Economics has been affected on how people live and how happy they are, but most of people neglect economics although it has a powerful influence on human lives and future. Buddhism and economics are two concepts that seems to be different and far from one another. Traditionally, Buddhism has been considered as an ascetic religion with no interest or engagement into worldly matters. However, there is a different story. In fact, Buddhism has a well-developed social side. Normally, Buddhism often involves into continuous social change. There has been an increasing interest in the connection between religion and economics, the most popular subject in the modern world. In additions, every culture has a specific worldview that reveals their people’s values and these values directing the function of economies. The worldview of Western societies reflects the principles and concepts of economics. Recently, Buddhist economics have become an alternative to mainstream economics that increase many discussions. Buddhism economics incorporate a worldview that is very different from the worldview of economics from Western countries (Brown 2017, p. 10).
The purpose of this paper is to illustrate aspects that Buddhist economics represent a possible substitute to Western economics while still serve humanity with expected objectives. Moreover, this writing also explains the way Buddhist economists cope with modern paradigms to clarify the development of Buddhism economics in modernity.
2. The analysis on the extent that Buddhist Economics present a viable alternative to Western economics and still continue to serve humanity with its intended goals
Typical economics emphasises on individual, self-interested inspiration and people’s desires are characterised as social determined. However, within the Buddhist economics, people actually suffer and struggle to overcome their social instructed desires, their tough self-interests and their wants to take advantage of others (Zadek 1997, p. 242). So, Buddhist economics has a better understand regarding to people’s concerns and interrelationships. Also, mainstream economics attempt to achieve success by all efforts without consideration about generosity and compassion or value and ethics as stated in Buddhist economics.
Therefore, there are many perspectives to believe that if societies apply Buddhist economics and follow its approach, social well-being would be improved and experienced less social and environmental deterioration. It is because of the values and morality of Buddhism. The following paragraphs will analyse in details the view of Buddhist economists to pursue humanity.
2.1 The perception of non-self
Western economics put more importance on self-interest to explore the way to satisfy the desire of each person. However, for the believers in Buddhism, this view is totally different. Buddhism emphasises on the absence of self (non-self). From this respect, self is the origin of the problems that change physical and mental elements leading to unhappiness (Ching 2012, p. 32). The non-self doctrines encourage people to practice detachment from exercises such as moral living and meditation. It seems that the Buddhist view is contrary to worldview of Western culture. Buddhism argues that if one get satisfaction what one desires, there is always greater desires following up and continuing. The ego in mindset can note be pleased and it is the source of suffering. The way to get through this life is establishing a distance to all desires.
2.2 Reducing the level of suffering
Clearly, modern Western economics develop based on the promotion to fulfil individual’s interest and maximise profits in any ways. In contrast, Buddhism proposes another strategy within the economic themes is to minimise sufferings of all sentient beings not only human. According to the view of Buddhist economics, decreasing sufferings in economic activities is valuable and necessary because it can influence not only one individual but also a whole society. The goal of Buddhist economics reveals the attempt not to generate gains but to decline losses. This approach is suitable in the circumstance of making decision. Normally, decision makers are always confusing and struggling between gain and loss, especially in economic industry. Based on the research of Prelec and Loewenstein (1991, p. 770), a decision maker is more sensitive to losses and the common way is to reduce losses as much as possible. In reality, human and other sentient beings are all sensitive to losses or sufferings and they tend to avoid rather than keep increasing gains by any ways. Suffering is the experience of losses and is not only relevant to monetary but also physical and mental aspects. These aspects are significant to cultivate well-being and happiness that economics are encouraged to achieve this goal.
2.3 Simplifying intended needs
The purpose of Western economics is cultivating needs and wants. Individuals are advised to foster new desires regarding to acquiring things and doing activities. The profit target is the motivation makes companies focusing on creating more demands. In the modern time, individualism and materialism are very significant especially in Western cultures. However, psychological research states that these values challenge well-being. When people place more importance on materialistic virtues, it affects personal well-being and psychological health negatively (Burroughs & Rindfleisch 2002, p. 348). Predictably, it causes lack of life satisfaction and happiness, more problems related to depression and anxiety, or personality disorders and antisocial behaviour. This strategy is not high evaluated in respect of people can achieve their wants or not (Seligman 2004, p. 145). Looking deeply to the consequences, if people cannot reach their aims, dissatisfaction and failure senses are undeniable. However, in case of success, the feeling of hope or discomfort is not relieved. The effort to attain desires or goals is hard to bring fulfilment senses that they always expect from.
