Right Livelihood on the Eightfold Path of Buddhism

The Buddha and the Eightfold Path of Buddhism

by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Chapter IV

Right Livelihood (samma ajiva)

Right livelihood is concerned with ensuring that one earns one's living in a righteous way. For a lay disciple the Buddha teaches that wealth should be gained in accordance with certain standards. One should acquire it only by legal means, not illegally; one should acquire it peacefully, without coercion or violence; one should acquire it honestly, not by trickery or deceit; and one should acquire it in ways which do not entail harm and suffering for others.34

The Buddha mentions five specific kinds of livelihood which bring harm to others and are therefore to be avoided: dealing in weapons, in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), in meat production and butchery, in poisons, and in intoxicants (AN 5:177). He further names several dishonest means of gaining wealth which fall under wrong livelihood: practicing deceit, treachery, soothsaying, trickery, and usury (MN 117). Obviously any occupation that requires violation of right speech and right action is a wrong form of livelihood, but other occupations, such as selling weapons or intoxicants, may not violate those factors and yet be wrong because of their consequences for others.

The Thai treatise discusses the positive aspects of right livelihood under the three convenient headings of rightness regarding actions, rightness regarding persons, and rightness regarding objects.35

"Rightness regarding actions" means that workers should fulfill their duties diligently and conscientiously, not idling away time, claiming to have worked longer hours than they did, or pocketing the company's goods.

"Rightness regarding persons" means that due respect and consideration should be shown to employers, employees, colleagues, and customers. An employer, for example, should assign his workers chores according to their ability, pay them adequately, promote them when they deserve a promotion and give them occasional vacations and bonuses. Colleagues should try to cooperate rather than compete, while merchants should be equitable in their dealings with customers.

"Rightness regarding objects" means that in business transactions and sales the articles to be sold should be presented truthfully. There should be no deceptive advertising, misrepresentations of quality or quantity, or dishonest manoeuvers.

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Suggestions for Further Reading


21. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 50.

22. MN 61.

23. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 50.

24. Subcommentary to Digha Nikaya.

25. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, pp. 50-51.

26. MN 21; Word of the Buddha, p. 51.

27. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 51

28. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 53.

29. HRH Prince Vajirañanavarorasa, The Five Precepts and the Five Ennoblers (Bangkok, 1975), pp. 1-9.

30. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 53.

31. The Five Precepts and the Five Ennoblers gives a fuller list, pp. 10-13.

32. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 53.

33. The following is summarized from The Five Precepts and the Five Ennoblers, pp. 16-18.

34. See AN 4:62; AN 5:41; AN 8:54.

35. The Five Precepts and the Five Ennoblers, pp. 45-47.

Source: The Wheel Publication No. 308/311 (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1984), second edition (revised) 1994. Transcribed from a file provided by the BPS Copyright © 1998 Buddhist Publication Society. Reproduced and reformatted from Access to Insight edition © 1999 For free distribution. This work may be republished, reformatted, reprinted, and redistributed in any medium. It is the author's wish, however, that any such republication and redistribution be made available to the public on a free and unrestricted basis and that translations and other derivative works be clearly marked as such. All Wheel publications and Bodhi Leaves referred to above are published by the Buddhist Publication Society.

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