Your Gas Guzzler Is Killing Earth—And People!

Californians want to stop global warming, and yet we continue to drive gas-guzzling vehicles mile after mile.

Transportation is now California’s number one source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for one-third of the state’s GHG emissions. We must change our habits—drive low (or zero) emission cars, and drive less!

The government plays two important roles in making sure our economic system reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that are overheating the planet to dangerous levels. One is to educate people about how burning fossil fuels causes air pollution and global warming, so that they change their behavior to care for the environment. Two is to set standards so that companies provide greener products, such as more fuel-efficient cars. This could also be achieved by raising the price of oil, coal, and natural gas to include the social costs of carbon emissions, that is, the harm done to the environment and people’s health from burning fossil fuels. However politically it seems easier to pass regulations than taxes, and so mandating fuel efficiency standards for vehicles is a critical part of what government must do, at the national level and in California.

Transportation is the single largest source of GHG emissions in California. With low gasoline prices, Californians have been buying SUVs and pick-up trucks. Automobile manufacturers like the high-profit SUVs and pick-up trucks, rather than the low-profit electric vehicles, hybrids, and smaller cars. In 2015, there were 80% as many pick-up trucks and SUVs as smaller cars registered in California. Car ads glorify the power and comfort of the larger vehicles to entice consumers to buy them. Then the auto companies say that they cannot meet fuel efficiency standards because consumers want larger vehicles with low fuel efficiency. This becomes a chicken-and-egg problem, as consumers respond to advertising and low gas prices and then buy less-efficient SUVs and pick-ups. Then government must make stricter regulations, and the companies push back harder.

Average fuel efficiency of new vehicles reached 25 mpg in 2014, up from 21 mpg in 2008. Then the average fuel efficiency has stagnated for the past three years. Emissions from transportation did not decline over the 2011-20114 period (latest data) as the economy recovered.

We want everyone to ponder the problems they are causing with each gallon of gas, which is putting an average of 250 grams/mile of CO2 into the atmosphere in California (and even more in other states without California fuel standards).

What new vehicle you buy makes a big difference to how much you are polluting the air. If you buy the popular Honda CR-V with 27 mpg (miles per gallon), you are polluting 70% more than if you buy a hybrid Toyota Prius with 46 mpg. If you buy an electric Chevy Bolt with 119 MPGe, then you are polluting only 40% as much as with a Prius, and your emissions drop to zero if you use renewable electricity to charge your car. If you buy a pick-up truck or minivan with 22 mpg (or worse), you are polluting 20% more than the Honda SUV. Your vehicle is adding carbon to the atmosphere, and your choice about which vehicle to buy and how many miles to drive make a big difference. Your driving style also matters. Eliminating aggressive driving and speeding can improve fuel efficiency and reduce driving emissions by 10%.

Driving a Bolt is fun! We drove a Chevy Spark EV for three years, and thought it was terrific except the range was only 80 miles. Next we leased a Bolt EV, and its range is about 275 miles. Note both cars are totally electric, and we plug into 100% green electricity (supplied by Marin Clean Energy and delivered by PG&E). Test drive an electric car, and once you realize that the new EVs are amazing cars, lease one for three years (a good deal).

The government’s fuel efficiency standards are a critical part of the United States’ commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If consumers continue to buy larger SUVs and pick-ups, then the fuel efficiency standards become even more important in ensuring that manufacturers are providing vehicles that will reduce carbon emissions, including electric vehicles. Hopefully consumers will learn that electric and clean energy vehicles are important to people’s health and safety, and to the survival of our planet for future generations.

References
http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/Find.do?action=sbsSelect
https://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/clean_cars/ldv-ghg-tar.pdf
http://www.energy.ca.gov/almanac/transportation_data/summary.html
http://umich.edu/~umtriswt/PDF/UMTRI-2016-7.pdf

Buddhist Economics on We Are One!

Trump’s tweets supporting white supremacists in Charlottesville hurts us all. Racism and hatred goes against American values. It is cruel and causes enormous pain and suffering. Our political and business leaders have spoken out forcefully against the Charlottesville Marchers, whose words and aggression are immoral and must be stopped. They murdered a peaceful and loving woman, and hurt many others.

Let us turn to Buddhist economics to guide us.

Buddha taught that we are all interdependent. Visualize Indra’s Jewel Net (above), with the net stretched to infinity in all directions, each knot containing a brilliant jewel that reflects every other jewel. Each reflection bears the image of all the other jewels. Whatever affects one jewel affects all jewels.

Buddhist economics teaches all people are interdependent, and people and earth are interdependent. Interdependence brings us together to love and care for each other. Everyone’s well-being is connected. In Buddhist economics, the well-being of everyone diminishes when the well-being of one person is harmed. Individual well-being and societal well-being are intertwined.
All major religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism) teach a version of the Golden Rule, “treat others as you would like others to treat you.”
As the Dalai Lama tells us, “Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, and the sharing other people’s suffering,” with all the major religions aiming to help people achieve lasting happiness.

