The Right Livelihood

Your work is to discover your work and then, with all your heart, to give yourself to it.”

Buddha (563 – 483 BC)

Silvia in an undated picture (Venezuela) with her sixth grade students (now probably in their late twenties)
Silvia in an undated picture (Venezuela) with her sixth grade students (now probably in their late twenties)


What is the “Right Livelihood”? And how is it connected to Permaculture?


The Right Livelihhod is a Buddhist concept that means that we should earn our living by doing things that are not unethical.


A layperson should not be employed in five manners of business. Which five? Weapons, human beings, meat, intoxicants, and poison. These are the five business practices a layperson should not be involved.” – The Buddha, Vanijja Sutta: Livelihood, Anguttara Nikaya, Fives

We could argue what else may be considered “unethical” these days, but I think it is safe to say that if you do something that cares about People, the Earth and the Future, you are already applying “the Right livelihood” to your career path.


Permaculture has those three basic ethics: care for the Earth, Care for People and Care for the Future. Ethics, as many other human-created things may have different interpretations. Humans are smart creatures that may go around these concepts to justify what they do (or don’t).


The thinking of the Right Livelihood is probably one of the most recurrent thoughts in my own life: I am currently a “career counsellor” and as such, I coach people to find out what to do (in terms of career options, job search or even entrepreneurship). But living in the times we live, I am also subject to this dilemma: am I really working on a “Right Livelihood”? How is my own job description supporting the healing of the planet, its species and its people? How is my own everyday work creating or destroying the future for humans and other species?


Many people think that “the Right Livelihood” is connected to money.

Money is not the problem: you may earn a lot or very little for what you do to earn it…the challenge is how your everyday “work” impacts you and others, including the environment.


“To practice Right Livelihood ( samyag ajiva ), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others. ” … Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living” The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching [Parallax Press, 1998], p. 104)


How do we know if our career choice, job choice or business choice is the “Right” one?


I would humbly share some questions:


  • Is any portion of the products or services you provide/create involved in human, animal or environmental exploitation? (for example, you may work in a food manufacturing company where the raw materials come from a pig farm where animals are being mistreated, caged and fed in inhuman ways, or you may sell clothes that are made with cotton harvested with child labour, or you may be directed involved in mining or exploiting resources that are depleting, eroding and polluting the planet)
  • Is the organization you work for fair and ethical towards its employees, suppliers and clients? (i.e, pays fair wages, provides benefits, is honest and clean in its procedures, etc?)
  • Is the organization ethical towards the environment and other local businesses and communities (i.e. doesn’t pollute, works on regeneration or recovery, keeps profits locally and reinvest in local communities, invites local community members for feedback, etc?)
  • Are ethical considerations discussed when choosing locations, schedules, furniture, training, waste disposal, etc.?
  • Does your work create wellness, health, motivation and happiness in others? Does your work inspire others?
  • Do you do your work with full dedication, responsibility and respect for your co-workers, employers/employees, clients, suppliers and the general public?
  • Is your work good for your physical, emotional, social and spiritual health?
  • Is your work or business using the gifts you have? (your passions, skills and the areas you want to develop and explore?)
  • How do you go to work? Do you walk, bike carpool or take public transportation?


You can add other questions or considerations to the conversation.

Remember that we are not perfect and we can’t expect our career choices, societies and jobs or business to be perfect either.

But we can work towards perfection: we can ask the right questions and try our real best to live according to high ethical standards.

Or we can bury our head in the sand and pretend we are only “earning a living”.

Not everybody has the choice to decide in what type of job to engage: most people in this world has no choice but become exploited or perish on the streets.

It is up to those of us who do have (still) a choice, to decide how we want to spend the rest of our lives…and whether a little bit more of “money” is worth the suffering and destruction many of our jobs and industries have created…and are still creating.

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