January 7, 2015

5 Guidelines For Right Livelihoods

Right livelihoods are sustainable livelihoods.

Buddhism has the concept of right livelihood in which the practitioner lives in a harmonious way while doing the least amount of harm to self, others, and all of life. However, we should not in any way see this as limited to Buddhists.

Why wouldn't we all ensure that the work we do is not harmful?

Right livelihood is a simple ancient concept - at one time it would have been self-evident and considered common sense. All it says is that everyone should practice honesty in their work, and respect other people and the natural world.

It means being responsible for the consequences of our actions and taking only a fair share of the earth's resources. That sounds reasonable to me, but in practice is a challenge given our current exploitation-based economies.

Some would say that all occupations are harmful, but some are less harmful than others. It is to those that we should be gravitating when choosing how to earn a living.

5 Guidelines for Right Livelihoods

1. Do the least amount of harm possible - practice love and compassion in every aspect of work and life.
2. Use only your fair share of resources.
3. Develop a personal definition of enough - share what you can.
4. Create no waste - see everything as resources to be used. If a byproduct can't be used, don't produce it.
5. Abide by the limitations and cycles of nature.

You can check out the Right Livelihood Awards here. Billed as the "alternative Nobel prize" the award "honours and supports those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today".

The award provides ample evidence that there are good people doing good things, even though they may not get much press coverage.

This year's recipients are:

Edward Snowden (USA)
Joint Honorary Award with Alan Rusbridger

“... for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights.”

Alan Rusbridger (UK)
Joint Honorary Award with Edward Snowden

“… for building a global media organisation dedicated to responsible journalism in the public interest, undaunted by the challenges of exposing corporate and government malpractices.”

Asma Jahangir (Pakistan)

“…for defending, protecting and promoting human rights in Pakistan and more widely, often in very difficult and complex situations and at great personal risk.”

Basil Fernando / AHRC (Hong Kong SAR, China)

“… for his tireless and outstanding work to support and document the implementation of human rights in Asia.”

Bill McKibben / 350.org (USA)

“…for mobilising growing popular support in the USA and around the world for strong action to counter the threat of global climate change.”

You don't need to be a big name to practice right livelihood and help change the world. There is so much to do, and opportunities abound in everyone's lives.

We would be wise to remember that the only sustainable livelihoods are right livelihoods.


  1. Anonymous1/07/2015

    I am glad to see you write about this. It is a very big challenge to determine a way to earn money and fall within guidelines of this list. Thanks, this is helpful.

  2. Bil McKibben is right that you don't need to be a big name to practice right livelihood. In my work as an architect's assistant, it always gave me pleasure designing good small houses rather than huge ones and saving trees from developers, whenever possible. Never thought of it as helping to change the world while doing it...but it's good to feel that maybe I did a bit of good. Perhaps whatever you do there are opportunities for small greener practices.

  3. Anonymous1/08/2015

    It's not easy for folks, just looking for anything, to have an income to think about right livelihood, but I don't think they can be truly content and happy unless this concept is in place.


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