Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 29: Hinduism
Narendar Pani The influence of classical Hinduism on economic thought is as meagre as it is ancient. Nonetheless, Hindu thought lays claim to what is widely regarded as the first known economics text, Kautilya’s Sanskrit work, Arthashastra. Roughly translated as Instructions on Material Prosperity, this text dates back to between the 4th century bc and 150 ad (Rangarajan 1992, pp. 18–21). Arthashastra’s preoccupation with practical detail made it an important manuscript in its time, but inadequate elaboration of the thought underlying its prescriptions meant that it fell well short of becoming the foundation of an independent stream of Hindu economic thought. Indeed, the gap between Hinduism and economics is now so wide that where the religion is mentioned in modern economic literature, it is likely to take the form of a self-deprecatory Hindu economist using the term ‘Hindu rate of growth’ to refer to the low growth rates in which the Indian economy was once mired.1 To delve into this relatively little explored territory we thus need to begin with a quick look at the nature of Hinduism and the ethics that derive from it, before exploring the implications of these ethical principles for economics. The Vedas, which Indian tradition dates to about 4000 bc, are widely regarded as the foundation of Hinduism. These texts were initially passed on orally, and a great deal of emphasis was laid on it being remembered as well as on to whom it was to be passed. The Upanishads, the final portion of...
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