As a Lion’s Roar article states: “The demonstration as it took shape was a flat-out attempt at terrorism by a bunch of white supremacists… It calls us back to our better angels, giving us a moral compass that will allow us to act in ways that might actually be helpful, and that remind us that we are not alone… Heart with heart, and hand in hand, we will build a community of hope and possibility.” https://www.lionsroar.com/everything-we-do-matters-but-two-things-are-critical/
We must stop racism and hatred whenever it occurs, and move forward together along the Buddhist economics path to protect people and the planet.

Here is Buddhist master Shantideva’s teaching of “we are one” (The Way of the Bodhisattva). May this verse live in your heart.

“Since I and other beings both,
In wanting happiness, are equal and alike,
What difference is there to distinguish us,
That I should strive to have my bliss alone?

“Since I and other beings both,
In fleeing suffering, are equal and alike,
What difference is there to distinguish us,
That I should save myself and not the others?

“May we love and care for each other every minute, every day!”

Buddhist Economics on Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy!

What makes people happy?

This question takes us to the heart of the difference between free market economics and Buddhist economics, which have fundamentally difference assumptions about human nature. According to Buddhist economics, human nature is generous and altruistic, even as it also cares about itself. People’s suffering comes from their own mental states that cause them to desire more and more. The Dalai Lama tells us that our feelings of not having enough and wanting more do not arise from the inherent desirability of the objects we seek, but from our own mental illusions. In Buddhist economics, we end suffering by changing our states of mind—we become happy by caring for others and living a meaningful life.
Free market economics rests on the very different assumption that human nature is self-centered and people care only about themselves as they push ahead to maximize their incomes and fancy lifestyles. According to this approach, buying and consuming—new shoes or a new video game—make you happy. Yet soon you grow tired of the shoes, become disappointed with the game, and are shopping again. In this endless cycle of desire, people are left wanting more without ever finding lasting satisfaction. Free market economics is not showing us how to live meaningful lives in a sustainable world, nor is it offering solutions to our concerns about wars, inequality, and global warming.

Buddhist economics provides a path for being happy in our daily life. “Practice compassion” replaces “More is better,” as we move from a “Closetful” to a “Mindful” way of living. Buddhist economics also guides governments in how to restructure the global economy to create well-being for all in a healthy environment. “Everyone’s well-being is connected” replaces “Maximize your own position,” and “The welfare of humans and Nature is interdependent” replaces “Pollution is a social cost that can be ignored.”

British Professor Layard, who is a co-author of the important book The Origins of Happiness, writes, “The evidence shows that the things that matter most for our happiness and for our misery are our social relationships and our mental and physical health. This demands a new role for the state – not ‘wealth creation’ but ‘wellbeing creation’.”

The reality that having more money and buying more stuff is not the road to happiness has been studied for decades, and yet our society still keeps us on the treadmill. Buddhist economics show us how together we can live balanced meaningful lives and heal the earth. There’s no time to lose!

“One interesting thing about greed is that although the underlying motive is to seek satisfaction, the irony is that even after obtaining the object of your desire, you are still not satisfied.” —Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness (p. 95)

Here’s more: www.nytimes.com/2016/07/26/your-money/more-money-more-success-more-stuff-dont-count-on-more-happiness.html?ref=your-money).

Courage to Live a Worthy Life

 

To embrace and practice Buddhist economics, you need courage. Courage to love, courage to protect the environment, courage to help others, and courage to live with joy.

At the personal level, you need courage to quit the rat race of overworking to make more money, courage to live mindfully as you help others, and courage to focus on what makes your life worthwhile.

At the local and national level, you need courage to demand that your government provide the infrastructure needed for an economy that protects the environment and becomes carbon-free, and one that defines economic growth as improved well-being for all people rather than more income for the rich.

We join with others to amplify our energy and create change. Together we have the political will and courage to take action for ourselves on behalf of all species and future generations. We know the fossil fuel industry will fight back with vicious attacks on our demands to transition to a fossil-free economy and ensure a comfortable, dignified life for all people.

Together we can create meaningful, happy lives for ourselves and our communities.

The guidelines are:

  • live mindfully with love and compassion;
  • care for others and relieve suffering;
  • enjoy and rejuvenate the earth.

We reach out with empathy to those who voted for Trump, and find common ground in ensuring everyone has clean air and water. We look for the basic good in each person. Trump supporters are confused and need help as we uproot our delusions. Buddhism views ignorance as the cause of greed, hatred, and delusions, which then cause conflict. People everywhere are frightened, and in pain.

