Buddhist economics

Buddhist economics is a spiritual and philosophical approach to the study of economics.[1] It examines the psychology of the human mind and the emotions that direct economic activity, in particular concepts such as anxiety, aspirations and self-actualization principles. In the view of its proponents, Buddhist economics aims to clear the confusion about what is harmful and what is beneficial in the range of human activities involving the production and consumption of goods and services, ultimately trying to make human beings ethically mature.[2] The ideology's stated purpose is to "find a middle way between a purely mundane society and an immobile, conventional society."[3]

Sri Lankan economist Neville Karunatilake wrote that: "A Buddhist economic system has its foundations in the development of a co-operative and harmonious effort in group living. Selfishness and acquisitive pursuits have to be eliminated by developing man himself."[4] Karunatilake sees Buddhist economic principles as exemplified in the rule of the Buddhist king Ashoka.

Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and its government have promoted the concept of "gross national happiness" (GNH) since 1972, based on Buddhist spiritual values, as a counter to gauging a nation's development by gross domestic product (GDP). This represents a commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's culture based on Buddhist spiritual values instead of material development, such as being gauged by only GDP.[5]

U.S. economics professor Clair Brown sets up a Buddhist economics framework that integrates Amartya Sen's capability approach with shared prosperity and sustainability. In her Buddhist economics model, valuation of economic performance is based on how well the economy delivers a high quality of life to everyone while it protects the environment.[6] In addition to domestic output (or consumption), measuring economic performance includes equity, sustainability, and activities that create a meaningful life. A person’s well-being depends on cultivation of inner (spiritual) wealth even more than outer (material) wealth.[7]

Buddhist economics holds that truly rational decisions can only be made when we understand what creates irrationality. When people understand what constitutes desire, they realize that all the wealth in the world cannot satisfy it. When people understand the universality of fear, they become more compassionate to all beings. Thus, this spiritual approach to economics doesn't rely on theories and models, but on the essential forces of acumen, empathy, and restraint.[2] From the perspective of a Buddhist, economics and other streams of knowledge cannot be separated. Economics is a single component of a combined effort to fix the problems of humanity and Buddhist economics works with it to reach a common goal of societal, individual, and environmental sufficiency.[2]

Bhutan Gross National Happiness
Slogan in Bhutan about gross national happiness in Thimphu's School of Traditional Arts.


Buddhist ethics was first applied to the running of a state's economy during the rule of the Indian Buddhist emperor Ashoka (c. 268 to 232 BCE). The reign of Ashoka is famous for an extensive philanthropic and public works program, which built hospitals, hostels, parks, and nature preserves.

The term "Buddhist economics" was coined by E. F. Schumacher in 1955, when he travelled to Burma as an economic consultant for Prime Minister U Nu.[8] The term was used in his essay named "Buddhist Economics", which was first published in 1966 in Asia: A Handbook, and republished in his influential collection Small Is Beautiful (1973). The term is currently used by followers of Schumacher and by Theravada Buddhist writers, such as Prayudh Payutto, Padmasiri De Silva, and Luang Por Dattajivo.

The 1st Conference of the Buddhist Economics Research Platform was held in Budapest, Hungary from 23–24 August 2007.[9] The second conference was held at Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand from 9–11 April 2009.[10]

General views on economics

Unlike traditional economics, Buddhist economics considers stages after the consumption of a product, investigating how trends affect the three intertwined aspects of human existence: the individual, society, and the environment. For example, if there were an increase in the consumption of cigarettes, Buddhist economists try to decipher how this increase affects the pollution levels in the environment, its impact on passive smokers and active smokers, and the various health hazards that come along with smoking, thus taking into consideration the ethical side of economics. The ethical aspect of it is partly judged by the outcomes it brings and partly by the qualities that lead to it.[2]

The Buddhist point of view ascribes to work three functions: to give man a chance to utilize and develop his aptitude; to enable him to overcome his self-aggrandizement by engaging with other people in common tasks; and to bring forward the goods and services needed for a better existence.[11]

Differences between traditional and Buddhist economics

There are a number of differences between traditional economics and Buddhist economics.

