Few days ago I stopped by at a fruit cart the on my way home. As I parked my car by the sidewalk I noticed a man begging. He was sitting on the pavement, obviously in some kind of distress. His tattered clothes had dried paint on them. As I walked back to my car, he came to me asked for alms. I asked him why was he begging. He said that he is a building painter and that he fell down while working,got injured and was unable to work. He was trying to reach the contractor for help but in vain and that he had not eaten all day he added. I was not sure of his story but he certainly was poor. I gave him five rupees. As I drove away, I wondered if I should have given him some more money.
Few weeks ago, I stopped by at the cart of a peanut seller near M G Road. I asked him if he grossed atleast Rs.1000 in a day. If he had 100 customers buying roasted peanuts worth Rs.10 each, he would make the sum. He carried out his trade in a busy intersection. He looked up at the sky and said ‘god willing’ or something to that effect.
Budha’s Noble eight fold path lists “Right Livelihood’ as one of the practices. Renowned economist E. F. Schumacher started his path breaking essay Budhist Economics (1966) with this line “Right Livelihood is one of the requirements of the Buddha’s Noble Eight fold Path. It is clear, therefore, that there must be such a thing as Buddhist economics.” It was one of the essays in his acclaimwed book Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (1973) — essays at the intersection of economics, ethics, and environmental awareness.
“For the modern economist this is very difficult to understand. He is used to measuring the standard of living by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is better off than a man who consumes less. A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption” he wrote.
Maria Popova, founder and editor of the website Brainpickings opens her essay on Schumacher’s books with these words. “Much has been said about the difference between money and wealth and how we, as individuals, can make more of the latter, but the divergence between the two is arguably even more important the larger scale of nations and the global economy. What does it really mean to create wealth for people — for humanity — as opposed to money for governments and corporations?”
As more and more money gets concentrated with less and less people, Right Livelihood perhaps is a concept we need to understand and practice. However the first four practices of the Noble eight fold path are right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct. When our governments and corporations are not practising these how do we expect to see the fifth, Right Livelihood?
I have tried to illustrate the point by the short stories of four people I have met over the course of my work.