by Phrabhavanaviriyakhun (Phadet Dattajeevo)
The availability of teachings, is not, however, the only reason Buddhists should take an interest in economics. Of all the reasons for compiling a treatise in Buddhist economics, the most pressing reason Buddhists have to sit up and take notice of economic issues is because if we don't, abuse of economic principles will continue to escalate conflict in the world. The whole history of our planet from ancient times until now has been punctuated by wars -- whether they be world wars or more localized ones -- and as Buddhists see it, the outbreak of war can usually be traced back to financial strife, or else problems of the abuse of economic knowledge. However, once war breaks out, the nature of the problem is often distorted to make it look as if it is a problem of religious or ethnic conflict.
In the West we are accustomed to feeling a sense of relief when we hear that the economy is booming -- however, we sometimes fail to realize what those economic figures actually reflect in terms of quality of life. Ironically, all it takes for a country to be considered economically strong is for its economic figures to look good. If every household in a certain country or society were wealthy, of course that country or society would have good economic figures to show for itself. In Thailand, however, the majority of the population are economically poor. It is only a small minority of population who are wealthy -- thus, how can Thailand possibly be considered economically strong? If you want to have an accurate picture of the economy of any country, you have to take a long hard look at the wealth of the majority -- not just at the collective figures. It is the economic status of the majority which most accurately reflects the true economic state of that country or society.
Economic values in Buddhism are concerned with quality of life. But in Buddhism we define quality of life not only in terms of material comfort, but also in terms of mental wellbeing and ultimately liberation of the mind from negative latent tendencies. Thus, value is put on sometimes quite abstract qualities. As in the words of the Buddhist nun, Kuhn Yay Ratana Upasika Chandra Khonnokyoong who founded Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Thailand:
"with a well-trained group of people in front of me ready to work for good in society, I fell that I am already a multimillionnaire -- because even if I were to have ten million, I could still not guarantee being able to train up such a group."Contrary to popular opinion, the Buddha never prohibited wealth -- but he did prohibit poverty. Happiness appropriate to a householder (A.ii.69) includes ownership [atthisukha], enjoyment [bhogasukha], freedom from debt [ananasukha] and blamelessness [anavajjasukha]. Buddhism praises contentment [santu.t.thi] and limited desires [appicchata] but not poverty. What is important as a Buddhist, however, in the economic process, whether one is earning, saving or using money, is that one should never compromise one's principles. Once wealthy, as a Buddhist one should use one's wealth in a way that supports a wholesome aim in life -- not to fritter away money away aimlessly or in a way that leads to further proliferation of defilements of greed, hatred or delusion in the mind. It is not to say that riches cannot buy happiness -- but riches used aimlessly may create more damage than good. Riches, if they are to bring happiness, must be applied to support the emergence of higher spiritual values -- especially virtues and virtuous people -- which according Buddhist economics have more value than anyone can put a price on. Originally this book was intended to deal solely with Buddhist Economics, however after the warlike events of 11 September 2001, the present author would like to extend the scope of this book to show how the build-up of economic tensions can be blamed for these sort of incidents.
The Economic Hidden Agenda behind every war
Having recognized the implications of economic exploitation (even without knowing who is taking advantage of whom) we can start to appreciate that the web of economic exploitation has become so complex that it is difficult to know a beginning or an end of it. When one nation's army turns its guns on another, far from starting a war, they are the products of a war started long ago through economic exploitation. In the absence of any ethical guidelines, when any means seems justified by economic ends, it is no surprise that the conflicts continue to escalate -- violence has indeed proliferated to a point where it is difficult to see how we personally can do anything to ameliorate the situation, without remedies of a similarly large scale.
