Sunday, September 6, 2009

More On Usury

In a comment on yesterday’s post Izblue drew attention to Bhikkhu Bodhi’s comment on usury. The passage in question comes from his book The Noble Eightfold Path (1984) and says that wrong livelihood would include making money by ‘practicing deceit, treachery, soothsaying, trickery and usury’. He then gives the reference MN117, which refers to the Mahacattarisaka Sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya. In his 1995 translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, he takes this same passage to read, ‘And what, bhikkhus, is wrong livelihood? Scheming, talking, hinting, pursuing gain with gain: this is wrong livelihood (p.938). I assume Bodhi is taking the phrase ‘pursuing gain with gain’ (labhena labham nijigimsanta) to refer to or to include usury. I. B. Horner translates this same phrase as ‘rapacity for gain upon gain’. With due respect to Bhikkhu Bodhi, I think his interpretation of this phrase as meaning or including usury might be stretching it a bit. It seems that here the Buddha is telling his monks that acquiring their requisites with various forms of dissembling and constantly trying to get more and more, is unbecoming. Given that he also asked monks not even to touch gold and silver (money) its hardly likely that they would have been engaging in usury. But could the passage also be applied to lay people and if so could ‘pursuing gain with gain’ be taken to mean usury? Possibly, but again, I think this would be an unjustified interpretation. I take the phrase in question to be saying, ‘Don’t be avaricious’, ‘Don’t be overly greedy.’ The only direct reference to usury or charging interest I can find in the whole Tipitaka is the mention of a girl being dragged away by creditors in lieu of unpaid interest (Thi.444). Can someone point to any other or to a passage that might forbid usury?


MidPath said...

Among the lower income people during the early 60s, they organize a pooling of funds to help those in need to borrow for the unforseen. Each member contribute a fix amount every month. Members borrow from this fund and repay by instalments with interest. If more than one member need finds at the same time, they go through a bidding excercise where the two members write the interest they are willing to pay on a piece of paper. The fund will be given to the higher bidder. Interest charged are plough back into the funds, enabling the funds to grow.

Susmita Barua said...

My sense as bengali speaker is that the Pali word "labhena" could also means profit (upon profit). That's how exactly compound interest works as in home mortgage or car loan. In compound interest one pays interest not only on principal but on unpaid interest, so for long term loan like home mortgage one can pay 2.5 to 3.o times the principal borrowed. This makes our current monetary banking system deceptive and wrong livelihood. Don't know what nijigasanta? means.

Harryadi Kelvin said...

Wow that makes so much sense.. gain upon gain->compund interest. That is a very good interpretation. I was kind of confused about how we should interpret this phrase 'labhena labham nijigasanta' because if it translates to 'using material gain to pursue material gain' then it implies also that we aren't supposed to invest on business using our gain from said business. I was inclined on gambling as the alternative interpretation, but compound interest makes so much more sense. Thanks for the stroke of inspiration, Sotthi hotu.