Right Livelihood

The key is the attitude of service. If you attempt to guilt yourself into right livelihood, you will likely end up with its counterfeit. Some entire nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are but enormous vanity projects, elaborate ways to allow people to approve of themselves. That’s all ego. The purpose of right livelihood is not so you get to have a positive self-image. People who do it for that reason are quite obvious from their defensiveness, sanctimony, and self-righteousness. The purpose of right livelihood is to give your energies toward something you love. The concept should feel liberating, not like a moral burden, not another thing you are supposed to do right in order to be good.

~ Charles Eisenstein, in Sacred Economics

[UPDATES: This page functions as a current-state documentation. We won’t likely be changing the original text much, but will instead post any relevant updates here, at the top of the page.]

[UPDATE 28 March 2017, re Right Livelihood Meets Right Investment: In line with the content of the two last paragraphs of this page, we have started the Money-for-the-Good project.]

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The concept of right livelihood is one of the aspects of the Buddhist eight-fold path. Here we use it, however, outside a specific Buddhist context, to designate something many people of today are searching for: work that sustains themselves and at the same time, at the very least, does not cause harm to other living beings, and, preferably, even benefits other humans, nature, and the world at large. Shanto has been on a quest for that type of work his whole life, and what follows below is his account of that quest. We publish it in the hope and belief that you will resonate with it, based on your own search for right livelihood.

  1. Shanto’s Story
  2. Right Livelihood Meets Right Investment

1. Shanto’s Story

Already as a teenager, I was perplexed by the realization that I lived on a planet where, in some places, the water was too dirty to swim in and the air was too dirty to breathe. Introverted and socially awkward as I was, my quest turned inwards. I started to develop idealistic thoughts about what was wrong with the world and how it could be saved. When, after a little detour, I brought my study-focused life to the university level, my choice of main subject was biology. The year was 1989, and I wanted to learn about the natural world, in order to understand how humanity could live more in tune with it.

Needless to say, biology classes at university told me nothing about that. Instead, I realized that the human being somehow had been exempted from what we call nature. The subject of ecology was not about how we can live harmoniously within the natural systems of planet Earth. The subject of evolution barely addressed the evolution of the HUMAN being. I studied out of old habit, but I felt no passion. Instead, I found other oases where I got in contact with the flame burning inside. I joined a group of odd characters who used to gather to drink red wine and talk about the rights of animals and nature in general. I didn’t say much in those meetings, but just by listening my passion was being stirred.

The most interesting course I attended during all my years at university was one about the history of science. It provided me with a healthy perspective on my university life, as well as some explanations as to why the human being had been set apart from all other life forms on the planet. But at the time I took this course I was already a PhD student. I was studying the effects of ultraviolet radiation on microalgal communities at the base of the food web. It was relevant in the context of one of the environmental problems that got the most press in those days: the stratospheric ozone depletion. My mentor considered me a promising budding scientist, and doing research did indeed awaken my passion. Yet, at one point I had had enough. I left the only career I have ever started, and travelled to Asia.

The inquisitive nature of science in itself was attractive to me, but the academic context in which it was pursued was not. I was still on a quest for the answers to the childlike, honest questions that had appeared in my teens. In addition, I had increasingly become involved in a struggle with my own psyche, which had culminated in a psychosis a few years before I left university. This had served to awaken me to deeper layers of my mind, and not the least to my body. I had discovered how full of tension my body was, and had taken up yoga and meditation. My deepened quest was now to understand not only why the air and water of the planet was so polluted, but similarly where all the inner debris I had unconsciously been carrying around originated from; and how I could get rid of it. It was a quest for healing, of me as one human being; and of humanity.

On my way to Asia, I first spent the autumn of 1997 volunteering in two intentional communities in France. In the second of these, which was located in the mountains in the middle of nowhere, people lived to a large extent self-sufficiently. I spent my days harvesting carrots, assisting in preparing community meals, working in the fields, and doing laundry in water heated over wood fires. Electricity was only used for two things in this community: grinding flour and playing music to dance to. The first thing I would do every morning would be to reach for the matches at the side of my bed and light a candle. In the evenings, all community members would gather around an open-air fire to say a prayer that was inspired as much by Mahatma Gandhi as by Jesus Christ. I loved life in that mountain community.

On the day of my departure from there, I ended up in the nearest French city. Breathing the air, listening to the noice, and especially watching the people, I felt nausated and confused. I felt as if I had to put on some kind of mask in order to “go back to civilization”. And I did. And it was easy. For it was none other than the mask I had been wearing all my life. Only months later, first in Nepal, then in India, was I brought back in touch with the sense of natural joy and peace that I had, for the first time in my life, encountered in the community in the French mountains. I had come to think of this inner wellbeing as “spiritual”, something that was totally foreign to my upbringing. Meeting other people who said that they were on a spiritual path, I realized that I was one of them. For the first time in my life, I felt that my inner flame had found something in the world to really care about: non-religious spirituality.

