The incomparable loftiness of the monk figure — placid and disinterested, having renounced desire — leads many to think of Buddhism as a religion detached from all worldly concerns, especially those of economy. But Buddhism has always addressed a continuum of human flourishing and good, creating what has been referred to as an “economy of salvation.” Metaphors of economy — even of debt — abound in Buddhist texts and, in many ways, Buddhism came to be fundamentally shaped by economic conditions and considerations of the era in which it originated.

Depending on material support from moneylenders, the Buddhist establishment from its outset did not seek to hamper the business that made it possible. Devout merchants (setthi) and householders (gahapatis) — controllers of property, moneylenders, often even usurers — were the primary supporters of the early monastic community. Giving material support...

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