Click here to return to main conference page.
By 編輯精選. February 21, 2019.
有見及此，香港大學佛學研究中心聯同歐洲經濟及社會中的精神價值研究學院（European Spirituality in Economics and Society Institute），以「佛教價值觀與經濟學：投資可持續發展的未來」為主題，於2019年4月13至14日假香港大學舉行一連兩天的佛教經濟學國際會議。
為期兩天的會議將舉行18場講座和論文發表、4場研討會及3場工作坊。18位國際和本地知名的學者和專家獲邀出席會議，並發表論文及演講。講者包括加利福尼亞大學柏克萊分校經濟學教授Clair Brown教授、布達佩斯科維努斯大學商業道德中心教授兼總監Laszlo Zsolnai教授、不丹國民幸福指數研究中心總監Dasho Karma Ura、挪威卑爾根挪威經濟學院戰略與管理系商業道德教授Knut J. Ims教授等。
From 13-14 April the Center of Buddhist Studies (CBS) at The University of Hong Kong (HKU) hosted an international conference titled, “Buddhist Values and Economics: Investing in a Sustainable Future.” The conference, sponsored by GS Charity Foundation Limited, drew speakers and workshop presenters from across North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The conference addressed a wide range of perspectives, from academic analysis of early Buddhist texts and interpretations of wealth to contemporary applications of Buddhist values for business leaders and investors.
The co-organizer of the conference was the European Spirituality in Economics and Society (SPES) Institute, under the Presidency of Professor Laszlo Zsolnai. The institute, founded in 2004 in Leuven, Belgium, aims to foster greater international understanding and practice of spirituality in economic and social life.
In his introductory keynote address Saturday morning, Prof. Richard Payne of the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California, noted that historically, Buddhism has existed in a context of exchange economy. Modern capitalism, he continued, with its ideals of individualism and rational choice are foreign to Buddhism, since the latter rests on the premise that people are driven instead by varying degrees of ignorance. Charles Lief, President of Naropa University, delivered a paper which was more optimistic about integrating Buddhist ideas into contemporary business, citing the example of the large corporate insurance company Aetna, which has successfully implemented a mindfulness program for its employees.
Prof. Hendrik Opdebeek then spoke of the urgency of addressing economic concerns with an ideal of “enough” rather than a proliferation of consumer goods; and Prof. Knut Ims offered the example of Deep Ecology pioneer Arne Naess as a way for Buddhists to reflect on ideals of prosperity and flourishing and potentially challenge contemporary consumerist ideals.
In a second keynote on Saturday, Dasho Karma Ura, President of the Centre for Bhutan Studies & Gross National Happiness, spoke of the exploitation of labor as a form of “taking what is not given,” the avoidance of which is the second lay Buddhist precept. Papers continued through the afternoon exploring Buddhist perspectives on material wealth by Prof. Ven. Jing Yin and Dr. Guang Xing of the University of Hong Kong.
University of California, Berkeley economist, Prof. Clair Brown, offered the keynote address on Sunday morning, pointing out ties between wasteful economic choices and our current ecological crisis. She noted the correlation between income inequality and unhappiness around the world, using a chart showing that the United States of America has uniquely high levels of both. Her call was for citizens to realize that we are all in this together and that governments must choose a more sustainable path forward for the sake of future generations.
Dr. Georgios Halkias and Dr. G. A. Somaratne of the University of Hong Kong offered historical accounts of Buddhist practice and belief around wealth, Dr. Somaratne focusing on early Buddhism and Dr. Halkias covering Tibetan ritual practices for prosperity. Dr. Ernest Ng, Buddhistdoor columnist and CEO of the Buddhist NGO Tung Lin Kok Yuen, offered a paper placing Buddhist economics in the context of the varied Western perspectives.
Concurrent workshops explored, on Day One, topics such as integrating transmundane Buddhist wisdom with contemporary corporate management strategy, led by business administration scholar and senior HKSAR government directorate Dr. Anthony Lok, leadership excellence and organizational transformation, led by Julia Culen and Christian Mayhofer, and a Mahayana Buddhist approach to stress management, led by Ven. Sik Hin Hung and Bonnie Wu. On Day Two, the workshops explored social values in entrepreneurship with Francis Ngai Wah-sing, founder of Social Ventures Hong Kong and David Yeung, founder of Green Monday, and sustainable finance and banking with Ven. Hin Hung, Andrew Fung, CFO of Henderson Land, and George Leung, advisor to the deputy chairman and chief executive of HSBC.
