Nepal: Buddhism, ethical economy and Development

Nepal: Buddhism, ethical economy and Development

Dr. Shankar Thapa

Nepali scholar


Buddhism is a science of righteousness, which offers a path to rescue human society from suffering. Buddhism as a body of doctrine has close link with peace and modern development among other roles it plays. The other roles that Buddhism plays include – to offers the path for salvation to individuals and the entire sentient beings; to govern the human society, and define human values. –

It gives precedence to morality and mind, thus, reveals predominantly ethical and pragmatic nature. It is rather a system of ethics. Abstention from all evil, accumulation of deeds, restraint of one’s mind, this is the teachings of the Buddha. The profound philosophical outlook of Buddha’s teachings deals with causation. It can be defined as – Of those things that arise from a cause, the Tath?gata has told the cause, and also what their cessation is, this is the doctrine of the Recluse.

This is the real essence of Buddhism. The great ascetic who taught the perfect way was born in Lumbini in Nepal. Ethical Emphasis of Buddhist Economics.

The concept of ‘Buddhist Economics’ has gained popularity with the writings of E. F. Schumacher in the twentieth century. Interpretation of Buddhist economics is an attempt to relate economics to ethical issues. Modern economic system put aside all ethical issues.. The economic value is traditionally expressed I n Buddhism in the notion of ‘Right livelihood’, one of the eight virtuous paths offered by Buddhism.

The separation of ethics from economics in modern economic theories has adversely affected human well being. Ethical component is obvious in economic behaviour. Buddhist way of socio-economic development consists of the dual process – firstly, the development of material condition of living, and secondly, ethical quality of living.

ignores these processes is considered asymmetrical. As Buddhism prefers, ‘ethical quality of living should not be subservient to the pursuit of material values.

Buddhism favours ethics with high esteem, its absence could lead to undesired consequences such as self defeat and self destruction. K?l?ma Sutta points out that human behavior has been influenced by excessive greed, hatred or confusion. In this situation, it is not coñduc to well being rather it is harmful. K?l?ma Sutta could lead us into a meaningful deliberation about the role of ethics in socio-economjc development in Buddhist perspective.

The widening gap between an ‘economic man’ and a ‘moral man’ also created gulf between economics and human values. Greed and craving are the roots of immoral behaviour. They are also considered the cause of suffering. Buddhism does not reject human values for economic benefit. It does not ignore humanity for greed. Social development requires active presence and participation of the community of morally and spiritually elevated beings. This aspect of Buddhist social philosophy is reflected in the Kasibhradvja Sutta in Suttanipta. A community dedicated to ethical perfection renouncing all kinds:

of material possessions seeking support of lay community for material sustenance is recognized in Buddhism as the source of moral inspiration for entire society. Even if the monk community seems to be economically unproductive, they are to be considered industrious and energetic because they work for liberation from greed and hatred. The material support provided by the laity to the Sangha has been considered in the Buddhist tradition as an act of merit. Such facilitation is expected to be reciprocated by the members of the Sangha with appropriate moral guidance for the lay society to lead a good moral life. This relationship was considered from the time of the Buddha to be encouraged and fostered for the well being of the society. The Sig?lov?da Sutta considers the spiritual community to play the role in the social relationships conducive to social well-being. Buddhist virtue of economic life of a person is a sense of balance with regard to one’s patterns of consumption. Unlike in a materialist value system, Buddhism introduces the concept of ‘noble wealth’. It consists of ethical. The practical nature and utilitarian approach of Buddhist economic theory became popular and drew attention of many in recent times. In some Buddhist countries it became popular by different policy approaches. Bhutan and Thailand have adapted Buddhist economic principles as ‘gross national happiness’ and ‘sufficiency economy’ respectively.

