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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 4.2 (2021): 274–299;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Wheel that Crossed the Borders: Buddhist and Non-Buddhist Religions)

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Capitalism and Exchange: Economic Contexts of Buddhism

Richard K. PAYNE
Institute of Buddhist Studies

Abstract: This is a critical reflection in three steps. In the first step we argue that there is a significant difference between Buddhist praxis in exchange economies and in capitalist economies. The second step seeks to expose the conceptual framework of modern capitalist economies, explicating the neoliberal ideology that has become naturalized as simply a value-free description of the human condition, and the consequent values defined by a neoliberal conception of individual ‘flourishing’. Neoliberal ideology can be seen in particularly clear form in rational choice theory, which has been applied as an economic theory of religion. The third step is an examination of how Buddhism is represented in the context of the preconceptions and values of neoliberal ideology.

Keywords: capitalism, neoliberal, exchange economy, meditation, commodification, marketing


About the Author: Richard K. Payne, Ph.D., is Numata Professor of Japanese Buddhist Studies at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley, where he teaches courses on tantric Buddhism and methods in the study of Buddhism. His edited collection, Secularizing Buddhism: New Perspectives on a Dynamic Tradition, was published by Shambhala Publications in 2021. He and Georgios Halkias, University of Hong Kong, are co-editors of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Buddhism, which is currently online and will be forthcoming in print. Glen Hayes, emeritus at Bloomsbury College, and he are co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Tantric Studies, forthcoming both online and in print. Also forthcoming is Buddhism under Capitalism: Historical Background, Contemporary Manifestations, and Theoretical Reflections, co-edited with Fabio Rambelli, University of California, Santa Barbara, being published by Bloomsbury Academic. He continues to study tantric Buddhist ritual, particularly the homa, which was the topic of Homa Variations: The Study of Ritual Change Across the Longue Durée, co-edited with Michael Witzel, and published by Oxford University Press (2015).


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.