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PREVENTION OF GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS

IN PERSPECTIVE OF APPLIED BUDDHISM

ANKUR BARUA, DIPAK KUMAR BARUA,

M. A. BASILIO

Hong Kong, 2010


Background: Dr. Ankur Barua had graduated with distinction from the University of

Hong Kong (MBuddStud, 2009). He had also completed two other Master Degrees, one

from Sikkim Manipal University (MBAIT, 2007) while the other from Manipal University

(MBBS-2000, MD in Community Medicine - 2003) and presently working as Associate

Professor of Community Medicine at Melaka-Manipal Medical College in Malaysia.

Dr. Dipak Kumar Barua was the earlier Dean of the Faculty Council for Postgraduate

Studies in Education, Journalism & Library Science in the University of Calcutta (1987-

1991) and the Director of Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda (1996-1999). He is also

the pioneer in developing the concept of applied Buddhism.

Ms. M.A. Basilio is a nursing professional who has also a keen passion for research on

religion and science.

First Publication on 17th January 2010

Buddhist Door, Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Hong Kong

Copyright © Ankur Barua, Dipak Kumar Barua and M.A.Basilio

Communication Address of Corresponding Author:

Dr. ANKUR BARUA

Block – EE, No.-80, Flat No.-2A,

Salt Lake City, Sector-2,

Kolkata - 700091, West Bengal, INDIA.

Email: ankurbarua26@yahoo.com

Mobile: +91-9434485543 (India), +60122569902 (Malaysia)

Prevention of Global Economic Crisis in Perspective of Applied Buddhism Page 2


Acknowledgements

The authors would like to extend their sincere thanks to Ven. Dr. Jing Yin,

Professor of Buddhist Studies and Director of the Centre of Buddhist Studies in

the University of Hong Kong for his kind support, inspiration, encouragement

and timely advice during the compilation of this book.

The authors would like to express their sincere gratitude and indebtedness to

Prof. Y. Karunadasa and Ven. Dr. Guang Xing, the eminent professors at the

Centre of Buddhist Studies in the University of Hong Kong for their constant

encouragement, constructive criticism, personal attention and valuable

guidance throughout this work.

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PREVENTION OF GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS
IN PERSPECTIVE OF APPLIED BUDDHISM

Abstract

Globalization is the latest expression of a long-standing

strategy of development based on economic growth and

liberalization of trade and finance. Globalization leads to

the globalization of economy and the homogenization of

culture. It can undermine local cultures and disrupt

traditional relationships in a society with the assumption

that free trade will also to lead to a more democratic

society.

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Modern Buddhism has become an intrinsic part of a

globalized world. With its philosophy of the way of life, it

takes special place in human and cultural identity.

Buddhism in modern times had already incorporated

either other genuine Asian traditions or Western traditions

and merged with the socio-cultural backgrounds of many

countries across the world. Buddhism stresses the

principle of interdependence which is also the foundation

of globalization in economic interest.

An important truth is that no economic system is value-

free. Every system of production and consumption

encourages the development of certain values and

discourages others. So, it is not possible for economics to

be free of values when, in fact, it is rooted in the human

mind.
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The economic process begins with want, continues with

choice and ends with satisfaction. All of these are

functions of the mind. We need to give up our

attachments to material wealth and conquer greed and

obsession for social recognition at individual level in order

to make the economy value free. The practice of ‘Dāna’ or

‘giving’ is the traditional Buddhist way of redistribution of

wealth. Dāna is selfless giving. It is giving in the spirit of

Non-clinging. Non-clinging is the Wisdom of Insight into

the Insubstantiality (Anattā; Nairātmya) or Emptiness

(Śūnyatā) of all things. The emphasis on ‘Dāna’ and merit-

making is the Buddhist contribution to the healthy and

uniform economic globalization.

Key words: Dāna, Globalization, Buddhism, Applied,

Redistribution, Wealth, Economy.

