Besides right livelihood described by Buddha, we also have to avoid action that is harmful.

Some people claim that the long-term side effects associated with various modern products are unknown, or unpredictable at best: including products such as GM foods, EM radiation from cell phones and power transmission lines, etc.

If you worked in an industry which makes or sells products like these, would you consider this as right livelihood or not?

Note that since this is not a science forum, I don't want to discuss whether these examples (GM foods or EM radiation) are actually harmful, these are just examples of a more general question.

I would love to hear your thoughts about how to consider the question from the perspective or right livelihood.

  • I edited to clarify that this is NOT meant to be a discussion about GM foods, and I hope that people don't use this as an opportunity to share their opinion about the safety of GM food.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 2, 2016 at 14:11

2 Answers 2


Right livelihood is refraining from livelihood or jobs that harms other beings, such as selling weapons, poison etc. that could harm others. So it can be said that right livelihood is an extension of the rules of Right Action to one’s role as a breadwinner in a society. In the earlier reply to your query @ Dhammadhatu had mentioned the five kinds of livelihood that are discouraged for Buddhists. There has to be a reason to limit its definition to these five trades, without expanding on it, like what Buddha’s cousin & brother-in-law, Devadatta did, in coming up with stricter ascetic rules for the sangha.

Those five kinds of livelihoods are discouraged because they contribute to the ills of society and because they violate the principles of respect for life. It is very important to remember that dealing in intoxicants violates the principle of respect for the welfare of others. This contributes to the insecurity, to the suffering and discord in society.

The practice of good conduct creates within the individual an inner sense of peace, of stability, of security and of strength. Once he has created that inner peace, he can then fruitfully and successfully practice the other steps of the path. He can cultivate and develop meditation. He can achieve wisdom only when he has created both inwardly and outwardly in his relationships with others and in himself the necessary foundation of good conduct.

As Buddhists, it is our duty to practice, to follow the rules of good conduct as much as we can, but to over-analyze it, to include GMO foods etc. may sound a bit far-fetched. For the practice of good conduct, for the observance of moral rules, mental development is necessary. This is the next phase of the Path.


Buddhism is not about following set rules. Monks have 227 rules &, if you have ever lived with monks, you will notice certain monks trying to find loop holes to circumvent the rules (rather than live according to the spirit, purpose & essence of the rules).

The matter of right liveihood is something you must decide for yourself according to your spiritual conscience. While the scriptures list 5 kinds of wrong livelihood (trading in weapons, human beings, meat, intoxicants & poisons), there are many other jobs you may chose not to do due to their lack of ethicalness. If you personally find fault in GM foods, best you not work in that industry.

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