- Buddhist Economics
- Limitations of Economic Theory in the Industrial Age
- (1) Specialization
- (2) Not free of ethics, but inattentive to them
- (3) Unable to be a science, but wanting to be one
- (4) Lack of clarity in its understanding of human nature
- — (a) Want
- — (b) Consumption
- — (c) Work and working
- — (d) Competition & Cooperation
- — (e) Contentment and Consumerism
- The Major Characteristics of Buddhist Economics
- (1) Middle-way economics: realization of true well-being
- (2) Not harming oneself or others
- Appendix: General Principles of Buddhist Economics (Middle-way Economics)
- 1. Wise Consumption
- 2. Freedom from Self-harm and from Oppression of Others
- 3. Economy as a Support
- 4. Harmony with Human Nature
- 5. Integration with the Unity of Nature
- Origin of this Book
- Translator’s Foreword
2. Freedom from Self-harm and from Oppression of Others
The term ‘self’ here refers to each human individual, both in the sense of: 1) a living organism comprising a part of nature, and 2) a member of society. The term ‘others’ refers to both: 1) the collection of human individuals, i.e. the other people who comprise one’s community or society, and 2) one’s ecology, i.e. the environment or the entire planet.
To begin with, people should refrain from harming themselves. But as members of society and a part of the natural environment, for them to live happily and at ease, they also need to play a positive and supportive role outwardly. They must be careful not to damage or injure the social and natural environment in which they live, because any outward trouble or disturbance may directly affect their own personal wellbeing.
Not long ago (before 1970), it is fair to say that economics as an academic discipline paid almost no attention to matters pertaining to the environment, because they were deemed outside the scope of this discipline’s focus of study.
Soon thereafter, however, economists were compelled to do an almost 180 degrees turn. They began to give great importance to the health of the environment and to sustainable development, because the economic activities of the previous decades were seen as the primary culprit in creating environmental problems for the world, both for human societies and the natural environment.
Economics shouldn’t have to wait for a crisis like this to pay attention to such problems, because these various factors are interconnected. Economic activities play an important role in the world in ways that economists themselves may not yet be aware. For instance, economics has a direct effect on people’s wellbeing beyond the narrow scope of simply material wealth or material wellbeing.
Environmental problems, for example, act as a reminder that economics must cooperate in a supportive role to bring about a healthy existence for individuals, society, and the natural environment.
Note that the expression ‘freedom from self-harm’ does not only refer to avoiding impoverishment and to ensuring that one has an adequate amount of the four requisites to live at ease.1 It also refers to abstaining from those economic activities that are harmful to oneself in other ways, even if they are performed unintentionally or with unawareness, e.g: consuming things with a lack of circumspection or with a lack of moderation.
For instance, the case mentioned earlier of someone who spends a lot of money for a lavish meal in order to satisfy his taste buds or to show off his social status. The rich food, however, fails to meet the needs of the body; instead, it has both short-term and long-term harmful effects, undermining his health. This is called ‘self-harm.’
Freedom from self-harm implies a wise consumption meeting the needs of the body and fostering good health.
There is another important factor related to this subject of self-harm. It is related to human nature and to living a good life, which is the true goal of economic activities. Namely, human beings possess the unique trait of being teachable or trainable, and they achieve excellence precisely through such spiritual training and education.
Spiritual training has numerous benefits, including: speech and bodily conduct becomes increasingly refined and virtuous; one becomes more proficient and successful at various tasks; one generates various spiritual faculties; the mind becomes more potent, stable, and happy; one gains wisdom and insight; one adds to one’s cultural heritage and civilisation in matters pertaining to scholarly and philosophical achievements; and one realizes true peace and liberation.
A person’s proper use of the four requisites can help to foster these spiritual potentialities listed above.
If, however, people deliberately deprive themselves of necessary requisites, or they consume them in a deluded way, indulging in material pleasure, and forsake the opportunity to develop their own spiritual potential, this in itself can be called ‘self-harm.’
In today’s world there are numerous individuals with an abundance of material possessions, but instead of using these things to enhance their spiritual potential and achieve superior states of mind, many of them become intoxicated by a life of luxury and grow heedless, throwing away their life potential in a most regretful way.
It is for these reasons that a viable economic system, besides requiring that people refrain from harming each other, also includes an absence of self-harm.