Buddhism Without Merit: Theorizing Buddhist Religio-Economic Activity in the Contemporary World

Jeff Wilson


Merit is the fundamental product of the Buddhist system. Buddhists generate and distribute it through their activities, and merit economics have shaped Buddhist practices, organizations, material culture, and inter-personal relations. But what happens when merit ceases to be recognized as a valuable product? For the first time in Buddhist history, some Buddhists are operating entirely outside of the merit economy, with resulting changes in organization, ritual practice, and economic activities. When merit is devalued, it is replaced by elements from culturally dominant non-merit economies and may take on their associated values and practices. Jettisoning the Buddhist merit economy has financial consequences for Buddhist groups, and those who operate without the merit economy must create new post-merit Buddhisms. A sifting process occurs, as practices, ideas, and institutions that are dependent on merit economic logic are altered or abandoned. Successful forms of Buddhism will be those that can be recast with non-merit logic.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3238221


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