Chapter 5: Buddhist Economics
Juliana Essen Introduction ‘Buddhist economics’ – isn’t that an oxymoron? This surprisingly common query is likely prompted by Buddhism’s stereotype of saffron-robed monks who, after renouncing all worldly possessions and sensations, meditate their way to nibbana1 in peaceful solitude. This image may be at odds with that of a Wall Street stockbroker, the quintessential capitalist, yet few Buddhists are actually monks. Most are ordinary laypeople trying to make a good life (and better rebirth) for themselves and their families. While Buddhist teachings (dhamma) are geared toward the monastic community, the Buddha also provided ethical guidelines to address the householder’s particular needs, aspirations and societal roles. The guidelines relating to an individual’s economic activity – including work and subsequent wealth accumulation, consumption and investment – are the focus here. More precisely, since Buddhism’s ontology and objective differ from those of Western capitalism, the economic means and ends resulting from each ideology logically differ, as does the currency valued: money versus kamma or merit. Though Buddhism is ultimately concerned with individual enlightenment, Buddhist principles have been applied to communities, firms and nations and bear some relevance for the global economy as well. It must be noted that there is a dearth of literature on Buddhist economics. This contribution then, is an early attempt in this nascent field to expound a theory of Buddhist economics based on scant scholarly work, early Theravada Buddhist scripture2 and an example from the author’s field study of an operational model of Buddhist economics. Due to space limitations and other considerations,...
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