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).