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PREVENTION OF GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS

IN PERSPECTIVE OF APPLIED BUDDHISM

Introduction

The issue of globalization is directly or indirectly affecting

all our lives. Globalization leads to the globalization of

economy and the homogenization of culture. It can

undermine local cultures and disrupt traditional

relationships in a society with the assumption that free

trade will also lead to the formation of a more democratic

society. Unfortunately, the effects of the globalization of

business and trade are often disastrous for

underdeveloped nations.1,2

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These nations provide the raw materials and cheap labor

which are necessary to make globalization prosperous for

the more developed nations. Though there are successes

in the process of globalization, there is much unrest in the

poor and underdeveloped nations which are deep in debt

and suffer internal conflict, poverty, droughts and

famines.1,2

The concept of globalization is important for Buddhism

because Buddhism is a global, world faith. Buddhism in

modern times had already incorporated either other

genuine Asian traditions or Western traditions and merged

with the socio-cultural backgrounds of many countries

across the world. Buddhism stresses the principle of

interdependence which is also the foundation of

globalization in economic interest.1,2


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A Buddhist Perception of Globalization

Globalization is the latest expression of a long-standing

strategy of development based on economic growth and

liberalization of trade and finance. This results in the

progressive integration of economies of nations across the

world through the unrestricted flow of global trade and

investment. The mainstream approach is generally rooted

in the underlying assumption that globalization brings

jobs, technology, income and wealth to societies. In order

to make this strategy of globalization successful, all the

societies must be willing to submit to the principles of the

free market—limiting public spending, privatizing public

services, removing barriers to foreign investment,

strengthening export production and controlling inflation.

However, this is very difficult task to achieve within a short

span of time.1,2,3

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As a result, most often, globalized production has led to a

litany of social and ecological crises: poverty and

powerlessness of the majority of people, destruction of

community, depletion of natural resources and

unendurable pollution.1,2,3

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Buddhism and the Problem of Global Economic Crisis

When we evaluate an economic system, we should

consider not only how efficiently it produces and

distributes goods, but also its effects on human values,

and through them its larger social effects. The collective

values that it encourages should be consistent with the

individual Buddhist values that reduce the Dukkha. As the

individual and social values cannot be delinked, the crucial

issue remains as whether our economic system is

conducive to the ethical and spiritual development of its

members.

Much of the philosophical reflection on economics has

focused on questions about human nature. Those who

defend market capitalism argue that its emphasis on

competition and personal gain is grounded in the fact that


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humans are fundamentally self-centered and self-

interested. Critics of capitalism argue that our basic nature

is more cooperative and generous that is, we are naturally

more selfless.3,4

Buddhism avoids that debate by taking a different

approach. The Buddha emphasized that we all have both

unwholesome and unwholesome traits (kusala /

akusalamula). The important issue is the practical matter

of how to reduce our unwholesome characteristics and

develop the more wholesome ones. This process is

symbolized by the lotus flower. Although rooted in the

mud and muck at the bottom of a pond, the lotus grows

upwards to bloom on the surface, thus representing our

potential to purify ourselves.5

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Our unwholesome characteristics are usually summarized

as the "three poisons" or three roots of evil: lobha - greed,

dosa - anger and moha - delusion. The goal of the Buddhist

way of life is to eliminate these roots by transforming

them into their positive counterparts: greed into

generosity (Dāna), anger into loving-kindness (metta), and

delusion into wisdom (prajna).5,6

Economists talk about demand, but their concern to be

objective and value-neutral does not allow them to

evaluate different types of demand. The "engine" of the

economic process is the desire for continual profits and in

order to keep making those profits people must consume

more. Harnessing this type of motivation has been

extraordinarily successful depending on your definition of

success.3,4
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According to the Worldwatch Institute, more goods and

services were consumed in the forty years between 1950

and 1990 (measured in constant dollars) than by all the

previous generations in human history. According to the

United Nations Human Development Report for 1999, the

world spent at least $435 billion the previous year for

advertising, plus well over $100 billion for public relations

and marketing. The result is 270 million "global teens" who

now inhabit a single pop-culture world, consuming the

same designer clothes, music and soft drinks.3,4

While this growth has given us opportunities that our

grandparents never dreamed of, we have also become

more sensitive to the negative consequences such as its

staggering ecological impact and the worsening mal-

distribution of this wealth.


