Ethical Conduct Right Livelihood
samyag-ājīva amyak-karmānta

Right livelihood means that one should earn one's living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided. (via The Big View)

Considering what I do, I LOVE my job. I put in that 'considering' qualifier because I'm not convinced that the career I'm in will be career I always do. I'd like to mix things up someday and try teaching or some other line of work, perhaps overseas. I do love my job, though. The people I work with are great, the company seems to truly care for the employees, we're financially stable in tough economic times, I have interesting work to do, and they compensate me fairly for it. I really can't complain. However, I wonder sometimes about how the work I do may violate this step in the path.

The four examples given don't apply to me, but the caveat about occupations that could violate the principle of right action has left me a little befuddled. The company I work for is involved in the jewelry industry. There's nothing wrong with jewelry, per se, but I wonder about the environmental and social consequences of the production of the raw materials of the jewelry trade. Everyone has heard about "blood diamonds", but mining itself has a ton of negative environmental consequences from cyanide-laced leachate from tailings of gold mines to sulfide mining to open-pit diamond mining and the associated erosion and so on. The fact that most mines are in underdeveloped countries means that, with some notable exceptions, the human tragedy of this resource exploitation is staggering. How can I, as a practicing lay Buddhist, reconcile these facts with my livelihood? I have a hard time with it. My company is not directly involved in the mining, manufacture or sale of jewelry, we're in the insurance business, but we're involved enough that it makes my conscience twinge a little.

My mental jury is still out, though. I work with great people who have the best of intentions and any harm done is several layers of transactions removed from what I do, but I struggle with the connection, none-the-less. The industry has done a lot to clean up its image over the last decade or so. I hope that the work being done there is primarily in real effort and not just in marketing. But if the recent sulfide mining debate in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is any indication, then I suspect that greed is the motivating factor nine times out of ten and I'm going to continue to struggle.