Buddhism without borders, caste, gender…

Buddhism without borders, caste, gender…


samma ajiva: right livelihood

Today we are talking about working towards right livelihood.

Forest Monk, Venerable Ajahn Tate, in his Autobiography wrote that worldly problems could be summarised into three issues:

1) Problems concerning family and livelihood

2) Problems about looking for inspiration

3) Problems about overcoming and transcending suffering

The Venerable wrote that it is not surprising that problems of this first category should arise. When there is a world there must also be world-shattering problems.

Acharn Tate also noted if one wants to go to any particular place or region:

1 One should know their language

2 One should know their customs and traditions; and

3 One should know about their livelihood.

Our organization’s international Dhamma activities with the World Fellowship of Buddhists provide additional pertinent training for our volunteers.

We need to develop persons to become competent, professional managers of our Centre.

The preliminary work has been done by some Members.

Our future key management persons must choose to take the high ground in morality found in Buddha Dhamma. As preliminary training, they apply their learned knowledge, develop critical thinking in the field of local area planning, asset management, corporate governance and reporting, and give use of our generated or acquired resources to be of service to others and show the way to persons looking for Buddha Dhamma. Right livelihood is making your living in a way that does not rob others.

From the Buddhist viewpoint, it is not right livelihood to trade in arms or poisons.

The Pali language word for right livelihood is samma ajiva.

‘Samma’ can be translated in English as right and ‘ajiva’ as livelihood.

This talk can give you a starting point in knowing how to come to right livelihood or in continuing your right livelihood, as the case may be.

We must ensure our writing shows right livelihood.

For example, one of our Members is a professional Japanese-English translator. She helps us with Japanese journals we need to read.

It is now timely (better sooner rather than later) for all to work towards right livelihood. The need is for wholesome activities that reduce greed. The Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi (1984) writes that “right livelihood is concerned with ensuring that one earns one’s living in a righteous way”… “…The Buddha mentions five specific kinds of livelihood which bring harm to others and are therefore to be avoided; dealing in weapons, in human beings (slave trade and prostitution), in living beings (meat production and butchery), in poisons, and in intoxicants.” “He further names several dishonest means of gaining wealth which fall under wrong livelihood: practicing deceit, treachery, soothsaying, trickery, and usury.”

By NOT doing these things, the Buddha could put the full force of his minds onto his great work – teaching the full Dhamma. Some persons after learning for some time at our Centre improve the way they conduct themselves in their profession. One Member who is an accountant decided to apply the precept of no lying in his work. He reports that he feels better having addressed this.

It is such insight and practice that leads to changes in practical behaviour. Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh writes that right livelihood is a collective issue. The local butcher sends his child to school and the Teacher and child eat meat provided by the butcher. The Venerable’s advice for the butcher is to continue to look deeply and practice mindfulness with his local Sangha. As his insight deepens, the way out of the situation where he finds himself killing to make a living will present itself.

Bhikkhu Bodhi writes “Obviously any occupation which requires violation of right speech and right action is a wrong form of livelihood. A wise person understands the law of cause and effect. The Buddha taught his lay students to hold a minimum of five precepts, these are:

To refrain from killing;

To refrain from taking what is not freely given;

To refrain from misconduct in sexual pleasures

To refrain from lying;

To refrain from taking intoxicants which are the cause for carelessness.

Right livelihood (samma ajiva) does not corrupt wholesome minds and is conducive to practice.
The Ananganasutta reads:

“Friend, Sariputta, in the same manner, those making a livelihood without faith, crafty hypocrites, trained deceivers, unsteady, wavering, with loose talk, mental faculties not restrained, not knowing the right amount to partake, not yoked to wakefulness and not desirous of the recluseship, not honoring the training, living in abundance and lethargy, unyoked from seclusion, without effort, not mindful and aware, not concentrated, those lacking in wisdom deaf and dumb, hearing this discourse, should know the heart with the heart and make repairs.”

“As for those sons of clansmen gone forth out of faith, not crafty, not hypocritical not trained deceivers, steady, without loose talk, mental faculties restrained, yoked to wakefulness, desirous of the recluseship, honoring the training, not living in abundance and lethargy, yoked to seclusion with effort, mindful and aware, concentrated and wise, they hearing this discourse of Venerable Sariputta, I think should devour the word and thought of it. Good if the co-associates in the holy life raised themselves from demerit and got established in merit.” “The two great men [Sariputta and Rajagaha] delighted in each other’s words.”

