Middle Way for the Market Place
P. A. Payutto
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by Dhammavijaya and Bruce Evans
by Bruce Evans and Jourdan Arenson
Download the PDF (253 KB) / Buddhist Economics
The Problem of Specialization
The Two Meanings of Dhamma
How Ethics Condition Economics
The Buddhist View of Human Nature
From Conflict to Harmony
Ethics and the Two Kinds of Desire
Ethical Considerations in Economic Activity
Buddhist Perspectives on Economic Concepts
Production and Non-production
Competition and Cooperation
The Role of Wealth in Buddhism
Knowing Wealth's Limitations
Mental Attitude to Wealth
The Major Characteristics of Buddhist Economics
Teachings on Economics from the Buddhist Scriptures
The Monastic Order
The Inner Perspective
Seeking and Protecting Wealth
The Happiness of a Householder
The Benefits of Wealth
Wealth and Spiritual Development
Foreword (first edition)
days Buddhist meditation techniques are well-known in the West
and Buddhist insights into the human condition are, at least
in academic circles, exerting a growing influence. Unfortunately
the popular image of Buddhism is often an overly-austere one
and many people still consider it to teach a denial or escape
from worldly concerns into a private, hermetic realm of bliss.
However, if we take the trouble to go to the words of the Buddha
himself, we find a full and rich teaching encompassing every
aspect of human life, with a great deal of practical advice
on how to live with integrity, wisdom and peace in the midst
of a confusing world. Perhaps it is time for such teaching to
be more widely disseminated.
In this small volume, Venerable Dhammapitaka (P. A. Payutto)
offers a Buddhist perspective on the subject of economics. While
not seeking to present a comprehensive Buddhist economic theory,
he provides many tools for reflection, ways of looking at economic
questions based on a considered appreciation of the way things
are, the way we are. I hope that making this work available
in English may go at least a short way towards resolving what
has been called the current 'impasse of economics,' and to awaken
readers to the wide-reaching contemporary relevance of the timeless
truths that the Buddha discovered and shared with us.
is well known that the study of economics has up till now avoided
questions of moral values and considerations of ethics, which
are abstract qualities. However, it is becoming obvious that
in order to solve the problems that confront us in the world
today it will be necessary to take into consideration both concrete
and abstract factors, and as such it is impossible to avoid
the subject of moral values. If the study of economics is to
play any part in the solution of our problems, it can no longer
evade the subject of ethics. Nowadays environmental factors
are taken into account both in economic transactions and in
solving economic problems, and the need for ethics in addressing
the problem of conservation and the environment is becoming
more and more apparent.
In fact, economics is one "science" which most clearly
integrates the concrete and the abstract. It is the realm in
which abstract human values interact most palpably with the
material world. If economists were to stop evading the issue
of moral values, they would be in a better position to influence
the world in a fundamental way and to provide solutions to the
problems of humanity and the world at large. Ideally, economics
should play a part in providing mankind with opportunities for
real individual and social growth rather than simply being a
tool for catering to selfish needs and feeding contention in
society, and, on a broader scale, creating imbalance and insecurity
within the whole global structure with its innumerable ecosystems.
I would like to express my appreciation to Dhammavijaya, who
translated the first Thai edition of Buddhist Economics, which
was published by the Buddhadhamma Foundation in August, 1988,
into English. His translation was published in May, 1992, and
that edition has served as the basis for the second edition.
I would like to also express my thanks to Bruce Evans and Jourdan
Arenson, who were inspired enough to compile and translate further
sources of teachings on Buddhist economics from among my talks
and writings published in both Thai and English, and thus produce
a more comprehensive treatment of the subject. I would also
like to express my appreciation to Khun Yongyuth Thanapura and
the Buddhadhamma Foundation who, as with the First Edition,
have seen the printing through to completion.
P. A. Payutto
book has been compiled from material in the following works
by the author:
1. Buddhist Economics, the original booklet of a talk
given by the author at Thammasat University on March 9, 1989;
translated by Dhammavijaya.
2. "A way out of the Economic Bind on Thai Society"
(Tahng ork jahk rabop setthagit tee krorp ngum sungkhom thai),
published in Thai by the Buddhadhamma Foundation, translated
by Bruce Evans.
3. Parts of the chapter called 'The Problem of Motivation,'
translated by Bruce Evans from the book Buddhadhamma.
