Buddhism and the EoC in dialogue

Buddhism and the EoC in dialogue

By Benedetto Gui
From "Economy of Communion - a new culture" N.31 - May 2010

N31_Pag._05_Benedetto_Gui_"We're in danger of longing for the past,” Teresa Ganzon whispered to me. She is also one of the guest speakers invited to give voice to the Economy of Communion at the 4th Buddhist-Christian Symposium, held in February near Chang Mai, in northern Thailand.

After a first day of rich dialogue centered on the current collapse in values, the second day, dedicated to the topic of contemporary humanity’s suffering, brought a vein of pessimism that started to seep into the hall about the future. An American speaker, from a Protestant church, was able to reverse the situation. He invited everyone to look ahead, "The past is behind us. Now, together, we need to understand how to face the new problems that have arisen." It was the turning point. Nissho Takeuchi, a spiritual leader who is followed by many Japanese business managers, took the microphone to thank him. "You are right," Mr. Takeuchi said. "Our role as carriers of spiritual values is not to defend our religion from new cultural tendencies, attempting to knock down the others. We need to attentively analyze our responsibilities and collaborate together, to help humanity, which will continue to go ahead."

Chiang_mai_03This attitude acted as the basis for the rest of the symposium that focused on "Economic crises and disparity in wealth." 
Four presentations given by Buddhist speakers highlighted how Buddhism would be able to bring a specific message to economy - expressed by the key word, "happiness." (This word, happiness, has become the object of new interest in the last few years on the part of Western economists).In fact, Buddhism aims to help human beings be happy.  But the way to reach this happiness is much different from the norm; it is not centered on the search for money and success. Buddhism teaches people to free themselves from worry over passions and self-absorption, and helps people to open themselves up to compassion towards others.

"It's not by chance," observed Muhehiro Niwano of the Rissho Kosei Kai, "that the only nation in the world to have adopted, as a measure of success, the "Gross National Happiness" index (instead of Gross National Product) is Bhutan, where Buddhist influence is very strong."

"We're not talking about erecting a barrier against modernization," underlined Niwano, "but only about allowing human beings to keep or win back their own spiritual wealth while benefiting from material wealth."

Chiang_mai_05_Ben_Tess_ridThe case of a modern Japanese marine community, Minamata, is very significant in this sense. Tragically, the town gained publicity for its mental illness that was caused, unknowingly, by the ingestion of mercury dumped into the water by industrial plants and absorbed by fish in the bay. The inhabitants of this city were shunned and even discriminated against by others out of the fear and disgust that the name, “Minamata,” evoked. The need to get out of this extremely uncomfortable situation opened the way to an original social experiment aimed at having the community regain its quality of life. The experiment was based on the collaboration among citizen and, the reconstruction of its social fabric by underlining spiritual values rather than consumeristic values.

Another significant experience is that presented by Phrakhru Piphitsutatorn, representing Thailand’s Buddhism, in which the monastic life plays an important role. Faced with the economic and social difficulties of the rural population of the Trad Province, impoverish by the emigration of the youth to the cities, Buddhist monk, Phra Subin, gave life to a network of initiatives of communitarian economy that involved more than 100 villages. The first step was to gather savings that were then given as loans at competitive tax rates. Additional types of collaboration such as "rice banks", joint acquisitions that reduced costs, and the production of biological fertilizers (less expensive and polluting than chemical ones) began to evolve.
It is interesting to note how Phra Subin went beyond the traditional role of a monk being a spiritual witness and into working on the affairs of material life.

 Chiang_mai_04Finally, a word on our presentation of the Economy of Communion: the general ideas of the project were very positively received as was the experience of the rural Filipino bank, Banco Kabayan. During this meeting, more than at other times,  I realized how the ideal of unity that inspires the EoC highlights the very encouraging experiences of economy at the service of humanity that are blooming from men and women of good will all over the world. This ideal can help these initiatives unite with one another in transforming praxis and current economic culture from within. Once more, I felt that the Economy of Communion is a piece of that inundation of hope that is needed by the billions of citizens of the world.

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