China, Japan, Korea, etc. have so many companies and Buddhism is widespread in those areas. My question is: can a Buddhist make the aim of his life to run a billion dollar business?
The Vanijja Sutta states:
"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.
"These are the five types of business that a lay follower should not engage in."
The Sigalovada Sutta states:
The wise endowed with virtue
Shine forth like a burning fire,
Gathering wealth as bees do honey
And heaping it up like an ant hill.
Once wealth is accumulated,
Family and household life may follow.
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."
The Dighajanu Sutta states:
"And what does it mean to maintain one's livelihood in tune? There is the case where a lay person, knowing the income and outflow of his wealth, maintains a livelihood in tune, neither a spendthrift nor a penny-pincher, [thinking], 'Thus will my income exceed my outflow, and my outflow will not exceed my income.'
The Adiya Sutta talks about the five types of benefits that can be obtained from wealth, which are summarized below:
'My wealth has been enjoyed,
my dependents supported,
protected from calamities by me.
I have given supreme offerings
& performed the five oblations.
I have provided for the virtuous,
followers of the holy life.
For whatever aim a wise householder
would desire wealth,
that aim I have attained.
I have done what will not lead to future distress.'
When this is recollected by a mortal,
a person established in the Dhamma of the Noble Ones,
he is praised in this life
and, after death, rejoices in heaven.
Also from the Anana Sutta which talks about "the four kinds of bliss that can be attained in the proper season, on the proper occasions, by a householder partaking of sensuality", summarizes it as follows:
Knowing the bliss of debtlessness,
& recollecting the bliss of having,
enjoying the bliss of wealth,
the mortal then sees clearly with discernment.
Seeing clearly — the wise one —
he knows both sides:
that these are not worth one sixteenth-sixteenth
of the bliss of blamelessness.
Billionaire businessmen can support society by creating jobs, fulfill the needs and wants of the people through supply for demand, and be philanthropists (similar to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett) who donate to charitable causes and also to Buddhist causes.
Anathapindika had many carts filled with gold coins, and had them spread out upon the site. Finally only one small patch of ground at the entrance remained bare. He gave the instructions that more gold be brought, but the Prince Jeta announced that he was prepared to build a mighty gate-tower on that spot at his own expense. This imposing bastion and gate protected the monastery from the outside world, shielded it from the noises of the road, and emphasized the dividing line between the realms of the sacred and the worldly. Anathapindika then spent another eighteen million for buildings and furnishings. He built individual cells, a meeting hall, a dining hall, storerooms, walkways, latrines, wells, and lotus ponds for bathing as well as a large surrounding wall. Thus the forest glade was transformed into a monastery and stood apart as a religious sanctuary.
Added later to show the benefit of using one's wealth to give gifts to "the upright ones".
This is the story of householder Ugga of Vesālī, who gave a lot of gifts to the Buddha. The Buddha accepted them out of compassion. I only quote the final portion of the sutta here.
From the Manāpadāyī Sutta:
“Bhante, in the presence of the Blessed One I heard and learned this: ‘The giver of what is agreeable gains what is agreeable.’ Bhante, my couch spread with rugs, blankets, and covers, with an excellent covering of antelope hide, with a canopy above and red bolsters at both ends, is agreeable. Although I know this is not allowable for the Blessed One, this sandalwood plank of mine is worth over a thousand. Let the Blessed One accept it from me, out of compassion.” The Blessed One accepted, out of compassion.
Then the Blessed One expressed his appreciation to the householder Ugga of Vesālī thus:
“The giver of the agreeable gains the agreeable,
when he gives willingly to the upright ones
clothing, bedding, food, and drink,
and various kinds of requisites.
“Having known the arahants to be like a field
for what is relinquished and offered, not held back,
the good person gives what is hard to give:
the giver of agreeable things gains what is agreeable.”
Then, after expressing his appreciation to the householder Ugga of Vesālī, the Blessed One rose from his seat and left. Then, some time later, the householder Ugga of Vesālī passed away. After his death, the householder Ugga of Vesālī was reborn among a certain group of mind-made deities. On that occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. Then, when the night had advanced, the young deva Ugga, of stunning beauty, illuminating the entire Jeta’s Grove, approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, and stood to one side. The Blessed One then said to him: “I hope, Ugga, that it is as you would have wished.”
“Surely, Bhante, it is as I had wished.”
Then the Blessed One addressed the young deva Ugga with verses:
“The giver of the agreeable gains the agreeable;
the giver of the foremost again gains the foremost;
the giver of the excellent gains the excellent;
the giver of the best reaches the best state.
“The person who gives the best,
the giver of the foremost,
the giver of the excellent,
is long-lived and famous
wherever he is reborn.”
I think the answer is yes, that a Buddhist can be a billionaire -- a modern proof-by-example might be Kazuo Inamori.
I don't have insight, though, into whether he made it "the aim of his life to run a billion dollar business" -- I imagine the billion happened as a side-effect of business, and wasn't the original business target when the businesses were founded, but I don't know -- there are probably biographies you could read.
