Right Livelihood for Wives

Selima Hill


A wife serves and supports her husband. But her husband's work might not be in accordance with her principles, or in the case of a Buddhist, the precepts. Is it her duty to support her husband who she has committed herself to or to withdraw her support?

For instance, I have a student whose husband works in the tobacco industry, poisoning not only himself and her but many other humans and many other species. She says all the wives of the men who work there do not like the work and do not need the money, or would prefer to have less but more mindfully earned. They are nevertheless helping to maintain the tobacco industry themselves. If they all stopped serving their husbands, what would be the result?

Is it wiser to keep giving your partner your support, and hope, by gentle persuasion and discussion, to change his ways and the ways of others? And where do you draw the line? In my case I have said to my husband it is either me or the television. It breaks the first precept by encouraging violence, numbing our hearts against suffering and, in its production, harming nature. It breaks the second precept by taking our time and energy away from more mindful occupation. We should cultivate the practice of generosity; in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, prevent others from enriching themselves from human suffering, staying close to oppressed people and helping to protect them. It breaks the third and fourth precepts by condoning the unmindful use of our bodies and our speech. Finally, it breaks the fifth precept by intoxicating our minds and our community and disturbing our mindfulness. I do not say all of this to my husband, of course. But I think he has the general picture and accepts it. He knows I mean it and accepts it.

Suppose I learnt, to give an extreme example, that he was involved in making tools for Iraq? I know I would be tempted to say "No, I can no longer live with you." Would I be wrong? This dilemma happens in varying degrees all over the world. In practise, women are implicitly supporting the lack of compassion in men's work, although they do not support it in theory. I am talking in terms of wives and 'serving' because I'm one , and this is how it sometimes feels to me. Of course there are many other ways of looking at it. But it does worry me. What do other people think?

A reply to Selima - Frank Bridgland (ed.)

(Being struck by several points in this article. I wrote to Selima who suggested I publish the relevant parts along with it. We are both hoping folks out there will write in with their own thoughts and contributions to the dialogue we've been having.)

Dear Selima,

Many thanks for your letter and offerings. The piece about wives 1 like, though 1 disagree on the way you see TV breaking the precepts

By the way, my wife works for a major bank, who seem reluctant to take a positive stance on waiving Third World debts, nor is she a Buddhist, so I can identify with some of the points you raise on wives (I have been the housewife now for about ten years.)

Back to television. It seems to me that TV is akin to the surgeon's knife; you can see it used by a surgeon or a thug with two different results. Would the world have done anything about the Ethiopian famine without the pictures of starving people pumped into everyone's living room? Many large corporations are starting to 'get green' with their policies and it seems to my occasionally cynical mind that they fear more the costly face losing publicity of the media, of which TV is the most powerful, than mora arguments. And the problem with the theft of time is not that TV takes our time, it is that we are not mindjul enough at times to use, to borrow the old hackneyed (but accurate, emotionally) phrase, 'window on the world'. Accepted that TV is at times exploitive, intrusive, mind numbing but this is like blaming the computer and not the programmer. TV has no mind of its own and, like the scalpel, it depends on the holder and user of the tool as to how the tool is used. And to an extent we conveniently forget, it depends on the society we each of us contribute to. Intoxicating some programmes may be but it may also point up the quality of daily living for some people that they switch on a TV in the evening for the sort of oblivion others pump chemicals into their veins to achieve. Yet this same medium played its part in the publicity alerting people to the ozone layer problems, providing information about environmental problems. Jekyll and Hyde seems to sum up, not TV but the people who make it happen, the producers AND THE VIEWERS.

Tools for Irag? Ploughshares are one thing, machine guns another: And as for giving marital (or any other) partner an ultimatum, my own feelings are that any ultimatum should signal that somewhere along the line, negotiations have ceased. Whether anyone packs up and goes or not depends on the relationship.

But negotiation by ultimatum seems to be violence as is a form of rape of the soul, however impermanent said entity might be.

So, hope this gets to you in time to have a think about it. Let me have your thoughts etc. - we could perhaps print this as a form of brief dialogue but certainly I would prefer to hear your comments on what I have said before we print your article, which I hope will prompt a few letters and responses!


Copy from Indra's Network, Journal of the UK Network of Engaged Buddhist.




Netzwerk engagierter Buddhisten