Right Livelihood (AN 5.177) and Livestock (AN 8.54) (AN8.55)

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I noticed that there is a conflict in Ajahn @sujato 's translations. Unless the historicity means it doesn’t conflict. In the Diighajaanu Sutta,

It’s when a respectable person earns a living by means such as farming, trade, raising cattle, archery, government service, or one of the professions. They understand how to go about these things in order to complete and organize the work.

As you see the translation includes “raising cattle” which, in the modern sense means you must sell the unproductive animals to people who will eventually have them butchered. The second sentence is important because, proper cattle rearing includes being kind to the animals as long as they’re in your care. Thanissaro Bhikkhu translate the sentence similarly but as “cattle tending”. There is a parallel in Ujjaya Sutta where “cattle raising” is mentioned again to brahmin Ujjaya as a right livelihood

When you get to the “Wrong Livelihood” Sutta (AN 5.177) you get different translations “dealing with living beings” from Ajahn Sujato and “business in human beings” with Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

What Pali word is being used to say “dealing in beings” is it is specific to people, to “higher beings” implied to the audience, or is it more general to every being?

What is the historical context for “cattle raising” in ancient India? Would raising cattle in ancient India fall under “wrong livelihood” according to the wording of the Wrong Livelihood Sutta?

I would like to keep the topic focused on the translations and historical context and not devolve in a debate on vegetarianism in Buddhism.


Trade in weapons, living creatures, meat, intoxicants, and poisons.
Satthavaṇijjā, sattavaṇijjā, maṃsavaṇijjā, majjavaṇijjā, visavaṇijjā—


farming, trade, raising cattle, archery, government service, or one of the professions.
yadi kasiyā, yadi vaṇijjāya, yadi gorakkhena, yadi issattena, yadi rājaporisena, yadi sippaññatarena—


According to Sutta, in india cattles were used for farming, milking, butchary and animal sacrifice.


Interesting question! I am not exactly sure of the distinction. It would seem, on the face of it, that pastoralism would fall under wrong livelihood. But the strict understanding of the two is different: raising or tending cattle is not the same thing as buying and selling cattle. One imagines that, if the cattle were used solely for milk, not being sold off or killed, this might be considered right livelihood.

On reflection, Thanissaro’s “tending” is probably a better rendering of rakkha and I’ll amend my translation accordingly.

The Pali is sattavaṇijjā, “trade in living beings”. I’m not sure why Thanissaro would translate it as “human beings”, satta never means this. Most likely it’s just a slipup.


I did some cursory googling and found an explanation for Thanissaro’s translation of “human beings” from Dhammawheel the sixth post down has a comment stating,

Presumably because the commentary glosses the term that way ( sattavaṇijjā = manussavikkayo , “the sale of humans”), and on this occasion he believes the commentary to be correct.

Someone else on that thread heard a sermon where a monk said sattavaṇijjā applied to slavery and prostitution.


Ahh, that would be it. But, no, that’s not what it means. Ven Bodhi also rejects the commentary here.

It’s probably deserving of a more detailed analysis, but it seems that the commentary and subcommentary are diluting the scope of wrong livelihood here.

  • From trade in animals to trade in human beings specifically.
  • From trade in weapons to “having stored weapons” then trading. (I’m not sure about this; subcomm says it is “just an example”)
  • From trade in meat to “having reared pigs, deer, etc. then selling them”, which the subcomm explains as “having prepared meat from them after raising them”.
  • Similarly for liquor and poisons comm says “having made them”.

I’d want to look into it in more detail before drawing conclusions, but to me almost all of these look to be of broader scope in the sutta and substantially narrowed in the commentary. I don’t see how vaṇijja “trade” in the sutta can really be extended to require the “production” of the good in question. Sometimes of course it may well be the producer who also sells something, but the suttas know the difference between a trader and a manufacturer.

Anyway the implication so far as I can see is that there is no good reason to accept the commentary’s restriction of 'living creature" to “human being”, and some reason to suspect that the commentary tended to restrict the scope of wrong livelihood.


Thank you for asking this question! I myself noticed this discrepancy between these suttas regarding livestock raising a few months ago. I read the commentarial explanation and wasn’t sure how plausible it is linguistically. I cannot help but wonder if the commentators also saw a possible contradiction between these two suttas and tried resolving it with dubious linguistics.

Part of the problem is that AN 5.177 has literally no context; it’s not even clear who its speaking. Also, does anyone else find it a bit strange that a teaching for laypeople is being addressed to monks? AN 8.54 and AN 8.55 are addressed to lay people. On top of this, AN 8.54 and AN 8.55 have Agama parallels, while AN 5.177 does not (at least not according to Sutta Central).

I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that I’m more inclined to put weight behind AN 8.54-55 than AN 5.177, if that makes sense.

Does anyone know of any Agamas that talk about wrong livelihood?

split this topic #9

A post was split to a new topic: Practical dilema regarding right livelihood