And then, after nearly a year of travelling – wham – I landed back in Sweden. The feeling was like coming down from the mountains in France, only magnified ten times. Gone were all the people on a spiritual path, gone was my contact with the inner flame. All I could feel now was an aching inner emptiness, and out of that started my quest for Right Livelihood. The saved-up money I had used for travelling was finished. What on earth would I work with to make ends meet? One of the deepest reasons I had quit my university career was that I felt very ill at ease doing research aimed at assessing the damage on nature due to an ozone hole created by our human society. I didn’t want to earn money that way. I wanted to earn money by helping build a society where we did not screw up the natural systems of the planet in the first place!

And so I took another study loan and returned to university for a year of journalism studies. For I wanted to tell the true stories to people. I felt that my teenage questions had not been properly answered by humanity yet, as far as I had seen in newspapers and on TV. Even though driven through that year of journalism studies, however, by my own idealistic vision, I had to fight hard to stay in touch with the inner flame. I found nobody at the institute of journalism to mirror it back to me. The day I walked out from there with a fresh degree in my hand, I was convinced that freelancing was the only way. But that which already my studies had made me suspect, was confirmed to me within just a few months of repeated disappointments: The so called free press is not freer than any other part of the Giant Machine that spins the wheels of the economy. Nobody wanted to buy my article ideas.

At that time, in the year 2000, another opening came. I found a school that seemed to offer precisely what I was looking for. Their motto was ”In order to change the world, we’ll have to change the worldview”. This was exactly the conclusion I had come to myself, and I was thrilled. The school, located in southern Sweden, featured some world-renowned lecturers, as well as an exciting group of students representing all continents. And now, looking back at the two years I spent there (of which the second year as part of the staff), I can only say that it was two life-changing years. Sure, it was experimental, chaotic, and New-Agey. But it was a place for people to grow in so many ways, and who knows what it could have developed into. Unfortunately, before it had got the chance to prove itself and mature into something viable, this radically creative project crashed due to financial reasons.

Here is what happend next: Life took me through another deep psychological crisis. This time the people who cared for me did not label it psychosis, but Kundalini awakening. And on the other side of that crisis, life brought me back to India; to Auroville; and to a French woman with whom I started a relationship. Auroville did seem like the answer to so many of my questions. Being an ongoing experiment in new ways of living together on earth, built on a spiritual foundation, it seemed to me that it was, in a way, the maturation of the experimental school I had been envisioning. Auroville was not New-Agey dream, it was life. I started working at the news magazine Auroville Today, and suddenly there was a place where I could write stories I truly cared for.

In that realization, as I started to envision actually living my life in Auroville, India, lots of fears started to surface. And with the fears came the end of my love relationship, soon followed by the end of my Auroville adventure. Once again, I came “down from the mountain”, as my flight landed in Sweden. How to make a living in a world gone crazy that doesn’t even admit it has gone crazy? That was now, in 2004, my question. In lack of other options, I started working as a personal care assistant for a person in a wheelchair, being her legs and arms, so to say. This work at least made sense, in a very down-to-earth way. And the same kind of work would come to offer my major source of income during the following ten years, alongside the income I had from my own business, which I started in 2006. Meanwhile, my search went on. I was engaged in many creative projects, and kept longing for a job where I would really get to give of my gifts.

I started my one-man enterprise after a year-long training in therapeutically directed life coaching. My coach certification was a milestone for me since it involved the internal move from someone suffering from psychological imbalance to someone supporting others in that same situation. Immediately after the training, I teamed up with three other people in the field of personal development to start a center for communication trainings, yoga, and meditation. For the third time in my life, I felt that I was at a place where I could contribute professional skills in line with my inner flame. The first was at the experimental school, but it crashed. The second was in Auroville, but my love relationship crashed. And neither this third taste of Right Livelihood came to last long: only two years. This time it ended because the four of us who had started the project were not able to continue in a common direction.

Since my teens, my picture of what was wrong with the world had matured at the same pace that I had matured. Right Livelihood, it seemed to me at this point, in 2008, could only be about working towards a human society where inner and outer development go hand in hand. I had collected many pieces of the puzzle over the years, and now I was starting to have an idea of how the complete picture could look like. My worldview was now strikingly different from the one I had inherited from my parents and been spoonfed in school. And – wham – an integrative thinker named Ken Wilber entered my life. Reading his work felt like a homecoming.