Condoning unethical economic practices is to kindle the flames of war on our planet. Wars like the Crusades, lasted for longer than a century -- and upon first sight they might seem to have been nothing more than a religious war between Christians and Moslems, however, if examined in more depth, they turn out to have been the result of badly organized economic policy admixed with incompatability of beliefs. If you look beneath the surface of any other religious war which has broken out in history, you will always find a hidden agenda of economic advantage behind the conflict. It is only with the admixture of other elements that turns the conflict into a war. If it wasn't for economic difficulties, in spite of differences of belief, why should different groups want to interrupt 'business as usual'? However, any day economic progress becomes obstructed and a political tinder box doesn't emerge spontaneously, it is not usually long before ethnic and religious differences will provide the necessary spark. To the uninitiated, of course it looks like a war motivated by ethnic or religious conflict . . .
Even the battle for Ayutthaya had economic roots
Even the most famous invasion of Thailand in 1564 when the (then) capital of Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese is popularly believed to have been a fight over 'royal white elephants'. The first invasion took place in the reign of King Maha Chakrap'at. At that time the region of Ayutthaya, extended as far south as Rangsit and the present site of Wat Phra Dhammakaya. The populace were renowned for elephant husbandry -- especially elephants for use in royal service -- and several of these included the legendary 'white elephants'. According to eye-witness accounts, even as recently as fifty years ago, there was still a large shallow pond in front of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, which previously was used as a watering hole for the elephants of the vicinity. At that time, although the whole area was densely forested, the presence of herds of elephants made the area of strategic importance, because as well as being the royal 'chargers', trained elephants were the most indefatiguable 'machines of war' (equivalent to the modern-day tanks).
The news of the abundance of elephants reached the ears of King Bayinnaung of Burma, who sent an emissary to ask for a pair of 'white elephants' for himself in 1563.
Much later the present author came across the description of a historical document found in about 1987 by Professors Prasert na Nakorn and Sukit Nimmanmain. It was a letter describing how the Lanna Kingdom had used to trade with Burma in silver, gold, herbs (especially alloe, cinnamon and spices), lac and honey. According to the document Lanna changed its policy on trade and started trading with Ayutthaya instead of Burma. Originally Burma had no interest in the spice trade, but when Europe started trading in spices through India, it saw its chance to dominate the market. Burma had become a wealthy middle man for spices traded between Lanna and the Europeans in India.
Ayutthaya, however, was also a spice trading centre -- but its prices were lower than those of Burma. It was no real difficulty for the trading ships from Europe to round the peninsular at Singapore to trade with Thailand instead of Burma. Within a relatively short period of time, all the Lanna traders decided to supply Ayutthaya instead of Burma. In addition, to take their merchandise to Ayutthaya was easier than taking it to Burma because it was all downstream. Thus Ayutthaya could be a cheaper middleman than Burma and this was the real reason for the conflict that grew up between Burma and Thailand. This is why King Bayinnaung (and King Tabinshwehti before him) wanted to sack Ayutthaya -- and the white elephant was only an excuse -- but he got lucky in the ensuing war and conquered Siam. Thus the reason for the first invasion of Ayutthaya was for economic reasons.
The second fall of Ayutthaya in 1569 was partly revenge for the rebel Sett'at'irat's subsequent counterattack against Burma in 1566 but analysed more deeply, Burma could only sack Ayutthaya a second time because the Thais were competing amongst themselves for economic power and at that time, towards the end of the Ayutthaya dynasty, vice had become very widespread in the old capital. Even the king was up to his neck in 'roads to ruin'. Wherever there is economic prosperity to excess, as we shall discover later in this book, there will be an upsurge various sorts of vice and addiction.
In conclusion, we can say that Buddhist economics and western economics diverge whenever economic advantage is used as a reason to justify conflict. In Buddhism economics, economic advantage is not seen as adequate means to justify ignoble ends.
Having identified the real roots of world conflict, it is no longer useful to look for who to blame. To look for scapegoats is really only an admission of our own inadequecies or laziness to recognize our own part in the problem. It would be more appropriate that we start to study the ethical issues surrounding economics as outlined in the remainder of this book while doing our personal best to be most scrupulous in all respects.
