I live in a pleasant apartment complex and work as an Instructor. My job is cushy, which is good because I have health issues (and teach adults with health issues). But I watch workers mow the lawn at the apartment complex, re-shingle the roofs, etc. Other examples are food service workers and auto repair people with oil and sweat on them. I have worked on an assembly line for a while and the biggest problem for me was the intolerable loneliness. (It didn't do much for my feet, hands and back either.) I have cooked, cleaned, repaired cars and appliances and so on, but all in some moderation. I wonder about jobs where people do the same drudge work day after day?

I know about the idea of Karma, but it has gone flat for me, because the idea of Reincarnation has also. Leaving those aside (except for people getting good or bad consequences of their recent choices) what does Buddhism say about whether various work situations are more or less Just / Fair to the workers? This is not about Right Livelihood, because I am addressing the circumstances that workers are put in - the external world - rather than them choosing their work - the personal realm. [Consider only legally allowed work: I am not trying to deal with crime here. Also, don't try to solve the problem, only explain the perspective on it, please.]


2 Answers 2


In the book "The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity" there was an interesting section on the Buddha's advice to employers on how to treat their employees. I will fill in with direct quotes a bit later. But the message to employers was to treat their employees well and to give them benefits including something akin to modern day medical benefits.

I found this very interesting but not surprising. The Buddha was a social champion in compassion and treating people fairly. Many employers today could learn a lot from his teachings.


From page 16 of "The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity":

The Buddha's recommendations for the welfare of employees further clarify an honorable path to prosperity. Specifically he mentioned five ways in which employers should treat workers:

Assign work and duties in accordance with their skills and abilities.

Pay salaries befitting their work and service.

Provide medical assistance.

Make wholesome food availble.

Allow for leave and vacations at appropriate times.

These amazingly modern concepts confirm the Buddha's teaching that people are not entitled to wealth if they fail to follow ethical business practices.

The books original source for this information was listed as DN 31: Sigalovada Sutta, The Long Discourses of the Buddha: 461-469.

And indeed from Sigalovada Sutta:

"In five ways should a master minister to his servants and employees as the Nadir:

(i) by assigning them work according to their ability,

(ii) by supplying them with food and with wages,

(iii) by tending them in sickness,

(iv) by sharing with them any delicacies,

(v) by granting them leave at times.

As far as people doing routine work, that doesn't have to be a negative thing at all. Not being overly stimulated in your work can give you plenty of time for being meditative in daily life, being content with a simple life, and getting out of work on time as compared to executives who are married to their careers and stay occupied with them 24/7.

  • 2
    I especially like the last section of your answer about simple work. It's very true. It becomes much easier to be mindful throughout the working day.
    – user2424
    Jul 25, 2015 at 15:54
  • This addresses what I am asking well. As for being meditative, I found the assembly line and also repetitive work on the computer to be acceptable (especially with music) for a while, but the loneliness was crushing. Same reason I stopped wanting to be a computer programmer - too much time staring at my "square girlfriend" : )
    – user2341
    Jul 25, 2015 at 15:55
  • If I spend too much time idly browsing the web I dampen my meditative concentration, I consider it akin to idle chatter. FWIW, boredom and loneliness are among the first defilements one loses after attaining the ariya states, so there's that to look forward to.
    – Buddho
    Jul 25, 2015 at 16:10
  • @Buddho: true, but some people express their nature through interacting with others. (Mmm... I sense another question coming on.) So, despite not being bothered by feeling bored or lonely, they can be signals that I am not fully living my path.
    – user2341
    Jul 25, 2015 at 16:20
  • I experientially agree simple work is more enjoyable and conducive to being able to practice a peaceful mind and even vipassana! But it certainly wont be as intensive and self-developmental as a full on mini-retreat.. which one can afford if the financial reward with said "more stressful" jobs.
    – Ahmed
    Jul 25, 2015 at 22:49

The law of kamma is always in effect. Wholesome actions lead to wholesome results. Unwholesome actions lead to unwholesome results. "Justness or fairness" are both human conventional constructs.

They are acts of extrapolation or superimposing qualities onto reality.

When one is asking whether or not a specific situation is just or fair, one is no longer seeing reality for what it is. One is no longer being objective and non-interfering. When being objective it would only be "seeing" or "hearing" or any of the other senses at work.

When being unmindful of phenomena the mind will follow after an object and begin to evaluate it and form opinions about it. These are mental constructs that have no real point of reference.

This can be verified by doing insight meditation.

  • I somewhat agree... Another question about ending one's life by not eating said that there are circumstances where non-action is not blameworthy (watching a person being swept away in a flood and not attempting to save them - is not an action). So, there is no compulsion to meddle in peoples' lives, yet if help can be rendered, it reduces suffering. To be involved without getting involved emotionally or in terms of outcome... This follows directly from my question Are there other people.
    – user2341
    Jul 25, 2015 at 15:50
  • Yesterday I found myself thinking: "noting, noting..." It was very funny. But I was driving the car at the same time.
    – user2341
    Jul 25, 2015 at 16:51

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