On the other hand, the Buddhist economics has a strategy to simply these desires. Buddhism encourages people to accept what is enough such as food, clothing, and things to reduce material orientation. When there is less desire, it would bring extensive outcomes for individuals, for organisations, community and environment. At the same time, they can save more energy and time to focus on other preferences to enrich life skills and enjoyments such as meditation and leisure activities. Western economics normally emphasises the role of money in their results however it may have negative effects. For example, spending much money to pay for employees do not always produce high level of performance or results. On the contrary, when people do not have much money, they would use id wisely and efficiently.
2.4 Practising the factor of non-violence
In the age of globalisation, the market develops rapidly in a large scale. Western economics targets to launch into markets whatever social problems should be resolved. This industry is powerful and strong in competition. The market can provide goods and services in an adaptable and productive ways. However, the competition is tough that engages many stake holders having power to control the market and orient economic activities. From the believers in Buddhism, the doctrine of non-violence is one of the main precepts and it is also transferred into economic application. The purpose of solving social problem in the context of Buddhism economics is not to harm one self and others to prevent sufferings and discover solution in a participative method. The green business or community economy models are a typical example for non-violence. This community is established to meet the needs for both producers and consumers at lowest cost and lowest risks in a long-term management (Zsolnai, L 2002, p. 652). The purpose is to build up a strong support and connection for all participants to create value-community. It can be seen that for sustainability and long-term development, the non-violence factor is significant to economic activities.
2.5 Planning a careful care
For Western economic, price can be determined but the value requires a careful consideration to all parties involved. Caring is highlighted in Buddhist economics to express compassion and loving kindness in the business culture. Socially responsible organisations are encouraged to build up cost for caring to get more good results (Frank 2004, p. 86). For example, the relationship between owners and staffs is improved positively, employees with moral satisfaction are willing to work more with higher productivity, high skilled of employees can be recruited, the loyalty from customers can increase and the trust between parties is strengthened. It can be seen that the trust relationships are difficult to gain in a competitive market, however, the care from social responsible behaviours will result good rewards for owners, managers, employees, customers and business partners.
2.6 Implementing the characteristic of generosity
Ethics in Western economics are not high evaluated and it is just allowed to consider others’ interest when it serves their own interest. Because of the self-interest background, approaches to ethics are hard to be done. Within the Buddhist economics, generosity is stimulated among individuals that can apply not only in business but also in social life (Wangmo & Valk 2012, p. 53). People tend to get more when they give away something good. In this case, employers made generous offers would receive high-level efforts from employees due to their gratitude and respects to the owners.
In general, it can be seen that some Buddhist economists proposes alternative doctrines that challenges the basic concepts of Western economics. This fact demonstrates that Buddhist economics is not a normal system but a considerate strategy that can be applied in any settings of economy. In other words, Buddhists economics creates a logical, ethical and environmental value background that enhances happiness, peace and sustainability.
3. The ways Buddhist “economists” cope with modern paradigms
The modern paradigms have some problems that contribute to the decaying and failure of markets in Western economies. It reveals the limitation of Western economies that can be improved by Buddhist economists’ perspectives. The following paragraphs will explain in details how Buddhist economists deal with these problems.
