Sunday, September 20, 2009


Poverty (daliddiya or niddhana) is a lack of resources necessary to maintain an adequate standard of living. In one place the Buddha sympathetically described a poor man as living in a dilapidated hovel that the crows could come into, having rickety furniture, a single pot with low quality seed and grain in it and a wretched wife (M.I,450). The Buddha recognized the undesirability of economic deprivation saying: ‘Monks, poverty is real suffering for an ordinary worldly person’ (A.III,351). He also described the difficulties that often accompanying poverty. ‘When a man is poor, penniless and in penury he gets into debt and that is suffering. When he is in debt he borrows money and that too is suffering. When he the bills aren’t paid they press him that is suffering also. When he is pressed and cannot pay they harass him and that is even more suffering. When they harass him and he still cannot pay they have him arrested and that is great suffering’ (A.III,352). Poverty can have a variety of causes; individual or social. Some of the causes of individual poverty can be making unwise business decisions, irresponsible spending or failure to husband one’s resources carefully. Other causes such as sickness or disabilities are perhaps beyond the control of the individual. The causes of social poverty include long-term unemployment, downturns in the economy or exploitive social systems, and are likewise are not the fault of individuals and beyond their ability to solve. In the Buddha’s time, ‘being crushed by taxation’ (balipilita) by tyrannical kings sometimes drove large numbers of people into penury (Ja.V,98). Such poverty is unconscionable and one of the roles of the government should be to try to alleviate it. Another reason why a government should involve itself in poverty alleviation programs is because there is a link between poverty and crime and a government also has a duty to protect its citizens from crime. The Buddha recognized the link between poverty and crime when he said: ‘From (the king) not providing sufficient relief to the poor, poverty increased, with the increase of poverty theft grew, from the growth of theft the use of weapons became common and with weapons common there was an increase in killing’ (D.III,67).


David ( said...

Hi Bhante,
So would you say Buddha was a "liberal"? If he were alive today, would he belong to a liberal political party?

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Good Question! I have a bit of a problem with people who are always saying ‘Jesus wouldn’t do that,’ ‘God wants us to do this’, ‘The Buddha would do that’. I admit that I don’t have the Buddha’s insights and thus I don’t know what he would or would not do. So I’ll say this - any political program that aimed to improve the lives, health, education and general wellbeing of people, especially poorer people, would have to be more in harmony with the Dhamma and find endorsement from people who believed that compassion, felt and expressed, is important. Oh, and incidentally. In Australia ‘liberal’ is the name of our conservative party, and when I here Obama being called a ‘socialist’ I’m completely bewildered. Compared to our socialists he’s right of centre.

Aaron said...

Well, I don't think the Buddha would be pro-gun and he's unlikely to be pro-abortion most of the time. I can think of numerous positions on the left and right with the Buddha would have issues with, so he's neither liberal nor conservative, and he's probably not going to be concerned about such labels anyway.

Still, it's interesting to try and analyse the Buddha using modern paradigms. :)

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Aaron,
Of course you are right, it could be most ‘interesting to try and analyse the Buddha using modern paradigms’. But we have to be cautious not to read our own opinions and standpoints into the Buddha’s, something that is not always easy to avoid. I learn most from the Buddha’s words when I find myself disagreeing with them. It forces me to read him more carefully and to consider how I formed my opinion. Politicians and presidents start to decline when they surround themselves with ‘yes men’. Spiritual seekers stop growing when they only read scriptures they agree with, or reinterpret them to fit into what they already believe.

MidPath said...

Well, look at the case of Burma on Poverty.

Junta still repressing monks:

BANGKOK - MYANMAR'S Buddhist monks face continuing intimidation, repression and severe jail sentences two years after the junta's crackdown on anti-government protests, a rights group said on Tuesday.

A report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) said around 240 monks were serving tough prison terms, while thousands have been disrobed or live under 'constant surveillance' following their leading role in the 2007 demonstrations.

The protests began as small rallies against the rising cost of living but escalated into huge demonstrations led by crowds of monks that posed the biggest challenge to junta rule in nearly two decades.

The new report said the potential for a repeat of the protests is 'very real' if the international community does not put pressure on the regime to enact credible political reform ahead of elections planned for 2010.

It details the arrest, beating and detention of individual monks after the 2007 uprising, in which at least 31 people were killed as security forces cracked down on protesters in the country formerly known as Burma.

The junta has since closed down health and social service programmes run by local monastic groups across the country and intensified surveillance of monasteries, according to the report.

It said many monks - who also face repression for their important social service role after the devastation of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 - have left their monasteries and returned to their villages or sought refuge abroad. The cyclone killed 138,000 people and prompted international criticism of the government's slow response.

'The stories told by monks are sad and disturbing, but they exemplify the behavior of Burma's military government as it clings to power through violence, fear, and repression,' said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

'The monks retain a great deal of moral authority, making principled stands by monks very dangerous for a government that doesn't.' Meanwhile the rights group accused the junta of using Buddhism as a tool to gain political legitimacy - for example by lavishing gifts on selected senior monks and monasteries.

'It would not be surprising to see monks on the streets again if social grievances are not addressed,' Mr Adams added.

On Friday Myanmar authorities freed two journalists who helped victims of last year's cyclone and released several opposition activists as part of an amnesty for more than 7,000 prisoners, according to witnesses.

Their release followed another HRW report on Wednesday that said the number of political prisoners in Myanmar had doubled to more than 2,200 in the past two years. UN chief Ban Ki Moon welcomed the release of prisoners but urged the junta to free those still being held, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. -- AFP

Aaron said...

Dear Bhante,

Indeed. I often remind myself the Buddha's response to General Siha and Upali when they expressed interest in following Him to avoid dogmatism. The Buddha's response to the both of them is probably best called 'critical thinking' today.