Author Affiliations: King's College London, University of London
This article looks at interpretations by Buddhists in Burma of right livelihood (sammā-ājīva) and documents the moral reasoning that underlies their business activities. It explores different ways in which Buddhists in Burma, through the use of Buddhist ethics and practices, resolve moral dilemmas that they encounter while pursuing their livelihood. I give a brief summary of the existing scholarship on Buddhist economics and on economic action in Burma, exemplified by the work of E. F. Schumacher and Melford Spiro respectively. In so doing, I wish to highlight a difference between the approaches of the existing scholarship and that of this article: the existing scholarship analyzes economic issues from the perspective of normative ethics; this research analyzes them from the perspective of descriptive ethics, looking at how Buddhists interpret and apply Buddhist ethics in their business activities, in the midst of moral, social, and economic imperfections. The research presented draws on semi-structured interviews and fieldwork conducted in Burma in the summer of 2010 and relates the interpretations given to the relevant Buddhist literature, the textual authorities for doctrines such as morality (sīla).
Abstract 287 Introduction 288 Previous Approaches to Buddhist Business Ethics 290 Burmese Buddhist Ethics: a Descriptive Approach 299 Right Livelihood 302 Burmese Interpretations of Right Livelihood 304 A Buddhist Approach to Business Success 306 Resolving Moral Dilemmas in Relation to Lying 313 Resolving Moral Dilemmas in Relation to Stealing 314 Resolving Moral and Social Dilemmas Encountered in a Gambling Business 317 Resolving Moral and Social Dilemmas Encountered in the Entertainment Business 320 Conclusions 328 Bibliography 331