If you do an ordinary job, say anything like a software engineer, or a waiter in a hotel or a farmer, anything, like a 9-5 job. Helping society in whichever peaceful means possible. Does it accumulate good karma? I understand it is a 'Right Livelihood' but does it fill the storehouse of good karma?

I understand that 'karma' is dependent on the 'intention', but doing a job has no particular intention other than fulfilling your financial monthly obligations or getting the fodder for the fire to cook dinner.

Do we have to be in a position to help millions, like the Dalai Lama or Ajahn Brahma, or just an ordinary guy doing ordinary routine will also get one in higher realms?

  • (not really a Buddhist, so I can't properly answer), but I'd view it as working an honest job pays taxes, which supports welfare programs/etc. beyond anything of what the job itself does (i.e. more obvious benefit for a farmer who grows food for people than a software engineer), so yes they'd generate good karma – user2813274 Jan 21 at 21:03

Observing the five precepts, Right Action, Right Speech and Right Livelihood, i.e. virtues (sila), with heedfulness (appamāda), with the right intentions, certainly generates good karma.

In addition, accumulation of wealth as a layperson and use of this wealth in a generous, charitable way, is also good karma, generating merit.

Observance of the five precepts is also one of the prerequisites for stream entry. Please see this answer for details.

Of course, these are not sufficient for the permanent cessation of suffering. That requires renunciation. However, the path of the observing lay Buddhist may be able to lead one to stream entry.

From Ittha Sutta:

Long life, beauty, status, honor,
heaven, high birth:
To those who delight
in aspiring for these things
in great measure, continuously,
the wise praise heedfulness
in making merit.

The wise person, heedful,
acquires a two-fold welfare:
welfare in this life &
welfare in the next.
By breaking through to his welfare
he's called prudent, wise.

The Adiya Sutta speaks about five benefits that can be obtained from wealth, and ends with:

'My wealth has been enjoyed,
my dependents supported,
protected from calamities by me.
I have given supreme offerings
& performed the five oblations.
I have provided for the virtuous,
the restrained,
followers of the holy life.

For whatever aim a wise householder
would desire wealth,
that aim I have attained.
I have done what will not lead to future distress.'
When this is recollected by a mortal,
a person established in the Dhamma of the Noble Ones,
he is praised in this life
and, after death, rejoices in heaven.

From SN 3.19:

Like water
in a haunted place
that, without being imbibed,
dries up:
such is the wealth
acquired by a worthless person
who neither enjoys it himself
nor gives.

But one enlightened & knowing,
on acquiring wealth,
enjoys it & performs his duties.
He, a bull among men,
having supported his kin,
without blame
goes to the land of heaven.

And don't forget virtues once again, reminded by SN 3.20:

Grain, wealth, silver, gold,
or whatever other belongings you have;
slaves, servants, errand-runners,
& any dependents:
you must go without taking
any of them;
you must leave
all of them

What you do
with body, speech, or mind:
that is yours;
that you go;
your follower,
like a shadow
that never leaves.

Thus you should do what is fine
as a stash for the next life.
Acts of merit
are the support for beings
in their after-death world.


I would say that the work itself is not where the karma is made. That being said work environments are excellent places to make good karma. By applying right intention (non ill-will, non cruelty, renunciation) in your relations to things, people and yourself you build good karma.


Do we have to be in a position to help millions, like the Dalai Lama or Ajahn Brahma, or just an ordinary guy doing ordinary routine will also get one in higher realms?

Wickedness gets you reborn in hell. Lust gets you reborn among the animals. Gluttony and greed gets you reborn as a ghost. Morality that is tainted by vanity and pride gets you reborn among the asuras. Morality untainted by vanity and pride gets you born in the godly realms. The precepts get you reborn into the Pure Abodes (or not at all!). Bodhicitta gets you to the irreversible bhūmis. A heart of great compassion gets you to Complete and Final Buddhahood.


There are clearly things we should avoid. This list is important because such things can trip up even "ordinary jobs" and lead to bad kamma:

MN117:29.1: And what is wrong livelihood? Deceit, flattery, hinting, and belittling, and using material possessions to chase after other material possessions. This is wrong livelihood.

Leaving aside the wrong behavior, we can look forward to right livelihood. Yet even with right livelihood we also have to be careful:

MN117:30.1: And what is right livelihood? Right livelihood is twofold, I say. There is right livelihood that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment. And there is right livelihood that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path.

Right livelihood can also lead to suffering if we become attached to good kamma, and try to gather it in a storehouse:

MN117:31.1: And what is right livelihood that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment? It’s when a noble disciple gives up wrong livelihood and earns a living by right livelihood. This is right livelihood that is accompanied by defilements.

So it's not the job itself or how many people we affect. Instead, it is the way we work that matters.

MN117:32.1: And what is right livelihood that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path? It’s the desisting, abstaining, abstinence, and refraining from wrong livelihood in one of noble mind and undefiled mind, who possesses the noble path and develops the noble path. This is right livelihood that is noble.
MN117:33.1: They make an effort to give up wrong livelihood and embrace right livelihood: that’s their right effort. Mindfully they give up wrong livelihood and take up right livelihood: that’s their right mindfulness. So these three things keep running and circling around right livelihood, namely: right view, right effort, and right mindfulness.

A good example of the above is Ghaṭīkāra. Ghaṭīkāra was an ordinary potter who did his job in an extraordinary way. The Buddha declared him to be a non-returner.

MN81:18.16: And since he has ended the five lower fetters, Ghaṭīkāra will be reborn spontaneously and will become extinguished there, not liable to return from that world.


Doing a job has to deal with people, handling situation, deciding what to do and what not to do, etc...in each of the actions, there is a kamma either good or bad kamma. e.g. smiling to co-worker at work is good kamma, talking bad on someone behind him/her is bad kamma

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