A wise person understands the Four Noble Truths, which are:

There is suffering (In the Pali language this is dukkha)

The cause of suffering is grabbing and grasping (In Pali: samudaya)

There is a path to the cessation of suffering (In Pali: nirodha)

This path to the cessation of suffering is the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path (In Pali: magga). The eight factors of the Path are:

  1. right understanding (In Pali: samma ditthi) 2.right thought (Pali: samma sankappa) The first two of the eight factors belong to the wisdom element (In Pali: panna). 3. right speech (In Pali: samma vaca)
  2. right action (In Pali samma kammanta) 2. right livelihood (In Pali: samma ajiva)

The 3rd, 4th & 5th factors belong to the virtue element in (In Pali: sila).

  1. right effort (In Pali: samma vayama) 7.right mindfulness (In Pali: samma sati) 8. right concentration (In Pali samma samadhi) The 6th, 7th & 8th factors belong to the concentration element in (In Pali: samadhi). The Pali language word sila means ‘morality’, ‘virtue’, it is a mode of mind and volition (cetana) manifested in speech or bodily action. It is the foundation of the whole Buddhist practice, and therewith the first of the 3 kinds of Training (sikkha) that form the 3 fold division of the 8 fold path (magga), i.e. morality, concentration and wisdom.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes that “as we study and practice the Noble Eightfold Path, we see that each element of the path is contained within all the other elements. We also see that each element of the path contain the Noble Truths of suffering, the making of suffering, and the ending of suffering.”

A Monk or Nun is expected to observe four kinds of sila: Patimokka sila – fundamental moral code; Indriya samvara sila – morality concerning sense restraint; Ajiva parisuddhi sila – morality concerning purity of livelihood; and Paccaya sannissita sila – morality concerning use of the necessities of life.

Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw writes on the right livelihood and the wrong livelihood of the Bhikkhus in his discourse on the Sallekha Sutta:

“Unlike the laymen with their… rules of conduct the Bhikkhus have a wide variety of moral rules binding on them. A Bhikkhu should not ask for food, robes or dwelling unless the person who is thus requested happens to be his relative or to have invited him. Neither should he nor other Bhikkhus use anything that is received in this way.

Asking outright for donations as is being done nowadays is very unbecoming of a Bhikkhu. A Bhikkhu should not even show signs or make indirect remarks that would induce a layman to offer food or robes. It is wrong livelihood to use anything that the Bhikkhu obtains by begging, or showing signs or through artful suggestions. “Moreover, any effort on the part of a Bhikkhu to make himself intimate with laymen or laywomen or to endear himself to them by giving flowers, fruits or food is an offence called destroying the faith of the laity.

Giving flowers, etc., may help to win the affection of the recipients but it will not contribute to their faith. Indeed respect for a Bhikkhu becomes genuine faith only if it is due to his moral purity and other qualities. So any attempt to cultivate intimacy by giving flowers, etc., is harmful to the original true faith that the Bhikkhu’s virtuous life has created. The lay follower is then likely to revere only the monk who gives flowers. He will not care for other good monks.
The so-called reverence for the liberal monk is, in reality, nothing more than affection that we find among ordinary people since it has little to do with faith. So it is improper for a Bhikkhu to offer flowers, food, etc., to his lay followers, to fawn on them, to serve them, to care for their children, to practice medicine, to read their horoscopes or engage in any other faith-destroying, wrong livelihood. It is also wrong livelihood to make use of the consumer goods which the monk gets by means of such practices.

“The Bhikkhu should avoid, too, hypocrisy in regard to material goods, jhana, magga, etc., and the practice of meditation. Some Bhikkhus pretend to have no desire for the robe or food offered by their lay followers. They would refuse to accept it, “I do not want good robes and good food. I am content with cast-off rags and the food that I get by begging.” Their refusal strengthens the faith of their lay follower who repeatedly requests them to accept his offer. Then they accept and never decline the offer of the lay believers on whom they have thus impressed their apparent distaste for the good things of life. This is the way of earning one’s living wrongly by posing as an ascetic.

“A monk may say, “A Bhikkhu who wears his robes like this or who dwells in such a place is usually a Noble One, an Arahat or one who has attained jhana and psychic powers.”

