An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values, and Issues

By Peter Harvey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Economic ethics

Hunger is the greatest illness …Contentment is the greatest wealth.

Dhammapada 203–4

Economic ethics covers a wide range of issues: types of work or business practices, the approach to work in general and entrepreneurship in particular, the use to which income is put, attitudes to wealth, the distribution of wealth, critiques of politico-economic systems such as capitalism and Communism, and the offering of alternatives to these in both theory and practice. In a Buddhist context, it also entails a consideration of such issues in relation to lay citizens, governments, and the San·gha.


LAY ECONOMIC ETHICS

In his teachings, the Buddha included advice to the laity on how best to generate and use their income, the various aspects of which are well encapsulated at S. IV.331–7 (and A. V.176–82):

1 As to how wealth is made, it is praiseworthy to do so in a moral way (in accordance with Dhamma), without violence, and blameworthy to do the opposite.

2 As to using the product of one's work, it is praiseworthy to use it: (a) to give ease and pleasure to oneself; (b) to share it with others, and to use it for generous, karmically fruitful action.

Correspondingly, it is blameworthy to be miserly with oneself or mean with others.

3 Even if wealth is made in a moral way, and used to benefit oneself and others, one is still blameworthy if one's attitude to one's wealth is greed and longing, with no contentment or heed for spiritual development. These points form a useful framework for the first part of this chapter.


Right livelihood

The 'right livelihood' factor of the Eightfold Path entails that one's means of livelihood should not be dishonest or otherwise cause suffering

-187-

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