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Does stock trading count as pursuing gain with gain mentioned as wrong view in MN117?

Sure active stock trading is very destructive, especially nowadays it's like trading the weather, but does it count as pursuing gain with gain even for passive stock traders?

Thanks a mil

  • I'd say it depends how you do it. – PeterJ Oct 18 '18 at 10:24
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In my humble opinion, "pursuing gain with gain" refers to any purely speculative business activity that involves creating no added value whatsoever.

This is confirmed by Visuddhimagga:

Herein, what is pursuing gain with gain (lābhena lābhaṃ nijigīsanatā)?
It is when one bent on gain/esteem/renown, one of evil wishes, a prey to wishes
carries there goods that have been got from here,
carries here goods that have been got from there,
fishing out material goods by means of material goods,
seeking, searching, looking, hunting, trying, sniffing out.

According to commentary, this describes the process of aggressive deliberate speculation, buying low, selling high, with no other mission than making profit.

According to this, and in my own opinion, stock trading is indeed a wrong livelihood, unless it also has a charity element or is used as a way to fund some other constructive enterprise.

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I have a background in finance and am an active participant in the financial markets. In my opinion, investing/trading/speculating (however you want to call it) any financial instrument can have a wrong livelihood to it.

For example, the options, futures, forex markets are zero-sum based so someone has to lose for your gain. Many people may argue that this is wrong livelihood just based on that but in the complex world we live in, these financial instruments can be used to hedge against risk in which less if not all financial loss can be achieved. For example, a multi-national company can buy a futures contract to hedge against fluctuating currencies. If done currently, the company minimizes losses which in turn the money can be used to make payroll or pursue further R&D which results in a net benefit to their employees and stakeholders. So in a way, positive things can happen.

In equities or debt markets which are not zero-sum, speculative positive things can benefit the world too. For example, a biotech company raises capital through debt or equity, in which they intend to use that money to research cures for deadly diseases. As a retail investor, you can contribute to this by purchasing the stock which helps it stay liquid and increases demand so in the future if the company does an equity raise, it is more likely to find interested investment banks.

Overall, I do believe there is some sort of potential net benefit to society through investing. However, the wrong livelihood of it is also present because of negative emotions, thoughts and potential financial destruction which is common amongst retail investors. I guess if you think about it, the complexity of the financial markets today is brought upon ourselves because we created it, so that in itself is wrong livelihood in my opinion. But spin it however you want, it is quite hard to avoid or avoid contributing to any financial instrument in our time for the lay Buddhist.

  • @user14243 Well according to the sutta cited in Andrei’s answer investing in general for a gain is the wrong livelihood which I can agree with because of the greed, emotional suffering, and delusion that can arise from pursuing a gain from a gain. And in Buddhist teaching it’s best to avoid that. My answer is just to provide another perspective on how investing for a gain can not just end with a gain for you but for others as well. And for that, I don’t think is against Buddhist teaching. – NuWin Oct 15 '18 at 9:47
  • Thanks for your Insightful answer and for the above response for my deleted comment. I deleted my comment because,in-light of your last paragraph, i wasn't sure what i was really asking. Thanks. – user14243 Oct 15 '18 at 10:04
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The teaching about wrong livelihood for laypeople is found in AN 5.177, as follows:

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.

In addition, a warning about "gambling" is found in DN 31:

There are, young householder, these six evil consequences in indulging in gambling: (i) the winner begets hate, (ii) the loser grieves for lost wealth, (iii) loss of wealth, (iv) his word is not relied upon in a court of law, (v) he is despised by his friends and associates, (vi) he is not sought after for matrimony; for people would say he is a gambler and is not fit to look after a wife.

Also, positive advice about "investing" is also found in DN 31:

With wealth acquired this way, a layman fit for household life, in portions four divides his wealth: thus will he friendship win. One portion for his wants he uses, two portions on his business spends, the fourth for times of need he keeps.

Where as the following teaching in MN 117 appears to be for monks:

And what, bhikkhus, is wrong livelihood? Scheming, talking, h inting, belittling, pursuing gain with gain: this is wrong livelihood.

Stock trading does not count as pursuing gain with gain mentioned as wrong view in MN117 because this teaching is for monks and is about when a monk acquires gains by donations and then gives some of those gains for the purpose of gaining a social reputation so he can acquire more gains. Its similar to public philanthropy by billionaires to develop a positive public image and avoid lynch mobs (as J.D. Rockerfeller did, when he was the most hated man in the USA).

