-honesty.

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