Towards a Dharma-based economy

  • By Swami Atmarupananda
  • February 2017
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In early November 2015, the author participated in a four-day programme held in Varanasi and Sarnath entitled Awakening the Light of Dharma: How to Uphold Dharma in the World Today, organised by the Global Peace Initiative, in partnership with Jnana- Pravaha of Varanasi, the Sarnath International Nyingma Institute, and the Malaviya Centre for Peace Research. On November 8 the proceedings were held at the Sarnath International Nyingma Institute, which included a morning session on the topic ‘Principles of a Dharmic Economy’, moderated by Dr Tho Ha Vinh.1 After Dr Tho gave an introduction to the topic, the author was asked to address the gathering. The following is the substance of his talk, adapted as an article—Editor.]

Now let us move on and look at some of the contradictions inherent in our economy. First, and most obvious of the contradictions, our economic system is based on growth, specifically growth of production, consumption, and total monetary value of the system. Its aim is not to attain an equilibrium which can be sustained indefinitely. Its aim is growth, economic expansion. The reason why it is based on growth is important, and not beyond the understanding of anyone here, but it would take all my time to explain the reason. So for now, suffice it to say that the reason has to do with the way money is conceived of, created, and accounted for in the present system. For long ages of human history, economic systems were not dependent on constant growth: it’s a modern phenomenon and therefore not intrinsic to economic activity.

Thus, as the commons disappears into private control and eventual depletion, we are reaching the limits of growth. And no growth means death, within the context of the modern economic system. That is why China, for instance, is desperately buying up rights to resources all over the world, especially in Africa and South America. In the end that won’t work, because when a country is faced with the massive hunger and thirst of its own people, it isn’t going to honour pieces of paper saying that another country owns the rights to the resources there. And that, by the way, leads to the projected wars of resources.

Another element in the breakdown of our economic system is our very understanding of work—participation in the economy. The Protestant work ethic which was so effective in motivating people to engage in economic and other activity, and which was instrumental in the rise of modern capitalism, has outlived its usefulness. The stories out of which the Protestant work ethic developed are no longer vital, leaving modern society without a viable philosophy of work. A much simplified version of the Protestant work ethic can be expressed in two equations: hard work is a sign of morality, and worldly success is a sign of God’s favour. But the Protestant Christian worldview on which this ethic was based is all but dead.

I will simply list the main ideas that follow from the preceding discussion, without explicitly stating the connection to dharmic principles, such connections being fairly obvious:

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This article was first published in the Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata ( I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. You can subscribe online at Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To know more