___The Buddhist Way to Economic Stability___
M. Pannasha Maha Nayaka Thera
word 'Manussa,' man, had different etymological meanings
given it by eastern scholars in the past. While popular or
general Indian tradition traces the origin of the word to
'Manu' the mythical progenitor of the human race, in
the Buddhist texts the derivation of the word is given as
'manassa-ussannataya=manussa'- man, because of his
highly developed state of mind (as compared to the underdeveloped
or rudimentary mental state of the lower animal). According
to Buddhist thought man ranks as the highest of beings due
to the vast potential of the human mind.
Arthasastra and Brhaspati's Arthasastra - two
famous ancient treatises on economics - were both written
after the Buddha's lifetime. They held one common feature,
and that, - under title of Arthasastra both writers
had written on politics and economics, leaving out the most
important factor, of ethics and the moral development of man
the Pali term "Attha" (-Sanskrit 'artha')
- which has more than one meaning according to
Buddhism, the word as signifying success is used at two separate
levels, i.e. 'attha' meaning success, and 'uttamattha'
meaning the highest success. The latter concerns man's
mental and spiritual development resulting in the realization
of supramundane knowledge of the Four Noble Truths, in the
conquest of Self and attainment to spiritual perfection or
speaking, the word 'attha' as success, relates to the
various aspects of man's socio-economic development - such
as the economy, politics, education, health, law and morality
of a society. It refers to social progress due to the harmonious
unification of all the above factors, contributing to the
prosperity and peaceful co-existence of a people.
in the case of legal administration of the Sangha, no single
discourse of the Buddha deals fully on any one of the above
factors of social progress. Yet reading through the numerous
discourses (or Suttas) it is possible to develop a fully consistent
and complete view-point of the Buddha's stand on each of the
above topics drawn from the various discourses of the Buddha.
A socio-economic system based on Buddhist principles and practices
could easily be formulated to suit today's modern progressive
recent times many books have been written on the subject of
economics and economic theory, all of them either from the
Capitalist or Socialist point of view. Neither of these systems
pays attention to, nor considers the inner development of
man as an important factor in the growth of society. Hence
there has been a rapid deterioration in human values and standards
of behaviour in all classes of society. Science and technology
have taken gigantic strides forward to send man to the moon,
and it will not be long before he visits other planets. But
fears are expressed that if the present trend towards moral
degeneration continues, before long it would be impossible
to differentiate human action from that of the animal. This
fear is not baseless. It would be a great tragedy indeed were
man to turn beast even in one of the many bestial aspects
of behaviour belonging to the lower animals. Thus what the
world requires today is a socially stable economic system
which yields the highest place to man's moral development
and cultivation of human values.
Buddha lived in a society entangled and confused by sixty-two
divergent views and one hundred and eight types of craving.
There were hundreds who went about in search of an escape
from this entanglement of views. Once the Buddha was asked
the question: (Jata sutta)
inner tangle and the outer tangle -
This world is entangled in a tangle.
Who succeeds in disentangling this tangle?
Buddha who explained that all these tangles have mind as the
fore-runner, answered thus
a wise man, established well in virtue, Develops consciousness
and understanding, 'Men as a bhikkhu ardent and sagacious
He succeeds in disentangling this tangle.
the importance of the external factors in man's endeavour
towards disentangling himself from the inner tangle, the Buddha
gave many discourses on the ways and means of overcoming the
outer tangle. Some of these teachings were meant only for
the bhikkhus. Others were only for laymen. The rest were meant
for both bhikkhus and laymen, although in the latter case,
the discourses were mainly directed to the bhikkhus. In one
such discourse, he approved the acceptance by the bhdddius
of the four requisites namely robes, food, shelter and medicine.
Man could live without all other modern contraptions but for
life to go on, these four requisites are essential. Wealth
is required by man to obtain these four requisites and to
meet his other needs.
