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Buddhism in the News


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Buddhist Economics.

***This is a long post but I hope worth it***

By the way, I find it ironic that Nepal has put the non-materialist Buddha upon money (above). It's probably a commemorative thing but still It's kind of odd given his teachings on giving up materiel possessions.

We currently find ourselves in a global economic crisis. There aren't many in the world who can say that they haven't been affected in some way by these difficult times. Yet in between hyperventilating fits I am realizing that I knew this was coming. It's a cyclical thing.

Buddha certainly saw this coming all those thousands of years ago. I find myself depressed now and then that the world is in such terrible times but then I remember that this is samsara and thus the world has always been in such terrible times. The reality hasn't changed but my concept of what is reality has changed.

My mind wants so badly for things to never change and yet that is impossible nor is it desired in the long run. Imagine a world where nothing ever changed--would such a world even be possible? I say no. However I digress. But that doesn't mean that we have to surrender to the suffering. The world is just as amazing, beautiful, beneficial and worthwhile too. We might have to look a little harder because pain is often the loudest crying baby in the mind but the good is there too to be sure.

I already knew that the economic goods times wouldn't last. The "Laissez les bon temps roulez" (let the good times roll) bubble has burst as Buddha would have warned us all. I think he would have warned us to save (even if it's only a little) money for these inevitable crashes. Yet saving means putting a muzzle on our desires because the mind would say, "Put it on a credit card then you won't have to worry about not having the money and you can have that [insert material item that I'll tire with in two months].

Not so fast. Buddha would I think stress mindfulness as in all areas of life. If we are mindful of our money, mindful of the good and not so good about it as well as being mindful of the fleeting nature of it then perhaps we will be more committed to living within our means. I think Buddha would advise us that credit cards are the Earthly, material versions of karma--sooner or later they must be paid off for there is a consequence to every action. In a way credit cards are worse than karma because karma doesn't (as far as I know) accrue interest!

Buddha might say that despite our best efforts and now matter how fiscally responsible we might be that sooner or later a devastating blow will hit us. Life is anything but predictable. Such is the nature of this existence he would gently remind my exasperated mind. I imagine him softly, slowly advising me of this and imagining that it would calm me down like pouring cold water over raging hot coals.

Buddha teaches us that we are all interconnected, which in economic terms means that we take care of the needs of our brothers and sisters more. That means perhaps living a more modest lifestyle so that others might have basic human needs such as hospital care, food and shelter. This isn't a popular one in our CEO, "capitalism on steroids" society but if we were to look out more for the needs of others than we wouldn't need so much ourselves.

Yes, maybe what I'm speaking of is a utopia but still we can try our best to share and travel through this life together so that the greater good can be achieved. In the west we look at a person's accomplishments in their job and income but that is a false assessment of what is valuable because that is all going away no matter which bank you put it all in. And because it is based upon greed, which is a desire that brings much false happiness. We need to focus more on the Gross Domestic Happiness more than GDP such as in Bhutan.

We would also do our society a lot of good to put more emphasis and value upon people and time together with those people than making buckets of money. And upon nature, which is (if we are totally in the moment) one of the most wonderful things to experience and you don't need much money to enjoy it. Maybe we should spend more time listening to the birds and the sound of the wind caressing the vocal cords of the trees making them whisper through the air than getting the new iPod model accessory.

Another thing he'd probably tell me is that I don't have to have all the things that I think I need for living life well. I'd be reminded of the simple monk who despite owning basically only his robe and his bowl is happier than probably most people with all the bells and whistles of modern, material life. It seems so liberating to cast off all your possessions and walk a simple path of being present. When I am present I realize that in reality all that I need is the Dharma because it is the I Ching for all of life's questions and dilemas. Well, that and a nice plate of stir-fried vegetables and a bowl of sticky rice now and then (wink).

One final note, which comes right back to that impermanence of all things mentioned in the beginning of this post. We need to realize I think that we are in an economic transition period right now all over the world. The old paradigm is dying out but we need not be crushed by the change because while the change is bringing turmoil it is also bring new industries such as the green economy.

It is an exploding industry that will not only give people good paying jobs but also let them live Right Livelihood all while healing the planet for future generations. We need to embrace this opportunity with our collective energies. Perhaps we just need to shift our thinking to see a better, greener economy that has been with us since the first winds blew across our beautiful blue planet. It has been with us since the first rays of the sun kissed our Earth and when the water first churned to create energy. The new economy is literally right underneath our feet--in nature. We help nature and nature helps us. So those are some of my thoughts.

~Peace to all beings~

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16 comments: said...

Hey, good post. I actually have a somewhat related posted scheduled for tomorrow. It's on the Dalai Lama's recent comments.

anonymous said...

Credit cards and debt are certainly a US cultural phenomenon. To get a credit card in Japan you basically need to have $3k in the bank for 3 months before they will give you one. Also (GM, Ford, and Chrysler take note), the waiting list for a Honda Prius is two years.

Noting the previous mention of the DL. I see that Paul Macartney wrote to him saying that he was wrong to eat meat. The DL wrote back that he was eating meat because his doctors precribed it. PM wrote back that his doctors were wrong.

Just goes to show, become a bass guitarist in a soft rock band and you can know everything.

Deeps said...

Thanks for a insightful post

anonymous said...

Not so much commemorative coins but rather a local cottage industry of selling coins at more than their content value. Nepal needs the money and they are obviously nice souvenirs.

Also a sign of the times, perhaps, in that Buddhism is becoming more worldly. See the copied post from Bhikkhu's blog:

"Dear Ajahn Punnadhammo, as it is your prerogative to delete posts I am cool with that. If you want to say that I am promoting, racism, hatred, and violence, then I am cool with that too. The interesting part being that in doing so you have become a liar."

