Righteous Governance


Emerald Buddha © Tim Moffatt

From the per­spec­tive of a state or nation, Bud­dhism rec­og­nizes these impor­tant aspects of mate­r­i­al wealth: pover­ty is a form of suf­fer­ing, pover­ty and depri­va­tion are cru­cial caus­es for crime and wrong­do­ing in soci­ety (as is the relat­ed fac­tor of greed), and it is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the state or of polit­i­cal lead­ers to care for and allo­cate funds to the poor and to ensure that there are no des­ti­tute peo­ple in the coun­try. To address these issues var­i­ous joint mea­sures are required which are often spe­cif­ic to the cir­cum­stances, for exam­ple: to pro­vide cit­i­zens with oppor­tu­ni­ties for mak­ing an hon­est liv­ing; to cre­ate jobs; to allo­cate funds and oth­er means of gain­ing a liveli­hood; and to pre­vent immoral or unright­eous activ­i­ties, like exploita­tion. In this sense, the absence of pover­ty is a bet­ter mea­sure­ment for the suc­cess of a soci­ety than the num­ber of wealthy indi­vid­u­als in that society.

It is fre­quent­ly asked what sort of eco­nom­ic sys­tem or gov­ern­ment best con­forms to the prin­ci­ples of Bud­dhism. Basi­cal­ly, this is not a ques­tion that Bud­dhism is required to answer, or at the risk of stat­ing a tau­tol­ogy, one can respond that any sys­tem that is applied in har­mo­ny with Bud­dhist val­ues and prin­ci­ples is valid. Eco­nom­ic or polit­i­cal sys­tems should be ana­lyzed accord­ing to how they are prac­tised, which changes or is mod­i­fied as a result of envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions relat­ed to time and place. Here it should be reit­er­at­ed that the pur­pose and true ben­e­fit of mate­r­i­al wealth is that it acts as a sup­port for human beings in coor­di­nat­ing their lives, to enable them to live togeth­er peace­ful­ly, to per­form mer­i­to­ri­ous deeds, and to real­ize high­er lev­els of spir­i­tu­al excel­lence. Thus, when wealth man­i­fests for an indi­vid­ual, soci­ety as a whole ben­e­fits and all peo­ple will pros­per. Whichev­er eco­nom­ic or polit­i­cal sys­tem effec­tu­ates such a whole­some out­come is in har­mo­ny with Buddhism.

Phra Payut­to: ‘Eco­nom­ic Respon­si­bil­i­ties of the State’; from chap­ter 20 of Bud­dhad­ham­ma

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