The Fourth Noble Truth: Insight 2 The Eightfold Path Step 5 Skillful LIvelihood

Dancing with Life (DWL) Chapter 20; Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness:  Step Five (pp. 133-148); Mindfulness:  A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp.386-387)

“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.” (Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness p. 133).

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:

  • Abstaining from killing
  • Abstaining from stealing
  • Abstaining from speaking falsely (from Right Speech)
  • Abstaining from sexual misconduct
  • Abstaining from misusing intoxicants such as alcohol.

Is your Occupation Skillful?

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 Skillful 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? (E.g. guilt, remorse, uncertainly, fear, or doubt).

Other reflections on our choice of Livelihood:

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

If the intention is to play a useful role in society in order to support oneself and to help others, then the work one does is Right Livelihood.”  S.N. Goenka

“To take responsibility for others gives us the power of a radiant heart, a responsive and heroic heart.”  The Dalai lama

Other questions to ponder:

  • 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?
  • Are you able to adopt an attitude of service in your livelihood?
  • Is your means of sustenance in harmony with your core values?
  • 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?
  • Are 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?


Loving Kindness may improve a difficult job situation.

Your intention is what matters particularly working in unskillful conditions.

Skillful Livelihood is a goal to be sought gradually as our spiritual practice matures. (Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness p. 148)


  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.  Read and reflect on the questions.  Does your means of sustenance interfere with your spiritual development?  If so, can you apply mindfulness to further investigate?


  • Meditate as usual in your daily practice being mindful of what arises and falls away and how all have the same characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness.

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