The only thing I didn’t like about Wilber was that everybody else I came across who were inspired by his cosmology seemed to me so hopelessly cerebral and nerdily detail-oriented, as if totally unconscious of their emotional and physical bodies. Gradually, it started to dawn on me that what I loved about Wilber was not so much his ”theory of everything” in itself, but the fact that thanks to him having integrated spirituality with all earthly domains in such a brilliant way (as it seemed to me at the time), I could relax and let go of my own thinking. Somehow, Wilber helped me see once and for all that analytical thinking will never take us all the way. And ever since, my life has revolved primarily around embodied wisdom.

In 2008, I participated for the first time in a retreat with the woman who has ever since been my guide in the art and science of tantra, Pema Gitama. Two years later, I moved out to a cabin in the woods, which I got to rent cheaply. My passion for changing the world had by know turned into a passion for knowing who I really am. The Kundalini awakening that had spontaneously started about eight years earlier was most certainly still going on. But I was increasingly getting annoyed with all New Age ideas of what such an awakening actually is or means. Gradually, I started to see that what was waking up in me was nothing but life itself. There seemed to be an awakening process naturally happening which was all about letting me experience everything that had been emotionally and physically supressed within me. And tantra supported me greatly in that.

During the three and a half years I lived in the woods, with roe deer as my closest neighbours, I made my living from a combination of work as a personal care assistant, work in childcare, and the services sold through my own business (which were at that time mostly writing services). The question of Right Livelihood had retreated to the background, while I was looking for ways of making my life at large feel Right. One of the major streams of inspiration was my connection with my “tantra family” and the retreats I once in a while treated myself to. And this stream was what, quite abruptly, would take me to the Netherlands – where I would meet my wife-to-be, Maya.

Maya and I met in December 2013, in a retreat with Pema Gitama, and I moved to the Netherlands shortly afterwards. In moving to a new country with a foreign language, it would seem that my chances of finding the Right Livelihood I have always been looking for – work to help take the development on planet Earth in a new, healthy direction – didn’t exactly increase. But if there is one thing life has taught me, it is to always expect the unexpected.

So far, during my three years in the Netherlands, I have earned some sorely needed money at a couple of different jobs that I got due to the sole qualification of being a native Swedish speaker. One call center job, and one customer service job. Unfortunately, aside from bringing in some grocery money, these jobs did not nurture me whatsoever. Here in my new country, I have also restarted the business I first registered in Sweden in 2006. I have had a few clients, and the big news is that since the beginning of 2017 my business is fully gift based.

Moving to the Netherlands, and becoming a family father, has reactivated my quest for Right Livelihood. It has made it a more burning question. But, at the same time, I have more and more come to feel that no matter how it looks from the outside, I am already in it. After the couple of employments I mentioned, I have now come to a place in myself where I feel that I cannot compromise anymore with my soul. I cannot sell my time for money again, unless I feel it is in alignment with my heart; my inner flame; my love for what I feel is work that does good. I simply cannot.

This inability to “sell my soul”, indeed makes the concept of necessity surface, and call for urgent attention. For my wife and I need to win the bread needed to feed not only ourselves, but also our daughter and my wife’s son from a previous relationship. But, thankfully, as necessity is the mother of invention, there is an inner creative explosion going on in my life lately. Within this explosion, I started to think a lot about what money actually is and what it does in, and to, our world of today. I started to imagine that I would create a social media platform based on GIVING. A platform where also money could be given, so that people with creative ideas of how to heal the world could meet with people with money looking for something good to invest it in.

  • inserted note: Take a peak at the section entitled “Our Vision for this Website“, and you’ll see that the idea of such a platform is still with me. But not only that. You will come to see that all the envisioned main functions of the social media platform, are in fact, to some degree, in place already on THIS website, in its current form. So… hopefully, for our vision to flourish, it is just a question of asking YOU (as we are) to help nourish this website; this seed we have planted, based on my long quest for Right Livelihood and Maya’s and mine coming together and starting a family.

These thoughts started to arise in winter or spring 2016, and a few months later, in May 2016, I came across Charles Eisenstein’s work. In an earlier period of my life, I am sure that a thinker of his calibre wouldn’t have gone unnoticed on my radar. I used to read a lot in the fields of innovative, spiritual, ecological, and integrative thinking. I used to keep myself up to date with what I experienced as the cutting edge of spiritual activism. But, after having discovered Ken Wilber, as described above, all of that dwindled. For years, I did almost no reading. Instead, I started to spend more time walking in nature, being with awakening friends, growing vegetables, doing free dance and tantric meditations, and just being in silence with myself. And then I met Maya, and became a family father. So when I suddenly opened my eyes to Charles Eisenstein’s work, it felt like I had found my next guide on my quest for Right Livelihood after Ken Wilber – whose work I had laid behind me almost a decade earlier. Whereas Wilber, however, had come across to me primarily as a cartographer of the terrain of human consciousness, my new guide came across much more as an ACTIVIST in that same terrain.