The description conforms to the speaker’s mode of life, the way he puts on his robe. This is a kind of wrong livelihood by a hypocritical monk. Some monks do not meditate but they behave themselves quietly and gently like a meditating yoga. They stand, sit, lie down, bend or stretch their hands like a yoga absorbed in jhana or concentration. This is also wrong livelihood by false pretense. Some pretend to be able to read the mind of another person. If a monk who is preaching says, “Ho! The woman over there is distracted. Be attentive and practice breathing,” there may indeed be some distracted women in the congregation. Such women would be much impressed and have a high opinion of the monk. Or if a monk says that he was a king and that such and such a woman was his queen in a previous existence, he will be credited with psychic powers by some of his followers. This is wrong livelihood by deception. A Bhikkhu should not use anything that is offered by a lay disciple who has been thus deceived. “He should live only on those things that he can have by right livelihood. If there is no one to offer him food, he should go about begging for it. If he has no proper robe, he should search for cast-off rags. Or he should stand in front of the house of a layman and when he is asked what he wants, he should express his desire for a robe. It is not improper to say what he wants in response to an inquiry. To seek the necessities of life through bodily expression (kâyaviññatti) is right livelihood. Food, robes, etc., which a layman offers out of regard for the learning, spiritual life and sermons of a monk are pure since the monk receives them lawfully. So the Buddha urged his disciples to make their living rightfully.” The purity of a man or woman leads him or her to the Enlightenment for which he or she has maintained a self-controlled life avoiding impure actions or defilements, thoughts, words and deeds. The Venerable Buddhagosa (XIV,155) writes that the three abstinences have “the characteristic of non-transgression in the respective fields of bodily conduct, etc.; they have the characteristic of not treading there…” “Their function is to draw back from the fields of bodily misconduct, and so on. “They are manifested as the no doing of these things. “Their proximate causes are the special qualities of faith, conscience, shame, fewness of wishes, and so on. “They should be regarded as the mind’s averseness from evil-doing. The Venerable Bhadantachariya Buddhagosa (XVI, 80) states: “When his or her right speech and right action are purified, his [or her] abstinence from wrong livelihood, which abstinence is associated with that [right view], cuts off scheming, etc., and that is called right livelihood. It has the characteristic of cleansing. Its function is to bring about the occurrence of a proper livelihood. It is manifested as the abandoning of wrong livelihood.”

Ron Wijewantha writes, “A good criterion for what is unskillful livelihood is motivation. If one’s motivation is impure, then that living is unskillful… Once we remove the impurities, we are left with right livelihood.

The Buddha said: From skilful understanding proceeds purity of thought. From skilful thought proceeds purity of speech. From skilful speech proceeds purity of action. From skilful action proceeds purity of livelihood. From skilful livelihood proceeds purity of effort. From skilful effort proceeds purity of awareness. From skilful awareness proceeds purity of concentration. From skilful concentration proceeds purity of wisdom. From skilful wisdom proceeds liberation.” So since it is possible to attain this good life it does follow that the persons should adjust their livelihood and their work to follow the bare bones of the outlines given today. May we all work towards right livelihood. May you be well and happy when you practice this. We are looking for persons to train in this skill. This script was written and edited by Julian Bamford, Leanne Eames, Evelin Halls, Lenore Hamilton, John D. Hughes and Pennie White.


Bodhi, Bhikkhu (1984), “The Noble Eightfold Path”, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, pp 64-65. Buddhaghosa, Bhadantacariya, (no date), “The Visuddhi Magga”, translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Nanamoli, Singapore Buddhist Meditation Centre, Singapore, I, 22; XIV, 143, 155; XVI, 78-80; XVI, 86. Buddhist Discussion Centre (Upwey) Ltd. (2003) ISYS Text Retrieval System search of ‘LAN 1 on Tuesday 20 May 2003. Buddhist Discussion Centre (Upwey) Ltd. (2003) Prepared by Evelin Halls, DipFLC, Pennie White BA DipEd, Abhidhamma Class No. 48, 20 May 2003, Samma ajiva, LAN 2 reference I:\abhi047.rtf, Chan Academy Australia,  available   and www.bdcu.org.au Buddhist Discussion Centre (Upwey) Ltd. (2002) “The Right Livelihood Concerning Work” written by John D. Hughes, Vincenzo Cavuoto, Lisa Nelson, Julian Bamford and Evelin Halls ‘THE BUDDHIST HOUR’ RADIO BROADCAST, KNOX FM, BROADCAST 25 June 2000, Chan Academy Australia, available at www.bdcublessings.net.au Buddhist Discussion Centre (Upwey) Ltd. (2000) St Valentine’s Day and the Elusive Quest for Love, Knox FM Radio Broadcast on 13 February 2000, Chan Academy Australia.

Hanh, Thich Nhat Hanh (1998) The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation, Rider, London. Hsing Yun, Master (1998), “Being Good”, Weatherhill, Inc., New York, pp 7, 23-24, 75-76. Mon, Dr. Mehm Tin (1995), “The Essence of Buddha Abhidhamma”, publisher Mehm Tay Zar Mon, Yangon, pp 92-93.
Nyantiloka (no date) Buddhist Dictionary, The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation, Taiwan, pp 210, 247. Sayadaw, Venerable Mahasi, [Discourse on the] SALLEKHA SUTTA available at www.mahasi.org.mm/pdf/E22pdf.pdf accessed 17 May 2003.
Tate, Venerable Ajahn (1993) The Autobiography of a Forest Monk, Amarin Printing and Publishing, Thailand, p 236. Wijewantha, Ron (no date) “The Road to Liberation”, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, pp 10, 16.


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