Or, according to the Financial Times "Kazuo Inamori, Kyocera founder, on altruism in business",
His conviction that material wealth is a byproduct of doing business with a deeper purpose has remained consistent — as has his desire to convert others to the same creed. “It is time to change the motivation system from greed towards money to other ways,” he says. “I didn’t want to be a rich person . . . My motivation has been making the people around me happy.”
Some advice, on philosophy and management, is published here: Official Website of Kazuo Inamori.
Incidentally please don't comment that "no true Buddhist could be a billionaire", or use my answer as an opportunity to disparage Mr. Inamori or his business.
There are also, and there have been, Buddhist kings: people born to positions of wealth and authority (some of these might become monks instead, and so on).
There's also, for example, the story of Tetsugen Doko -- who collected money and spent it.
So the trivial answer is "yes"; but maybe you can't (or shouldn't) make it your "aim in life". A trivial answer to this topic might easy to misinterpret, though (like the Buddha's not answering when asked whether there's a self).
Incidentally a lot of the suttas you may read are for monks. I found it helpful to also read a book called The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity which introduces and summarizes the Pali suttas which have advice for lay-people (for example this answer was a summary of one chapter of it).
Obviously there are lay Buddhists, even-though monks, mendicants, are traditionally not allowed to handle money at all.
Raga is one of the three poisons
Raga (Sanskrit, also rāga; Pali lobha; Tibetan: 'dod chags) is a Buddhist concept of character affliction or poison referring to any form of "greed, sensuality, lust, desire" or "attachment to a sensory object
and whether the mega rich are greedy, or just rich, is probably a matter of opinion. It's probably a bit like asking can a communist be a a billionaire. No, but they can treat the rest of us as more than playthings.
It is unlikely Buddhist practise can run a major corporation due to so many unethical things occurring in large business. For example, Apple was using cobalt from child labour in Congo; is said to engage in major tax avoidance; is said to engage in cheap non-Buddhist labour practises in Asia, etc, where employees are not treated as the Buddha taught in the Sigalovada Sutta.
The fact that many US businesses are now offshoring their activities in low-labour-cost & low-EPA countries shows unethical practises, namely, to enjoy the safety of US jurisdiction yet not support the US economy commensurately.
That the USA public debt just passed $20 trillion shows the unethical nature of large businesses because it shows a nation reliant on debt & a nation not earning sufficient taxation revenue due to low wages & relatively low corporate tax receipts. In the Anana Sutta, the Buddha said debt is unwholesome yet the business world revolves around making people & nations indebted.
Buddhist practise is based in meeting mutual responsibilities & obligations. This is obviously not occurring in the world of big business.
Lots of Buddhists own big businesses. I suspect you are really asking whether a person who owns a big business can make progress in mindfulness meditation. It depends. He would have to be a good person and have an accurate understanding of the purpose of meditation. Ultimately, progress in meditation depends upon good karma, which is very difficult to define.
Here are canonical verses answering this question;
'I have sons, I have wealth' — the fool torments himself. When even he himself doesn't belong to himself, how then sons? How wealth? Dhammapada Verse 62
The path to material gain goes one way, the way to Unbinding, another.
Realizing this, the monk, a disciple to the Awakened One, should not relish offerings, should cultivate seclusion instead. Verse 75
There is traditional [non-canonical] origin story for these verses
As others have mentioned a wealthy householder Anathapindika, a banker, was proclaimed as foremost in giving and a Sotapanna. The story has it that he actually became poor at some point;
... Anathapindika and Visakha were not only the foremost donors in Savatthi (J 337, 346, 465), but their help was frequently solicited by the Buddha whenever something needed to be arranged with the lay community.
Yet even the wealth of Anathapindika was not inexhaustible. One day treasures worth eighteen million were swept away by a flash flood and washed into the sea. Moreover, he had loaned about the same amount of money to business friends who did not repay him. He was reluctant, however, to ask for the money. Since his fortune amounted to about five times eighteen million, and he had already spent three-fifths of this for the forest monastery, his money was now running out. Anathapindika, once a millionaire, had become poor. Nevertheless, he still continued to provide some food for the monks, even though it was only a modest serving of thin rice gruel. Anathapindika: The Great Benefactor
This wasn't the end of this story which is quasi-canonical at best but it goes to show that it's impossible to pursue both paths wholeheartedly.
This is where the problem lies when you enter into Buddhism or any other spiritual pursuit. You start to compare desires of your living in society, and desires of trying to find out what life is all about. You can guess which one is which.
Spiritual pursuits are for the person's inner nature. It calms and purifies some aspects of it. When we go outside and do things, we get stained in more ways than one but we can't help it.
I split these 2 things up on purpose.
But, tell me, can you imagine that you could pursue your spirituality, every moment, and still do whatever you are supposed to do outside in society as a responsible, good functional human being? It is possible, right? Then there's your answer.