A complete guide to right livelihood in the EBT's

So here for your edification is every EBT passage given about sammāājīvo in the Vinaya, four principle Nikayas and the early books of the Khuddaka. I have given only the first occurrence of any given passage, but I believe this list is more or less complete.

If you are aware of any other teachings on right livelihood in the above mentioned books, please let me know.

“It is simply this noble eightfold path, that is:
“Ayameva ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo.

right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right immersion.
Seyyathidaṁ—sammādiṭṭhi sammāsaṅkappo sammāvācā sammākammanto sammāājīvo sammāvāyāmo sammāsati sammāsamādhi.


And what is right livelihood?
Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammāājīvo?

It’s when a noble disciple gives up wrong livelihood and earns a living by right livelihood.
Idha, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako micchāājīvaṁ pahāya sammāājīvena jīvitaṁ kappeti.

This is called right livelihood.
Ayaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, sammāājīvo.


“Mendicants, in some past lives the Realized One was reborn as a human being.
“Yampi, bhikkhave, tathāgato purimaṁ jātiṁ purimaṁ bhavaṁ purimaṁ niketaṁ pubbe manussabhūto samāno

He gave up wrong livelihood and earned a living by right livelihood. He refrained from falsifying weights, metals, or measures; bribery, fraud, cheating, and duplicity; mutilation, murder, abduction, banditry, plunder, and violence.
micchājīvaṁ pahāya sammāājīvena jīvikaṁ kappesi, tulākūṭakaṁsakūṭamānakūṭaukkoṭanavañcananikatisāciyogachedanavadhabandhanaviparāmosaālopasahasākārā paṭivirato ahosi.

Due to performing, accumulating, heaping up, and amassing those deeds, when his body broke up, after death, he was reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.
So tassa kammassa kaṭattā upacitattā ussannattā vipulattā kāyassa bhedā paraṁ maraṇā sugatiṁ saggaṁ lokaṁ upapajjati.

There he surpassed the other gods in ten respects: divine life span, beauty, happiness, glory, sovereignty, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches.
So tattha aññe deve dasahi ṭhānehi adhigaṇhāti dibbena āyunā dibbena vaṇṇena dibbena sukhena dibbena yasena dibbena ādhipateyyena dibbehi rūpehi dibbehi saddehi dibbehi gandhehi dibbehi rasehi dibbehi phoṭṭhabbehi.

When he came back to this state of existence he obtained these two marks: his teeth are even and perfectly white.
So tato cuto itthattaṁ āgato samāno imāni dve mahāpurisalakkhaṇāni paṭilabhati, samadanto ca hoti susukkadāṭho ca.


‘Others will have wrong livelihood, but here we will have right livelihood.’
‘Pare micchāājīvā bhavissanti, mayamettha sammāājīvā bhavissāmā’ti sallekho karaṇīyo.


Right speech, right action, and right livelihood: these things are included in the category of ethics.
Yā cāvuso visākha, sammāvācā yo ca sammākammanto yo ca sammāājīvo ime dhammā sīlakkhandhe saṅgahitā.


In this context, right view comes first.
Tatra, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti.

And how does right view come first?
Kathañca, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti?

When you understand wrong livelihood as wrong livelihood and right livelihood as right livelihood, that’s your right view.
Micchāājīvaṁ ‘micchāājīvo’ti pajānāti, sammāājīvaṁ ‘sammāājīvo’ti pajānāti; sāssa hoti sammādiṭṭhi.

And what is wrong livelihood?
*Katamo ca, bhikkhave, micchāājīvo?

Deceit, flattery, hinting, and belittling, and using material possessions to chase after other material possessions.
Kuhanā, lapanā, nemittikatā, nippesikatā, lābhena lābhaṁ nijigīsanatā—

This is wrong livelihood.
ayaṁ, bhikkhave, micchāājīvo.

And what is right livelihood?
Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammāājīvo?

Right livelihood is twofold, I say.
Sammāājīvampahaṁ, bhikkhave, dvāyaṁ vadāmi—

There is right livelihood that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment.
atthi, bhikkhave, sammāājīvo sāsavo puññabhāgiyo upadhivepakko;

And there is right livelihood that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path.
atthi, bhikkhave, sammāājīvo ariyo anāsavo lokuttaro maggaṅgo.