Noble Eightfold Path which could be classified under right
values and right action, enables man to achieve the highest
ends. For economic stability and well-being, the Buddhist
system stresses three factors in the Vyagghapajja Sutta.
Utthana Sampada: Production of wealth through skilled and
2. Arakkha Sampada: Its protection and savings.
3. Samajivikata - Living within one's means.
Buddha when encouraging the production of wealth makes special
reference to six job ranges prevalent at that time:
3. Cattle breeding
4. Defence services
5. Government services
6. Professional services
was predominantly an agricultural country. Hence many references
in the discourses were made to agriculture. For example in
the 'Sadapunnappavaddhana Sutta' it is mentioned that
providing of irrigation facilities results in yielding continuous
merit. In the 'Samyutta Nikaya' it is mentioned that
the greatest asset for agriculture is cattle, while in the
Sutta Nipatha cattle from whom man obtains milk, ghee,
curd, butter and whey, of much nutritious value, are described
as the best friends of a country. In developing countries,
water and draught power provided by cattle, are basic needs
the discourse pertaining to a layman's happiness (domestic
and otherwise) (Cahapati Sukha), foremost is mentioned
the satisfaction derived by a layman from the possession of
wealth obtained through righteous means. (Atthi Sukka).
However, the Buddha warns man against the tendency to
become a slave to the mere accumulation of wealth for its
own sake. Ibis would lead to both physical and mental suffering
later. Adequate means of livelihood to support oneself and
family, to help relatives and friends, and to distribute among
the needy and the deserving, would lead to contentment and
inner satisfaction. This in turn would result in the moral
and spiritual development of man.
the 'Kutadanta Sutta' the Buddha shows how peace and
prosperity and freedom from crime comes to a country
through the equitable distribution of wealth among its people.
says: 'Long ago, 0 Brahman, there was a king by name Wide-realm
(Maha-Vijita), mighty with great wealth and large property
with stores of silver and gold, of aids to enjoyment, of goods
and corn; with his treasure houses and his garners full. Now
when Ying Wide-realm was once sitting alone in meditation
he became anxious at the thought: I have in abundance all
the good things a mortal can enjoy. The whole wide circle
of the earth. is mine by conquest to possess. "Twere
well if I were to offer a great sacrifice that should ensure
me weal and welfare for many days."
he had the Brahman, his chaplain, called; and telling him
all that he had thought, he said: "So I would fain, 0
Brahman, offer a great sacrifice - let the venerable one instruct
me how - for my weal and my welfare for many days."
the Brahman who was chaplain said to the king: 'The king's
country, Sire, is harassed and harried. There are dacoits
abroad who pillage the villages and townships, and who make
the roads unsafe. Were the king, so long as that is so, to
levy a fresh tax, verily his majesty would be acting wrongly.
But perchance his majesty might think: I will soon put a stop
to these scoundrels' game by degradation and banishment, and
fines and bonds and death! But their licence cannot be satisfactorily
put a stop to do so. The remnant left unpunished would still
go on harassing the realm. Now there is one method to adopt
to put a thorough end to this disorder. Whosoever, there be
in the king's realm who devote themselves to keeping cattle
and the farm, to them let his majesty the king give food and
seed corn. Whosoever, there be in the king's realm who devote
themselves to trade, to them let his majesty the king give
wages and food. Then those men, following each his own business,
will no longer harass the realm; the king's revenue will go
up; the country will be quiet and at peace; and the populace,
pleased one with another and happy, dancing their children
in their arms, will dwell with open doors."
King Wide-realm, 0 Brahman, accepted the word of his chaplain,
and did as he had said. And the men, following their business,
harassed the realm no n-tore. And the king's revenue went
up. And the country became quiet and at peace. And the populace,
pleased one with another and happy, dancing their children
in their arms, dwelt with open doors.
