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Summary 2nd International Buddhist Economics Conference

Summary 2nd International Buddhist Economics Conference

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Summary of Activities at the 2nd International Conference on Buddhist Economic Research Platform This is to summarise activities of the event

, and on the GNH workshop offered by GNH Movement project. This event was organised by Faculty of Management Science, Ubon Ratchathani University during 9th – 11th of April 2009. The Buddhist Economic Research Platform is a joint initiative of the Business Ethics Centre of the Corvinus University of Budapest, and the East-West Research Institute of Budapest Buddhist University. The platform aims to connect people and institutes engaged in developing Buddhist economic theory and practice, and to spread ideas and working models of Buddhist Economics to the general public. As Buddhism spreads from Asia into the other parts of the world, the incorporation of Buddhist ideals and beliefs into everyday life takes new and varied forms. The challenges that Buddhist practitioners face in different parts of the worrd are daunting. The first international conference of the Buddhist Economics Research Platform was held in Budapest, Hungary in August of 2007 with approximately 50 participants. About 90% of the participants were Buddhist living in the western societies. The participants were enthusiastic to hold the second conference in a Buddhist culture where they could experience practices that were more a reflection of Buddhist society. The Second International Conference of the Platform was therefore held in Thailand where Buddhist culture is dominant and the concept of Buddhist Economics has been advocated. This conference proposes to continue to build a platform or foundation that explores how to meld knowledge, research and practice to support Buddhists as they face challenges of today’s complex economic landscape. This conference is therefore an attempt to bring together opposite ends of numerous spectrums: Buddhism in a primary capitalist, Christian culture and Buddhism in Buddhist culture that is increasingly capitalist; Western theoreticians working on ways to incorporate theory into culture and Eastern practitioners seeking

to build theoretical frameworks from practice; and Eastern and Western religious leaders seeking the best methods to influence their fellows. This conference was attended by a wide variety of people. Although almost half of the participants were from the academia, they were from several fields, and of course many countries. Others were from civil society, religion-based organisations, government agencies, and businesses locally as well as abroad. The conference began with an opening from Professor Prakob Wirojanakud, President of Ubon Rajathani University. He passed on an old saying “money is illusion, food is real” to the audience. Then a keynote speaker, Phra Payutto, was introduced. He was not well enough to be at the conference in person, however he was kind enough to allow the recording of his keynote in a video which was played to the audience. The essence of his speech is that economic process should lead to sufficiency. To this end, humans are to be satisfied with their desires. Two types of desire were given by Venerable. They are skilful and unskillful desire which lead to different ends. Unskillful desire relating to consumption of materials finally leads to dependence happiness which can cause problems such as we face at the present. On the other hand, skilful desire will lead to independent happiness which translates into freedom. This, if practiced by all, will eventually create a peaceful and happiness society. He emphasised that skilful desire can be trained. Many other side activities were arranged to complement the conference. In the first day evening, a documentary about Tibet’s middle-way approaches to politics and everyday life was shown. Later on, a panel discussion presenting two case studies on Buddhist economics in business by two Thai celebrated entrepreneurs. Apichart Karunkornsakul of Asia Precisions, and Adisorn Pungchompu of Taengmo brand were our speakers. They vividly presented their case of applying Buddhist ethics in their businesses which has helped them enormously through tough times. On the second day, a field visit to Wat Pa Nanachat including giving alms to the monks and novices, and listening to Dharma was organised successfully by the organisers. In the evening of the same day, dinner was served at Ratchathani Asoke community, and a talk on Buddhist way of living was given by Thamrong Sangsuriyajan. Last but not least, in the morning of the third day, breakfast with a tour was served at UBU Sufficiency Economy Community, a pilot scale live-in self sufficiency project. In the morning of the last day, a workshop on Gross National Happiness was conducted.

