Skillful Livelihood I

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 133-148)

“And what is Right Livelihood?  Here a noble disciple having abandoned wrong livelihood, makes a living by means of Right Livelihood.  This is called Right Livelihood.”  –The Buddha 

Skillful Livelihood

The Buddha makes it clear that there are skillful and unskillful ways to make a living.

Bhante G. adds:  “Our means of sustenance should not interfere with our spiritual development.”

The Buddha spoke further on Right Livelihood by saying:

“A lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.”

The reason for this is that these occupations violate one for more of the Five Precepts:

  1. Abstaining from killing
  2. Abstaining from stealing
  3. Abstaining from speaking falsely (from Right Speech
  4. Abstaining from sexual misconduct
  5. Abstaining from misusing intoxicants such as alcohol (because this can lead to unskillful behavior).

The Buddha gave examples of five unskillful occupations in his day and age.  Bhante Gunaratana has created a series of three questions that we can ask ourselves to determine if we are engaged in Right Livelihood.

Is my job an inherently unskillful occupation?

  • Does it cause harm by definition?
  • Does it involve manufacturing, selling, or using weapons?
  • Does it entail harming living beings?
  • Does it support the formation of addictions such as gambling or drinking?

Does my job or daily occupation cause me to break any of the five core precepts? 

Are there aspects of my job which disturb my sense of peace? Such as guilt, remorse, uncertainly, fear, or doubt?

Other thoughts about Right Livelihood to reflect on:

  • Are you aware of your unique visions, talents and gifts? How does life express itself uniquely through you?
  • Are you following your own creative visions or are compromising them for fear of not being approved or accepted?
  • Do you work for an organization that treats competitors as the enemy thereby fostering feelings of aversion? If so, do you personally avoid thinking in this manner?
  • Does your organization see its clients or customers in terms of profits and is it rarely concerned about service? If so, are you still able to provide superior support and service to your customers or clients?
  • Does your organization promote their products or services using fear tactics?
  • Does your organization make exaggerated claims about its products or services?
  • Am you too overburdened with work to give proper service to those you are dedicated to servicing?
  • If you met the Buddha, would there be aspects of your work that you would avoid mentioning since you knew they were unskillful?

“A man’s value to the community primarily depends on how far his feelings, thoughts, and actions are directed towards promoting the good of his fellows.”  –Albert Einstein 

Remember:  “Our means of sustenance should not interfere with our spiritual development.” 


  • Reflect (non-judgmentally) on your means of sustenance in light of Bhante G’s three questions.
  • What do you find?

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