Right Livelihood

What do you do for a living? Right livelihood means to avoid harm through your work in the world. The monks in the Buddha's time addressed this issue by taking vows of poverty. Monks then and now renounce material possessions, except for a robe, a begging bowl, and few other items.

Does this suggest that to pursue the Noble Eightfold Path you should renounce the material world? Just as with sensory perceptions of the body, the goal is not renunciation, but rather a lack of attachment. There is no prohibition against the accumulation of wealth or of having luxurious possessions. It all depends on the relationship you have to these things.

In fact, in the traditional view, great wealth may be a sign of good karma. Whatever the status of your karma, material wealth provides an opportunity to help others through generosity.

“The Eightfold Path is thus a path of self-transformation: an intellectual, emotional, and moral restructuring in which a person is reoriented from selfish, limited objectives towards a horizon of possibilities and opportunities for fulfillment.” — Buddhist scholar Damien Keown

Right livelihood asks you to look at your choices for work and decide if what you are doing to put food on the table is causing harm to anyone or anything else. Even more than not doing harm, right livelihood goes a step further and encourages you to do work that is helpful to others. It requests that you live an honorable life. Occupations a Buddhist might want to avoid include but are not limited to the following:

  • Arms dealer

  • Drug dealer

  • Working with intoxicants and poisons

  • Butcher

  • Executioner

In today's world, right livelihood can cause some confusion. You want to occupy yourself with activities that promote harmlessness and peace and cause no injury to others. Is being a bartender practicing right livelihood? That is up to you.

How does your vocation affect your meditation practice? Is it helping or hindering? Can you practice harmlessness and drill oil? Can you work with nuclear weapons and maintain serenity for yourself and others? Right livelihood asks that you examine your occupation. Can you spend your work time, energy, and effort practicing peacefulness and kindness in the world?

It should also be noted that the Buddha considered no war a just war. Therefore, a profession in the military would not be considered right livelihood. Acts of violence were clearly against the Buddha's teaching.

  1. Home
  2. Buddhism
  3. The Noble Eightfold Path
  4. Right Livelihood
Visit other About.com sites: