Buddhist Economics

1 May 2535
เป็นตอนที่ 1 จาก 24 ตอนของ

Buddhist Economics

In a discussion of Buddhist economics the first question that arises is whether such a thing as Buddhist economics actually exists, or whether it is even a possibility. At present the economics that we are acquainted with is a Western one. When talking of economics or matters pertaining to it, we use a Western vocabulary and we think within the conceptual framework of Western economic theory. It is difficult to avoid these constraints when coming to talk about a Buddhist economics. So perhaps we will find ourselves in fact discussing Buddhism with the language and concepts of Western economics. At any rate, by reflecting on this matter we may at least get some food for thought. Even if it is not a true Buddhist economics that is put forth here, it may provide some Buddhist perspectives on things that may be usefully employed in economics.

In the mid-‘70’s a Western economist, E.F. Schumacher, wrote a book called “Small is Beautiful”, the fourth chapter of which dealt with the subject of Buddhist economics. The book as a whole, but especially that chapter, gave many people, both in the East and the West, an interest in those aspects of the Buddhist teachings that relate to economics. We owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Schumacher for creating that interest. However, if we consider the point more deeply, we may see that both the writing of “Small is Beautiful”, and the subsequent interest in Buddhist economics shown by Western academics, took place in response to a crisis. At the present time, Western academic disciplines and conceptual structures have reached a point which many feel to be a dead end, or if not, at least a turning point demanding new paradigms of thought and methodology. It is felt that the presently existing disciplines are unable to completely resolve the problems now facing the world – new ways must be found. Such feelings have prompted a number of people to search for ways of thought outside of their own disciplines, which has led in turn to the interest in Buddhism and other traditional Asian philosophies which is so apparent at this time.

In his essay on Buddhist economics Mr. Schumacher looks to the Buddhist teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path to make his case. He affirms that the inclusion of the factor of Right Livelihood in the Eightfold Path, in other words the Buddhist way of life, indicates the necessity of a Buddhist economics. This is Mr. Schumacher’s starting point. However the nature of his views, and of Buddhist economics as he sees it, are subjects that I would like to leave for the moment.

I would first like to relate a story that appears in the Buddhist scriptures. In fact it is an event which took place in the Buddha’s lifetime. It indicates many things about Buddhist economics, which the reader may be able to work out for himself. The story goes like this: one morning while the Buddha was residing in the Jetavana monastery near the city of Sāvatthī, he was able to perceive with his psychic powers that the spiritual faculties of a certain poor peasant living near the city of Ālavī were mature enough for him to understand the teachings, and that he was ripe for enlightenment. It would be appropriate to go to teach him. So later that morning the Buddha set off walking to Ālavī, some 30 yojanas (about 48 km.) away. The inhabitants of Ālavī held the Buddha in great respect and on his arrival warmly welcomed him. Eventually a place was prepared for everyone to gather together and listen to a discourse. However, as the Buddha’s particular purpose in going to Ālavī was to enlighten this one poor peasant, he waited for him to arrive before starting to talk.

The peasant heard the news of the Buddha’s visit, and since he had already been interested in the Buddha’s teaching for some time he wanted to go and listen to the discourse. But it so happened that one of his cows had just disappeared. He wondered whether he should go and listen to the Buddha first and look for his cow afterwards, or to look for the cow first. He decided to look for the cow first and quickly set off into the forest to search for it. Eventually the peasant found his cow and drove it back to the herd, but by the time everything was as it should be, he was very tired. The peasant thought to himself, “time is getting on, if I go back home first it will waste a lot of time. I’ll just go straight into the city to listen to the Buddha’s discourse.” Having made up his mind, the poor peasant started walking into Ālavī. By the time he arrived at the place set up for the talk, he was exhausted and very hungry.

When the Buddha saw the peasant’s condition he asked the city elders to arrange some food for the poor man. When the peasant had eaten his fill and was refreshed the Buddha started to teach and while listening to the discourse the peasant realized the fruit of ‘Stream Entry’, the first stage of enlightenment. The Buddha had fulfilled his purpose in travelling to Ālavī.

After the talk was over the Buddha bade farewell to the people of Ālavī and set off back to the Jetavana monastery. During the walk back the monks who were accompanying him started to critically discuss the day’s events. “What was that all about? The Lord didn’t quite seem himself today. I wonder why he got them to arrange food for the peasant like that, before he would agree to give his discourse.” The Buddha, knowing the subject of the monks’ discussion turned back towards them and started to tell them his reasons, and at one point in his explanation the Buddha said, “when people are overwhelmed, and in pain through suffering, they are incapable of understanding Dhamma.” Then the Buddha went on to say that hunger is the most severe of all illnesses and that conditioned phenomena provide the basis for the most ingrained suffering. Only when one understands these truths will one realize the supreme happiness of Nibbāna.

All the major points of Buddhist economics appear in this tale. They will be elaborated on below.

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