  • While traditional economics concentrates on self-interest, the Buddhist view challenges it by changing the concept of self to Anatta or no-self. It posits that all things perceived by one's senses are not actually "I" or "mine" and therefore, humans must detach themselves from this feeling. Buddhist Economists believe that the self-interest based, opportunistic approach to ethics will always fail. According to Buddhist Economists, generosity is a viable economic model of mutual reciprocity, because human beings are homines reciprocantes who tend to reciprocate to feelings (either positively or negatively) by giving back more than what is given to them.[12]
  • Traditional economists emphasize importance to maximizing profits and individual gains, while the underlying principle of Buddhist economics is to minimize suffering (losses) for all living or non-living things. Studies conducted by Buddhist economists correlates that human beings show greater sensitivity to loss than to gains, and concluded that people should concentrate more on reducing the former.[12]
  • There is a difference with respect to the concept of desire. Traditional economics encourages material wealth and desire in which people attempt to accumulate more wealth to satisfy those cravings. In contrast, in Buddhist economics, importance is given to simplify one's desires. According to Buddhist economists, apart from the basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing, and medicines, other materialistic needs should be minimized. Buddhist economists say that overall well-being decreases if people pursue meaningless desires; wanting less will benefit the person, the community they live in, and nature overall.[12]
  • Views on the market are also different. While many economists advocate maximizing markets to a point of saturation, Buddhist economists aim at minimizing violence. Traditional economics do not take into consideration "primordial stakeholders", like future generations and the natural world because their vote is not considered relevant in terms of purchasing power. They think that other stakeholders such as poor and marginalized people are under-represented because of their inadequate purchasing power and preference is given to the strongest stakeholder. Therefore, they believe that the market is not an unbiased place, but truly representative of the economy. Thus, Buddhist economists advocate ahimsa or non-violence. Ahimsa prevents doing anything that directly causes suffering to oneself or others and urges to find solutions in a participatory way. Community supported agriculture is one such example of community-based economic activities. Buddhist economists believe that community-supported agriculture fosters trust, helps build value based communities and brings people closer to the land and their food source. Achieving this sustainability and non-violence requires restructuring of dominating configurations of modern business, which they advocate. This leads to de-emphasizing profit maximization as the ultimate motive and renewed emphasis on introducing small-scale, locally adaptable, substantive economic activities.[12]
  • Traditional economists try to maximize instrumental use where the value of any entity is determined by its marginal contribution to the production output while Buddhist economists feel that the real value of an entity is neither realized nor given importance to. Buddhist economists attempt to reduce instrumental use and form caring organizations that will be rewarded in terms of trust among the management, co-workers, and employees.[12]
  • Traditional economists tend to believe that bigger is better and more is more, whereas Buddhist economists believe that small is beautiful and less is more.[12]
  • Traditional economics gives importance to gross national product whereas Buddhist economics gives importance to gross national happiness.[13]

Other beliefs

Buddhist economists believe that as long as work is considered a disutility for laborers and laborers a necessary evil for employers, the true potential of the laborers and employers cannot be achieved. In such a situation, employees will always prefer income without employment and employers will always prefer output without employees. They feel that if the nature of work is truly appreciated and applied, it will be as important to the brain as food is to the body. It will nourish man and motivate him to do his best. According to them, goods should not be considered more important than people and consumption more important than creative activity. They feel that as a result of this, the focus shifts from the worker to the product of the work, the human to the subhuman, which is wrong.[3]

According to them, people are unable to feel liberated not because of wealth but because of their attachment to wealth. In the same way, they say that it is the craving for pleasurable baubles and not the enjoyment from them that holds humans back.[3]

Buddhist economists do not believe in measuring standard of living by the amount of consumption because according to them, obtaining maximum well being as a result of minimum consumption is more important than obtaining maximum well being from maximum consumption. Thus, they feel that the concept of being "better off" because of greater levels of consumption is not a true measure of happiness.[3]

