Talk Categories Buddhism in Modern Society | Talk Locations University of Botswana

Buddhist Perspective in the Era of Materialism

In this speech, Khenpo Sodargye recounts the negative impacts of materialism by looking back at human history. Now, the negative effects of such a value system continue, leading to the increasingly widening gap between the rich and the poor. Khenpo points out that the root of these problems is egocentrism and the indifference to the suffering of others. Although human beings are engaged relentlessly in the search for happiness, by neglecting the value of morality, people seem to be creating more sufferings. Actually, the essence of happiness, as Khenpo mentions, dwells in contentment and inner peace, not the material possessions. As well, Khenpo also shares the Buddhist view on wealth from a different perspective.

Speech by Khenpo Sodargye

Share What We Have with Others

Share What We Have with Others

 

If the rich in the world have the sense of sympathy and equality, they will distribute a certain portion of their wealth to the poor or the people around. If this is the case, it probably would be sufficient for all the 7 billion people in this world to live a rather happy life, because the Earth has provided sufficient resources for us all.

However, many wealthy people only care about their own families, relatives and friends. Some of the wealthy may engage in some charitable activities, like building hospitals and schools, but the money they donated probably amounts to not even one ten-thousandth of their total wealth. So, sometimes when I have met some wealthy people, I would often talk with them about this and suggest to them to give more donation. Actually, such practice of giving is beneficial to both this and future lives, and has been propagated both by Christianity and by Buddhism.

I often meet some quite wealthy individuals. They ask if they can do anything for me. As a monk who lives a simple life, I don’t need them to do anything for me. So I encourage them to give more donations, “because life is short, we have no control over the wealth once we leave this world. When the wealth is under our control, we should try to distribute it to those in need. Otherwise, we would feel culpable for not contributing to the society.”

Materialism Brings about Crisis

Although the western philosophy that is based on scientific research sounds very good and is being accepted by people worldwide, it is the oriental mysticism that would contribute to our inner peace.

The western philosophy that centers around the theory of Darwin has somehow had a negative impact on human history. It negates religious beliefs, traditional cultures and related moral values. As a result of the widespread acceptance of this philosophy, materialism became the dominant value of mankind.

Such a value system has put world peace in danger and people who have a knowledge of history would be aware of this. Most people believe that a perfect and complete happiness can only be attained through money and material wealth. As such, human beings keep fighting for all kinds of wealth and resources, which continues even today.

Excessive Desire Leads to Disaster

 

Actually, for every country or nation on the earth, they only have the right to live on it and the right of using the appropriate resources, and no one can take possession of all of them.

We, all human beings from different countries in the five continents and animals, share the same planet, being born into the world, living here and then passing away. As human beings, the earth provides us the proportion of resources that we deserve. And no country has the right to utilize all the recourses bestowed to humanity.

But many of us show no sense of sympathy towards others. It’s sad to see the irrational plunder of assets and resources that happened in human history over the past centuries. I love to visit different countries around the world. I have been to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Asian countries and here in Africa. However, the genocidal violence against indigenous people in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Africa has made me distressed. And such bloody history of wars and conflicts among human beings was also repeating itself within the Asian countries, which saddens me very much as well.

I often meet some quite wealthy individuals. They ask if they can do anything for me. As a monk who lives a simple life, I don’t need them to do anything for me. So I encourage them to give more donations, “because life is short, we have no control over the wealth once we leave this world. When the wealth is under our control, we should try to distribute it to those in need. Otherwise, we would feel culpable for not contributing to the society.”

Buddhist View on Wealth

Sensory Pleasure and Inner Happiness

From the Buddhist viewpoint, there are two aspects in terms of happiness, one is the sensory pleasure, the other is the inner happiness. Likewise, suffering is also categorized into both the physical one and the mental one.

In general, people with higher social status are more likely to encounter mental sufferings, while ordinary people tend to experience more physical affliction. The physical affliction can be dispelled through sensory pleasures, such as, listening to a nice sound, seeing something beautiful, tasting a delicious food or touching something gentle and soft. Whereas for the inner happiness, it can be achieved by meditation practice or the religious way of realizing the inner mind.

Buddhist View on Wealth

The Buddhist view on wealth neither advocates a luxurious life of being excessively wealthy, nor does it promote living in poverty. Buddhism values a moderate way of living, as the above two extreme lifestyles are not good for living a normal and healthy life.

In Buddhism, wealth is not viewed as a target of condemnation. Only when we are over attached to wealth, does wealth become a cause of disaster. Some people think a Buddhist should follow an ascetic life. This is not the case. It is taught in Vinaya Pitaka that, as long as one does not possess any attachment or cravings, living in a plush house, dressing in gorgeous clothes and enjoying exquisite delicacies will not become a fault.

Being too poor, the suffering brought about by hunger, physical and mental fatigue would make it difficult for one to even maintain a normal livelihood. On the other extreme, being too wealthy, one would probably overly take possession of many resources, and the increasing craving for wealth will result in immoral conducts. Therefore, Buddhism speaks highly of a middle way lifestyle, which is also similar to some of the Christian viewpoints on wealth.

From Buddhist point of view, once we obtain the possessions, we should divide it into four portions: keep one for our own basic needs; save one for future life in case of unexpected situations like famine; give one to those who are in need like the beggars; and offer one to virtuous people or spiritual educators. The management of wealth was very well described in many Buddhist scriptures such as Agama SutraNirvana Sutra, so on and so forth.

How to Face Wealth Inequality

Complaints and anger will not help in respect to the issue of wealth inequality. As I mentioned earlier, many issues of humankind like this are due to various aspects, such as education, corruption in government and the unhealthy view on wealth across the world. Thus, there may be some resentment due to wealth inequality. However, holding resentment is not a wise choice as this is a negative emotion that will not bring about ideal results. The best solution is to handle it in a rational way.

Some people may have very limited resources in making a living or achieving something due to poverty. Yet some may possess quite a lot of resources, despite their inadequate capability. This does not only happen in one country or one region, it has escalated into a global issue and will probably expand gradually in the future.

Facing this, probably what we can do is, on the one hand, we should deal with it in a wise and rational way. On the other hand, every one of us should learn to hold sympathy and compassion, as to those who are poorer than us, even though we are not rich, some of our conduct may be considered improper. When I was in Malawi a few days ago, I was drinking a bottle of soft drink and had a little left in the bottle. Then a few kids were fighting for the leftover. At the end, a boy who was a little stronger got it. The rest of the kids all hated him but they couldn’t do anything because they were not strong enough. Therefore, when we reflect on the social phenomena, there’re always two aspects—perhaps for some people, either in our own countries or other places, they may feel it is unfair comparing what they have to our possessions. So, sometimes, perhaps it is better for us to contemplate on the issue from different aspects.

In Buddhism, wealth is not viewed as a target of condemnation. Only when we are over attached to wealth, does wealth become a cause of disaster. Some people think a Buddhist should follow an ascetic life. This is not the case. It is taught in Vinaya Pitaka that, as long as one does not possess any attachment or cravings, living in a plush house, dressing in gorgeous clothes and enjoying exquisite delicacies will not become a fault.

Question and Answer Session

Whether it is the increasingly widening gap between the rich and the poor, or the wars and battles throughout human history, the root of these problems is egocentrism and the indifference to the suffering of others. That is to say, being self-centered, and ignoring the sufferings of others, except for one’s own family and friends, have played a dominant role in our value system, and this is the main cause for the many crises in history and in the present times.