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A child in the developed countries consumes and pollutes

30 to 50 times as much as a poor one in an undeveloped

country, according to the same UNHDR. Today 1.2 billion

people survive on less than a dollar a day and almost half

the world's population live on less than two dollars a day.

The 20% of people in the richest countries enjoy 86% of

the world's consumption, the poorest 20% only 1.3%.

Thus, the gap of globalization is increasing and not

decreasing.3,4

From a Buddhist perspective, the fundamental problem

with consumerism is the delusion that genuine happiness

can be found this way. If insatiable desires (tanha) are the

source of the frustration (dukkha) that we experience in

our daily lives, then such consumption, which distracts us

and intoxicates us, is not the solution to our unhappiness


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but one of its main symptoms. That brings us to the final

irony of this addiction to consumption: also according to

the 1999 UNHDR, the percentage of Americans who

considered themselves happy peaked in 1957, despite the

fact that consumption per person has more than doubled

since then. At the same time, studies of U.S. households

have found that between 1986 and 1994 the amount of

money people think they need to live happily has doubled.

That seems paradoxical, but it is not difficult to explain.

When we define ourselves as consumers, we can never

have enough. For reasons we never quite understand,

consumerism never really gives us what we want from it; it

works by keeping us thinking that the next thing we buy

will satisfy us.4,5,7,8

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Higher incomes have certainly enabled many people to

become more generous, but this has not been their main

effect, because capitalism is based upon a very different

principle: that capital should be used to create more

capital. Rather than redistributing our wealth, we prefer to

invest that wealth as a means to accumulate more and

spend more, regardless of whether or not we need more.

In fact, the question of whether or not we really need

more has become rather quaint; you can never be too

rich.4,5,6,8

This way of thinking has become natural for us, but it is

uncommon in societies where advertising has not yet

conditioned people into believing that happiness is

something you purchase. International development

agencies have been slow to realize what anthropologists


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have long understood. In traditional cultures, income is

not the primary criterion of well-being and sometimes it is

not even a major one. The person who is sometimes

ranked as poorest by the common people in a community

is often a man who is probably the only person receiving a

salary.6,7,8

Our obsession with economic growth seems natural to us

because we have forgotten the hierarchy of "needs" that

we often take for granted. We project our own values

when we assume that a person must be unhappy by

presuming that the only way to become happy is to start

on the treadmill of a lifestyle increasingly preoccupied

with consumption.

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However, the importance of self-limitation, which requires

some degree of non-attachment, is an essential human

attribute to remain happy according to Buddhism. This is

expressed better in a Tibetan Buddhist analogy. The world

is full of thorns and sharp stones (and now broken glass

too). What should we do about this? One solution is to

pave over the entire earth, but a simpler alternative is to

wear shoes. "Paving the whole planet" is a good metaphor

for how our collective technological and economic project

is attempting to make us happy. Without the wisdom of

self-limitation, we will not be satisfied even when we have

used up all the earth's resources. The other solution is for

our minds to learn how to "wear shoes," so that our

collective ends become an expression of the renewable

means that the biosphere provides.5,6,8

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Our evangelical efforts to economically "develop" other

societies, which cherish their own spiritual values and

community traditions, might be viewed as a contemporary

form of religious imperialism. Conventional economic

theory assumes that resources are limited but our desires

are infinitely expandable. As we know, desire leads to

frustration and it is a major cause of anger and hatred.

Without self-limitation desire also becomes a cause for

conflict. From a Buddhist point of view, our economic

emphasis on competition and individual gain encourages

the development of anger and hatred in the mind rather

than cultivating the loving-kindness. A society where

people do not feel that they benefit from sharing with

each other is a society that has already begun to break

down.3,5,6,7,8

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The Buddha warned against negative feelings such as envy