4. The section on Right Livelihood, which makes up part of the
chapter on morality (sila) from Buddhadhamma,
translated by Bruce Evans.
5. Part of the chapter entitled "Foundations of Buddhist
Social Ethics," written in English by the author, which
appeared in Ethics, Wealth and Salvation, edited by Russell
F. Sizemore and Donald K. Swearer, published by University of
South Carolina Press, 1990, Colombia, S. Carolina.
Spiritual Approach to Economics
libraries are full of books offering well-reasoned, logical
formulas for the ideal society. Two thousand years ago, Plato,
in The Republic, wrote one of the first essays on politics and
started a search for an ideal society which has continued to
the present day. Plato built his ideal society on the assumption
that early societies grew from a rational decision to secure
well-being, but if we look at the course of history, can we
say that rational thinking has truly been the guiding force
in the evolution of civilization? The reader is invited to imagine
the beginnings of human society: groups of stone age humans
are huddled together in their caves, each looking with suspicion
on the group in the next cave down. They are cold and hungry.
Danger and darkness surround them. Suddenly one of them hits
on a brilliant idea: "I know, let's create a society where
we can trade and build hospitals and live in mutual well-being!"
Such a scenario is not likely. Early humans, and the first societies,
were probably bound together more by their deep emotional needs
for warmth and security than any rational planning. And over
the millennia, our societies have evolved to a large extent
at the directives of these emotional needs. To be sure, rational
thinking has played some part in the process, but if we take
an honest look at our so-called advanced society, we must admit
that our needs for security today are not so different from
the cave man's. While our societies are certainly more complex,
the propelling force is still emotion, not reason.
If we are to honestly discuss economics, we must admit that
emotional factors -- fear and desire and the irrationality they
generate -- have a very powerful influence on the market place.
Economic decisions -- decisions about production, consumption
and distribution -- are made by people in their struggle to
survive and prosper. For the most part, these decisions are
motivated by an emotional urge for self-preservation.
There is nothing inherently bad about fear and irrationality;
they are natural conditions that come with being human. Unfortunately,
however, fear and desire drive us to our worst economic excesses.
The forces of greed, exploitation and overconsumption seem to
have overwhelmed our economies in recent decades. Our materialistic
societies offer us little choice but to exploit and compete
for survival in today's dog-eat-dog world. But at the same time,
it is obvious that these forces are damaging our societies and
ravaging our environment.
In the face of such problems, the science of economics adopts
a rational approach. The job of economists is to devise well-reasoned
models to help society rise above fear, greed and hatred. Rarely,
however, do economists examine the basic question of fear and
the emotional needs for security that drive human beings. As
a result, their theoretical models remain rational solutions
to largely irrational problems, and their economic ideals can
only truly exist in books.
Perhaps a little idealism is not so harmful; but there is a
danger to the purely rational approach. At its worst, it is
used to rationalize our basest, most fear-ridden responses to
the question of survival. We see this tendency in the corporate
strategists, policy advisors and defense analysts who logically
and convincingly argue that arms production is in our best interests.
When rationalism turns a blind eye to the irrational, unseen
irrational impulses are all the more likely to cloud our rationality.
The book you are reading takes a different approach -- a spiritual
approach. As such, it does not delve into the technical intricacies
of economics. Instead it examines the fundamental fears, desires
and emotions that motivate our economic activities. Of all the
spiritual traditions, Buddhism is best suited to this task.
As we shall see, the Buddhist teachings offer profound insights
into the psychology of desire and the motivating forces of economic
activity. These insights can lead to a liberating self-awareness
that slowly dissolves the confusion between what is truly harmful
and what is truly beneficial in production and consumption.
This awareness is, in turn, the foundation for a mature ethics.
Truly rational decisions must be based on insight into the forces
that make us irrational. When we understand the nature of desire,
we see that it cannot be satisfied by all the riches in the
world. When we understand the universality of fear, we find
a natural compassion for all beings. Thus, the spiritual approach
to economics leads not to models and theories, but to the vital
forces that can truly benefit our world -- wisdom, compassion
In other words, the spiritual approach must be lived. This is
not to say that one must embrace Buddhism and renounce the science
of economics, because, in the larger scheme of things, the two
are mutually supportive. In fact, one needn't be a Buddhist
or an economist to practice Buddhist economics. One need only
acknowledge the common thread that runs through life and seek
to live in balance with the way things really are.
Bruce Evans and Jourdan Arenson
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