I do feel now that I know what Right Livelihood is: it is simply to keep doing what I LOVE to do, and to know that sooner or later that will grow into my livelihood. Furthermore, this simple r-LOVE-utionary act, is what I (as the existential guide I am) see as essential also in the wider perspective of our awakening from the old, false story of separation, and our starting to embody and live the new and emerging one. It is what all “sacred activism” must be based in.

Giving our time to what we truly love to do, is the quintessential step each one of us needs to take (over and over again) in order to water and fertilize the new gift culture that is already taking root in so many places worldwide. For, just as I realized when I came down from those French mountains in 1997, we will only fully see where we have been after we have stepped out of it. Our stepping out of the old cannot wait, for without actively leaving behind the destructive we will not come to know what is constructive. The new story is not a dream or utopia; it is all about changing our lives in PRACTICAL ways. And noone can afford to wait for anybody else, for only you are the one to know what your unique gifts are; only I am the one to know what mine are. If even we know it… For, here is the most CRUCIAL REALIZATION: We will only know what our own gifts are to the degree we do step out of the old, and enter the new. The new will only come to be in and by this step. And so it is that this website has been created, as our invitation for you and us to start (or continue) giving, within a growing community of other givers.

After having read Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics, I feel that I see much more clearly why I have had, and so far keep having, such difficulties in financing my living through work that resonates with my heart: the money is simply (thus far) not in what heals the world, it is in what destroys it. (This is the way it has looked to me since decades, but Charles Eisenstein’s work has brought a whole new dimension of compelling clarity to my seeing.) So, how do we change this fact? Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics, and his work in general, offers the by far most convincing answers I have come across. In short: We start (or keep) moving in the direction of a GIFT culture. Recognizing that money will still be needed on the planet for a long time to come, we also start already NOW, as best we can, to act in alignment with the properties of the new kind of money.

In Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein summarizes these properties thus: “Each aspect of the monetary evolution [I have] described . . . imbues money with the properties of gift: (1) Over time, giving and receiving must be in balance. The internalization of ecological costs ensures that we will take no more from earth than we can give. (2) The source of a gift is to be acknowledged. The restoration of the commons means that any use of what belongs to all is acknowledged by a payment that goes to all. (3) Gifts circulate rather than accumulate. Decaying currency ensures that wealth remains a function of flow rather than of owning. (4) Gifts flow toward the greatest need. A social dividend ensures that the basic survival needs of every person are met. . . . The foundation of a sacred economy, then, is gift consciousness.”

Still wondering how the transition to a gift economy applies to you and your life in practice? I feel that this question has to be answered by everyone individually, and the motivation must come from deep within; from a place of love. Stepping into gift consciousness, is a RADICAL step. Yet, it is also a deeply practical and NATURAL step. It all comes down to the GIVING of our gifts.

One of OUR ways of giving, as an ordinary family based in the Netherlands, is by offering this website. What are your ways of moving in the direction of Living-in-the-Gift and Right Livelihood? YOU are more than welcome to tell us how that looks for you, in our times of transition. Just e-mail your story to me, shanto(at)shanto(dot)org, and I will publish it in the GOD blog. To inspire and nourish ALL of us… This entire website builds on the idea that we grow stronger by sharing our stories, and other gifts, with one another. In so doing, we already start building the gift society that we propose is our destiny; step by step…

Know also that as a contributor to our growing, family-initiated Network of Givers, be it through a story for the GOD blog, or through at-this-moment-by-Maya-and-me-sorely-needed money, you will be featured on our gratitude page – the very HEART of this website. Gratitude, as Charles Eistenstein points out, is the currency and capital of all gift economies.

To still your, by now, possibly agitated mind, I want to end this story about my quest for Right Livelihood with another quote from Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics: “I am not suggesting that you become a saint and abandon selfishness. Gift culture is not so simple. As we imbue matter with the qualities we once ascribed to spirit, we are also imbuing spirit with the messy qualities of matter. No longer is the spiritual realm of our conceptions a place of perfect order, harmony, goodness, and justice. Similarly, as we imbue money with some of the characteristics of gift culture, we must recognize that the gift realm never was, and may never be, a realm of pure disinterested selflessness.”