From the point of view of a Buddhist economist, the most rational way of economic life is being self-sufficient and producing local resources for local needs and depending on imports and exports is uneconomic and justifiable only in a few cases and on a small scale. Thus, they believe in economic development, independent of foreign aid.[3]

Buddhist economics also gives importance to natural, renewable, and non-renewable resources. They feel that non-renewable resources should only be used when most needed and then also with utmost care, meticulously planning out its use. They believe that using them extravagantly is violent and not in keeping with the Buddhist belief of nonviolence. According to them, if the entire population relies on non-renewable resources for their existence, they are behaving parasitically, preying on capital goods instead of income. Adding to this, they feel that this uneven distribution and ever increasing exploitation of natural resources will lead to violence between man.[3]

They also believe that satisfaction need not necessarily be felt only when something tangible is got back in return for giving something or something material is gained, as stated in modern economics. They say that the feeling of satisfaction can be achieved even when one parts with something without getting anything tangible in return. An example is when one gives presents to their loved ones simply because they want them to be happy.[2]

Buddhist economists believe that production is a very misleading term. According to them, to produce something new, the old form has to be destroyed. Therefore, production and consumption become complementary to each other. Taking this into consideration, they advocate non-production in certain cases because when one produces less materialistic things, they reduce exploitation of the world's resources and lead the life of a responsible and aware citizen.[2]

The middle way of living

The concept of the "middle way" says that time should be divided between working towards consumption and meditation and the optimal allocation between these two activities will be when some meditation is utilized to lower the desire for consumption and to be satisfied with lesser consumption and the work that it involves.[12] In economic terms this means "the marginal productivity of labor utilized in producing consumption goods is equal to the marginal effectiveness of the meditation involved in economizing on consumption without bringing about any change in satisfaction".[12]

See also


  1. ^ Gross National Happiness » Maintenance Mode Archived September 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c d e f Payutto, Ven. P. A. "Buddhist Economics - A Middle Way for the Market Place" (PDF).
  3. ^ a b c d e f Schumacher, E. F. "BUDDHIST ECONOMICS". Archived from the original on 13 December 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  4. ^ Karunatilake, This Confused Society (1976)
  5. ^ "Policy Innovations - Redefining Progress". policyinnovations.org. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  6. ^ Sen, Amartya (1999). Development as Freedom. Knopf.
  7. ^ "The Symbolism of the Traditional Temple".
  8. ^ E. F. Schumacher: Life and Work Archived October 12, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Buddhist Economics - Conferences". archive.is. 9 July 2012. Archived from the original on 9 July 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2019.
  10. ^ "Download latest Hindi bollywood Punjabi Hollywood Movies Hdfriday". buddhist-economics.info. Retrieved 28 February 2019.
  11. ^ "Buddhist Economics". www.worldtrans.org. Retrieved 28 February 2019.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Zsolnai, Laszlo. "Buddhist Economics for Business" (PDF). Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  13. ^ http://stephensp.net16.net/articles/grossnatl%20happylongbuddhist.doc

External links

A. T. Ariyaratne

Sri Lankabhimanya Ahangamage Tudor Ariyaratne (Sinhala:අහන්ගමගේ ටියුඩර් ආරියරත්න) is the founder and president of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka. He was nominated to the Constitutional Council as a civil representative on 10 September 2015. He received the Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 1991.


Affluenza, a portmanteau of affluence and influenza, is a term used most commonly by critics of consumerism. It is thought to have been first used in 1954, but was popularised in 1997 with a PBS documentary of the same name and the subsequent book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (2001, revised in 2005, 2014). These works define affluenza as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more". A more informal definition of the term would describe it as 'a quasi-illness caused by guilt for one's own socio-economic superiority'. The term "affluenza" has also been used to refer to an inability to understand the consequences of one's actions because of financial privilege, such as in the case of Ethan Couch.