And what is right livelihood that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment?
Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammāājīvo sāsavo puññabhāgiyo upadhivepakko?

It’s when a noble disciple gives up wrong livelihood and earns a living by right livelihood.
Idha, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako micchāājīvaṁ pahāya sammāājīvena jīvikaṁ kappeti—

This is right livelihood that is accompanied by defilements.
ayaṁ, bhikkhave, sammāājīvo sāsavo puññabhāgiyo upadhivepakko.

And what is right livelihood that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path?
Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammāājīvo ariyo anāsavo lokuttaro maggaṅgo?

It’s the desisting, abstaining, abstinence, and refraining from wrong livelihood in one of noble mind and undefiled mind, who possesses the noble path and develops the noble path.
Yā kho, bhikkhave, ariyacittassa anāsavacittassa ariyamaggasamaṅgino ariyamaggaṁ bhāvayato micchāājīvā ārati virati paṭivirati veramaṇī—

This is right livelihood that is noble.
ayaṁ, bhikkhave, sammāājīvo ariyo anāsavo lokuttaro maggaṅgo.

They make an effort to give up wrong livelihood and embrace right livelihood: that’s their right effort.
So micchāājīvassa pahānāya vāyamati, sammāājīvassa upasampadāya; svāssa hoti sammāvāyāmo.

Mindfully they give up wrong livelihood and take up right livelihood: that’s their right mindfulness.
So sato micchāājīvaṁ pajahati, sato sammāājīvaṁ upasampajja viharati; sāssa hoti sammāsati.

So these three things keep running and circling around right livelihood, namely: right view, right effort, and right mindfulness.
Itiyime tayo dhammā sammāājīvaṁ anuparidhāvanti anuparivattanti, seyyathidaṁ—sammādiṭṭhi, sammāvāyāmo, sammāsati.


Right action gives rise to right livelihood.
sammākammantassa sammāājīvo pahoti;

Right livelihood gives rise to right effort.
sammāājīvassa sammāvāyāmo pahoti;


When right livelihood is developed and cultivated it culminates with the removal of greed, hate, and delusion.
Sammāājīvo, ānanda, bhāvitā bahulīkatā rāgavinayapariyosānā hoti, dosavinayapariyosānā hoti, mohavinayapariyosānā hoti.


You don’t have the wrong livelihood that causes an unlearned ordinary person to be reborn—when their body breaks up, after death—in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.
Yathārūpāya kho, gahapati, micchāājīvena samannāgato assutavā puthujjano kāyassa bhedā paraṁ maraṇā apāyaṁ duggatiṁ vinipātaṁ nirayaṁ upapajjati, tathārūpā te micchāājīvena natthi.

You have right livelihood.
Atthi ca kho te, gahapati, sammāājīvo.

Seeing in yourself that right livelihood, that pain may die down on the spot.
Tañca pana te sammāājīvo attani samanupassato ṭhānaso vedanā paṭippassambheyya.


And what is failure in livelihood?
Katamā ca, bhikkhave, ājīvavipatti?

It’s when a noble disciple has wrong livelihood and earns a living by wrong livelihood.
Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco micchāājīvo hoti, micchāājīvena jīvikaṁ kappeti.

This is called ‘failure in livelihood’.
Ayaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, ājīvavipatti.

And what is accomplishment in livelihood?
Katamā ca, bhikkhave, ājīvasampadā?

It’s when a noble disciple has right livelihood and earns a living by right livelihood.
Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco sammāājīvo hoti, sammāājīvena jīvikaṁ kappeti.

This is called ‘accomplishment in livelihood’.
Ayaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, ājīvasampadā.


Wrong livelihood is a bad principle.
Micchāājīvo, bhikkhave, adhammo;

Right livelihood is a good principle.
sammāājīvo dhammo;

And the many bad, unskillful qualities produced by wrong livelihood are bad results.
ye ca micchāājīvapaccayā aneke pāpakā akusalā dhammā sambhavanti, ayaṁ anattho;

And the many skillful qualities fully developed because of right livelihood are good results.
sammāājīvapaccayā ca aneke kusalā dhammā bhāvanāpāripūriṁ gacchanti, ayaṁ attho.