Content-wise, the conference was highlighted with a wide range of papers. They may be grouped into two broad categories: theoretical and applied/practical papers. The so-called theoretical part began with a keynote speech by Bronwen Rees who is a member of Western Buddhist order, and has worked in business school for a long time. The topic of her talk is ‘Building bridges between East and West: Buddhist Economics in Practice’. She proposed a model of implementing Buddhist economics in the real world. Systems thinking was employed to analyse the pathology of the current crisis. It was described that ‘systems are unstable because we abandoned human-scale organisation for industrial scale models of growth with no capacity for self-governance.’ Current conditions were characterised by modern western mindset which lacks of relationship with the natural world, is fragmented and lacks meaning. The speaker then offered solutions to the unsustainable systems. They are selforganising, supply of non-toxic energy, and adaptation at microeconomic level. Therefore a model for Eastern consciousness in Western organisation was recommended. This model asked for respect and humility for identity, wisdom instead of knowledge, and orientation to time. This company model needs leaders that inspire, and people to think differently and to find meaning of and purposes in life. The speaker finally asked us to act and get our systems right. Another interesting paper in the theoretical realm is “The Economics of Enough: Thailand’s ‘Sufficiency Economy’ Debate” by Peter Warr from Australian National University. The author argued that the philosophy of ‘Sufficiency Economy’ is directly linked to Buddhist Economics since it applies Buddhist philosophy of the Middle Way. Warr dubbed it as the economics of ‘enough’. He presented recent events and information about Thailand’s development in economics and psychology in order to demonstrate the importance and timing of HM the King speeches on this topic. In addition, relationship between Sufficiency Economy and economics of happiness was discussed. Especially it was put in the context of marginal utility where spending moves from necessity to status. It is found that the rate of marginal utility diminishes when GDP reaches a certain level. Such level in all aspects of life can be called ‘sufficiency level’ where no more material wealth can satisfy human wants. This may relate to the concept of contentment in Buddhism. If adopted, sufficiency economy would bring about desirable conditions, the question is though what and how to be sufficient. Further he argued that even though major institutions

in Thai society claim of adopting the philosophy, “public policy has yet to catch up with the wisdom contained in these insights.” The central paper of this conference was presented by Professor Apichai Puntasen. In his paper, Apichai argued that mainstream economics misses a critical concept that is consumption efficiency. Production efficiency, on the other hand, is seriously concerned by capitalism ideology. The absence of consumption efficiency plays a major role in supporting the existing situation dominated by consumerism. Under such condition, resources are depleted at an alarming rate threatening the survival of humanity. “Without consumption efficiency, the emphasis on production efficiency alone is rather useless, as it cannot prevent over-utilisation of natural resources.” Neo-classical economics interprets consumption as diagram below.

If the above diagram is explained in a Buddhist way, the output should be defined as the maintenance of a healthy body and a healthy mind instead of pleasure or utility. Such output is a necessary condition for the further development of the mind in order to achieve ‘sukha’ which is the desirable outcome from this process. In order to achieve such an outcome the ability to develop the mind is a necessary condition. The development must be achieved through the process of sikkhattaya .
2 1

Healthy Body Goods and Services Production process to produce ‘sukkha’ Healthy Mind Wast


the quality of mind that is opposite to that of ‘dukkha’ which means uneasiness, conflict, contradiction, alienation or suffering 2 known as the threefold training leading to having a purified or clean mind, and a clear mind

The problem is that “mainstream economics does not try to differentiate between human needs, human desire, and human greed while in reality the three concepts are distinctively different”, Apichai argued.








consumption increases welfare of a person. Such assumption is supported by the belief that self-interest is a rational behaviour. Neo-classical economics therefore assumes of desire and greed as naturally parts of self-interest. These two false assumptions reinforce each other. Buddhist Economics, Apichai argued, classifies anything related to matter and energy as the scientific realm, and things related to the human mind as the non-scientific realm, hence Self-interest falls into the scientific realm whereas Desire and Greed are put in the non-scientific realm.

Additionally, the analysis in mainstream economics in general is a static one. It can be clearly seen that static analysis often does not reflect the real world because time is frozen. As such, it is not capable of understanding everything in its own nature. A theory that is not based on reality can be considered as an incorrect one. This problem is a major short coming of mainstream economics. Buddhist Economics, on the other hand, is based on a dynamic analysis of any event known as paticcasamuppāda. Every result has its original causes and other related factors. The result at this moment will turn to into a cause of a future result. In a Buddhist analysis, the time dimension of past, present and future must also be considered.

