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Buddhism in the News


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

REPOST: Buddhist Economics

---This is a repost from 2009. I decided to repost it given the continued, poor economy---

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. 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 as well, 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.

Buddha might say that despite our best efforts, and no matter how fiscally responsible we might be, 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 its calming effect 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-driven, "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 an utopia but still we can try our best to share and travel through this life together so that the greater good is accomplished. 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, 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 mantras 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.

PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Chan for Free Digital Photos

-Om gate gate paragata parasamgate bodhi svha!!-

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Connie Rose said...

Outstanding post, thanks for sharing it (again)!

Embracing Freshness said...

Thank you for reposting these wonderful words. The realization that we could come out of this mess with cleaner, greener, kinder, fairer jobs is a beautiful focus.

Jason E. Marshall said...

I really enjoyed this post, and I am glad I have sumbled upon your site. I agree even though the world is in a constant state of samsara, we should constantly seek to improve the world in which we live in for not only this lifetime, but for future generations, and if you believe in reincarnation, for your own future lifetimes (unless you break the cycle of course).

Thank you for sharing!

Jason E. Marshall said...

I really enjoyed this post, and I am glad I have sumbled upon your site. I agree even though the world is in a constant state of samsara, we should constantly seek to improve the world in which we live in for not only this lifetime, but for future generations, and if you believe in reincarnation, for your own future lifetimes (unless you break the cycle of course).

Thank you for sharing!

Gabrielle K., NYC said...

The 'Green' economy has unfortunately been co-opted by politicians and there isn't as much innovation and aren't as many jobs as they'd like you to think. One can't simply wish it were so. Do your research read other points of view. The only thing Green about this is that it has become a swamp of corruption and influence and government handouts. Don't let your noble intentions lead you astray on this topic. I do hold out hope that we will find a way to be less harsh with ourselves and the Earth, but not in the way they want it to be Green now. One cannot legislate the good. Those social experiments tend to end badly. I am an active reader of your blog. You always open your heart and remind me to do the same. I don't usually comment on these blogs, especially since most of the American Buddhist community seems to be the polar opposite of how I am aligned on domestic, economic and political issues, but you seem to have worked very hard to stay open to ideas.
You can't force someone to become Enlightened. Just like all the regulations in the world can't force people into a new way of living. If people have no choice, they have no chance to help themselves make better choices. And right now people aren't choosing Green because its still not good enough for them to want the technologies, to see how we could change. We need to perfect the products first and persuade our communities, not force people to use things that make their lives harder and more expensive. You know from examining your own desires that human nature doesn't work that way. Thanks for listening. I look forward to more of your thought provoking posts. I, for one, am grateful you are out there. - GSK, NYC

They call him James Ure said...


I appreciate your opinions and believe that there is a middle-way between the two political parties on green jobs. I know a fare bit about it since my wife works in the solar industry. I take your point about force to heart but I do think that we need to have some regulations about our environment. Thanks again, for your comments. Be well.

PeterAtLarge said...

Gabrielle's comment read and understood. As I see it, it's not about "forcing," it's about a continual and persistent opening up to possibility. Thanks for the post, James.

Susmita Barua said...

Avijja or ignorance is the greatest corruptor and root of suffering. It is also the most hidden. Greed and hatred we can see, but delusion based on false views and perception are difficult to see. With effort we can see the blindspots and may be break free from this viscious cycle. We need sustainable currency system along with green jobs.

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