Business and Peace

While thinking about the ongoing war in Eastern Europe and its consequences, my thought went to the businesses that are being adversely affected – along with lives in both Russia and Ukraine, with both suffering from their respective problems. How many dreams paused, threatened; how many goals destroyed; how many ideas shattered!

I am just trying to focus on business here.

One can understand how much is at stake in the execution of one. Particularly in modern times of uncertainty in everything. The risk, the hope, the plan, etc. Of course, life has more at stake – which once gone cannot be re-attained – yet business is where my thoughts are as of now. Those that are not operational due to the lack of peace. Those that have been affected by war. What would those businesses be wanting ideologically? Would they be concerned about the realpolitik? What would they support?

This took me to Ancient India, through a book called India: An Ancient Past… written by Burjor Avari.

In ancient India, after the rise of Buddhism, there were multiple instances where Buddhism as a religion was patronized, protected or supported by merchants or rulers. Especially the former.

First, it was during the Pre-Mauryan age, when Buddhist along with Jain monasteries were built which were enthusiastically received by kings, merchants and ordinary people. After that, during the time of the Satavahanas of the Deccan, there were numerous cave sites in NW Maharashtra, which housed Buddhists. There too evidence has been found of religious charities and endowments by merchants. People belonging to other professions and crafts were involved as well. And then there were other monasteries over the Satavahana Deccan, which too were established with endowments from the Andra merchants, who the writer says, ‘were some of the greatest donors.’

During the period in the history of India when the Kushans were dominant, there seemed to have been some kind of alliance between Indian merchants and Buddhist missionaries. At various places, merchants establishing their colonies and missionaries their monasteries went in parallel. The site of Ajanta caves is said to have stood in a strategic point at the merchants’ routes. Here too Buddhist monks and monasteries were richly supported by that merchant class.

Despite some mundane differences, the things in common between those ancient Indian merchants and the modern entrepreneurs are that they both work for profit, are involved in commerce and sell their goods/services. In this way, they both can be put under the umbrella term ‘business class.’

Buddhism as a philosophy – at its root – is one that talks about detachment and salvation from desires. The whole concept then builds towards disinvolvement, simplicity, knowledge, awakening – eventually culminating in nibbana. While at a first glance, this seems to be absolutely opposite to the motives of the business class, and one might ask why on earth would they be protecting and promoting such idea, anyone who knows anything about this philosophy knows that Buddhism isn’t the type of thought that reasons towards fight, ambition and war. Making it a socially passive philosophy too. An example of this is King Ashoka who, disgusted with his actions at Kalinga, adopted peaceful doctrines of Buddhism and went around building pillars and promoting the religion. He even deemed his further conquests religious.

It is quite apparent why certain groups of people in society who wouldn’t want war would want to promote and protect this philosophy of peace. Irrespective of their faith and ideology. And among them would surely be merchants and entrepreneurs – unless dealing with weapons, unless involved in a business untouched by war, or extremely opportunist. Which is a vast majority!