Imagine someone buys money in foreign currency, then sells it at a profit.

Does Buddhism consider such operations ethical?

Note: One possible reason why it may be unethical is the purpose of money -- to facilitate the exchange of products and services. When money becomes subject of trade, it cannot fulfill it main function and this hurts other people. Money to the economy is like blood to human body -- the more blood you remove from the body, the worse it will function.

3 Answers 3


Right livelihood in the old scripture is merely guidance from 2,600 years ago. Today, the world is far more complex. Many businesses not mentioned by the Buddha are obviously wrong livelihood.

In summary, the Buddhist standard for any behaviour is non-harming. For example, when George Soros shorted the Asian currencies in 1997, if this harmed those economies (causing financial & job losses) then this trading in currencies was certainly unethical from a Buddhist point of view.

For the average small person, carrying on a genuine educated skilled business of trading in foreign currencies (forex) is not unethical because it is not harming anyone.

While such trading is not an "investment" in productive assets (such as investing in the stock market) and thus the other side of a winning forex transaction loses, both parties are playing the same game & taking the same risks therefore it is not unethical; even when it is only a business that benefits oneself.

As for how large scale FX trading can harm an economy, read here: Forex Trading: Impact on the Dollar and the Economy

Even without outright price fixing, traders can create asset bubbles in foreign exchange rates. It may have happened with the U.S. dollar in 2014 and also in the last quarter of 2008. A strong dollar makes U.S. exports less competitive. It slows GDP growth. If traders bid the dollar down, then oil-producing countries will raise the price of oil as oil is sold in dollars. The impact of expanding forex trading needs to be better regulated in order to avoid potential bubbles and busts.

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    Actually, when you earn money by exchanging currencies, even as a average small person, you earn without giving back the value to the system from which you earned it. So by doing that, you are actually causing harm because you are taking something from the economical system without giving anything of value in return.
    – xmak
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 0:09
  • Sure. As I posted, in such trading against movements in currencies, there is always a winner & a loser. So, yes, contrary to what I posted, it is not 100% ethical. However, the other (losing) party is a willing participant & might have excess money to lose (rather than someone who is exploited). Thanks for your comment. Regards Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 1:09
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    No to mention that by taking something without giving some value in return you are also doing harm to yourself. Your process of self growth will surely be affected by that.
    – xmak
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 9:58

In the Vanijja Sutta (AN5.177), there is defined what kind of businesses a lay person must not indulge in:

"Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.

This does not include currency trading or other kinds of speculative trading.

In both the Dighajanu Sutta and Sigalovada Sutta, gambling is criticized by the Buddha and he states many negative consequences of it.

"These are the six dangers inherent in compulsive gambling: winning breeds resentment; the loser mourns lost property; savings are lost; one's word carries no weight in a public forum; friends and colleagues display their contempt; and one is not sought after for marriage, since a gambler cannot adequately support a family.

On the other hand, the Dighajanu Sutta also seems to be fine with trading:

"Four conditions, Vyagghapajja, conduce to a householder's weal and happiness in this very life. Which four?

"The accomplishment of persistent effort (utthana-sampada), the accomplishment of watchfulness (arakkha-sampada), good friendship (kalyanamittata) and balanced livelihood (sama-jivikata).

"What is the accomplishment of persistent effort?

"Herein, Vyagghapajja, by whatsoever activity a householder earns his living, whether by farming, by trading, by rearing cattle, by archery, by service under the king, or by any other kind of craft — at that he becomes skillful and is not lazy. He is endowed with the power of discernment as to the proper ways and means; he is able to carry out and allocate (duties). This is called the accomplishment of persistent effort.

The Sigalovada Sutta is also fine with investment in business:

By dividing wealth into four parts, True friendships are bound; One part should be enjoyed; Two parts invested in business; And the fourth set aside Against future misfortunes."

So, the question is, would currency trading and other types of speculative trading be considered a form of gambling or a form of trading or a form of investment?

If it is gambling, then it is not good. If it is trading (like trading of goods e.g. retail sales) or a kind of investment, then it is alright.

So, which is it? This is open to interpretation, and is probably best analyzed by the experts at the Economics Stack Exchange.

Regarding the point that currency trading may be harmful to the economy - this is similar to the topic of meat-eating. Business in meat is wrong livelihood, but eating meat, that was bought dead and frozen from the supermarket, is not wrong for lay people according to the Theravada tradition. Please see this question for more details.

Similarly, if an individual does not have any direct intention to harm others, but the action indirectly affects others, this is not wrong but may not be preferable.

Also related, is the story of the hunter's wife from Dhammapada 124. Please read this answer for more details.


The purpose of money is to reward for provided value. When someone extracts money - not creating value for anyone - that's not healthy. People who did something useful don't get all the proper reward, when part of money was extracted by speculators. Thus speculation is a form of stealing.

PS. Some people misunderstand that I'm speaking not about trading in general, but only about speculation - as "not creating value". If traders transport goods, store them, provide comfortable access to them - that service probably has value for customers.

But there are cases where some people just remove cheaper merchandise from the market and replace it with the same merchandise at higher prices. For example, mafia boss Berezovsky forced factories' management to sell him cheap cars, and then resold them for many times more. So there's a difference between trading that creates value for customers and speculation.

PPS. So please re-evaluate your downvotes.

  • Theoretically, money-changing (converting currencies) is a service which a money-changer or currency-speculator provides to people (e.g. a merchant or traveller, who has euros and need dollars, will want the services of a money-changer). Money-changers are paid (rewarded) for taking a risk (i.e. they may lose money on their speculation), and for providing the service more cheaply than their competitors (assuming a customer deals with whoever provides the best rate and takes the least profit). So, "not creating value for anyone" and "a form of stealing" seems to me a bit too strong an answer.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 10:38
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    @ChrisW, my answer was about speculation, not about money-changing. Providing service have some value. But some examples of "trading" activity are obvious speculations.
    – chang zhao
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 12:33

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