A closing workshop on Day Two, led by Debra Tan, Director of China Water Risk, emphasized the importance of the Tibetan plateau, often refered to as the “third Pole” because of the amount of fresh water stored there in glaciers. Global warming, Tan warned, is effecting the plateau at twice the average rate of the planet, which will lead to drastic reduction in existing glaciers, effecting the fresh water supplies of over a billion people living in the region.
The conference showcased a wide variety of perspectives in addition to those discussed here, across both geography and varied disciplines in both academia and the business world. In the closing session, Ven. Phra Dr. Anil Sayka, Rector of the World Buddhist University in Thailand, noted that the very term “sustainable” is derived from the Latin sustinere meaning “to hold up, to support or bear” and this is nearly identical to the root meaning of the Buddhist term “dharma,” which is “to hold firmly, support.” Thus, he suggested, in our promotion of sustainable economic ideals, we are in turn promoting and promulgating the Dharma.
By Julia Culen. August 16, 2019.
In this post am offering my personal takeaways in 10 chapters from a Conference on Buddhist Values and Ethics in Economy we attended and spoke at in Hong Kong in April 2019. The conference was organized by the Centre of Buddhist Studies of HKU and the European SPES Institute. This two-day conference was an impressive convention of academics, spiritual leaders, researchers, politicians, entrepreneurs, wealthy donors, impact investors, financial- market experts and consultants sharing their current state of insights, ideas and thoughts. All videos are available here.
One personal note at the beginning: I don’t believe Buddhist values and economics hurt the economy and business. On the contrary, but this very place where it should be expressed: in our daily personal lives in businesses and companies and in national economics and political action. Buddhism is powerful only, when applied to the very heart of our everyday lives, business and society.
1. What is Buddhist Economics?
While Buddhist Economics as a field of research may still be new to many, it has grown over the last few decades. The term Buddhist Economics is believed to have been coined by E. F. Schumacher in his pioneering 1970s work, Small is Beautiful. Inspired by Buddhist philosophy, Schumacher believed that the economy should serve society ”as if people mattered.”
Schumacher foresaw the problems that come with excessive reliance on the growth of income, especially overwork and dwindling resources. He argued for a system that valued individual character development and human liberation over-attachment to material goods. In Schumacher’s view, the goal of Buddhist Economics is “the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption” (Buddhist Economics, Clair Brown, p. xiii).
Buddhist Economics is the integration of key Buddhist values and ethics (such as non-violence, compassion, love and wisdom) with Economics – on a global, regional and individual level.
2. What is the main goal of Buddhist Economics?
Buddhist Economics aims to establish shared, sustainable prosperity on a global level.
3. What are key challenges Buddhist Economics addresses?
Both of these challenges are interrelated and profoundly influenced by economics.
Inequality and CO2 emissions go together: Rich countries and people are big polluters, while inequality is a source of suffering. In 2014, less than 1% of people owned 48% of global wealth while the bottom 80% shared only 5.5% of global wealth. (source:Buddhist Economics, Clair Brown) In addition, people feel worse off as inequality grows. The problem of inequality is nailed down with this quote from Zsolnai, Lud, and Opdebeeck: “The world is not divided between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ but between a majority that do not have enough and a minority that has too much.”
It is a fact that countries choose their level of inequality and their carbon footprint. It is not just a matter of taking away from the rich and giving to the poor but rather of defeating the root cause and the legislation which leads to inequality in the first place. While neoliberals promote “free” markets (meaning little governmental interference and few regulations), there is no such thing as a “free” market, since the more you have, the more power you have. We all know the dynamics of monopoly; the rich get richer and the poor people get poorer. This is ultimately where free markets lead, unless there is a higher power, called politics.
