Capitalism is predicated on desire, and on maintaining that desire. Buddhism turns away from desire. Has anyone written anything that takes Buddhism seriously enough to make it the centre of their economic philosophy?

2 Answers 2


You can find a good overview of the field of Buddhist Economics, and a preliminary bibliography, on the Wikipedia page on the subject.


The word you are most likely translating as 'desire' is tanha (taṇhā), literally thirst. A better translation might be 'craving'. Without desire how could one follow the Buddhist teachings? ("I might like to study the suttas, practice meditation, cultivate loving-kindness, but frankly, I don't desire it." -- is inconsistent with the Buddha's teaching).

While the Buddha discourages superficial spending sprees on oneself, he encourages all to give generously. If a society took this teaching seriously, there would be no shortage of consumption.

It might interest you to know that certainly not bad karma, but neither is good karma the ultimate Buddhist goal. The goal is the elimination of all karma (pali kamma) or intentional action. But until that is possible one should accumulate good karma to calm the mind. In a similar vain, neither abject poverty nor opulent wealth is a Buddhist goal. The Buddha taught a middle way.

"...a householder knowing his income and expenses leads a balanced life, neither extravagant nor miserly, knowing that thus his income will stand in excess of his expenses, but not his expenses in excess of his income. Just as the goldsmith, or an apprentice of his, knows, on holding up a balance, that by so much it has dipped down, by so much it has tilted up; even so a householder, knowing his income and expenses leads a balanced life, neither extravagant nor miserly, knowing that thus his income will stand in excess of his expenses, but not his expenses in excess of his income." (AN8.54)

The sangha, the community of beggars or monks, is an ideal environment for pursuing the Buddhist path. The parisa (parisā) or Buddhist community, necessarily includes the monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. The sangha is entirely dependent upon the lay-community, the householders, the money makers, for material requirements, just as the layity depend on the monks for spiritual inspiration. A society is weaker without these four supports of the entire parisa.

Suppose one is not prepared to abandon the householder life or has family to care for. He or she must do what they can, no more nor less. That realistic middle way is taking Buddhism seriously. The Buddha offers much advice for the laity. Beyond moral precepts (do not kill, lie, steal, sexual misconduct, intoxicants), the closest thing to a requirement that impacts economy is probably right livelihood.

"A lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison." (AN5.177)

Even if an individual took the Buddhist teachings as seriously as if his pants were on fire, he would still have to create a moral and material environment that is conducive to the path. Abandoning a starving dependant family is not conducive the path. Going into the forest with insufficient clothing, shelter or means to obtain food will abort the path in short time. Many householders wealthy, poor, and in between followed the Buddhist path to the goal.

The serious Buddhist path is seriously practical. It would likely look much like our present society, but without war, more equality, cleaner nature. If all members of society took Buddhism seriously, we would all be vegetarian not because the consumption of meat is forbidden, but because the slaughter is. This world you imagine is of course an ideal world. There would be no need for police, people would probably work less or on projects that most interested them or which had the most benefit as they saw fit. Material productivity might go down but happiness would certainly go up. And what should be the ultimate goal of any economic system?

(my hyperlink references were denied due to my newbie-nature)

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