In a country like Sri Lanka, the disparity of wealth is quite startling. Of course I know that Australia also has some terrible inequality; the wealth in the cities is shown in stark relief against the spectre of homelessness that is inescapable. But here in Colombo it seems even more exaggerated. And it’s easy—or at least it’s easy for me—to forget that the wealthy are not all the same, any more than the poor are.
I was picked up at the airport in a lovely brand-new Mercedes 500 series; a hybrid with all the trimmings. Surely the owner of a car like that must be so attached, so materialistic! It was silent, comfortable, gleaming, a genuinely beautiful piece of craftmanship and engineering.
Well, then the owner—who shall remain nameless!—had it parked near their office. There was a building site nearby for a multi-storey construction. The sign said, “Beware of falling objects!” Oh dear!
Now there’s one broken Benz, the shiny sunroof shattered. But when the owner came out and saw it, he didn’t blink. Instead, he said, “What if it had been a three-wheeler!” Of course in Colombo there’s still lots of three-wheelers or tuk-tuks around, cheap and uncovered, the mass vehicle for the people. How many rich men would see their valuable car broken, and immediately think of the poor? Of how much worse it is for a poor person to lose their simple possession, and how much more dangerous their lives are?
There’s a difference between thinking about these things, having them as a value and even acting from them. But at that moment, when the mind is shocked and one speaks what is foremost, to me this reveals something true about a person. And for this man, what he thought of right away was not his own possession, but the welfare of those less fortunate than himself.
Maybe because Buddha left his princehood for three robes and a bowl; with no possessions of his own, or of any participation in what was lended graciously to him.
And moreover, that his bhikkhus dwelled majoritarily in leaves huts.
Maybe the lay folks do not follow Buddha’s advices to lay folks, as well.
Monks and laypeople both follow the same Noble Eightfold Path. The difference is the Samma Ajiva. (right livelihood)
Many laypeople do not understand this.
This misconception prevails even among westerners. Once I had a discussion with a Westerner about enlightenment. Then I started talking to him about the share market. He laughed and said that the enlightenment and the share market does not go together!
What is right livelihood?
If there is no seeking [requisites] with a dissatisfied mind, not having recourse to various inappropriate types of spells, not making a living by wrong forms of livelihood; if one seeks robes and blankets with what is in accordance with the Dharma, by means of the Dharma, seeks beverages and food, beds and couches, medicine [or] any [other] requisites of life with what is in accordance with the Dharma, by means of the Dharma.
MN 117 / MA 189
Certain types of work were discouraged by the Buddha, in particular those where you deal in harmful drugs and intoxicants, those dealing in weapons, and those harmful to animal or human life. So a dedicated Buddhist would not be recommended to have a liquor store, own a gun shop, or be a butcher. In his time, he also discouraged the slave trade, which dealt in human workers. And he was also against the practice of fortune telling as this made assumptions about a fixed future, where his teaching stresses that the future is created by what we do today. https://www.buddha101.com/p_path.htm
Here in the United States, the conceit of corporate personhood is being extended in law and in economic systems… coupled with acceptance that corporations have an “ethical obligation” to make profits. But imo this is probably not unique to any country, culture or age.
imo this is very unfortunate, and results in suffering, debt slavery, material addictions appearing or prsented as necessary or healthy, lack of opportunities to seek right livelihood or a spiritually focussed life for most human persons. But perhaps it is complicated, not all dark any more than all bright.
May all beings liberate, may all beings have peace, may all be harmless.
Please, be more precise, by refering to suttas with parallels.
Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there is no formal training rules for the laity (gihisāmīcikāni sikkhāpadāni), in the texts with parallels.
We should therefore extend our concept of right livehood to:
"not seeking [requisites] with a dissatisfied mind, not having recourse to various inappropriate types of spells, not making a living by wrong forms of livelihood;… and have a livehood in accordance with the Dharma, by means of the Dharma.
I think maybe not stupid or selfish, but too clever, and incomplete. Because of course the real comfort of any one does NOT depend on the deprivation of anyone; yet this view does seem to be swallowed by people who do not even see their own ultimate well being…
But perhaps this moves off topic? And Bhante’s story is inspirational, a reminder of several excellent things.
This is a beautiful and insightful observation. Many of the students I teach seem to believe that their own economic well-being necessarily involves being better off than others, as if life were a zero-sum game where one person’s gain depends on another person’s loss. I don’t tell my students what to believe, but I do inform them that there are other theories of wealth and that not all of them explain economics in terms of one person’s increase in prosperity requiring that another person is worse off.
Reverend Mahākāśyapa, to avoid the houses of the wealthy, and to favor the houses of the poor—this is partiality in benevolence.63 Reverend Mahākāśyapa, you should dwell on the fact of the equality of things, and you should seek alms with consideration for all living beings at all times.
“What are you doing, Kāśyapa?” asked Vimalakīrti. “Why are you begging from the poor? That’s such a big mistake! Why are you discriminating between rich and poor! You shouldn’t do that! When you beg, it should be with an attitude of equanimity and compassion for all sentient beings.”
Could you post some of the names of those theories here? I am curious. As far as I can tell, material wealth is essentially a zero-sum game in that there are only so many pieces of pie (material wealth) and if some take more pieces, it follows that there are fewer for others. Though I haven’t given the subject much thought beyond that…
Fortunately, true prosperity and real wealth, i.e. wholesome states and qualities, come from inner cultivation and are not dependent on lavish material circumstances. So the above is really just a side conversation.
Apart from Marxist theory and its derivatives (e.g., Dependency theory, Underdevelopment theory, World Systems theory), essentially all contemporary economic theories hold that the generation of wealth has a multiplier effect that produces benefits in the form of an aggregate increase in prosperity over time, as illustrated by the fact that even the poorest individuals today enjoy a higher standard of living than the richest person alive a thousand years ago.
The key is the temporal aspect of economic growth. Yes, at any given time, wealth is finite (there are so many pieces of the pie). But over time the size of the pie grows, so there are more economic resources for everyone.
This is not to say that there are not what economists refer to as “structural impediments” that create disparities of wealth at any given time (even though aggregate wealth grows over time). These structural impediments include such things as the uneven distribution of economic resources, demographic shifts, climatic change, etc. However, these are considered to be obstacles to a more even distribution of wealth that arise exogenously to the inner logic of economic systems, not as endogenous features of those systems.
Other structural impediments include either misguided or deliberately destructive political interference in economic interactions by means of such things as exchange rate manipulation, interest rate adjustments, and over-zealous demand stimulus which creates rampant inflation. With regards to trade, governments pursuing policies of mercantilism also can interfere with marker forces creating a maldistribution of economic resources at any given time.
Finally, criminal behavior such as corrupt business practices and speculative trading in commodities or currencies can generate uneven wealth. But, again, these actions would be considered impediments to economic growth and not intrinsic to the logic of economic relations itself.