(issa) and avarice (macchariya). Issa becomes intense

when certain possessions are enjoyed by one section of

society while another section does not have the

opportunity to acquire them. Macchariya is the selfish

enjoyment of goods while greedily guarding them from

others. A society in which these psychological tendencies

predominate may be materially wealthy but it is spiritually

poor.3,5,6,7,8

The globalization of market capitalism is a victory for "free

trade" over the inefficiencies of protectionism and special

interests. Free trade seems to realize in the economic

sphere the supreme value that we place on freedom. It

optimizes access to resources and markets. But despite its

success, it is only one historically-conditioned way of


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understanding and reorganizing the world. However, if we

view "free trade" from a different perspective provided by

Buddhism, we shall understand that such an idea helps us

to see presuppositions usually taken for granted. The

Buddhist critique of a value-free economics suggests that

globalizing capitalism is neither natural nor inevitable.1,2,3

The critical stage in the development of market capitalism

occurred during the industrial revolution (1750 1850 in

England), when new technologies led to the "liberation" of

a critical mass of land, labor, and capital. They became

understood in a new way for commodities to be bought

and sold. The world had to be converted into

exchangeable "resources" for market forces to interact

freely and productively.3,4

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But it was strongly resisted by most people at the time and

was later successfully implemented only because of strong

government support for it. For those who had capital to

invest, the industrial revolution was very profitable. But

for most people industrial commoditization seems to have

been experienced as a tragedy. The earth became

commoditized into a collection of resources to be

exploited. Human life became commoditized into labor or

work time and was also priced according to supply and

demand. All these became means which the new economy

used to generate more capital.3,4

From a religious perspective, when things become treated

as commodities they lose their spiritual dimension. The

commoditized understanding induces a sharp duality

between humans and the rest of the world. All value is


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created by our goals and desires. The rest of the world has

no meaning or value except when it serves our purposes.

This now seems quite natural to us, because we have been

conditioned to think and live this way. For Buddhism,

however, such a dualistic understanding is delusive. The

world is a web; nothing has any reality of its own apart

from that web, because everything is dependent on

everything else. The concept of interdependence

challenges our usual sense of separation from the world.

The feeling that ‘I am here and the world is out there’, is at

the root of our Dukkha and it alienates us from the world

where we live. This non-dual interdependence of things

was experienced by the Buddha when he became

enlightened. The Buddhist path works by helping us to

realize our interdependence and non-duality with the

world and to live in harmony with it.5,6,7,8

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Application of Buddhist Economics in Prevention of

Global Credit Crisis

The traditional Buddhist teachings have many important

social implications. Buddhism does not separate economic

issues from ethical or spiritual ones. The notion that

economics is a "social science" related to discovering and

applying impersonal economic laws always obscures two

important truths. First important truth is that the concept

of who gets what and who does not depends on moral

considerations. So, production and distribution of

economic goods and services should not be left only to the

supposedly objective rules of the marketplace. If some

people have much more than what they need while others

have much less, some sort of redistribution is

necessary.1,2,5,8

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Thus, the practice of ‘Dāna’ or ‘giving’ is the traditional

Buddhist way of redistribution of wealth. Dāna is selfless

giving. It is giving in the spirit of Non-clinging. Non-clinging

is the Wisdom of Insight into the Insubstantiality (Anattā;

Nairātmya) or Emptiness (Śūnyatā) of all things. The

emphasis on ‘Dāna’ and merit-making is the Buddhist

perspective on the economic globalization.1,2,5,8

The second important truth is that no economic system is

value-free. Every system of production and consumption

encourages the development of certain values and

discourages others. The economic process begins with

want, continues with choice and ends with satisfaction. All

of these are functions of the mind.1,2,5,8

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Abstract values are thus the beginning, the middle and the

end of economics. So it is impossible for economics to be

value-free. Yet many economists avoid any consideration

of values, ethics or mental qualities, despite the fact that

these will always have a bearing on economic

concerns.1,2,5,8

At present, without the help from government and

industry for boosting a new direction in policy, people are

starting to change the economy from the bottom up

towards more human-scale structures which are more

consistent with the Buddhist viewpoint. This process of

localization has begun spontaneously, in countless

communities all around the world.3,4

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Because economic localization means an adaptation to

cultural and biological diversity, no single strategy would

be applicable everywhere.3,4

The range of possibilities for local grassroots efforts is as

diverse as the locales in which they take place. In many

towns community banks and loan funds have been set up,

thereby increasing the capital available to local residents

and businesses. This system is promoting people to invest

in their neighbors and their community, rather than in a

faceless global economy. In other communities, ‘buy-local’

campaigns are helping locally owned businesses survive

even when pitted against heavily subsidized corporate

competitors.3,4

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These campaigns not only help to keep money from

leaking out of the local economy, but also help educate

people about the hidden costs in purchasing cheaper, but

distantly produced products. In some communities, Local

Exchange and Trading Systems (LETS) have been

established as an organized, large-scale bartering system.

