buddhist economics

Buddhist economist Sulak Sivaraksa has advice for Western capitalist societies.

"Globalisation," he writes, "is a demonic religion imposing materialistic values," and "a new form of colonialism". If Cameron is fond of the odd cola on the beach, he'd better stop. "To drink Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola in Siam is not just to ingest junk food, but to support exploitative values." Economic crises such as those that hit the West in 2008 and East Asia a decade earlier are "heavenly messengers" to "encourage us to seek alternative" models – as Sivaraksa told a no doubt startled James Wolfensohn, the former president of the World Bank.

via The Independent.

Sivaraksa's view is that true happiness is not to be found in material gains or in the constant pursuit of unlimited growth, but starts with the search for inner calm. "You in the West have been indoctrinated by the Cartesian concept of thinking: I think, therefore I am. But the ego, the 'I' – it's not real. We are all inter-related." His path is not "cogito ergo sum" but "I breathe, therefore I am".

"We breathe all the time, yet we are not taught how to. Are we so arrogant that we ignore the most important element in life? Once you learn how to breathe properly, respect the air, cultivate peace within, that is the beginning of Gross National Happiness."

It also means doing away with what he considers the West's "mania for success": "Real success is not to conquer others, not to have more cars and money, but to appreciate what you have, how to share with others."

He admits that what he proposes may strike some as "Eastern garbage". Neither would all find it easy, or even desirable, to follow one example he gives of a friend in America: "He noticed that when a man he knew missed a bus, he would say, 'Wonderful! I have more time to contemplate.' The same when the train was late. My friend asked how he had this attitude, and he said: 'I'm a Buddhist.'"

Instead, Sivaraksa stresses that the West has its own traditions that he thinks we should revisit. "You need to go back into your spiritual past, to those such as Francis of Assisi. In my opinion, that's very close to the Buddhist approach." For Sivaraksa, a rationalism that only accepts what can be proven scientifically has led us to ignore riches from our own culture. "The West took Plato, Socrates and Aristotle only on the intellectual level. Plato's the man! Everything else is footnotes. But in Plato, there is also mysticism – being in the cave, talking to the gods. You dismissed all that."

Sivaraksa suggests that the West should open itself up to "cognitive diversity", to truths from different cultures. "As Gandhi said, 'Any wind coming through.'" Or, as Sivaraksa puts it in his new book: "We uncritically accept 'established knowledge' ... It is time for us to question the fundamentals of the Enlightenment in order to become truly enlightened."