Sustainability and Sufficiency: Economic Development in a Buddhist Perspective

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Laszlo Zsolnai (ed.) Sustainability and Sufficiency: Economic Development in a Buddhist Perspective. Society and Economy, Budapest, 2008. (This book may be available at: Akadémiai Kiadó)

Laszlo Zsolnai edited a special issue for Society and Economy (2007 No. 2) entitled “Sustainability and Sufficiency: Economic Development in a Buddhist Perspective.” The volume includes selected papers presented in the “Economics with a Buddhist Face” conference from August 23-24, 2007, in Budapest.

In his paper  “Western Economics versus Buddhist Economics” Laszlo Zsolnai (Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary) presented Buddhist Economics as a major alternative to the currently dominating Western economic mindset.  Buddhist Economics proposes alternative principles such as minimizing suffering,  simplifying desires, nonviolence, genuine care, and generosity. He suggested that Buddhist Economics is not a system but rather a strategy, which can be applied in many economic settings. Zsolnai paper.pdf

In his paper “Buddhism and the Transformation to Sustainable Economies,” Peter Daniels (Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia) provided an overview of theoretical and practical synergies between the worldview of Buddhism and the concept of sustainable development. He discussed the analytical bases of Buddhism and its derivative livelihood, which fit well with the required reductions in society’s throughput or “metabolism.”

In his paper “Why Buddhist Economics is Needed as a New Paradigm towards Happiness (or Wellness),” Apichai Puntasen (Ubon Rajathance University, Thailand) defines happiness as the opposite of pain, which implies peace and tranquility rather than the usual connotations of prosperity, pleasure and gratification. He emphasizes that the word “sukha” is similar in meaning to the reduction of pain from having an insufficient amount of materials to satisfy four basic needs; namely, food, clothes, shelter and medicine.

In his paper “Happiness and Economics: A Buddhist Perspective,” Colin Ash (University of Reading, UK) shows that the “dismal science” of economics is getting happy. In the happiness and economics literature it is widely accepted that, while income is a positional or status good, leisure is not.  Happiness research consistently reveals that once a fairly basic level of real income has been achieved, extra income or consumption gives very little additional happiness. But the ultimate goal of Buddhism is not happiness but the cessation of suffering. Buddhism could be viewed as a form of negative utilitarianism.

In his paper “A Radical Conservative Buddhist Utopia: The Asoke People,” Kanoksak Kaewthep (Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand) provides an overview of the Asoke People and the nature of their practices of Dhamma and a detailed analysis of a  Sisa Asoke Community in Srisaket Province, Northeastern Thailand.

In her paper “Sufficient Economy, the King’s Philosophy: An Application of Buddhist Economics to Develop Thai local Pharmaceutical Industries for Sustainable Well-Being,” Suntharee T. Chaisumritchoke (Chulalongkorn University, Thailand) discusses the local pharmaceutical industries in the case where the Thai government decided to accept the free trade agreement on pharmaceutical products proposed by the US government. She recommends applying the “Sufficient Economy,” the King’s Philosophy, as a survival strategy for both local industries and Thai people.

In his paper “Pathways to a Mindful Economy,” Joel C. Magnuson (Portland College, Portland, Oregon, USA) stresses that institutions are key elements in the evolutionary transformation toward new systems.  He emphasizes exploring  systemic change by evolving economic institutions through mindful practices as taught in the Buddhist tradition, and integrating these mindful practices into the governance of community enterprises. He argues that a pathway for changing systems conditions begins at the local level where people and communities can, with appropriate mindfulness, evolve new institutions that will lead toward human and ecological well-being.