In the Midst of Imperfections: Burmese Buddhists and Business Ethics

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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 whilst 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).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-339
Number of pages53
JournalJournal of Buddhist Ethics
Early online date5 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Buddhist business ethics
  • Burmese Buddhism
  • Buddhist ethics
  • Right livelihood


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  • Buddhist Economics

    Pyi Kyaw (Interviewee)

    16 Mar 2016

    Activity: OtherTypes of Public engagement and outreach - Media article or participation

  • Buddhist Economics

    Pyi Kyaw (Speaker)

    10 Nov 2015

    Activity: OtherTypes of Public engagement and outreach - Public lecture/debate/seminar

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