“Is it not necessary,” Krishnamurti writes, “for each one to know for himself what is the right means of livelihood? If we are avaricious, envious, seeking power, then our means of livelihood will correspond to our inward demands and so produce a world of competition, ruthlessness, oppression, ultimately ending in war.” That statement dates from 1944, even though it sounds like a cogent observation of the moment.
On Right Livelihood is a collection of J. Krishnamurti’s talks, writing and conversations about how to find what we are meant to do for a living. But it is really an exploration of the motives of the human heart and how to balance economic necessity with moral integrity.
Krishnamurti was a spiritual teacher aligned with no particular teaching or organization. He brought a deep knowledge of eastern spiritual tradition to western audiences but his message was one of inner silence, environmental awareness, individual responsibility and world peace.
His wasn’t an easy prescription to follow. An absence of ambition and indifference to material success reads like the road to nowhere in our society. We are conditioned to create hierarchies—the CEO is worth millions more than the chef, the financial advisor is revered and compensated, the farmer is impoverished and loses his land. Whose children go to college? Where is the honor in simple labor? How do we hear the calling of our true vocation in this clamor?
Krishnamurti preached non-duality and freedom. We are at once who we are and what we do, he said. We embody our beliefs. Once we learn to set aside society’s thought shackles about struggle and success, we can be truly free.
I read this book with one eye on our dwindling finances, one on the news about the little shop of horrors that passes for political discourse these days. Talk about jobs and joblessness, about the 1% who own all the money and the rest of everyone who are cast in the role of collateral damage, is repetitive and cheap. Our civilization is beyond broken, our planet is in a shambles, our leadership should be set adrift in space, maybe with the titans of industry to keep them company. But sweeping away the mess won’t bring us any closer to Krishnamurti’s vision.
His book speaks to educated people who are not captive of ideologies, convinced of their own superiority and entitlement or blind to the inherent bleakness and exploitation of consumer-capitalism. Maybe not so many people. Education is a failure system that trains compliant cubicle workers and coddles the privileged through universities that supply little more than vocational training. People learn how not to think, how to avoid painful truths, how to fill chasms of emptiness with stuff, frantic schedules and all things superficial. Krishnamurti’s advice is timeless but it seems almost too challenging for our times.
“How am I to live sanely in this world that is insane?” he asks. “To live in this insane world sanely, I must reject that world and a revolution in me must come about so that I become sane and operate sanely. That’s my whole point.”
Good point. Add: Get a Life to the to-do list. Figure out how to pay the escalating grocery bill with the proceeds from honorable and valuable work. Identify what honorable and valuable work means these days. Meditate to experience inner peace. Respect the integrity of the planet. Read more books. Refrain from manufacturing or selling weapons. And stop using plastic bags.
On Right Livelihood J. Krishnamurti | HarperSanFrancisco 1992