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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