As for active stock trading; there is nothing "very destructive" about it; apart from the destruction of wealth referred to in DN 31 for those who stock trade similar to "gambling". Those who get destroyed are the sheep that follow the herd. This said, it is not inherently immoral because such activity is done with others who consent to participate in this speculative activity.

As for passive stock investing in a company one believes will grow into a real and profitable business; this is not wrong livehood because most investors will benefit; such as if you invested in Apple Inc 30 years ago, 10 years ago or even 5 years ago.

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Traders, like myself, justify their trading by saying that they add liquidity (narrower bid/offer spreads), meaning there is a net positive value from trading (not completely zero sum).

This is true, but practically it is outweighed by pursuing gain with gain and engaging in speculation many fold. In my opinion it is pure hunter gathering for a modern technological world.

However, it offers the individual a very strong incentive to abandon putting oneself into the equation. Because doing so - engaging in one's fears/cravings when 'working' - only leads to loss from my experience.

For me trading is a learning experience in letting go. For many - my brother included - it is a crash course in suffering and further suffering, psychological self destruction - but not in the calm way - because they stop to or never learn to see the market in a detached way.

Interestingly, it has become popular amongst prop traders to practice a lot of meditation, as it improves profitability. I would certainly agree.

  • No worries! :) .. I'd add that there is arguably a distinction between speculation and preemption - saying the £/$ will be 1.80 in 3 years is different from saying the £/$ is going to fall the instant after the Brexit vote becomes certain. Akin to watching a rock at the top of a cliff crumbling the earth below it, begining to roll - and expecting it to roll further, to just looking at a rock at the top of a cliff and predicting when it will begin to fall! (Preemptive trading - going along for the already happening ride, is better/more profitable than just expecting a ride to happen some day!) – Ilya Grushevskiy Oct 14 '18 at 19:47
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    About your last point Ilya: I'd argue that people do meditation mainly because it is 'hip' and because, as you mentioned, has some benefit to regulate emotions and to concentrate more effectively. This being the case, they usually don't practise the Noble Eightfold Path (or at least morality), which would then somewhat benefit everyone. – Val Oct 14 '18 at 20:25
  • I marked this answer down because there is no need to morally justify speculative trading. It is essentially a consenting gamblers market therefore those who lose do so according to their own volition. If you sell at the top of market; it is unrelated to your volition that others bought at the top of the market. Your intention was merely to sell because you believed the market was overvalued. While speculative trading can be "dangerous" (as taught in DN 31), it is not inherently immoral because each trader/party chooses to bet or speculate. – Dhammadhatu Oct 15 '18 at 0:22
  • Sure thing, I see it as less black and white than that! My dividing line is solely whether the trader suffers or learns. (Gambling is engaging in an activity where expected value <0 - roulette when not the house; betting is any activity where expected value is >0 - say poker.. learners achieve a poker like experience, sufferers play roulette! :) ) – Ilya Grushevskiy Oct 15 '18 at 5:33
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Stock traders and/or organizations that release misleading advises to capture money from public stockholders are definitely the worst. I would say it is wrong livelihood.

For informed traders, as an individual, who make their living purely based on investment such as stock, options, properties,......etc, that in fact is a hard line to draw. They are unproductive and should be categorized as gambling.

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Stock trading is no different from any other investment. The objective is to maximize profit and minimize the risk. Unless you are the major shareholder only way to protect your share portfolio is to buy and sell. If you invest in a stock and do not trade eventually you will lose your money through liquidation, merger or compulsory acquisition.

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    I'm not sure this is accurate from an economic perspective, and the answer doesn't relate this back to Buddhism – Aidan Connelly Oct 15 '18 at 12:36
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    This is wrong on several levels. You don't need to hold your shares forever to be a passive investor, just long enough that your gains are based on actual long-term company success and development, not just on short-term rumours. And even if you didn't ever sell at all, you can make a gain. Neither mergers nor acquisitions (not even hostile ones) make you lose your investment. And there are dividends that can also add up a lot over the long term. – mastov Oct 16 '18 at 9:49
  • deleted the post – SarathW Oct 17 '18 at 19:50

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