Alternative culture

Alternative culture is a type of culture that exists outside or on the fringes of mainstream or popular culture, usually under the domain of one or more subcultures. These subcultures may have little or nothing in common besides their relative obscurity, but cultural studies uses this common basis of obscurity to classify them as alternative cultures, or, taken as a whole, the alternative culture. Compare with the more politically charged term, counterculture.

Buddhist ethics

Buddhist ethics are traditionally based on what Buddhists view as the enlightened perspective of the Buddha, or other enlightened beings such as Bodhisattvas. The Indian term for ethics or morality used in Buddhism is Śīla (Sanskrit: शील) or sīla (Pāli). Śīla in Buddhism is one of three sections of the Noble Eightfold Path, and is a code of conduct that embraces a commitment to harmony and self-restraint with the principal motivation being nonviolence, or freedom from causing harm. It has been variously described as virtue, right conduct, morality, moral discipline and precept.

Sīla is an internal, aware, and intentional ethical behavior, according to one's commitment to the path of liberation. It is an ethical compass within self and relationships, rather than what is associated with the English word "morality" (i.e., obedience, a sense of obligation, and external constraint).

Sīla is one of the three practices foundational to Buddhism and the non-sectarian Vipassana movement — sīla, samādhi, and paññā as well as the Theravadin foundations of sīla, Dāna, and Bhavana. It is also the second pāramitā. Sīla is also wholehearted commitment to what is wholesome. Two aspects of sīla are essential to the training: right "performance" (caritta), and right "avoidance" (varitta). Honoring the precepts of sīla is considered a "great gift" (mahadana) to others, because it creates an atmosphere of trust, respect, and security. It means the practitioner poses no threat to another person's life, property, family, rights, or well-being.Moral instructions are included in Buddhist scriptures or handed down through tradition. Most scholars of Buddhist ethics thus rely on the examination of Buddhist scriptures, and the use of anthropological evidence from traditional Buddhist societies, to justify claims about the nature of Buddhist ethics.

Clair Brown

Clair Brown is Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Work, Technology, and Society at the University of California, Berkeley. Brown is a past Director of the Institute of Industrial Relations (IRLE) at UC Berkeley. Brown has published research on many aspects of how economies function, including high-tech industries, development engineering, the standard of living, wage determination, poverty, and unemployment.

College for Advanced Studies in Social Theory

The College for Advanced Studies in Social Theory (Hungarian: Társadalomelméleti Kollégium, TEK) is the second oldest college of its type at the Corvinus University of Budapest as well as in Hungary.

Culture of Buddhism

Buddhist culture is exemplified through Buddhist art, Buddhist architecture, Buddhist music and Buddhist cuisine. As Buddhism expanded from the Indian subcontinent it adopted artistic and cultural elements of host countries in other parts of Asia.


Degrowth (French: décroissance) is a political, economic, and social movement based on ecological economics, anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist ideas. It is also considered an essential economic strategy responding to the limits-to-growth dilemma (see The Path to Degrowth in Overdeveloped Countries and post-growth). Degrowth thinkers and activists advocate for the downscaling of production and consumption – the contraction of economies – arguing that overconsumption lies at the root of long term environmental issues and social inequalities. Key to the concept of degrowth is that reducing consumption does not require individual martyring or a decrease in well-being. Rather, "degrowthers" aim to maximize happiness and well-being through non-consumptive means—sharing work, consuming less, while devoting more time to art, music, family, nature, culture and community.

E. F. Schumacher

Ernst Friedrich Schumacher (19 August 1911 – 4 September 1977) was a German statistician and economist who is best known for his proposals for human-scale, decentralised and appropriate technologies. He served as Chief Economic Advisor to the British National Coal Board for two decades, and founded the Intermediate Technology Development Group in 1966.

In 1995, his 1973 book Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered was ranked by The Times Literary Supplement as one of the 100 most influential books published since World War II. In 1977 he published A Guide for the Perplexed as a critique of materialistic scientism and as an exploration of the nature and organisation of knowledge.

