How to practice the right livelihood?


Our way of income is very important for both our physical and mental health. Also, we can help to make a difference through our occupations.

Therefore, we should engage in a righteous job that does not inflict any harm on others.

The Nobel Prize-wining Physicist Albert Einstein, regretting signing the letter to President Franklin Roosevelt proposing to begin research on atomic energy later mentioned “had I known that the Germans would not succeed in developing an atomic bomb, I would have done nothing.”

Having a guiltless way of income is an important aspect of cultivating mindfulness. It is called the right livelihood in Buddhism. This article discusses the importance of the right livelihood.

What is right livelihood?

That means to earn money ethically. When selecting or carrying out a job, one should pay attention to the following facts.

  • Whether the occupation is legal or illegal?
  • Whether the occupation imposes any harm to the world?
  • Whether the occupation encourages violence?
  • Whether dishonest practices are exercised in the job?

Certain job titles are legal but people can use deceitful means to earn money. Also, some jobs cause harm to the environment.

People engage in occupations without giving much thought to the impact brought by his/her job. We need to remember that our source of income is a way of prosperity for us and contributes to serving society at large.

What are the occupations to be avoided?

According to Buddhist texts, the following types of livelihood are considered harmful to the doer and other individuals.

  • Selling weapons
  • Trading in human beings (for slavery or for streetwalking)
  • Raising animals for meat
  • Selling intoxicants
  • Selling poison

Some occupations may generate a lot of money. However, a person should not engage in a demeaning or dishonorable activity for money or personal gain.

The legality of a certain career depends on the policy of the government, social and cultural values, and religious aspects.

Certain jobs like streetwalking can be legal in some countries. However, considering the adverse consequences of those activities, governments can impose age restrictions in accessing the service of streetwalkers.

 What are some examples for right livelihood?

Rights livelihood depends on the way one engages in the job. Regardless of the status of the job, if an individual carries it honestly and with commitment, he/she can do a service to society.

On the other hand, even the noblest profession can be done in an unethical manner, causing harm to others. For example, a lawyer stands for justice and peace in society. However, he can also appear on behalf of a criminal, proving no guilt. That endangers the lives of others in society.

Also, a doctor can engage in unethical practices, risking the lives of patients.

Actually,, it is very difficult to draw a line between right and wrong livelihood.

An individual has a big role in selecting an occupation that does not go against his conscience.

Once selected, he/she should engage in the job in a way that does not exceed professional ethics. Then his/her livelihood becomes righteous.

 How does your livelihood affect your mentality?

  • Job satisfaction is the key to keep us bound to our job. No matter how much we earn, if there is no job satisfaction, it is difficult to carry on for a long period.
  • Satisfaction largely depends on the righteosneous of your occupation. If your livelihood is against your conscience, you cannot relax. Going to work will become challenging in such a situation. This directly affects the mind.
  • It is important to commit to the job honestly. Sometimes, employees procrastinate during working hours. That is a kind of dishonesty, because you are supposed to give your fullest commitment to the job.
  • Some employees misuse workplace property. Taking a personal printout when you are advised not to do so seems to be a minor thing. Yet, it taints the mind with negative emotions.
  • On the other hand, if one does a job that help other people and serve the environment, there can be a lot of satisfaction.

Why your livelihood should be right?

Your job is not just about a way of income. It should not disturb the peace of mind.

If you are toward spiritual development, it is important to have an ethically sound occupation. Otherwise, you cannot expect to live a virtuous life. Without virtue, it is difficult to develop meditation.

When you engage in an unethical job, or if you are not honest in the workplace, your conscience will blame you someday. Therefore, one should be careful in selecting a responsible career choice in life.

How to select an occupation right for you?

This seems to be a difficult question to answer in the modern world. Everyone is engaged in the business of finding money in some manner.

Take a moment to think about your profession. You might be doing your dream job or doing just a job because you need money to maintain your family.

Whatever the situation may be, just evaluate your job on the moral principles that prevail in society.

Does my job serve others?

How much is job satisfaction?

Have I inflicted any harm on anyone during my career?

Is my job according to my conscience?

The above are some criteria to evaluate your job. If you get satisfactory answers for most of them, it could be the right occupation for you.

In determining whether your way of income is harmless and if you are doing it honestly, always check your intention. You can be an employer or employee; you may have engaged in a blue-collar or white-collar job. Regardless, if carry your profession with the right intention, then your source of income will become clean.

That is a lifetime gift you receive because your conscience knows you better than anyone. When the time comes to leave everything you accumulated in life, you should have no regrets. In fact, you can leave the world with satisfaction.

References: Mindful ways to save your pennies

Photo by Igal Ness on Unsplash


Rathsara (Sara) is an attorney-at-law who holds a Diploma in Buddhist Studies in ITBMU. She has engaged in community service in Sri Lanka and the United States helping many individuals. She is interested in reading, writing, and researching areas related to mindfulness. Inspired by spiritually developed individuals around the globe, Rathsara is keen to learn and practice mind-developing techniques. In the meantime, she would like to share her experience and knowledge for the well-being of others.

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