What does it mean?
Right livelihood is the 5th step of the Eightfold Path. In a lot of ways, this is one of the Buddha’s most straightforward teachings. If you want to follow the path, don’t have a job that includes:
- Weapons trading
- Slave trading or prostitution
- Selling meat
- Selling intoxicants
- Selling poison
Why does it matter?
Likke all of the ethical teachings of the Buddha, these things aren’t sins that one has to do to avoid to ticking off God. Instead, they are practical teachings that lead to deeper practice.
For some people, this is tricky. Very few restaurants are completely vegetarian. If I become a waiter, is that right livelihood? And how far does this go? For example, what if I build lightbulbs at General Electric. Well, General Electric also builds arms for the military.
Thoughtful people can disagree, but here is my feeling: we are responsible for our own actions. We are not responsible for other people. We are all connected. When we try to take responsibility for actions at a remove, we go too far. That’s why the Buddha ate meat. He accepted the donations of food from others without taking on the responsibility for their kamma.