Scrupulous macroeconomics on the level of national policy has to be built on the foundation of scrupulous on the individual (microeconomic) level. Economics on both levels are dealt with in the remainder of this book.
The Distinguishing features of Buddhist Economics
Buddhist Micro-economics for the here-and-now
Metaphor of the reservoir
The four economic principles for happiness in the present lifetime can be compared to four channels of water which supply a pool. The Four Roads to Ruin can be compared to four outlets from the pool. If we close the inlets and open the outlets, in the absence of rain, the pool will soon become completely dry. There will certainly be no increase in the water level. On the contrary, if one opens all four of the inlets by conducting oneself in keeping with the Buddhist economic principles, while closing the outlets by avoiding all four roads to ruin, before long the pool will be full or even overflowing. Thus, whether we are speaking economically on a personal level or on national level, it is vital to seal up the four possible outlets from our economic prosperity -- by not womanizing, drinking alcohol or gambling -- and by associating with good friends. These are the basics of Buddhist microeconomics for the present lifetime -- economics that you won't find described anywhere else in the world. If you heed the Buddha's words on economics and put them in to practice you will have prosperity in your future, never falling upon hard times.
Buddhist Microeconomics at the Ultimate Level
Sense pleasure means indulgence of the things that are attractive to the senses and it can be broken down into two components:
"When you see an object, be conscious of just the visible object (without being entranced thereby); when you hear a sound, be conscious of just the sound; when you smell or taste or touch something, be conscious of just the smell, the taste or the touch; and when you think of anything, be conscious of just that mind-object."By doing this, one's mind will always be without object-side sensuality [kaamavatthu]. By not being entranced by a perception, the sense-side sensuality has no chance to flare up. The opposite would be the case if one becomes elated by the pleasing things one senses, becoming entranced thereby and allowing the emotion of grasping to hijack the ethical discretion of your mind. The Harm of Sensuality
It follows that those whose mind is heavily under the influence of sensual grasping and craving for sensual pleasures will soon have reasons to take advantage of themselves or others or both.
For those whose mind is overrun with grasping, killing, stealing, sexually molesting others and lying is not very far away. However, if our mind is free of sensual grasping, there will be no harmful thoughts to generate harmful speech or actions for us. This is the reason why the Buddha taught monks and laypeople alike:
"You should cut down the forest of sensuality in the mind -- whether it be a large forest or a small forest you should make sure none remains. Verily, I do say that sense-side sensuality is as a forest and object-side sensuality is like the trees."When everyone is overrun with the defilements of greed the whole of the time, it causes people to seek endlessly for happiness from sensual objects -- this is why such people are referred to as 'consumers of sense pleasure' [kaamabhogii]. In such a search there is a never-ending work to do -- whether it be acquisition, conservation or spending of wealth throughout one's life.
If a person can acquire their wealth solely by scrupulous means, and if they can manage to derive pleasure from that wealth, while at the same time disbursing their wealth for others and donating it for meritorious work, and also having the insight to see the harm of sense-desire and the importance of extricating oneself from it, this is the crème-de-la-crème of the ten attitudes.
Ideals and Goals in Buddhist Microeconomics
Having studied the economic practices applicable to happiness in this lifetime and the next, in this chapter we shall look at the goals of such practice -- because without such goals clearly in mind, it is unlikely that anyone will have the patience to put the forgoing principles into practice.
