Andrea Fella
Wise Livelihood

On Saturday, May 8, 2021, the topic for Teachers’ Corner was “Wise Livelihood.”

After meditation, we listened to a dharma talk by the teacher Andrea Fella about “Wise Livelihood (often translated in English as “Right Livelihood” from Pali: samyag-vyāyāma or Sanskrit: sammā-vāyāma), one of the elements of the Buddha’s Eightfold Noble Path. As laypeople, we spend a great deal of our time working to support ourselves. How can we approach this significant part of our lives in a skillful way?

First, what is the purpose of the Eightfold Path? The teacher talked about reducing suffering in the world, and that much suffering comes from harm which we either do to ourselves or to others. Therefore, at the most basic level, a wise livelihood avoids causing harm. Going a step further, even if our livelihood doesn’t directly cause harm, it might still result in harming. The prototypical examples are selling weapons or selling intoxicants — neither trade directly harms others, but they enable others to cause harm. In our modern world, it’s not always obvious what might lead to harm and what might not, so much of the talk was a discussion about the subtleties in thinking about the impacts of our work (and in what counts as a “livelihood”, which, besides our jobs, could also include where we invest our money). The talk finished by going another step deeper through a discussion of ways that we might be able to maintain mindfulness at work.

The group continued discussing these themes after the talk. We used examples from some of our own jobs to think about practical examples of how work might help or harm others. We also spent time talking about different states of mind, and how concentration on work, while sometimes necessary, is not mindfulness and can be harmful when taken to an extreme.

The recording of the Dharma talk we shared during our session is posted below.


From the Teachers: Wise Livelihood

Dharma Talk:

SOURCE: [Original released by Insight Meditation Center, Redwood City, CA]

* Andrea Fella is the co-guiding teacher at the Insight Meditation Center (IMC) and the Insight Retreat Center, she is also a member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council. She has been practicing Insight Meditation since 1996, and teaching Insight Meditation since 2003. Andrea is particularly drawn to the wisdom teachings of the Buddha, and intensive retreat practice. During one long practice period in Burma, she ordained as a nun with Sayadaw U Janaka. Her teachings emphasize clarity and practicality. Andrea teaches residential retreats for IMC and other retreat centers around the country.