An understanding of Buddha’s teaching or Buddha Dhamma is needed to provide a realistic assessment of the actual situation. Without worrying about pleasure or ‘sukha’ from acquisition, it can be easily understood that efficiency of consumption is similar to that of production, as such a consumption process can be analysed in the same way. At this point Buddhist Economics can provide an analysis by looking at the meanings of the two words, “needs” and “wants”. It can be traced back to the explanation of Abraham Maslow where needs are classified into three levels, physiological needs, social needs and moral needs. In Buddha Dhamma, there is only one form or one level of needs that is physiological needs. This can be accounted for

through the understanding of pañña3. The real wellness or ‘sukha’ of a human being results from the development of pañña through sikkhattaya. It is not a linear development but more like a virtuous spiral that will not return to the origin spot but will uplift the mind and pañña to new levels.

With the concept of consumption efficiency, together with production efficiency a new way for sustainable development can be found leading humanity out of possible catastrophes. Apichai proposed a consumption and production diagram based on Buddhist Economics.


The word pañña has no equivalent word in English. The closest meaning is wisdom, but wisdom is not the same as pañña.

More theoretical papers presented in this Conference complemented Professor Puntasen’s proposition. Principles of happiness in western economic thoughts were explained in relation to Buddhist Economics in Georg Erber’s paper. He summed up quite nicely the neo-classical economic description of happiness as a function of utility and self-interest. As a Bayesian search process, he argued that the greatest happiness is thought of as the ends and life itself as a means, but no clear pathway is offered. The linear understanding of happiness as a utility function puts it that wherever there is an increase in income, happiness increases. However Easterlin’s research showed otherwise. This paper ended with a hope that a bridge will emerge between Buddhist Economics and the rediscovery of the Principles of greatest Happiness in modern western economics. It is supported by a paper by Janos Mate from University of Western Hungary. His paper talks about the principles of promotion of Buddhist Economics. It points out that the western ideas culminating during the industrial revolution have, according to Schumacher, encouraged the dangerous idea of ‘belief in economy’. Certain aspects of global economy are falling into deep crisis. He proposed that Buddhist Economics is well suited for healing this situation. Many traditional beliefs were used to create a sophisticated explanation for, what he called, software of the mind. This system comprises of four components/steps: call out, creation, forming, and making. It is based on an ancient Egyptian saying that ‘Existence of things cannot be real unless it has come through words or sight’. The differences between the western and eastern order of values can influence economic decision-making, yet the idea of co-habitation of the western and eastern economic decision-making raises doubts. Therefore he suggested that in countries where this kind of initiatives is not welcome, there should be experimental courses under which economic aspects of religious teachings could be unfolded. Along the same line, Hans Luther presented his idea of combining Buddhist Economics with niche market concept. These two concepts were explained together as a new development paradigm where economy depends on development of niche market products for example organic food, and cultural tourism. The overall economy should strive towards simplicity, austerity, and moderation. The synergy between these two concepts is very vital to sustainability of traditional or emerging economy such as Lao PDR. In addition, Adam Arvidsson proposed the idea of ‘ethical economy’. He suggested that the ‘next economy’ will be an ethical one where value is no longer based upon labour as in the capitalist economy. He argued that it will

instead be based on the ability to construct ‘ethically significant social relations’. Intangible values subtly influence other tangible values, without those tangible values cannot be visible. Arvidsson stated that this ethical economy is in fact happening. In the realm of creative industries, in brand management, in advance forms of knowledge work, on financial markets, and in an expanding range of autonomous form of social productions – ranging from P2P software to alternative agriculture and food distribution. These initiatives are made possible by and will be growing by the informational and communication technologies and their evolution and diffusion. Further contribution of Buddhist Economic to the discussion and advancement of a more established concept of sustainable development was presented by Morgen Buch-Hansen from Denmark. He advocated for redefining sustainability by pursuing the ‘Middle Way’. He suggested that Buddhist Economics should join hands with geography with a view to provide a moral supplement to the self-interest of the ‘economic man’. The theoretical section was further supplemented by a paper by Peter Calkins from Chiang Mai University. The paper recommended a Third Way based on a combination of the ‘new traditionalist’ economic traditions (Buddhist, Confucian, Catholic, Judaic) to improve practical economic planning and make religion more relevant to creating the conditions for spiritual growth. This paper focuses on Theravada Buddhism which is explored in detail from three complementary perspectives: textual exegesis of the Buddhist suttas, the historical records of the macroeconomic policies of Buddhist Kings throughout Asia, and the formal logic of mathematical economic model. The author came up with a sophisticated were offered. Next section of this summary will briefly talk about the papers about practical application of Buddhist Economics and related ideas. Cases of business firms using Buddhist Economics approach were presented by Wanna Prayukvong. The emphasis of this study is based on the distinct difference between Buddhist Economics and Neoclassical Economics on the paradigm of human nature. The core values of Buddhism, compassion and cooperation, to achieve well-being through higher wisdom, pañña replaces self-interest and maximum utility. The paper suggests that cultivation of these new core values requires organisational change driven by an agent as institutional entrepreneur. This paper was accompanied by a paper called ‘CSR: The Road to Sufficiency Economy’ by Alex Mavro. This piece of work is based on the logical connection linking four critical constructs – Gross National Happiness, explanation of ‘Theravada Macroeconomics’. Later policy recommendations that flow directly from the triangulation of these three approaches