King Wide-realm had his chaplain called, and said: The disorder
is at an end. The country is at peace. (Dialogues of the
Buddha - Part I, pp. 175-6).
means the worldly happiness derived from the constant protection
of one's wealth (that has been righteously obtained) from
burglary, fire, floods etc. As the Buddha has extolled the
virtue of savings, this factor too could be considered in
money on credit (or loans) was prevalent even during the Buddha's
time. Persons like Anathapindika were the bankers of the day.
The Buddhist texts make references to instances where he gave
loans both to the state as well as to ordinary people. However,
Buddhism does not approve of excessive borrowing for as the
saying goes "borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry"
- and the Buddha's advocacy of a life free from debts (anana
sukha) as being conducive to the happiness of a layman
supports this statement.
the 'Samannaphala Sutta,' the Buddha compares the SamannaPhala
(or fruit of a recluse's life) to the happiness derived
by a person, who having been in debt frees himself of all
his debts, and now supports his family and children from the
savings he has managed to put aside. The importance of making
savings from one's earnings is stressed in this manner. In
general, the Buddha gives details of the proper use of one's
earnings. But in the 'Sigalovada Sutta.' He admonishes
particularly a big magnate, Sigala to apportion his savings
into four and to spend one part of it for his daily upkeep
and that of his family. Two portions were to be invested in
his business; and the fourth put aside for any emergency.
is the third of the three basic principles in the Buddhist
Economic system. A person should spend reasonably in proportion
to his income, neither too much nor too little. In the discourse
relating to the householders' happiness (gahapati sukha)
enjoyment of one's income appropriately and wisely
(bhoga sukha) is given as one of the four factors conducive
to lay happiness.
the Pattakamma Sutta the manner in which a person
should spend his wealth is given in detail as follows:
Expenditure on food and clothing and other needs.
2. Maintenance of parents, wife and children and servants.
3. For illness and other emergencies.
4. For charitable purposes.
5. For the performance of the following:
treating one's relatives;
(ii) treating one's visitors;
(iii) offering alms in memory of the departed;
(iv) offering merit to the deities;
(v) payment of state taxes and dues in time.
Buddha extols simple living as being more conducive to the
development of one's mind. A society progresses to the extent
the mind of the individual is developed. Administration of
such a society becomes easier, when law and order is well
established. Knowing this, ancient kings in Sri Lanka gave
much publicity to the contents of the Ariyavamsa Sutta.'
In this Sutta, preached by the Buddha for the benefit
of the bhikkhus, the latter are exhorted to be contented with
The robes (clothes) they receive (whether coarse or fine).
(ii) Alms (food) they receive (whether unpalatable or delicious).
(iii) The abodes (houses) they receive (whether simple or
(iv) Meditation (development of mind).
content with the first three it is possible to reduce economic
restlessness, and at the same time to inculcate the habits
and values of simple living. Through meditation the human
mind develops itself both morally and spiritually, resulting
in reducing social disharmony and insurrection which arise
first in the minds of men and then put into action. Peace
and progress of a country is thus assured.
this modern world although highly advanced in science and
technology, with its rapid expansion of knowledge, there appears
to be a steady deterioration of human values. Present day
politics, the economy, and educational systems are some of
the more important reasons for this state of affairs. In this
context it is considered desirable that the existing political
and economic thought and educational systems should be changed
so as to give priority to the development of human values.
is both a path of emancipation and a way of life. As a way
of life it interacts with the economic, Political and social
beliefs and practices of the people. It is felt that the time
is now most opportune to make known to the world each of the
above aspects of society within the framework of Buddhist
Ethics and the basic principles of Buddhism. The progress
of a country depends ultimately on the progress of the individual.
Over 2500 years ago, the Buddha was born into a confused society
entangled in various views regarding life and thought in general.
Through Buddhism it was possible to disentangle this tangle
of views and to reduce this confusion. Today too, in This
Confused Society it is generally believed that Buddhism
could again help in lighting a path through the darkness of
thanks to Phramaha Somnuek Saksree