They call him James Ure said...

Chasing Sanity:

Oh cool. I'll have to check it out.


The Japan model needs to be adopted here as well. It makes sense to me and I did hear about the new Honda Prius model. Very cool but America needs to get on board this green train or it'll collapse.


Well I'm just glad that it's not the main currency. I don't mind some selling of Buddhist imagery but on main, hard currency it seems a bit too much to me.

Lisa said...

Interesting post. What struck me was that perhaps the end of the "economic good times" won't be a bad thing in the longer haul. That maybe it will be a relief. Perhaps we will evolve away from materialism? Maybe begin to see the joy in simpler things, real things, like nature, as you pointed out? Maybe we can learn to sit quietly in a room alone, as Blaise Pascal said. Just imagine. Cheers

anonymous said...

I go up to the mountains every year in Tochigi, Japan and spend a week or so camping out. Total cost with train fares and food is under $100. Last year, I noticed a flood of people camping out in their cars and tents. Most people can no longer afford the $200 per night stays in hotels, so the mountain car parks are full of campers and cars. It is a very friendly community, everyone sharing everything, from coffee, juices, barbeques, and other food. Great atmosphere.

anonymous said...

No doubt the economic downturn will result in better times. A change is needed in corporate culture, there is no such thing as free money, the US needs a sound manufacturing base, not a wealthy stock market, and they have the workers and ingenuity to accomplish this no problem.

It's like the story of the rowing teams; in the US you have 9 managers and one guy rowing, whereas in Japan you have one manager and nine rowers. Some CEOs here travel on ordinary cramped transport, refuse high salaries, and generally live like ordinary people in the same houses and apartments as everyone else. No doubt they could learn from US workers on how to lighten up a little, but their Confucian ethics, which often baffle the logic of the visiting foreigner, make for good community values.

The noticable effect at the moment is that many temporary workers have been laid off. These are not the US version of temp workers; they work full time on low salaries but do not receive the same benefits and vacations of permanent salaried workers. On its part, the Govt. does take care of them if and when they become homeless, and the local communities also help with food and clothing, so they are not forgotten. The social welfare systems here cover everything, and when you vist the local govt. office it's in and out like a flash, no queueing or hanging around. Great service, and although it is not perfect it is very efficient.

I too would be given an apartment and an allowance if I ever ran out of work, but I work for a space program, rockets and satellites up to my ass, and the work never runs out.

Pickard said...

the new economy right under our feet. how true.

i find the nepali coins an encouraging sign that the new communist government is not like our grandfathers' communist governments.

nice post.

Dhamma81 said...


This is a nice one here. Perhaps things will change for the better. I just noticed that since I hadn't been following the news cycle at all the economy seemed ok, but maybe it's just that right now I'm fortunate enough to have a nice paying job with little expenses. I've been unemployed before and realize that it could change at any time.

It's certainly disrespectful to have the Buddha on a coin, but like the last person who commented said, maybe certain communist governments have gone away from the brutal materialist/nihilist nightmare of the 20th century and their genocidal regimes. Ajahn Buddhadasa talked about "Dhammic Socialism" which was a little bit of the socialist "for the good of all" stuff with some capitalism and Dhamma mixed in. Th4e key there was that the Dhamma had to be mixed in so people didn't either succumb to the greed of capitalism without thought to anything but profit or the ego trip of being a greater among equals leader in a totalitarian communist society.

You mentioned the one robe and bowl thing which I found interesting because you commented about Ryokan on my blog and there is actually a book of his translated poems called "One Robe, One Bowl." I don't know Japanese and perhaps his poems are vastly different in English but they seem to be something you might enjoy. He seems to be someone we can all look up to these days in living simpler lives infused with the Dhamma. Nice post. I hope you and your readers will be well.

Paul said...

This is indeed a very insightful post. I saw it wasa long one so figured I'd save reading this until just now/

I think you are right, this is a cyclical thing. I do hope it does change the world in some aspects. Could be coincidence but it does seem that every time there is a recession we come out the other side a little 'greener' than before.

Twisted Branch said...

James, you seem to get the impermanence (annicca) part of Buddhism but you're forgetting the other two characteristics of the phenomenal universe that Buddha taught which make up the good Dhamma or the middle path. These are Dukka which means stressful, unsatisfactory condition and annatta which means no-self or lacking any substantial,enduring entity.
I know this has little to do with your post, but by meditating on these three characteristics it may put a better perspective on the worldly realm. Which by it's very nature is transitory, fraught with suffering and lacking any substantial entity which could be called self.
Peace to all living beings.

Ted Bagley said...

I think a good new paradigm statement needs to be, "It's alright to be alone without me imposing on you. It's alright for you to do what you need to do without me telling you it's wrong. It's alright to live your own life without me living it for you. When there is no one there for you when you need someone, though, I will be the one that is. I just ask that you do the same for me."
This, I think, would change the nature of money in to a symbol of a different relation between people.

They call him James Ure said...

Twisted Branch:

Yes, though are important too.


Well said. I like those thoughts.

Lia said...

credit cards as a material version of this idea.

Tom Armstrong said...

James, Magnificent. You should re-post this such that it is re-read today. We need to re-examine what our economics is all about. Accumulating stuff and working a second job to have a new room added to our houses to keep it all? I think not.

Poetic and deep, my friend:

"Buddha teaches us that we are all interconnected, which in economic terms means that we take care of the needs of our brothers and sisters more. That means perhaps living a more modest lifestyle so that others might have basic human needs such as hospital care, food and shelter. This isn't a popular one in our CEO, "capitalism on steroids" society but if we were to look out more for the needs of others than we wouldn't need so much ourselves."

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