Thus, even people with little or no ‘real’ money can

participate in and benefit from the local economy. LETS

systems have been particularly beneficial in areas with

high unemployment. The city government of Birmingham,

England, where unemployment hovers at 20%, is a co-

sponsor of a highly successful LETS scheme. These

initiatives have psychological benefits that are just as

important as the economic benefits. A large number of

people, who were once merely ‘unemployed’ and

therefore treated as ‘useless’, are becoming valued for

their skills and knowledge.3,4


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One of the most exciting grassroots efforts is the

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement, in

which consumers in towns and cities link up directly with a

nearby farmer. In some cases, consumers purchase an

entire season’s produce in advance, sharing the risk with

the farmer. In others, shares of the harvest are purchased

in monthly or quarterly installments. Consumers usually

have a chance to visit the farm where their food is grown,

and in some cases their help on the farm is welcomed.

While small farmers linked to the industrial system

continue to fail every year at an alarming rate, CSAs are

allowing small-scale diversified farms to thrive in growing

numbers. CSAs have spread rapidly throughout Europe,

North America, Australia and Japan. In the United States,

the number of CSAs has climbed from only two in 1986 to

200 in 1992, and is closer to 1,000 today.3,4

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Buddhism provides us with both the imperative and the

tools to challenge the economic structures that are

creating and perpetuating suffering the world over. We

cannot claim to be Buddhist and simultaneously support

structures which are so clearly contrary to Buddha’s

teachings, unethical to life itself. The economic and

structural changes needed should involve rediscovering

the deep psychological benefits of joy of being embedded

in the community and this fundamental shift would also

involve the reintroduction of a sense of connection with

the place where we live. Buddhists in China also faced with

this same reality earlier. Thus, over the time Buddhism

became more focused to become engaged. However, as

the Buddha taught, our spiritual awakening comes from

making a connection to others and to the nature.5,6,8

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This requires us to see the world within us and to

experience more consciously the great interdependent

web of life. In this way the principles of impermanence

and interdependence exhort us to interact with others and

with nature in a wise, compassionate and sustainable

way.5,6,8

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Conclusion

Buddhism shows us the possibility of a better way of

leading a stress-free life. The teachings of the Buddha are

based on a different way of understanding the relationship

between ourselves and the world. From the Buddhist

perspective, economic growth and consumerism are

unsatisfactory alternatives because they evade the basic

problem of life, which is suffering, by distracting us with

symbolic substitutes such as money, status and power.5,6,8

Modern Buddhism has become an intrinsic part of a

globalized world. With its philosophy of the way of life, it

takes special place in human and cultural identity.

However, modern Buddhism has showed its potential to

transcend the crucial problems of modernity.

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References

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and Growth. Blag Biz.

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University.

3. Power, G. 1997. Globalization and its Discontents in

Development. The Journal of the Society for

International Development 40(2).

4. Schumacher, E.F. 1975. Small is Beautiful:

Economics as if People Mattered. New York:

Harper.

5. Payutto, P.A. 1994. Buddhist Economics: A Middle

Way for the Market Place. (translated by

Dhammavijaya and Bruce Evans) Second Edition.

Bangkok: Buddhadhamma Foundation.

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6. Sizemore, R.F., Swearer, D.K., ed. 1990. Ethics,

Wealth and Salvation: A Study in Buddhist Social

Ethics. Columbia, South Carolina: University of

South Carolina.

7. David R. Loy, "The Religion of the Market" in

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Harold Coward and Dan Maguire (Albany, New

York: State University of New York Press, 1999.

8. Hodge, H.N. 2009. Buddhism in the Global

Economy. Berkeley, US: ISEC.

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