Escape from Affluenza

Escape from Affluenza is a 1998 PBS 56-minute documentary film produced as a sequel to the 1997 documentary Affluenza. While the original concentrates on affluenza--consumerism and materialism in modern society, the sequel focuses on how to avoid this. It looks at stories of how to reduce debt, stress, time-pressure, and possession-overload.The cast includes Wanda Urbanska as the host and Cecile Andrews, author of "Circle of Simplicity".

Luang Por Dattajivo

Luang Por Dattajivo (Thai: ทตฺตชีโว, RTGS: Thattachiwo; Pali: Dattajīvo; born 21 December 1940), also known by his birth name Phadet Phongsawat (Thai: เผด็จ ผ่องสวัสดิ์) and former ecclesiastical title Phrarajbhavanajahn (Thai: พระราชภาวนาจารย์, RTGS: Phra Rat Phawanachan), is a Thai Buddhist monk. He is the former deputy-abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya and the vice-president of the Dhammakaya Foundation, and has been the observing abbot of the temple from 1999 until 2006, and again from 2011 until 2016. As of December 2016, he was still widely considered the de facto abbot. He met Mae chi (nun) Chandra Khonnokyoong and Luang Por Dhammajayo in his student years, and they have been his teachers throughout his life.

Luang Por Dattajivo was ordained in 1971, and quickly became a prolific author. He also took on a significant role in managing Wat Phra Dhammakaya. It was for this position that he was charged by the Thai military junta in 2017, when he refused to deliver Luang Por Dhammajayo to the authorities. This happened during the lockdown by the Thai junta, when abbot Luang Por Dhammajayo was sought for charges of receiving ill-gotten gains, charges which have been widely described as politically motivated.

MANAS Journal

MANAS was an eight-page philosophical fortnightly written, edited, and published by Henry Geiger from 1948 until December 1988. Each issue typically contained several short essays that reflected on the human condition, examining in particular environmental and ethical concerns from a global perspective. E. F. Schumacher's influential essay on Buddhist economics was published in the journal.

Market economy

A market economy is an economic system in which the decisions regarding investment, production and distribution are guided by the price signals created by the forces of supply and demand. The major characteristic of a market economy is the existence of factor markets that play a dominant role in the allocation of capital and the factors of production.Market economies range from minimally regulated free market and laissez-faire systems where state activity is restricted to providing public goods and services and safeguarding private ownership, to interventionist forms where the government plays an active role in correcting market failures and promoting social welfare. State-directed or dirigist economies are those where the state plays a directive role in guiding the overall development of the market through industrial policies or indicative planning—which guides yet does not substitute the market for economic planning—a form sometimes referred to as a mixed economy.Market economies are contrasted with planned economies where investment and production decisions are embodied in an integrated economy-wide economic plan. In a planned economy, economic planning is the principal allocation mechanism between firms rather than markets, with the economy’s means of production being owned and operated by a single organizational body. It is this

New Economy Movement in the United States

The New Economy Movement in the United States is a group of organizations that are attempting to restructure the current economic system. The movement prioritizes human well-being over economic growth. Its primary goal is to localize the economy in an attempt to spread wealth and promote sustainable business practices. The New Economy movement challenges both neoclassical and Keynesian economics to include theories of ecological economics, solidarity economy, commons, degrowth, systems thinking and Buddhist economics. The movement promotes more public ownership of the economy through organizational structures such as cooperatives, and state-owned banks. The goal of these changes is to remove or alleviate harmful environmental and social impacts of capitalism through alternative economic as well as political practices. A principal leader of the movement is the political economist and activist Gar Alperowitz, who, with others, promote the democratizing ownership of businesses and the economy as a means to achieve a sustainable, fair, and equal society.

Small Is Beautiful

Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered is a collection of essays by German born British economist E. F. Schumacher. The phrase "Small Is Beautiful" came from a phrase by his teacher Leopold Kohr. It is often used to champion small, appropriate technologies that are believed to empower people more, in contrast with phrases such as "bigger is better".