Sufficiency Economy, Sustainability, and Corporate Social Responsibility. Although definitions of these constructs vary in different sectors (NGOs/CSOs, business, academic, public), yet there can be synergy among them. These four concepts together bring all stakeholders/sectors to the same page of creating alternative development worldview which is moral, green, fair, and peaceful. More examples can be found in the two papers about ecological agriculture and food networks in Thailand. Alex Kuafman has studied unconventional agro-food system in rural Thailand for some time. His paper argues that ecological food entities in Northeastern Thailand empower rural farming communities through holistic approaches rooted in self-sufficiency and spiritual practice. It follows several organic farming networks working against mainstream modern agriculture practice, such as Moral Rice Movement, Santi-Asoke group, and Green Net. Another paper By Saweang Rauysoongnern looks closer to the development and constraints of the Moral Organic Rice Network in Yasothon province. It is the next step of the existing Organic Rice Network in Kudchum district of the province. The Network has further refined the regulations of the existing network in order to strengthen the remaining weaknesses of the network members on their personal problems, such as drinking, gambling, and unnecessary expenses. As such the production of organic rice could be more beneficial to the farmer’s livelihood. This investigation found that despite successes, the expansion of the network is relatively slow, results showed both internal and external constraints revealing lessons learned for future development. Further away, examples from the international sphere were offered. First off, Michel Bauwens presented his case, along the same line as Adam Arvidsson, on Open Source economy. He called it “neotraditional approaches in the reconstructive transmodern era”. The explanation was that this ‘new’ idea is based on a connection in some ways to pre-modern conceptions of society and economy which inspire us to critically examine current economic and political arrangements. The key theme of the paper is that we are in the transition towards a post-industrial economy growing upon creation of non-material values, peer production, renewable innovations, and not-for-profit spirit. Later on Peter Daniels of Griffith University, Australia, contributed his thoughts on how Buddhism can address the problem of climate change. The paper argued that ethical and cosmological aspects of Buddhism and its precepts can act as logical and practical basis for minimising climate change-related pressures of production and consumption. Using an ecological economics approach, the author suggested an innovative framework of integration of two major

environmental assessment tools and key Buddhist values and influences on wellbeing. A new tool emerged as an improved system for human-environmental analysis. Buddhist economic systems were recommended to help outline effective responses to the threat of climate change. interconnectedness, dependent origination, In conclusion, Buddhist notions of and mindful consumption and

production can help reshape human motives and actions for sustainability. Moreover John Nirenberg, a scholar from Walden University, whose expertise is in workplace management and organisational culture presented a work on how formal organisations can act as instruments in creating Gross National Happiness. The paper emphasised GNH values of people as ends in themselves, and the structure and processes of organisations that stimulate the creation of both happiness and profit as outputs. From a smaller scale, at organisation level, development of a compatible organisational infrastructure that enables the realisation of GNH could work as a model for realisation at broader levels. Furthermore, an example of using new tools to create a better place is offered by Hugh Barnard. He talked about difficulties, challenges and opportunities for computer and ICT to support radically reformed methods of the storage and exchange of value. Cases of partial replacement of conventional money with new forms and expressions of value were presented as a context for challenges faced by open source financial systems. These alternative currency systems are sophisticated development based on local values and ethics. Last but not least, world religions were called upon to safe the world economy from collapsing. Lisa Nowakowski asked for grassroots realisation that personal attitudes, beliefs, and actions must change in fundamental and ethical ways. The paper investigated the importance and urgency of finding a common ground or a middle pathway for world religions to be able to speak with a powerful unified voice.

GNH Workshop



Good Governance Equality Government

Cultural Promotion Freedom Civil Society


Equitable Socioeconomic Development Community Spirit

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