I once applied for a job with a publishing firm. Oddly, the advertisement didn’t describe what sorts of publications were involved. When I arrived for the interview, I understood why – it was a publisher of books and magazines for “soldiers of fortune”. Their list included titles like “How to make your own bombs” and “Bounty hunting for fun and profit”. I declined to be considered for the position; I couldn’t visualize myself pretending innocence while generating and promoting materials that were appealing to the worst in people.
That’s just one example of wrong livelihood. According to the Buddha the five [types of business] to be refrained from are:
1. selling weapons,
2. selling human beings [slavery],
3. selling animals to be killed for food, or the flesh of animals that one has killed oneself,
4. selling intoxicants,
5. selling poison.
(AN 5.177, from the Craft of the Heart, Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo)
In most of the cases listed above, the activity required in order to be in that business would cause the worker to break, or induce others to break, one of the five precepts: non-harming, non-taking, upright sexual conduct, truthfulness and clear-mindedness. Today, unambiguous wrong livelihood would still include slavery and dealing in arms, prostitution, butchery, intoxicants (legal or illegal), and poisons. It must also include any activity that requires deception.
Long ago, someone I know worked for a rivet factory that received defective, customer-rejected rivets and then repackaged them and sold them as new. A similar deception would be putting the hard sell on stocks in order to pump up the price. Misrepresentation, stealing, and any form of lying are indicators of wrong livelihood.
I’m sure you can think of other forms of wrong livelihood – sweatshop owners, importers of illegal aliens to any first-world country, or service providers that cheat in some way. And that’s not even counting the long list of illegal (and unethical) activities pursued by organized crime in every country.
We could drive ourselves mad by holding large governments responsible for all the unwholesome effects their actions have, intended or unintended. For our purposes, let’s focus on ourselves as individuals.
I offer these examples of wrong livelihood as the most clear cut and egregious ones – many others are less obvious. More on that in the next post.