Harmlessness and Right Livelihood

Hi guys,

What is considered right livelihood for lay followers are:

“Not doing business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison”.

But if we take a look at the bigger picture, there are many livelihoods can be considered harmful. For example, fried food increases cancer risk, if you are doing furniture business, the flame retardant and/or other chemical in the furniture increases risk of cancer, immune dysfunction and hormone disruption, there are also hormone disruption chemicals in plastic bottles, the list goes on.

Not harming is the essence of Buddhism, in my opinion. But how can you said you are practicing right livelihood, when in fact it’s harmful? Why do some harmfulness are acceptable, what is the basis for that?
Does anyone have any thoughts? Thanks.

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Well, I think it’s more than just not harming.

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I think it’s best to consider Right Livelihood in the context of the other path factors, as for example in AN45.1 (below).
Right Intention looks particularly relevant here, since it includes developing harmlessness. Practically speaking the goal would be to minimise the harm that we do.

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I think it’s even more than that. We encourage people in one way or another. For example, if you have a husband/a wife, you cook them a delicious meal, you pleasure him/her on bed, the more they like what you do the happier you are. It’s more than being an actor, I think.

Sure, Right Intention has a positive side. Its related to Right Effort, where skillful states “displace” unskillful states.
For example we develop metta to “displace” hatred.

I worked in Payroll for 13 years. And later in Education. Those are solutions. Not exciting or ambitious, but :man_shrugging:

Freedom, is the essence of Buddhism - not harming (ahimsa) may be the essence of Jainism, though I’m not sure :thinking:- as they commit suicide in order to not kill others by breathing and so on…

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In order to achieve permanent freedom, the path of Buddhism is non-harming. But it’s not clear cut conclusion, it depends on the person. As other poster said, the goal is to minimise harm. Minimising harm I think is the evolvement of “non-harming” understanding. To minimise harm is the goal, although I personally can’t find any basis for this in the Sutta. Partly because I think not doing any harm is an impossible task, at least for the job that we do.

Do you have the reference regarding below statement?

The fasting causes thinning away of body by withdrawing by choice food and water to oneself. As death is imminent, the individual stops all food and water, with full knowledge of colleagues and spiritual counsellor.[18] In some cases, Jains with terminal illness undertake sallekhana , and in these cases they ask for permission from their spiritual counsellor.[19][note 1] For a successful sallekhana , the death must be with “pure means”, voluntary, planned, undertaken with calmness, peace and joy where the person accepts to scour out the body and focuses his or her mind on spiritual matters.[4][2] Sallekhana - Wikipedia

In the ‘relay of chariots sutta’ MN24 virtue is shown as a means to take one to concentration. Then concentration, to insight. Insight leads to attainment, or release. This means that virtue is not an all consuming thing in itself: it isn’t an attachment to rites and ritual.

Of course, in Buddhism most practices aren’t taken to the extreme.


I think minimising harm (to self and others) is the principle underlying sila generally in the suttas. This includes the relevant path factors in the 8-fold path, and the precepts.

However the path also includes samadhi and panna. Sila, samadhi and panna is the 3-fold version of the 8-fold path (I’ll see if I can find a sutta reference for this).

Hmm. Some Buddhists have embalmed themselves while alive. Seems a bit inclined to self-mortifying.

Some people go too far, for example, some people trying to lose weight but that practice lead them to nutritional deficiencies.

The same thing with actor is destined for hell. If involving ourselves in sensuous stuff lead ourselves to lower realm or even hell then everybody will go to hell.
Maybe the Buddha knows this therefore he told us not to rely merely on scriptures. If one’s occupation is beheading people then hell is probably a suitable consequences. But if you simply want to make a joke to your family on sunday morning or give them a very nice gift, you are not destined for hell.

Some Suttas are not words of Buddha, for example, Karajakaya Sutta and more. Hopefully, Talaputta Sutta is not too extreme (for most people).

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What makes you say, that this sutta isn’t the word of the Buddha?

It’s been discussed before.