By John Lee Pendall
I was mowing my dad’s lawn this morning, and thought, “Wow, this is terrible.”
Not because mowing the lawn sucks (which it can), but because of all the havoc I was wreaking on this natural habitat. I saw a butterfly get sucked up into the lawnmower. I tried to switch it off before it was minced to bits, but I was too late.
Right Livelihood and Right Housekeeping go hand-in-hand. We might as well just roll everything together as “Right Labor.” Right Livelihood means doing a job that doesn’t require us to break the precepts, entertain confused views, and that doesn’t hinder our ability to be mindful and meditate.
Really, that applies to all the work we do. Whether we’re mowing the lawn, washing dishes, doing laundry, writing a song, cooking dinner, or fixing a car, it’s helpful to do all of it with the Eightfold Path in mind. For me, that means limiting my carbon footprint and not pillaging my lawn.
There is no reason why we have to plant grass in our yards.
There are dozens of different groundcovers that we can plant, like clover, bearberry cotoneaster, corsican mint, and thyme. Groundovers are great because 1) They’re beautiful and green, 2) Some flower, and 3) They don’t grow very tall, so you never have to mow. Also, a lot groundcovers are naturally weed-resistant.
Dealing with weeds is another matter. I’ll never understand why we’re so weed-adverse in our culture. Some of them—like dandelions and creeping Charlies—are gorgeous and beneficial for the ecosystem. A “weed” is basically any plant that grows somewhere that we don’t want it to. That’s it. But, learning to let things be is a huge part of Buddhist practice.
I know these tips aren’t doable for everyone, like if you live in a subdivision with lawn rules, but that’s why I’ll never live somewhere like that. I’m not known for responding very well to authorities.
And we could debate all day long about whether the first precept (to refrain from causing harm) applies to plants and bugs or not, and everyone would have perfectly valid points. The thing with the precepts is that they’re not up for debate because they’re personal. We have to work with and grok them ourselves, no one else can tell you what they mean or how to observe them.
Me, I do consider the mass genocide of lady bugs and butterflies to violate the first precept, but that’s just me. Harming plants and insects unsettles my mind, and the precepts are ways to help us keep our minds balanced and clear.
Another aspect of Right Labor is working without certain attitudes.
If I’m pissed off about having to do the laundry, then that’s not Right Labor. If I’m daydreaming while I fold the clothes, then that’s not Right Labor either. The rule of thumb is to just focus on our actions, and to view each one as the transformation of the one before it.
Everything’s connected through causes and conditions. In some way, typing these words right now is connected to that time I dropped a pizza on the floor 15 years ago. That sounds ridiculous—because it is—but the logic is sound if we can focus enough to see it in action.
Focusing on our actions usually means concentrating on the body, especially our gestures and postures. When we do that, everything seems to flow together and our minds settle into the moment.
There are three aspects to Right Labor: morality, concentration, and clarity. Morality means following the five precepts, concentration is paying attention to what we’re doing, and clarity is being mindful of cause and effect.
For everything we do, there’s at least one other way to do it. Sometimes practice involves exploring those other ways so that we can avoid causing harm to ourselves and others, and maintain clarity.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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He has a B.S. in psychology and lives between two cornfields in rural Illinois. His errant knowledge base covers Buddhism, philosophy, psychology, astronomy, theology, music theory, and quoting lines from movies.
Feel free to check out his Facebook page, and his blog "Salty Dharma".