Is sex work micchā-ājīva

I don’t know if anyone has heard the news but an American Buddhist organisation (Against The Streamh A.T.M) has recently been investigating one of its former teacher’s of ‘sexual misconduct.’ One interesting point that came up was that this teacher taught that sex workers practice wrong livelihood (prostiution that is legal not slave based ) what are your views on this…?
‘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 5.177’

Kāmesu micchācārī hoti, yā tā māturakkhitā piturakkhitā mātāpiturakkhitā bhāturakkhitā bhaginirakkhitā ñātirakkhitā gottarakkhitā dhammarakkhitā sasāmikā saparidaṇḍā antamaso mālāguḷaparikkhittāpi, tathārūpāsu cārittaṃ āpajjitā hoti.

“He engages in sexual misconduct; he has sexual relations with women who are protected by their mother, father, mother and father, brother, sister, or relatives; who are protected by their Dhamma; who have a husband; whose violation entails a penalty; or even with one already engaged. An 10.211”
What does the word Dhamma here mean … principle, duty, integrity? Can the sentence be translated as protected by ‘the dhamma’…?It seems the word gotta has been left out ie is not translated… protected by their clan…?

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I assume that “trade in living creatures” would equate to modern slavery, which presumably could include sex workers?

‘Wrong livelihood’ would probably apply to exploiting the slaves or sex workers rather than to sex work itself.


I think they are the minimum standard.
One should take every effort to not to engage in any trade harmful to themselves or others in my opinion.


Dhammarakkhitā refers to female renunciates who are sexually out-of-bounds on account of their brahmacariyā commitment. From the definition in the Vinaya’s account of the fifth saṅghādisesa rule (Vin. iii. 139) it seems that ‘dhamma’ here refers to the religion under whose aegis they have gone forth:

‘Dhammarakkhitā’ nāma sahadhammikā rakkhanti gopenti issariyaṃ kārenti vasaṃ vattenti.
‘The one protected by her religion’: her fellow believers protect, guard, wield authority, control.


For anyone interested in more of the story re: ATS


May all those suffering from this occurrence overcome it through wisdom and contine their growth in the dhamma.

“Mendicants, there are these five drawbacks of placing faith in an individual. What five? The individual to whom a person is devoted falls into an offense such that the Saṅgha suspends them. It occurs to them: ‘This person dear and beloved to me has been suspended by the Saṅgha.’ They lose much of their faith in mendicants. So they don’t frequent other mendicants, they don’t hear the true teaching, and they fall away from the true teaching. This is the first drawback in placing faith in an individual.

Furthermore, the individual to whom a person is devoted falls into an offense such that the Saṅgha makes them sit at the end of the line. … This is the second drawback in placing faith in an individual.

Furthermore, the individual to whom a person is devoted departs for another region … disrobes … passes away. It occurs to them: ‘This person dear and beloved to me has passed away.’ So they don’t frequent other mendicants, they don’t hear the true teaching, and they fall away from the true teaching. This is the fifth drawback in placing faith in an individual. These are the five drawbacks of placing faith in an individual.” - AN5.250


And thinking below waist is no good “dhamma”. And sound parallels to suttas is also good Dhamma.

This chapter with ATS has been painful for a while and when I heard this yesterday about them dissolving it really was a blow, especially that they are dissolving ATS over this. I was involved with the group some years ago when I was first getting interested in Buddhism. I attended their groups in San Francisco and Vinny Ferraro was my first teacher. I attended retreats with Noah Levine. Over time, my understanding of the dhamma began to differ from the ATS group so I drifted away from them. I’m still processing this, but I think this is a problem with lay dhamma teachers, unless there is some good system of vetting them or discplining them, it is very hard to hold them responsible and check their conduct before it blows up like this. With monks, there is an internal system of the vinaya. My only other thought at this time is that the morality of any spiritual teacher should be the first thing people look at and the main thing they look at, not what they teach.

As for “sex work”, this is definitely the trade in flesh, and wrong livelihood and a breach of the third precept. Encouraging people to break the 3rd precept is also a breach. I don’t see how there can be a question there.


I’ve no idea about issue at hand, and likewise no idea what to think of it, but it did occur to me that it might be relevant to mention Ambapālī.


While I really take your point, I think it is important to note that there’s a real and massive danger in just taking it as a given that those wearing robes are beyond committing abuse. They are not; it can be an issue within that grouping, too.


Well it isn’t one of the five listed trades.


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I don’t take it as a given. My only comment way about systems in place intended to control these sorts of things. At least with monastics, there is a theoretical framework they should be working from. With lay teachers, we really don’t have any standards.

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Sure, apologies for my miscommunication; mine was more of a general point springing from your comment, rather than regarding you or your views directly.

Again as I say, I totally see what you mean. As a separate issue I just have a bunch of apprehensions about the ways in which positions of authority / status carry their own particular dangers with respect to these kinds of things.


I guess if we remix the sexes in this quote then we would have things like: "She has sexual relations with men … who have a wife”, or maybe "he has sexual relations with men … who have a wife”, etc. So that probably rules out much of the sex workers job for Buddhists; a potential Buddhist sex worker would need to go into some detail with their punters about their private lives before engaging in the act. I guess we are unlikely to find any reliable statistics for these things, but I assume that many of those using the services of a sex worker are married (or equivalent).

And from the opposite angle (that of the punter), I guess one never knows the status of a sex worker in regard to being married or protected by parents, etc.

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The reality is that there are many sex workers who are Buddhists.

Is sex work defined as micchā-ājīva? It would seem not.

Does sex work involve breaking a precept? More than likely yes.

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I guess that would depend on your definition of a Buddhist. For me, it’s not the ritual of taking the refuges and precepts that make me a Buddhist. Sometimes I’m a Buddhist and sometimes I’m not. When I’m breaking the precepts, I don’t consider myself a Buddhist. But of course, people are free to call themselves whatever they want (apart from “protected titles” of course), and indeed people can do whatever they want (within the law of whatever territory they are in).

That’s certainly seems to be true in a strictly literal interpretation of words. But I guess one could suggest (possibly equally literally) that ‘trade in living creatures’ could include sex workers, even if the living creature that they are trading in is in fact themselves, and they are ‘offering for rent’ rather than ‘offering for sale’. Maybe? :woman_shrugging: … It’s probably one for the tax office and the sex workers accountant to sort out. :wink:

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The suttas indicate that it’s enough to go for refuge to be a Buddhist. To be a virtuous Buddhist is to go for refuge and follow the precepts.

“In what way, Bhante, is one a lay follower?”

“When, Mahānāma, one has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Saṅgha, in that way one is a lay follower.”

“In what way, Bhante, is a lay follower virtuous?”

“When, Mahānāma, a lay follower abstains from the destruction of life, from taking what is not given, from sexual misconduct, from false speech, and from liquor, wine, and intoxicants, the basis for heedlessness, in that way a lay follower is virtuous.” - SuttaCentral


By this standard, one could argue that anyone working in service industries is engaging in “trade in living creatures.” What distinguishes a medical practitioner from a licensed massage therapist from a hair stylist from a tattoo artist from a television news anchor, for that matter? None of these individuals manufacture a physical product. They trade in themselves as living creatures.

What distinguishes sex workers from the aforementioned service industry professionals is that the former trade in sex. So then the question becomes, does that constitute sexual misconduct? That is seemingly what is at stake.

I might also ask, is sex work somehow more demeaning than other personal services? Highly trained dental hygienists spend their working days scraping plaque off the the teeth of patients. To me, that sounds like a rather miserable job, but it is a medical profession that is greatly respected.


No it isn’t. Not as far as I’m concerned.

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