Looking at business from a Dharmic standpoint

The Dharma of Business’ is a valuable book that offers an insight into the moral foundation of modern business through the ancient concept of dharma. Business law in medieval and early modern India was developed within the voluminous and multifaceted texts called the Dharmashastras. These lay down rules for merchants, traders, guilds, farmers and other individuals in term of the complex religious, legal, and more ideal of dharma.

According to the author, Donald R. Davis, Jr, primary usage of the word dharma is to mean law. He uses the word in the sense of doing the right thing both in the private and public life. He argues that what makes dharma suitable for understanding commercial exchanges is that dharma does not seek moral perfection, unlike popular and religious notion of morality in the West.

This book makes aware that the market system depends ultimately not on laws but on the self-restraint of individual and trust between them. Dharma provides that restraint by offering the underlying norms of a society, creating obligation for citizens by bringing a degree of trust to our day to day lie.  The writer Professor Davis goes on to cite the narratives that dharma limits on buyers and sellers in the market place and this allows strangers to trust and transact with each other. It is a mistake to think that the market is based solely on greed and profit-maximizing behaviour.

The vocabulary of business law in Dharmashastra promotes the cultivation of many virtue says professor Davis. In calling the laws applicable to business as dharma of the Vaishya, the dharma texts are in duty of merchants and businessmen. The purpose of business is not only to make a profit but to do it righteousness. By  giving business dealings religious significance , a businessman who follows the rules of dharma for making loans, for paying employees and for securing partnership gains religious merit, good karma.

This books gives a new perspective on business law in medieval and early modern India as it developed through ancient texts called the Dharmashastras. Even today Indian society remains sceptical of the market and sometimes confuses labh (profit) and lobh (greed ) — a distinction that the dharma texts are careful to make – even as socialists continue to believe that only greed motivates business. As I read all five chapters in this book on virtue in business, I get an impression that the dharma texts believe the virtues can be rewarded in the marketplace and bad behaviour punished. I have certainty found this to be true.

As explained in this book, dharma is the core civilizational idea that has provided a degree of coherence to the Indian mind over the ages. It has also given legal authority to free market exchange, it has legitimised profit and most importantly it has underlined the thought in commerce there is a right and wrong way to do a business.

All in all it’s a short and simple book and would convince its readers that there is something worth knowing in the ‘Dharmashastra’ specifically in the area of business and commercial law.

Author – Donald R. Davis , Jr

Publisher – Penguin

Pages – 155

Prices – 299