I have been studying an excellent text about the Noble Eightfold Path, by Bhikkhu Bodhi, and blogging about each of the eight factors. This factor (the fifth one, as they are always listed) concerns how we make a living. Buddhist monks and nuns do not work for wages or produce products to sell (at least, not traditionally), so this factor addresses what lay Buddhists should and should not do to earn a living.
Bhikkhu Bodhi writes that income should be acquired
only by legal means, not illegally; one should acquire it peacefully, without coercion or violence; one should acquire it honestly, not by trickery or deceit; and one should acquire it in ways which do not entail harm and suffering for others.
So far so good, for most of us. But then we get to the list of five occupations to be avoided:
dealing in weapons, in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), in meat production and butchery, in poisons, and in intoxicants.
This raises a question as to whether a livestock farmer can be a Buddhist (among other questions). In theory I guess that if everyone in the world were a practicing Buddhist, we would all have to be vegetarians. And if we were all Buddhists, maybe we would not need armies or police forces.
The idea is that if your business or job has harmful consequences for others (not just other people, but animals too), it goes against Right Action and the essence of Right Intention.
So if we were all good Buddhists, there wouldn’t be any drug dealers or pimps.
There wouldn’t be any bars or liquor stores either.
The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Published by Access to Insight, 16 June 2011.