First published in 1973, Small Is Beautiful brought Schumacher's critiques of Western economics to a wider audience during the 1973 energy crisis and emergence of globalization. The Times Literary Supplement ranked Small Is Beautiful among the 100 most influential books published since World War II. A further edition with commentaries was published in 1999.

Sufficiency economy

Sufficiency economy is the name of a Thai development approach attributed to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej's "sufficiency economy philosophy" (SEP). It has been elaborated upon by Thai academics and agencies, promoted by the Government of Thailand, and applied by over 23,000 villages in Thailand that have SEP-based projects in operation.

Sustainable consumption

As a compliment to analyses of production and its processes, Sustainable Consumption (SC) is the study of resource and energy use (domestic or otherwise). As the term sustainability would imply, those who study SC seek to apply the concept of “continuance”—the capacity to meet both present and future human generational needs. SC, then, would also include analyses of efficiency, infrastructure, and waste, as well as access to basic services, green and decent jobs and a better quality of life for all. It shares a number of common features with and is closely linked to the terms sustainable production and sustainable development. Sustainable consumption as part of sustainable development is a prerequisite in the worldwide struggle against sustainability challenges such as climate change, resource depletion, famines or environmental pollution.

Sustainable development as well as sustainable consumption rely on certain premises such as:

Effective use of resources, and minimisation of waste and pollution

Use of renewable resources within their capacity for renewal

Fuller product life-cycles

Intergenerational and intragenerational equity

Swadeshi movement

The Swadeshi movement, part of the Indian independence movement and the developing Indian nationalism, was an economic strategy aimed at removing the British Empire from power and improving economic conditions in India by following the principles of swadeshi which had some success. Strategies of the Swadeshi movement involved boycotting British products and the revival of domestic products and production processes. L. M. Bhole identifies five phases of the Swadeshi movement.

1850 to 1904: developed by leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, Gokhale, Ranade, Tilak, G.V. Joshi and Bhaswat.K.Nigoni. This was also known as First Swadeshi Movement.

1905 to 1917: Began in 1905, because of the partition of Bengal ordered by Lord Curzon.

1918 to 1947: Swadeshi thought shaped by Gandhi, accompanied by the rise of Indian industrialists.

1948 to 1991: Widespread curbs on international and inter-state trade. India became a bastion of obsolete technology during the licence-permit raj.

1991 onwards: liberalization privatisation and globalization. Foreign capital, foreign technology, and many foreign goods are not excluded and doctrine of export-led growth resulted in modern industrialism.The Swadeshi movement started with the partition of Bengal by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon in 1905 and continued up to 1911.

It was the most successful of the pre-Gandhian movement. Its chief architects were Aurobindo Ghosh, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai, Babu Genu. Swadeshi, as a strategy, was a key focus of Mahatma Gandhi, who described it as the soul of Swaraj (self rule). It was strongest in Bengal and was also called vandemataram movement.


The idea of want can be examined from many perspectives. In secular societies want might be considered similar to the emotion desire, which can be studied scientifically through the disciplines of psychology or sociology. Want might also be examined in economics as a necessary ingredient in sustaining and perpetuating capitalist societies that are organised around principles like consumerism. Alternatively want can be studied in a non-secular, spiritual, moralistic or religious way, particularly by Buddhism but also Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

In economics, a want is something that is desired. It is said that every person has unlimited wants, but limited resources (economics is based on the assumption that only limited resources are available to us). Thus, people cannot have everything they want and must look for the most affordable alternatives.

Wants are often distinguished from needs. A need is something that is necessary for survival (such as food and shelter), whereas a want is simply something that a person would like to have. Some economists have rejected this distinction and maintain that all of these are simply wants, with varying levels of importance. By this viewpoint, wants and needs can be understood as examples of the overall concept of demand.

Early modern
20th- and 21st century

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