The guiding questions are manifold:
4. What are the key ethics and values of Buddhism?
Buddhism is a spiritual wisdom tradition and not a religion, as there is no God involved. The underlying key question and goal of Buddhism is just one question:
Spiritual and contemplative practices such as meditation are meant to help clear the mind and cut through illusions (including the idea of a separate self) in order to take wise action in the midst of life. The purpose of monks and monasteries and teachings is to cultivate this wisdom, not to keep it away from people.
The key assumption is that most of our suffering is self-inflicted and thus can be relieved by ourself.It is an approach of self-empowerment rather than the belief in a higher power we depend on for better or worse.
Here are some of the related teachings and principles I find most relevant:
5. What is the difference between Western Economics and Buddhist Economics?
This slide was shown during the Buddhist Economics conference in April, and it summarizes the key differences nicely:
6. What is the scientific foundation of Buddhist Economics?
The 2019 “Buddhist Economics” Conference in Hong Kong gathered contemporary researchers and academics in this field. They included Clair Brown, who taught Buddhist Economics at UC Berkeley and is the author of Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science,and Prof. Richard Payne, editor of the essay collection How Much is Enough?: Buddhism, Consumerism, and the Human Environment. Also attending were representatives from Bhutan to present about Gross National Happiness (GNH); in addition, the venerable Dr. Jing Yin (淨因法師), abbot of the Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong and former Director of the Centre of Buddhist Studies, gave a presentation about the Buddhist Perspective on Wealth. Prof. Laszlo Zsolnai, a Hungarian economist influenced by E. F. Schumacher and who has published books on Buddhist Economics since 2006, was invited but could not attend due to health issues.
In addition to including scholarly topics, the conference held panels on the practical aspects of integrating values into businesses. Speakers included Jed Emerson and Annie Chen (influential in impact investing and sustainable finance), David Yeung from Green Monday and Francis Ngai from Social Ventures Hong Kong (iconic figures in the area of social entrepreneurship), and Andrew Fung, George Leung and Ernest Ng (very successful in their banking and finance careers).
In particular, Clair Brown delivered the scientific research and numbers proving that Buddhist Economics is real and actually more effective and profitable in a holistic sense than the “Western” approach. Western Economics is compared to Buddhist Economics, because western countries are the main polluters. CO2 pollution does not reflect population but rather standard of living: Rich western countries are the main polluters, use the most resources by far, and consume the most. The numbers are impressive.
7. Why would anyone address hard problems, such as the economy and environmental collapse, with a spiritual philosophy?
During the last 100 years, we have seen a shift from a spirituality-oriented culture of frugality into a materialistic culture supported by modern media.
“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong.
We cannot solve our problems with the same mindset that created them, and Buddhist Economics invites us to reflect on and transform the basic beliefs and assumptions upon which our current economic system is based. As Speth points out, the environmental crisis is the result of our state of mind and culture.
Harmful behavior and undesirable outcomes can be seen as the manifested result of inner states of anxiety, aggression, discontentment, greed, hate, fear and desperation.
Addressing environmental destruction and economic dysfunction requires addressing the spiritual and psychological dimensions and the – mostly unmet – human need for connection, safety and personal development.
Emotional factors such as fear and desire are more powerful than reason, driving us to our worst economic excesses of greed, overconsumption and materialism while damaging our societies and ravaging our environment. The science of economics adopts a rational approach, but the issues of fear and the emotional need for security are far more basic.
“The theoretical models remain rational solutions to largely irrational problems.” – Venerable Prayudh Payutto, Buddhist monk
Beware of Spiritual Materialism
We can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.
We can create a spiritual ego, by saying, “I am more spiritual than you are! I am more conscious and self-aware than you.”Judgment, comparison and depreciation get in the way and play out counter-productively.
8. Are there real-life examples?
The Chaipattana Foundation says that sufficiency economy is “…a method of development based on moderation, prudence, and social immunity, one that uses knowledge and virtue as guidelines in living.” Source: Wikipedia
9. Who can take action and how?
What each of us can do:
What companies (can) do:
What politics and societies (can) do
The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals summarize everything that is to do, but here are some key topics taken from Clair Brown’s book Buddhist Economics.
a. Tax and transfers:
Market regulations that create a sustainable global economy. They provide incentives to support ecosystems and distribute resources equitably. Examples are taxing and regulating carbon and consumption, promoting green technology, sharing wealth (just today I learned, thatUS billionaires even asked to be higher taxed in order to finance climate challenges.)
b. Sustainable agriculture
Industrial agriculture is responsible for emitting up to one-third of global greenhouse gases and its overuse of water and fertilizers devastates rivers, lakes an oceans. Deforestation causes loss of species and changes the weather. Critical ecosystems are destroyed in the rain forests. and so on.