3.1 Influencing on people’s behaviour and intentions in accordance with Buddhist teachings
The modern paradigms concentrate on self-interested behaviour to gain advantage at the expense of other people, especially consumers. Hence, the market activity of business people is characterised as negatively opportunism. This behaviour is considered familiar and normal to the current state of modern economics (Akerlof &Shiller 2015, p. 20). Nevertheless, it seems to be conflicting to what being indicated in the Buddha’s teachings. Buddhist economists stressed the importance of values, ethics and precepts of Buddhism when engaging into economic activities. The precepts clarify lying and stealing is not allowed. Also, a person is encouraged to develop wisdom and improve one self to live in harmony with others even though that person is in business industry or not. More importantly, the Noble Eight-fold Path has instructed the way of Buddhist economists are trying to impact on people’ behaviour and intentions. For example, right livelihood advises people to find a living way without breaching or breaking the commitment of love and compassion. The other paths such as right view, thinking, speech, action, diligence, concentration and mindfulness are also good for a person to behave wisely and mindfully in whatever positions they are at the market. This approach has influenced to behaviour and intention of each party in modern paradigms to build up harmony in economy.
3.2 Changing the ignorant behaviour of consumers
One typical issue in modern paradigms is the ignorant behaviour of consumers. Normally, people consume goods based on the impulse of their desires not smart consideration to what really good for their true well-being (Ratneshwar et al 2003, p. 21). It is even not compatible with their true preferences. However, Buddhism economists emphasise on the recognition of sufferings being caused by this behaviour, which is belong to one of the four noble truths. To cease these sufferings, it is useful to impact their mindset to learn how to consume mindfully to eliminate the unnecessary, unintelligent consumption that leads not only individual suffering but also sufferings to all sentient beings living with the use of the universe’s resources.
3.3 Cultivating ethical behaviour and wisdom
Looking to a common matter, the problem of overweight and obesity is due to the behaviour of self-interest from food businesses to take advantage of innocent consumers (Bakir & Vitell 2010, p. 299). What they launch into the market is to exploit this market segment rather than take a socially responsible behaviour. Within the Buddhist worldview, the striving to produce and market food to meet with the customers’ true preferences can change business behaviours. It is a possibility to reduce this problem positively and the obesity is not a threat for Western economies. This problem can become larger with common associated diseases such as cancers, stroke and cardiovascular disease. The key cause of these serious facts is the lack of ethical behavior and wisdom when doing business. However, Buddhist economists realise these underlined reasons and they understand that ethics are the most important factor to cope with this condition. Especially, the Buddhism precepts are outlined a path for any person can practice to build up a good background to shape their behaviours.
3.4 Maximising well-being with minimum consumption and nature impact
When people keep expanding their wants towards society, it means this tendency leading to the large growth in economic activity that requires to more production. However, this development will affect to the climate and environment negatively on the purpose to satisfy people’s increasing needs. It is clear that modern paradigms have become industrialisation to achieve consumer’s satisfaction with less consideration to true well-being. Buddhism economists have another approach to the economic development that is to maximise well-being with minimum consumption and nature impact (Daniels 2010, p. 962). This effort will contribute to the sustainability of economy that is needed for current modern paradigms.
On the whole, the ways Buddhist cope with modern paradigms are different from Western economists that reflect values concerning on how economies should function. More importantly, the main goal is to contribute to well-being, emphasise the ideal relationships that humans can develop with other beings and with nature.
In summary, this paper has focused on Buddhist economics compared with Western economics to see the differences in the views of both sides. Firstly, a deep analysis on how Buddhist economics present a suitable alternative for the Western ones but still meets their goals. This part starts with an explanation on the perception of non-self from Buddhist perspective that is contradict to the self-centred interest of Western views in the economy industry. Buddhist economics have emerged their view points to change the way on how economy is develop to match with their values and expectation. To elaborate, Buddhist economy applies a strategy to reduce level of suffering, simplify intended needs, practice non-violence in activities, plan a careful care and implement generosity. These approaches help to build a logical, ethical and environmental background to cultivate true happiness, peace and sustainability in economy. Secondly, the paper also declares on how Buddhist economists cope with modern paradigms. There are many ways being stated such as influencing on people’s behaviour and intentions in line with Buddhist teachings, changing the ignorant behaviour of consumers, cultivating ethical behaviour and wisdom as well as maximising well-being with minimum consumption and nature impact. Modern paradigms have developed strongly but still have some limitations that need the Buddhist economists to influence so that the well-being of all sentient beings is flourishing.
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