Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sustainability & Buddhist Economics

'Our possessions are our sorrows' - Buddhist expression

I found this comparison of Buddhist and Western attitudes towards the economy in Chapter 7 of Eben Fodor's 'Better Not Bigger'.
It was reprinted with permission from Mary E. Clark, author of 'Ariadne's Thread: The Search for New Modes of Thinking'.

Since there is a growing awareness of the need for more sustainable practices happening, see what you think about these concepts.


Buddhist: Seek right livelihood in order to develop one's faculties and to contribute to society in a way that reflects well on oneself.

Western: A disutility, to be eliminated (the employer wishes output without workers; the employee wishes income without work).


Buddhist: Is complimentary to work.

Western: Leisure is preferable to work.


Buddhist: Tools are to help humans do creative work.

Western: Technology is a means for abolishing human work.


Buddhist: A sign of local economic imbalance and failure.

Western: A sign of economic progress.


Buddhist: To perfect one's character through good work which nourishes the spirit.

Western: To accumulate wealth to satisfy unlimited wants.


Buddhist: Is unacceptable; all who want jobs should have them; mothering is a socially-esteemed profession.

Western: Is tolerable; one who is not employed is probably lazy; mothering is not socially useful work, since it is not paid.


Buddhist: Should be simple, non-violent, sparing of resources, use local materials, and provide satisfaction.

Western: Is energy-consuming, high pressure, competitive, anxiety-producing; often employs imported materials.


Buddhist: Consumption is incidental to living; attachment to wealth interferes with satisfaction; one's role is to blend with the environment, to protect it and to revere life.

Western: Consumption levels measure standard of living; nature is to be conquered and controlled; one should consume whatever comes to hand-one is a fool not to.


Buddhist: Should be simple, long-lasting, beautiful, unique, and as few as possible to live well.

Western: Should be complex, mass-produced, cheaply made, short-lived, and as numerous as possible.

Economist E. F. Schumacher, is his book 'Small is Beautiful' said:

'[The modern economist] is used to measuring the "standard of living" by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is "better off" than the man who consumes less.
A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum well-being with the minimum of consumption.'

'We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes, and to yield to its limits. But even more important, we must to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never clearly understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of majesty of the creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.'
- Wendell Berry, Recollected Essays 1965-1980