Give, I would say, only if it feels joyful. Everything has its time.

2. Right Livelihood Meets Right Investment

Right investment is . . . to use [money] to create, protect, and sustain the things that are becoming sacred to us today. These are the same things that will form the backbone of tomorrow’s economy. Right investment is therefore practice for the coming world, both psychological practice and practical preparation. It accustoms one to the new mentality of wealth – finding channels for productive giving – and it creates and strengthens those channels, which might persist even when the present money system collapses. Money as we know it might disappear, but the relationships of gratitude and obligation will remain.

~ Charles Eisenstein, in Sacred Economics

When Charles Eisenstein talks about “using money to destroy money”, he talks about right investment. “This has the effect of hastening the collapse [of the old economic system] and mitigating its severity”, he says. RIGHT INVESTMENT, according to Charles Eisenstein (and in full agreement with our view on it), is thus to invest money without expecting it to grow. It is to lend/give money to endeavours that won’t create more of it, thereby putting nails in the coffin of the interest-powered economic system of our times.

Says Charles Eisenstein in Sacred Economics: “An interest-based money system exerts a systemic pressure to convert the commonwealth into money, and the highest remuneration goes to those who do that most effectively. You want to get rich? Invent a way to chop down trees more efficiently. Create an advertising campaign that persuades other nations to drink Coke instead of indigenous beverages. Seeing the workings of the global economy, many idealistic young people decide they want no part of it. I get letters from them all the time. ‘I want no part of this. I want to do what I love in a way that hurts no one. But there is no money in that. How do I survive?’ How do you survive, not to mention access the large amounts of money to do great things, in a world that rewards the destruction of the very things you want to create?”

Back in 1997, when I left the only career I have ever started, as a biology researcher (as recounted higher up on this page), I was one of those “idealistic young people”. I saw at that time that even if I was doing so-called environmental research, I was doing it within a system that had no intention – despite all the destruction imposed by it on Earth – to scrutinize or question its own core mechanisms. The wish from within the system (resulting in me being paid for my research) was simply to assess the damage so that its machinery could go on with business-as-usual in ways smart enough not to jeopardize ECONOMIC GROWTH. This made me feel nauseous; I wanted no part in it. I quit and set out on the journey I have told about on this page.

Only nearly twenty years after having abandoned my research career, in May 2016, in discovering the work of Charles Eisenstein, did I finally find my own seeing spelled out in a way much more well-researched, integratively anchored, and precisely articulated than I could ever have achieved.

In Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein writes: “Fortunately, there are people today who will give you money to do things that won’t create more of it. . . . Of course, living off the charity of others is no solution if they have to work all the harder (at the business of destruction) in order to earn the money they give to you. However, as I have observed, humanity possesses vast stores of wealth in many forms, the accumulation of centuries of exploitation, that can now be turned to other purposes, for example to preserve and restore natural, social, cultural, and spiritual capital. Doing this won’t create more money; therefore whoever is paying for it is ultimately giving a gift.”

The people Charles Eisenstein talks about here, “who will give you money to do things that won’t create more of it”, are precisely the people looking for ways of making RIGHT INVESTMENT.

Here, again from Sacred Economics, is the crucial realization to be made: “In a sacred economy, investment has a meaning nearly opposite of what it means today. Today, investing is what people do to preserve their wealth. In a sacred economy, it is what we do to share our wealth. Like nonaccumulation, the concept [of right investment] is so simple that even a child can understand it. It says, ‘I have more money than I can use, so I will let someone else use it.’ . . . [A] bank or other investment intermediary is someone who is adept at finding someone else to use it. Banking, in its sacred dimension, says, ‘I will help you find someone who can use your money beautifully.’ I once shared this idea with an actual banker whom I met at a conference, and tears came to his eyes – tears of the recognition of the spiritual essence of his calling.”

Now, we are not saying that sacred banking is our calling, but nonetheless we do want to let this website function as an “other investment intermediary”. Hence: If you have MONEY to invest, in the spirit of Right Investment, you are warmly welcome to write a story for the GOD blog telling us in what you would like to invest it. If you have a CALLING to a cause/project, in the spirit of Right Livelihood, for which you need money, you are likewise very welcome to share your thinking about it in the GOD blog. What good cause would you like to see your money be invested in; and, are you giving it as a pure gift or an interest-free loan? What cause or project do you need money to finance; and, do you invite pure gifts only, or interest-free loans too? In either case, please be as specific as you can. So as to maximize your chances of finding the right partner(s).

THIS function, of letting Right Livelihood meet Right Investment, is one of the six main functions we see that our website already has, and that we hope will be further developed as it matures towards our vision for it.