Economies have no essential nature. Once this is recognized, many more opportunities for change present themselves.
Many of us, informed about world events and motivated by love and compassion, feel the need for profound economic transformation. We started long ago to question injustice, consumerism, and military-industrial ties. The growing specter of climate-change related disruptions has convinced even more people that ‘business as usual’ is not a viable option.
But what form should this transformation take, and how can we make it happen? I believe that insights from the careful study of both economics and Zen Buddhism can help us along this path—no matter what faith tradition we come from (if any).
Based on a talk given at Harvard Divinity School, sponsored by the Religions and the Practice of Peace Initiative, on Feb. 18, 2016.
MANY BUDDHISTS—as well as many non-Buddhists!—have raised concern and alarm about the climate crisis and other crises facing our society and our world. Clearly, we need to take urgent action. As Buddhists, we have a pressing moral obligation to do what we can to relieve the suffering of all beings on the planet, both now and in the future. Our hearts yearn to make things better.
And clearly much of the climate change disaster is caused by economic activity. If you graph carbon dioxide emissions and industrial output over a long period of time, the two graphs look pretty much identical. The development of large scale, fossil-fuel burning industries was accompanied, in Western societies, by the rise of large corporations, global markets, and a rising emphasis on consumption as a source of well-being. Great wealth has been created, but this wealth has been very unequally distributed, and has often come at the cost of environmental and social sustainability.
It’s abundantly clear that we can’t go on with “business as usual.” People and other sentient beings are already feeling the disruptive effects of a set of historical and social developments that, as a whole, have taken far too little account of the effects of our production and consumption on the rest of nature. We urgently need to change how our economies work.
To stop the economy’s advance towards greed and destruction, we need new metaphors and images that inspire a radically different alternative.
What do you see in your mind’s eye when you hear the word ‘care’? If you search for images on Google you’ll get lots of pictures of white mothers snuggling with their babies. You’ll also see photos of a female caregiver’s hands intertwined with those of an elderly person, and images that show two hands holding a young plant that symbolizes Earth.
We get to choose between being self-interested, on the one hand, or putting the needs of others first, on the other, right? Or maybe not.
I grew up, as a Lutheran preacher’s kid, hearing a lot of negative things about self-interest, selfishness, and self-centeredness. And I heard a lot of positive things about putting others ahead of oneself, altruism, and even self-sacrifice. When I got older and went to college, I was exposed to a different view. Continue reading “Self-Interest and Other-Interest”
Part 3 of a reflection on birth, death, and the Linji Lu
Where does that feeling that something more–that too much–is expected from me come from? Many of the dharma talks that I listened to online, being too ill to attend the January sesshin in person, looked into our fundamental and common sense of “lack.” They examined how this drives us to think we need to be someone else other than who we are. Certainly my feelings of fear about under-performing during my sabbatical semester was an instance of that.
Also, more particularly, I could see how these fears were reinforced by being brought up in a Protestant Christian faith tradition that includes teachings about a final judgment day. Continue reading “Judgment day”
On February 18, 2016, I had the honor to be invited to speak, along with Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, at a colloquium on “Buddhist Responses to Climate Change” at Harvard Divinity School. This is the video of the event. My talk was titled “Beyond ‘Small is Beautiful’: Buddhism and the Economics of Climate Change.”
Thoughts on economics, ethics, gender, climate, language, Zen, and a few other things…
I’ve just started a blog that has the tagline, “Thoughts on economics, ethics, gender, climate, language, Zen, and a few other things…” What in the world could those things have in common??Continue reading “Why this blog?”
Many have argued that the current economic system must be dismantled, and replaced with a “new economy” of local, well-being-oriented, cooperative, and compassion-inspired communities. You’ve probably read articles along these lines.
This isn’t another.
Socially equitable. Ecologically sustainable. Personally and spiritually satisfying. What sort of economic transformations are needed to achieve societies like these?
Many writers including Gar Alperovitz, David Loy and David Korten argue that the current economic system of global, profit-oriented, individualistic, and greed-driven corporations and markets must be dismantled, and replaced with a “new economy” of local, well-being-oriented, cooperative, and compassion-inspired communities. You’ve probably read articles along these lines – or perhaps you’ve written them.