Right Livelihood Buddhism & the Fifth Spoke of the Wheel of Dharma
This is the fifth principle in the Eightfold Path and the third principle of Buddhist Ethical conduct, together with Right Speech and Right Action.
In the ancient Indian Pali language this is called “Samma-ajiva” which translates as “right way of life”, “authentic living”, “skillful living” and refers to the occupation or career that we choose in this life.
Defining Right Livelihood
According to the Magga-vibhanga Sutta, the Buddha defined it for his disciples as follows:
“And what is Right Livelihood? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood: This is called Right Livelihood.”
This teaching also includes adherence to what are known as the Five Precepts:
- Not harming or killing (ahimsa)
- Not stealing
- Not misusing sex
- Not lying
The key to Right Livelihood is to find a way to earn a living without violating any of the above Five Precepts, so we need to consider that we need to live in such a way so that we do no harm to ourselves or others.
Which occupations cause harm?
In the Vanijja Sutta the Buddha said, “A lay follower should not engage in the Five types of business. Which five?
- Business in weapons: trading in any kind of weapons and instruments for killing
- Business in human beings: slave trading, prostitution, or the buying and selling of children or adults
- Business in meat: Breeding animals for slaughter
- Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs
- Business in poison: producing or trading in any kind of poison or a toxic product designed to harm.
Applying Right Livelihood
How do we know that our occupation doesn’t harm others? In our global economy it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a good paying non-harming occupation that would fit the bill for Right Livelihood.
For example, it wouldn’t be appropriate to work for a retail store that sells products originally made in sweatshops or if any company’s merchandise is made in a way that hurts the environment.
The problem here is that we often don’t know what goes on behind the scenes for many occupations and we may end up working for an organization that actually does more harm to people than good (a pharmaceutical company is a good example).
If you already work in an occupation that brings harm to others, directly or indirectly then we can either get out of the occupation and pursue a career in a more compassionate field even if that means taking a pay cut.
If it isn’t possible to get out of such an occupation, then we can do what we can to make our occupations as humane as we can. An example of an occupation that inherently is a non-harming one would be nursing or working for a non-profit organization.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is to pay attention to how you’re feeling about your occupation and examine the impacts that our actions have on everything else. Be mindful of your actions and do all you can to either not harm or at least minimize it and to act in ways that are ethically positive.
Are you doing all that you can in order to earn money in a way that causes the least harm? Or are you in an occupation that does harm directly or indirectly?
I’d love to hear from you so be sure to leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading this article on Right Livelihood Buddhism and may we attain perfect Buddhahood for the sake of all living beings!