Buddhist microeconomics are designed to work on three levels (these determine the true value of any economic activity):
Practice on the purely materialist level corresponds to the first question from the Diighajaa.nu Sutta (see Box 2) concerning happiness in the present lifetime. When one's only aim in life is to find immediate material convenience for oneself, so that we can avoid hardship, the Buddha's teaching can be summarized by the acronym 'U-A-Ka-Sa', namely:
Practice on the material/spiritual level corresponds to the second question from the Diighajaa.nu Sutta (see Box 2) concerning happiness in lifetimes to come. The Buddha's teaching on this level can be summarized by the acronym 'Sa-Sii-Caa-Pa', namely:
The Purely Spiritual level
The purely spiritual level is not dealt with in the Diighajaa.nu Sutta. His questions covered only the lower two levels. The question remains of what sort of economics one needs if one wants to reach beyond the heaven realms to Nirvana and a complete end of all defilements. In the answers of the Buddha, He has already used the word 'ariya' or 'transcendental' several times -- especially in the last virtue of the second set of practices for happiness in lives to come -- where wisdom. The aim on this level, which we must not lose sight of is to bring oneself to an end of defilements.
INTEGRATION OF MICROECONOMIC PRACTICE ON THREE LEVELS:
The Economical Mandala of Phrabhavanaviriyakhun
In the present day, educationalists and theoreticians alike need to produce graphics to help them to plan the economy for the years ahead. However, charts and graphics are not something that are an innovation for our generation -- because ever since ancient times, Thai Buddhists have had a way of modelling economics as follows:
They would summarized the practices on the level of a purely material goal in the form of a mandala to make it look a little more sacred. In the old days, when monks went to give a house an inaugural blessing, they used to mark such a diagram above the door. Sometimes the monk would not write the abbreviations in Thai, but in the Khom language of the old scriptures. In the beginning everyone would know the meaning of the abbreviations on the door lintel. Later generations changed the Khom characters to Thai characters for ease of comprehension.
They added a second layer of economic abbreviations around the original in order to denote practice on the level of a material/spiritual goal as follows:
Usually the invited monk would write the mandala in flour mixed with water -- but unfortunately in most cases, the monk would just write the mandala and return to the temple without explaining its meaning. Thus the owner of the house in later generations had no idea of the Buddhist economic principles encapsulated therein. They didn't know the meaning and assumed that the mandala was sacred in itself -- so once the monk had returned, they felt relieved that they had already done their duty as a good Buddhist and went back to playing poker in the assumption that they would soon be rich.
This mandala so far gives only practices for economic aims on the material and material/spiritual levels. If you want to go all the way and have an economic aim that will take you to Nirvana, you need to add the Noble Eightfold Path to each of the eight corners of the mandala as illustrated in the diagram below:
. . . where the abbreviations have the following meanings:
In conclusion, you can say that Buddhist economics teaches us to interact economically in life without abandoning one's Dhamma principles.
Both the groups above and below have one thing in common -- in that they feel poor. For the group below it is not just a feeling of poverty -- they are poor because they live from hand to mouth, on the breadline often, struggling to make ends meet -- no matter whether they are farmers, labourers or clerical workers. Shop-keepers and traders have to put themselves in debt to get the stock they need to open shop. Clerks tend to be treated unjustly and have a pitiable wage. All these groups are poor because of a real lack of wealth.
The majority of people in any country belong to the grassroots -- usually 80-90% -- that is usually the figure for people in any country who lack adequate wealth. As for those on top, although they are not very numerous, their every move has some impact on the government and might even cause a change of government in some cases. Those at the top are few but wield a lot of power.
In the olden days, economic problems on a national scale would be solved by making concessions to those at the top. However, no matter how many concessions the government may make to such figures, it is never enough for them. Unfortunately, when such giants make a fuss, their voice is loud. Even though those below are more numerous, their ability to protest is reduced because they are struggling even to keep their head above water -- and can afford to set aside no time to protest. Thus the government tends to protect its skin by giving concessions to those at the top. However, even if you were to give them a hundred million, it would hardly be enough (It is hardly enough for a good night out in Las Vegas). Thus helping at the top just keeps the giants quiet without satisfying them -- and meanwhile the grassroots continue to die an undignified death.
If we turn to look at what advice the Buddha gave for government investment, we find that He supported allocation of funds to those at the grassroots -- but with one important condition -- that the recipients should be carefully selected. If handouts are given indiscriminately, you may find that the more impatient would rather kill the golden goose than wait for its eggs!
