Occupy the Heart – Reflections on Buddhist Economics

A Buddhist devotee making offerings

From the per­spec­tive of soci­ety, Bud­dhism teach­es that mate­r­i­al wealth is a sup­port for life; it is not the goal of life. Wealth should thus facil­i­tate and pre­pare peo­ple for liv­ing a vir­tu­ous life and for per­form­ing good deeds in order to real­ize high­er lev­els of spir­i­tu­al excel­lence. Wher­ev­er and to whomev­er rich­es arise, it should ben­e­fit all human beings and be con­ducive to their well-being. Fol­low­ing this prin­ci­ple, when an indi­vid­ual becomes wealthy, all peo­ple are enriched and the entire soci­ety pros­pers; when a good per­son acquires wealth, his or her com­mu­ni­ty also acquires wealth. Such a per­son is like a fer­tile field in which rice flour­ish­es for the ben­e­fit of all. A wealthy per­son can feel sat­is­fied and hon­oured to receive society’s trust and to act as a del­e­gate for soci­ety in the shar­ing of wealth to sup­port and nour­ish fel­low human beings and to pro­vide them with an oppor­tu­ni­ty for true growth. On the con­trary, if some indi­vid­u­als become more wealthy but soci­ety as a whole dete­ri­o­rates and the suf­fer­ing of oth­er peo­ple increas­es, this indi­cates that there is an improp­er con­duct in regard to mate­r­i­al wealth. The gen­er­at­ed wealth does not become a sup­port­ive fac­tor, which is the true pur­pose of wealth. Before long there will be unrest in soci­ety. In the end either the sta­tus of those wealthy mem­bers of soci­ety or the struc­ture of soci­ety as a whole will be unsus­tain­able. Mem­bers of the wider com­mu­ni­ty may remove the wealthy and influ­en­tial indi­vid­u­als from their posi­tions of pow­er and estab­lish a new sys­tem along with new exec­u­tives for the allo­ca­tion of wealth, which may be an improve­ment or a wors­en­ing of the sit­u­a­tion. In any case, there exists this truth that if peo­ple con­duct them­selves incor­rect­ly in rela­tion to mate­r­i­al wealth, which aris­es for the ben­e­fit of all, wealth ends up harm­ing and destroy­ing human nature, human beings, and human society.

Ajahn Payut­to; ‘The Spend­ing of Wealth’; from chap­ter 20 of Bud­dhad­ham­ma.

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