The Book of Fives
Translated from the Pali
Michael M. Olds
Notice here the use of broad general or generic terms for the various occupations thus rendering the list less subject to time. 'Swords' is to imply weapons. It could have been 'knives', but knives are sometimes not used as weapons. Trade in living beings implies more than the slave trade and includes trade in animals raised for slaughter. Trade in 'limbs' or 'members' (parts) points to the role of the butcher.
What needs to be seen here is that where there was clear opportunity to make these rules apply to the 'customer' or 'user' or 'buyer' of the various items in trade there was no such prohibition.
This is especially important in relevance to the debate on vegetarianism. The instruction is not to engage in the selling of meat; there is no prohibition against the eating of meat. This is the tactic used in all such issues. This is the tactic used in the case of the trade in maddening drugs. At the time alcohol was the only problem drug but the term points to the real issue: any substance which causes a person to loose good judgment. And again the prohibition is against selling, not use.
There is sound reasoning in back of this stand. This tactic has a chance of working. Prohibiting use is an attempt to control the world. This goes against the entire spirit of the Pali which is letting go of any involvement with the world and is pointed out as hopeless in any case. It will be met with resistance and it will apply in cases where it will cause harm. Voluntary abstention from engaging in the trade will result in benefit for at least that one abstaining individual and the extra difficulty of a reduced market will give some of the 'customers' the distance they need to reflect on their real needs and the broader societal implications. Good families will direct their children not to enter such trades. It will become stigmatized and fall out of favor.
Once upon a time Bhagava, Sāvatthi-town, Anāthapiṇḍika's Park, came-a revisiting.
There, to the Beggars gathered round, he said:
And: "Broke Tooth!" the Beggars gathered round responded.
Then Bhagava said:
Five, beggars, are the trades that should not be undertaken by a lay follower.
Trade in swords,
trade in living beings,
trade in limbs,
trade in maddening drugs,
trade in poisons.
These are the five trades, beggars, that should not be undertaken by a lay follower.
 Vaṇijjā. Trade. Sattha- swords, weapons satta- living beings, human slaves, animals raised for slaughter, probably even animals raised for farm labor, possibly even pets maɱsa- limbs, members, (meat), 'parts' majja- maddening drugs, alcohol, intoxicants, any substance causing people to loose good judgment visa- poisons.