Talking is Wrong Livelihood?

Hello everyone.

I am confused after reading Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of the Mahācattārīsakasutta.

Can someone please explain why talking is wrong livelihood according to Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation?

The quote is:

“And what, bhikkhus, is wrong livelihood? Scheming, talking, hinting, belittling, pursuing gain with gain: this is wrong livelihood.“

MN 117: Mahācattārīsakasutta—Bhikkhu Bodhi (

Thank you kindly.

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Bhante Sujato’s translation may be more helpful:

And what is wrong livelihood? Deceit, flattery, hinting, and belittling, and using material possessions to chase after other material possessions. This is wrong livelihood.


I believe that most certainly the reference is not to speech or conversation per se, but to non-meaningful or even hostile gossiping (that creates karma and/or adds to Samsara).

There is certainly nothing wrong with becoming a news anchor :wink:

BB’s translation of the wrong livelihood practices replicates that used in Nyanamoli’s translation of the Visuddhimagga. In the latter text “talking” (lapana) is defined:

Herein, what is talking? Talking at others, talking, talking round, talking up, continual talking up, persuading, continual persuading, suggesting, continual suggesting, ingratiating chatter, flattery, bean-soupery, fondling, on the part of one bent on gain, honour and renown, of one of evil wishes, a prey to wishes—this is called talking.

Each of these terms is then defined. For example, “talking at” is:

… talking thus on seeing people coming to the monastery, “What have you come for, good people? What, to invite bhikkhus? If it is that, then go along and I shall come later with [my bowl],” etc.; or alternatively, talking at is talking by advertising oneself thus, “I am Tissa, the king trusts me, such and such king’s ministers trust me.”

Among the terms less obvious in meaning, “bean-soupery” is:

resemblance to bean soup; for just as when beans are being cooked only a few do not get cooked, the rest get cooked, so too the person in whose speech only a little is true, the rest being false, is called a “bean soup”; his state is bean-soupery.


Also, please keep in mind that this is wrong livelihood for monastics. For lay people, wrong livelihood is the more straightforward list of butcher, etc.


How do we know for certain that the Buddha intended this wrong livelihood definition for only monastics?

Very simply, it’s addressed to monks.

Also, it arguably contradicts some advice he gives to laypeople. “Pursuing gain with gain” is discouraged for monastics, but there’s multiple suttas where laypeople go to the Buddha asking for advice on what to do with their wealth, and he never discourages this, but in fact encourages saving money to use for certain sorts of material gain (e.g. protecting themselves from kings / bandits, investing in their workers, etc). It’s notable, broadly, how favorable Buddhism is to Anathapindika, who seems to have been a sort of proto-banker.

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There are probably even some rules for the Sangha that would be counter-productive to leading an ethical life as a lay follower. Buddhism’s goal seems to be to “take oneself out of business”, so to speak. That can only be done as a monk. Lay followers are still “in business” and if too rigid can act in ways that antagonize and hurt others. Like when ending a loving relationship.

Pursuing gain with gain is not the practice of investing resources to earn money. It is specifically taking gifts from lay people (gain) with the hopes that the lay people the monastic gives things to will in turn give them more things in return. In any case, even for lay people it is rather unseemly to give gifts with the hope that the recipients will later give more in return.

I assume you meant the other way? Giving gifts to lay people…?

Monastic A takes a gift from lay person B and gives it to lay person C in the hopes that layperson C will give greater value gifts back to monastic A.

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I think there’s a discussion to be had about the application of this to lay life and banking in particular… but it’s not the topic here and you were right to correct my speculation / interpretation / expansion with the specific explicit meaning in the text, and I was wrong to introduce my thoughts in this Q&A thread.