Fundamental Teachings of Buddhism: Right Livelihood

As we continue our exploration of the Noble Eightfold path, we will examine Right Livelihood. 

The way we choose to support ourselves can be an expression of our deepest selves or it can be a source of suffering for you and others. 

The Buddhist sutras, or teachings, usually define Right Livelihood as earning a living without needing to transgress dealing in arms, in the slave trade, the meat trade, the sale of alcohol, drugs or poisons.

If we are bringing awareness to every moment, we try to have a vocation that is beneficial to humans, animals, plants, and the earth, or at least be minimally harmful. 

Our choice of profession can either nurture our understanding and compassion or erode them. 

Be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way you choose to earn our living. 

  • Are we working for a company that pollutes the rivers or the air?
  • Are we working in a way that involves killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, or selling drugs or alcohol?

Right livelihood is not just a personal matter. It is our collective karma. 

Teacher vs. butcher….is my profession better? Neither if you consider that everything is interrelated. If my children eat meat, I am responsible for the killing of animals just as much as the butcher is. The butcher wouldn’t have to kill animals if I didn’t eat meat. When we consider Right Livelihood, we have to take into consideration the interrelatedness of all things. I share responsibility for the butcher’s livelihood. 

Everything we do contributes to our effort to practice Right Livelihood. 

To manufacture and sell weapons is not Right Livelihood, but the responsibility for this situation lies with all of us – politicians, economists, and consumers. 

If someone has a profession that causes living beings to suffer and oppresses others, it will infect their own consciousness, just as when we pollute the air we ourselves have to breathe. Many people get rich by means of wrong livelihood. Then they go to their temple or church and make donations. These donations come from feelings of guilt and fear rather than the wish to bring happiness to others and relieve others of suffering. 

Take stock of what you have chosen to do for a living. If you are invested in the stock market, take a look into what you choose to invest your money into. Are you invested in companies that pollute the air or oceans, companies that make money off the suffering of others? Off of the exploitation of others? Off of the killing of animals? Off of exploiting our natural resources.

This teaching is not meant to invoke shame and guilt, but rather to challenge you to take a deep and meaningful look at each corner of your life and heart. But don’t stop there. Take action to make the changes that align with Right Livelihood. Your life will change in a beautiful way!