Week 50 - Right Action & Right Livelihood

The talk this week on Right Action and Right Livelihood completes the morality section of the Noble Eightfold Path. Joseph reminds us that these steps are important not only for their ethical value but that they are essential to awakening.

In each aspect of Right Action, Joseph points to the negative aspect, e.g. don’t kill, and the positive aspect, respecting and enhancing life. The three aspects of Right Action are:

1.   abstaining from physical harm,

2.   abstaining from taking what is not given, and

3.   abstaining from sexual misconduct.

He discusses each of these in some detail and includes awareness of the karmic consequences of our actions in the discussion. “The karmic fruits of these actions are conditioned by various factors, including the intensity and duration of the defilements or wholesome motivations and the purity of both the actor and the recipient of the action.” Joseph emphasizes, as did the Buddha, that this is a matter of inquiry for each individual.

Joseph encourages us to investigate what keeps us complacent about the choices we make. He suggests that we can have a moment of clarity and motivation and then return to habit energies of forgetfulness or basic ignorance. He emphasizes the importance of gradual cultivation.

In addressing Right Livelihood, Joseph repeats five occupations the Buddha specifically said to avoid. But again, turning to the positive, he says, “Whatever work we do can be performed with the noble aspiration of benefiting other beings.”


1. How does complacency with regard to Right Action manifest in your life? Can you use gradual cultivation in this arena? The climate crisis is an example useful for consideration.

2. Do you think of karmic consequences when you engage in actions, positive or negative? Or when you don’t engage in actions, positive or negative? How so? Again, you might consider the climate crisis in this context.

3. Among the occupations the Buddha specifically said to avoid are those that involve meat production and the killing of animals. How does this relate to your own actions, i.e. participating by eating meat? If you have a moment of awakening, can you follow this with gradual cultivation?

4. Talking about Right Livelihood, Joseph concludes: Whatever work we do can be performed with the noble aspiration of benefitting other beings. Is this a conscious aspect of your work or livelihood?


1. ”If practicing the precepts doesn’t make us uncomfortable, it’s probably a sign that we should investigate them more deeply.”  Choose one precept with potential for discomfort and investigate your actions more deeply.

2. Do you think about the karmic consequences of your actions? Take the opportunity to consider the consequences of specific actions (or not acting) –

        -action or non-action regarding our climate crisis

        -eating meat

        -engaging in activities that benefit others.

Consider gradual cultivation in an area of your choosing.