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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