Buddhism and Development

Buddhism has been understood in a variety of different ways in modem society. Its implication ranges from spiritual attainment, modern development, cultural contribution, political implication, psychological well being, therapeutic solutions, social progress and humanism. In fact, Buddhism is for the welfare of an individual as well as the masses. It has offered an alternative path to cope with the problems of the human

society. It has suggested adopting the righteous path of emanciPat10r SociallY engag dBu ism based on the idea that Buddhist ideas and Buddhist monks could help people in development efforts sorting out their problems. Socially engaged Buddhism is able to help in physical social, emotional and intellectual development. Engaged Buddhism expects BuddhiSt j to engage people to improve quality of life. Spiritual and economic development should not be separated into two different realms. One is not more important than the other. For instance, mind and matter needs to go together. Mind affects matter and in turn, matter affects mind. Buddha said that economic aspect and spiritual develOPmeflt\ alongside to each other. Butin the modem world, economic development has obtained priority over spirituality.

The most important benefit Buddhism brings is happiness. In the modern world which has been threatened by terrorism, violence and material acquisition, the attainment of grosS national happiness is conducive to development. To obtain happiness is possible through Buddhism. Furthermore, peace and serenity of mind are conducive to holistic development of human society. Dhammapada mentions that those who are ashamed of what are not shameful, and unashamed of what is shameful, such beings, embracing wrong views, go to the woeful state. Here are three characteristics and attributes of a fool – to think bad, to speak bad and to do bad. If a fool were not so, because a fool is one who thinks bad, speaks bad, and does bad, the wise know him thus, ‘this person is a fool, an untrue man.’ Therefore, an ethical society is very much necessary for human development. Buddhism has given solution to set up an ethical society. A fool causes his own destruction, and a wise man uplifts his mind. The B?lapandita Sutta further discusses about these kinds of things.

Many traditional communities are more sustainable and better integrated with their natural environments than are the societies with which development and economic globalization have replaced them. Modem development has destroyed and has still been destroying much of the great values of the human society.

Buddhist Perspective of Development

From Buddhist perspective, development is defined as a holistic process which should be directed to meet material, social and spiritual needs of human beings. Human society exists in essential dependence on the broader environment, and developments should not be pursued in ways, which threaten the sustaining capabilities of the ecosystem. A model needs to be evolved which can ensure that no one is deprived of basic material needs consistent with human dignity. A healthy plan of development would encourage human relations governed by the spirit of cooperation, kindness and compassion rather than competition and exploitation in the pursuit of private gains. Buddhist philosophy and its application is positive to economic development and would provide lasting solution to socio-economic problems of contemporary times. According to J. W. Wicramasinge, who propounded the ‘Buddhist Theory of Development Economics’ and authored the famous paper entitled People Friendly Economic Development, prevailing theory of development is unsuitable for developing countries. Ha has elaborated those problems and discrepancies in the ‘Buddhist Theory of Economic Development’.

Buddhism and development are two concepts which can go together in the process of development of civilization. Buddhism accelerates the process of economic development, social progress and cultural advancement if taken in the right spirit as propagated by the Buddha. Doing good for others and seeing others prosper is the motto of Buddhism. The concept of ‘four immeasurable minds’ elaborates these sorts of actions. Buddhism boosts the idea of being honest, and also respects the responsibility of one’s action. Political and material corruption is rampant in countries other than those which follow the ‘Buddhist principles of economics’. Buddhism emphasises ‘Love and Compassion’. There is no cast or colour discrimination. It leads to peace and harmony in the society. Its lacking retards economic development by way of ethnic conflict and social unrest.

However, it is also argued that Buddhism breeds a section of unproductive consumers in the form of monks and nuns retarding economic growth. Although it seems partly true, it has its own noble and indirect role to play in enhancing social progress and harmony. But they are the one to infuse and disseminate the noble thinking and lead to noble conduct. They act as advisors and moral leaders in pursuing peace. Due to its significance, the way of thinking is being revived that contributed in the communal harmony. Buddhism has vital role to play in the process of development. Therefore, it must be given proper care. Buddhism viewed in the dogmatic fashion may lead to chaos as it has many impediments in the interpretation.

Thanks the Weekly Mirror and the author: Ed.