“Mendicants, a lay follower should not engage in these five trades. What five? Trade in weapons, living creatures, meat, intoxicants, and poisons. A lay follower should not engage in these five trades.”

Missed out on this.

Also, lots of others in the Vinaya for monastics.

This is why I was quite sceptical about investment. Using money to earn money.

Yet, in Sigalovada sutta, SuttaCentral

In gathering wealth like this,
a householder does enough for their family.
And they’d hold on to friends
by dividing their wealth in four.

One portion is to enjoy.
Two parts invest in work.
And the fourth should be kept
for times of trouble.”

So open discussion: to what extend is it ok to do investment? To what extend it goes into wrong livelihood? Best is if you have economics, financial or business background to be able to tease out the subtle intricacies of investments.

To start off, I am thinking that, buying cryptocurrency for gain to sell it when the price is higher is more of using material possessions to chase after other material possessions.

Investing in hardwares, skill upgrades, etc which directly benefit one’s own business for the business to improve is part of what Sigalovada sutta recommended.


I had thought that the concept of "pursuing gain with gain ( lābha) was meant to address monastics…i.e. you give toothwood, fruits, chunam or accommodation to laypeople, hoping that they will give you more in return, as per the Theragatha.



Dear bhante,
I present to you my respectful salutations.
I’ve seen you have quoted the five types of livelihood one should abstain from and it is said « trade in living creatures », although I wonder at this detail as I have seen the following passage in the Dighajanu sutta AN 8.54 :

[…]Herein, Vyagghapajja, by whatsoever activity a householder earns his living, whether by farming, by trading, by rearing cattle[…]


If rearing cattle is considered a right way of earning a living as it is part of conditions for worldly progress according to the sutta, how would it not be part of trading in living creatures according to you ?
Also, the translated version by Thanissaro Bhikkhu available on access to insight has “human beings” and I don’t see living creatures mentioned in it.

If you could please impart your understanding on these crucial differences, I’d be glad to hear it.

I thank you for reading me and wish you well bhante :pray:

The pāli word for that is satta which in pāli dictionaries, you will find is defined as living beings, not limited to human beings.

My first thought is that the householder who raises cattle might not be a good lay disciple, but then you triggered a deeper thought that there is a legit way to have that in ancient India and not violate right livelihood.

Well raising cattle can be for their milk. Unlike current industrial practice of milk industry which forcefully impregnate the cows, ancient times, they might just let the cows loose and just take a few squeeze of milk without depriving the baby cow from drinking too.

Selling milk is not against the right livelihood.

In current times, the vegans have a point. Milk industry is cruel, bad for the planet, health and compassion too. They kill the baby cows to get more milk.

Also second usage of cattle in ancient times is in farming. Cattle is how they plough the field, and have fertilizer (cow manures).

Third usage. Cow urine is a medicine.

Thank you for your thorough answer bhante :pray:

I wonder at the drastic differences of translations as I’ve only recently stumbled upon the one selecting “living beings”.
Pragmatically speaking, would raising and selling dogs for blind people or fire fighters (e.g. to find people in collapsed buildings) be then considered a wrong livelihood bhante ? Or even raising and selling horses for charioteers or farmers ?
I’d be very interested in knowing what prompted bhante Thanissaro to have chosen “human beings” instead.
With mettā and respectful salutations.

Yes, technically selling living beings of all sorts should count under trading in living beings.

There’s always the option of adoption for dogs and horses, I don’t see much of a good reason why humans should still have horses, is there some very wild places where horses can go and some form of vehicle cannot go?

I dunno the technical details of how would the ancient Buddhists who doesn’t have cattle get started in their farming careers. Maybe request from the king? Then what’s the modern equivalent? I dunno.

PS. Just thought of something parallel in Pokemon. Generally, in the Pokemon games, it’s not that common to see people selling pokemons. We trade them. We catch them from the wild, breed them and we train them. It just seems more humane to the Pokemons compared to selling/buying them.