Thus when giving concessions or help to those at the grassroots, you should look to see which people are virtuous (i.e. manage to keep the Five Precepts and are established in Right Livelihood) but who lack the capital or technology. They should be those who are diligent and have attained success at a certain level -- such people should be selected to receive concessions. Helping such people will also be an example for others to follow -- by helping in such a way you will find that your investment doesn't immediately disappear as it would if helping the people at the top.
These are principles which it was easier to follow in the olden days. A king would set out a 'talent scout' who would look for people of real virtue deserving to be helped by the king. By helping such people, exemplars of virtue would shine forth in the kingdom. Sometimes it might be traders of exceptional virtue who lacked capital or honest civil servants who had been mistreated or had received insufficient salary. However, the most important was always to select those who were virtuous. Having helped such people, there should be follow-up -- to see how such people had responded to the help. Before long there would be could get down to work, before long the products of their work would start to become apparent. At that point, it would be appropriate to involve some of the giants in order to help in the marketing and other high level strategies.
However, in the present day it is difficult for anyone to accept that one person might be more worthy than another of help merely on the observations of a 'talent scout'. The talent scout might be partial. Thus in the present day it is usually more convenient for people to work as a committee to look after allocation of local budgets. Even this arrangement might not be failsafe, however, because some local councils are less honest than others. This is why our society has developed the system of democracy [lokaadhipateyya] (with all its faults) in place of the Buddha's ideal system of government [dhammaadhipateyya] (D.iii.220, A.i.147) where virtue alone and not the majority vote is the deciding factor in government.
There is still the risk, however, that the money might easily disappear when invested at the grassroots -- but if the government afraid to invest, they might never have the chance to train the 'new blood' in responsibility. If they take the money and still fail you, maybe you should just consider the lost capital as a the cost of 'tuition' in responsibility.
In the case the government cannot afford to risk losing money by helping at the grassroots, they should bring in some of those at the top, such as the local M.P. or the local head of the civil service or academics to help set up systems and procedures for those who are less knowledgeable. The trouble with many working at the grassroots level is that they don't have the knowledge of administration or any idea of how to set up systems in order to work efficiently when starting out. If those at the top 'put their man in' to help at the start-up of new enterprises and help by following up progress in the initial months -- concerning the accounts, legal matters, and accountability they can help to create a feeling of collective ownership of a project (because if it is a success it will benefit everybody in the locality). Accountants should help to teach the recipients of the investment how to regulate their finances -- because otherwise, if the money invested should disappear because good accounts have not been kept, who can be blamed?
When encouraging businessmen at the top to get involved with investments in the grassroots, sometimes there will be something in it too for the big businesses, sometimes not -- but irrespective, as fellow countrymen, they ought to feel proud that they are doing something for the nation -- even if it is only considered part of the company's budget for 'good works'. As for the government, there is always a risk that the investment will be lost -- but in any case it is better than investing at the top because in that way it would be lost for sure.
This is a problem of how investment in the lower sector can help society to develop. Of course, no-one can expect 100% return with such investments -- but at the very least will upgrade the ability of the bottom rungs of society to take responsibility for their own future. Success depends on the follow-up and the degree of co-operation between all involved -- co-operating to develop members of society with truthfulness, the inspiration to develop themselves without end, patience and self-sacrifice -- the Virtues of the Householder mentioned in the previous section -- struggling against all the things that prevent our society from having a fair economy.
Cleaning Up Society
Even on a national level, it is the 'roads to ruin' which do most damage to a fair economy. If roads to ruin must continue to exist in society, then they should be zone-restricted and with clear opening hours so as not to encourage them to spread throughout society indiscriminately. Better than that, however is to try to eradicate the 'roads to ruin' completely from our society -- something which can only ever happen if there is co-operation on all levels.