Volume 24, 2017
In the Midst of Imperfections: Burmese Buddhists and Business Ethics
Pyi Phyo Kyaw
King’s College, 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).