Right livelihood is one of three steps of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path that are traditionally considered to be concerned with morality, the other two being right speech and right action.
Right – or skilful – livelihood asks how do we make our living? Does our job cause harm to anyone, including ourself? Is it beneficial to others? Does it require us to break the Precepts? Is it helping us in our spiritual practice or is it so stressful, for example, that we find it difficult or impossible to act mindfully and compassionately?
I think the question of right livelihood is quite complicated in today’s global society where you may be working for a large organisation with some questionable business practices even if your own role does not require you to act in any way that would go against your conscience. And there are many people in this world who have no choice but to do a job that wrecks their health and that of others.
Rather than looking at the nature of the job perhaps we would do better to look at our own motivation. If our motivation is unskilful, if we are greedy or ruthlessly ambitious, then any job we do is likely to be done in such a way as to cause harm, in which case it will not be right livelihood. On the other hand, if our motivation is to bring as much wisdom and compassion as we can to anything we do, then we may be able to transform even the most unpromising work environment into a means of helping beings.