The Self, The Ego And The Economy

During our past travels in South East Asia, Ruth and I had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the Buddhist culture where life is based on oneness of body and mind, on unity of the self and the environment, on association of the physical and spiritual. In this principle of Oneness, each being — humans included — is part of the whole and the whole is part of them, no-one is separated from the rest but rather connected to every other living thing, the biosphere and the Universe. This representation of the self undoubtedly influences people’s understanding of what economy and progress mean.

According to Buddhist economics, we in the West have been victims of “the ego”, a thought pattern that makes us differentiate what is us — our Self — and what is not, often materialized by the border of our skin. The ego tries to master the outside world to make it work according to its own interest and tries to protect itself when it perceives danger. That’s why in a society in which a majority of us have a rational view of the self, we’ve created an economy that favors competition and hoarding. In my previous article, I talked about this issue as being the root of all our current problems.

We fail to recognize the connection of the Self with the whole so instead we focus on activities that maximize self-interest and individual profit. Also, the self that sees other beings as potential threats works toward reaching independency by owning everything that could be needed; accumulating as much as possible is also a way to ensure survival in a world made of other predator-minded beings.

When we ignore our True Self, we have the need to balance our spiritual emptiness with the attachment to material wealth. In the end, we measure our standards of living by the amount of production (GDP), as if maximum consumption would lead to maximum well being. In a civilization like this, more and bigger is better, even if production is done at at the expense of others.

We’re now aware that this model is narrow, broken and outdated and thankfully, other ways to see life and economics are possible.

In Buddhist economics, small is beautiful, less is more and obtaining maximum well being with minimum consumption is important. Focus is given to wanting less and simplifying the desire; apart from basic needs like food, shelter, clothing and medicine, other materialistic needs should be minimized. Frequent meditation is utilized to lower the desire for consumption and to help everyone be more satisfied with what they already have.

A conscious lifestyle involves less wasteful work, a choice that benefits the performer, the receiver, the community and the environment. I recommend Jon Jandai’s speech “Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?” to see these ideas in action.

In Buddhist economics attention is placed on producing solutions for local needs with local resources, and only in some cases imports and exports are justified. Non renewable resources have to be used as a last resort only and with a lot of care and meticulous planning.

At its core, Buddhist economics’ objective is to minimize suffering for all living and nonliving things while producing. That’s why there is an urge to rely on collaborative practices and participatory decision making that foster collective intelligence to find the most mindful solutions to solve each problem. Community supported agriculture where members believe working together helps everyone to make more ethical choices is a great example of participatory economic activities.

In a conscious society, the objective doesn’t become to produce as much as possible, rather to produce enough to fairly meet everyone’s needs: sufficiency matters. That’s why Buddhist economics prefers to track progress in terms of well being and it’s not surprising that Buddhist Bhutan came up with the idea of the Gross National Happiness in 1972.

In another recent post, I explained how the Western model — that has now become global — is keeping us busy making money instead of solving humanity’s most pressing needs: the number of hunger in Africa has grown over the last 20 years, wildlife population has declined by 52% since 1970 and the 85 richest people have become as wealthy as poorest half of the world. Modernizing our economy isn’t enough, we need to also work harder and deeper at shifting the way we understand consumption and production. I believe principles such as Buddhist economics can help us follow a better path for our civilization.

This kind of evolution impacts all aspects of our society and work goes as deep as improving education to honor and teach about the True Self that lives within the principle of Oneness. The task seems huge and we can feel overwhelmed so how can the evolution concretely start? Do we have to wait for governments to lead the transition? What are the steps everyone can take to help the world move forward? What are the organizations in the West that have adopted innovative models based on fairness and can inspire us today?

Ruth and I share more discoveries and answers in our book “Creating Our (R)Evolution”, that is going to be available on free access (we made the decision to rely on a voluntary-payment business model). Please leave us your email address so we can keep you posted about the publication and continue the journey around the self, society and progress together. Looking forward to hearing from you!


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