Hmmm… if trading without using money is not allowed too, then the most one can do is gift, then those departments which requires special breed of dogs to help them may just need to create their own breeding centre. However, if the spirit of the rule is actually more of not exploiting the animals, then to what extend does breeding dogs violate this rule?

One advantage I can see of self breeding those special dogs is to ensure that there’s no cruelty of culling unwanted dogs behind the scenes.

There’s also horse traders in the Jātakas. It seems that there’s no expectation for the whole society to follow the full noble 8 fold path. Thus perhaps such speculation here is not going to be useful. I don’t foresee a creation of a nation or a planet which has only fully, strictly practising Buddhists only. Just that those who are serious in the path, avoid certain careers which causes harm.

Btw, pet shops are counted as trading in living beings, as well as selling living baits for fishing, worms/bugs/fishes for pet food, etc. Renting… tricky… is renting a sort of trade? Let’s see rent a weapon… yes, I can see how wrong it would be to even rent a weapon. Yup, so cannot be camel renters for desert adventurers.

PSS. How about walking dog services as a job? I don’t see that as falling under trading in living beings, but a good service to help the animals. Zoos are ok, provided the zoo doesn’t have carnivores who needs to eat living animals. So most zoos are not ok. Panda zoo would be cool, but it’s like exploiting the animals, living off them being caged? Open zoos. So complicated… Sorry not really interested in further exploration anymore.

As somebody who was a vegan for years, and still remains a vegetarian; there are certainly parts of the “vegan movement” that have no clue, and do more harm than good. Factory farming of any sort is bad, and yes, milk is an issue; nonetheless, “almond milk” for example decimates ecosystems, kills hundreds of millions of bees through forcing non-native bees to do work they don’t want to do. Also, chopping down forests to put up “Impossible Burger” factories displaces animals, is resource intensive, uses a ton of chemicals, and negatively impacts ecology and creates industrial waste. So, as I have said many times on this forum, there really is no way to do no harm, all we can do is minimize our impact and do the best we can.


There’s no compulsion that vegans must drink almond milk or eat impossible burgers. So if such issues gets to be known, some more may choose to not eat those and adjust the economic impact once again. I am not sure of the relative impact on CO2 emissions, but surely it’s better than cow’s milk.

You are right. But sadly, many vegans still lack the understanding of even the basics of agriculture and the fact that animals die to produce vegetables. Being somebody who is very involved in the field of agriculture and land development, I promise all this is true. There are actually studies of how many bunnies get tilled into large conventional potato fields. Obviously this can be somewhat remediated by buying from a local farmer who actually cares about their land and the process.

I have backyard chickens, for eggs, and they are treated with respect and essentially honored in my household. My daughter loves them and actually treats them better than the average human treats other humans. They are fed food scraps, insects they forage when they free range, organic feed (basically nothing compared to factory farmed chickens) and yet I have been told by vegans that I am cruel for keeping them, and that “Just EGG” is “just as good as chicken eggs” yet to make “Just EGG” it requires massive amounts of energy, and it’s primary ingredient is canola oil … a carcinogen made from highly toxic genetically modified rapeseeds. So, sometimes vegans just have no clue and in pursuit of some false moral high ground, they just do not understand the larger impact of their actions. I can also add that if I was to just open the door and let my chickens enter the wild, they would certainly die very quickly.

Many vegans (and “animal rights” people) would say that raising a horse, and then putting it to work is also cruel. Yet they fail to see the cruelty in convincing some farmer they need to buy an expensive tractor that runs on fossil fuels ,thus continuing on the status quo extraction of natural resources leading us toward eventual ecological devastation and also indebting them to the banking overlords who seek to destroy the planet through unhinged capitalist practices.

I totally went off thread here, and I apologize, but it is important everybody thinks about these things.


I thought that was a great post, and see no need for you to apologize.
These are all important things for us to consider, as we navigate our way through samsara.

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In the case of right livelihood for samaṇas, you’ve omitted the most comprehensive description of all: the one in DN1 and its repetition in DN2. Admittedly, the term used in these is not sammā-ājīvo, but rather, micchājīvā paṭivirato.