Sustainable agriculture practices that use land and water wisely include using compost, crop rotation to replenish the soil, natural pesticides or biodiversity, raising animal without hormones and antibiotic. Of course this demands a change of lifestyle, or the use of meat substitutes. Measure and transform:
What gets measured gets done. Currently it is GDP for most countries. New measures try a more holistic approach, including well-being, happiness, sustainability and many more.: UN’s Human Development Index (HDI), the Sustainable Development Goals Index (SDGI). Or Bhutans Gross National Happiness (GNH), consisting of many sub-categories.
c. Shared prosperity
Inequality is a choice: Economist Joseph Stiglitz has demonstrated that a country’s inequality is not an inherent outcome of capitalism, but a choice that the country has made through ist national laws and institutions. Government policies shape how people share a country’s resources. Economists are currently developing different systems of how to share prosperity like a guaranteed minimum income, capital endowment to young people, employee ownership and profit sharing, among others
Keeping fossil fuels in the ground!
d. Peace and prosperity
War on terrorism does not seem to work: The outcome i the creation of more terrorism, violence and hatred. Promote non- military solutions: replace war with humanitarian aid, long-term support for political, economic and social progress. Over time the profits from weapons could be shift into profits from beneficial action. (The five largest exporters of weapons are the United States (31%), Russia (27%), China, Germany and French (5%) each. The largest importers are India (15%), Saudi Arabia and China (5%), and then UAE, Pakistan and Australia (4%) each. )
To embrace and practice Buddhist economics, you need courage. Courage to change, courage to protect the environment, courage to promote justice, and courage to live with joy. Clair Brown, Buddhist Economist
10. Personal remarks and thoughts
When I studied International Business Administration in the 1990s, absolutely not once did we discuss the implications and what it means for humans. We were trained how to manage companies and organizations so they would deliver maximum results with minimum resources. Environmental concerns were no issue. Sociology was maybe the only subject area in which the human dimension was shining through. In Economics we calculated curves and discussed fiscal and financial and tariff means to protect and balance the markets. There was actually no critical aspect in discussing a dehumanized approach to economics. Profits were the religion, success was key. Personal success the goal. By that time I did not even question the basic paradigms, I was not even aware what that all really meant. Today I know better and can use my academic training in a different way.
The idea of a simple life is incredibly appealing to me. I am transforming my personal life too, step by step. Buying less and less (except flowers), traveling by train where possible, avoiding flights (still too many) and growing into vegetarian diet. In my house I avoid the use of chemicals, we create our detergents from natural ingredients (get this book) and avoid toxic people. We grow our own food in the garden, a small contribution. We buy groceries from the producers on farmers markets or from the farmers, which is of course easier when living in the countryside. We use bikes. Small steps.
After the Buddhist Economy conference we thought about what else we could reduce in our life, also in a sense of constructive self-reduction: we cancelled Netflix, Christian retreated from Facebook and I try to control screen time. It is all so little compared to the world problems, but not everyone has to solve everything. It is small simple steps we do, together.
In our consulting work we increasingly address issues like environmental concerns, how employees are treated, fair payment. We are not in the position to lecture clients morally, still we do think life is urgent and with my opportunity to access top management comes a responsibility.
On a global level Christian and I work towards bringing wisdom tradition into the world of business and connecting the dots – which just appear to be separate when you look on a superficial basis. If we look beyond the visible surface, we can see suffering and the spiritual longing for connection, being pacified by consumption, overwork and greed. But actually this is not what people desire deeply and we think we all could bring back natural human connection and compassion and stop harming others and ourselves. Instead we could wake up to how much we already have, how little we actually need on a material basis and start to focus more on our spiritual and human potential. We would all be happier and less destructive.
P.S.: Christian and I delivered a Workshop on “Personal Mastery, Leadership and Organizational Transformation”, you can find our talk and Post Blog here