Regarding the teachings on virtue, not considering the more advanced teachings (such as Dependent Origination), did the Buddha ever speak of where the sphere of personal responsibility ends?

The Buddha seems to be clear that what determines the moral quality of one's volitional actions is the intention behind them. But other times, such as when discussing wrong livelihood, it seems that one is responsible for second-order effects as well (e.g. the harm that might result from the weapons that one has sold).

So is there something exceptional to trading in weapons to qualify it as wrong livelihood? Or is there more nuance to the teachings of virtue, and one is responsible for some second-order effects as well? If the latter is true, then in which cases is one responsible?

Are there any Suttas I can read about this?

Thank you, and Metta.

2 Answers 2


MN 61 is the most basic sutta about ethics, which refers to not harming oneself or another.

SN 55.7 is more extensive, as follows:

Reflecting this way, first, he gives up killing beings. Second, he encourages others to abstain from killing beings, and third, he praises the act of abstaining from killing beings. So, his bodily behaviour is purified in three ways.

Therefore, not engaged in the wrong livelihood of selling weapons, poisons, etc, is an example of: "encourages others to abstain from killing beings".

Then there is AN 4.62 similar to DN 31), which extolls the virtue of blamlessless in relation to livelihood. If you sell weapons then learn your weapons were used by others to kill people, you might feel blame.


The key factor of Buddhist ethics is whether the choice generates or does not generate suffering.

Suffering is not limited to personal suffering or suffering one directly causes, but also indirectly caused suffering, for example by setting people against each other ("divisive speech").

The phrases Buddha often uses in suttas is "long-term harm & suffering" and "long-term welfare & happiness" which gives us a glimpse of his priorities, it's long-term effects of an action that matter most. Indeed in the Devadaha Sutta the Buddha reviews an example of surgeon that causes short term suffering to ensure long-term wellbeing of a patient.

To summarize, it is long-term suffering directly or indirectly caused by an act that we should strive to minimize, while maximizing the direct and indirect causes of long-term welfare and happiness.

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