We work with our Sangha and community groups to support each other. We must not fight among ourselves about petty differences, as we remember that we all want the same goals: clean air and water, a healthy earth, and happiness for all. Ignorance is the enemy, and we must vigorously oppose wrongdoing around the world that harms people and Mother Earth. Buddhist economics reminds us that everyone is interconnected, with each other and with nature. Harm to a person or harm to earth is harm to all people.

Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, writing in his Love Letter to the Earth, focuses on our interdependence with Mother Earth and on the need for us to appreciate and care for her. Earth gave birth to us, and we return to her when we die. Earth provides us with everything we need to live healthy, joyful lives. Thich Nhat Hanh asks us to express our gratitude at each meal, which represents the gifts, such as tea and bread that Nature has produced.

All economies must decouple fossil fuel energy use from economic growth. But Buddhist economics wants us to push further in creating sustainable lifestyles that reduce wasteful consumption and reduce overwork so people have time to enjoy life and help one another.

“Our collective compassion, mindfulness, and concentration nourishes us, but it also can help to reestablish the Earth’s equilibrium and restore balance. Together, we can bring about real transformation for ourselves and for the world.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth (p. 69)

Caring for Mother Earth

Enjoying nature is an important part of enjoying life, as we slow down to savor the moment and appreciate being alive. When we return from being at one with nature, we are energized to work to heal Mother Earth.

Human interdependence with our environment is an integral part of Buddhist economics. All activities by companies, governments, and people can be undertaken in a way that protects rather than exploits nature and our natural capital. We heal ourselves as we care for Mother Earth.
Over the next two weeks, my husband Richard and I, along with our greyhound Belvedere, are traveling to Taos. On the way we will visit Leslie, my friend since kindergarten, who lives near Phoenix, Arizona to be near her baby granddaughter. Leslie and I are saddened by how hot and dry Phoenix has become, even as people deny that our fossil fuel economy is causing grave harm to the region.

Buddhist economics shows us a path for transitioning to a low-carbon world, and we heal ourselves as we care for Mother Earth.

Then I am going to a Contemplative Environmental Workshop at the Lama Foundation for six days. I am looking forward to enjoying living off the grid in a lovely area, while I learn from other environmental activists who also practice mediation. We are off line, so I will write about my experience when I return.

As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Caring about the environment is not an obligation, but a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival. We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth, or we will not survive at all.” Love Letter to the Earth, p 82

“Ode to the Redwoods”
You care for each other and many creatures,
As humans gaze at your magnificent glory.
For centuries, you courageously stand tall through
storms, and fires, and drought.
You ask for nothing, until now.
You reach out to humans,
Beg them to stop their violence to Nature,
To go beyond the carbon economy, to stop war.
May we listen
And learn.
—Forest Nymph, August 2015

Buddhist Economics for Guidance During Turmoil

In a time of national turmoil, we can turn to Buddhist economics for guidance.

Trump’s free market economics and narcissistic tweets are causing turmoil and confusion. An aggressive, mean-spirited approach to live will cause suffering, while people want an economy that provides a prosperous meaningful life to people as we care for our planet.

Free market economics is based on three gravely harmful ways of thinking:

  1. Humans dominate nature, which is used to increase consumption, and we don’t need to worry about destroying our ecosystems.
  2. National well-being is based on average income growth, and increasing the incomes of companies and the very rich with reduced taxes and other perks is how we can make everyone better off.
  3. The United States does not have to care about the well-being of people in other countries, and an individual ego-centered free market economy will automatically make the US great again.

Buddhist economics shows us the path for creating comfortable, meaningful lives for all people and a healthy planet. The Buddhist economics is based on three effectively positive ways of thinking:

  • Humans are interdependent with nature, and our health depends on caring for all living creatures and healthy ecosystems. Violence and greed lead to misery.
  • Chasing more and more income does not make us happy. Living in harmony with each other and with nature, as we live with loving kindness to help others, makes us happy. As we transfer income from the wealthy to those in need, both at home and abroad, everyone is better off and our economies perform better.
  • The United States leadership in reducing global warming, in transferring income to relieve poverty and suffering globally, and in stopping wars and conflict, will make the country truly great as we all come together to live with peace and prosperity.

Buddhist economics reminds us that people are interconnected with each other and with Earth. Now is the time to connect with our sangha—our family and neighbors, our community—and mobilize to protest policies that can harm people and nature.

One mandate of Buddhist economics is to reduce suffering of all people. Now is the time to honor the basic goodness of all people, and join together in the fight to protect the rights and dignity of immigrants, LGBTs, Latinos, African-Americans, Muslims—everyone, and also to reach out to those who feel isolated and left behind and supported Trump in their confusion.

Buddhist economics looks to the basic goodness in all of us, our Buddha Nature, and reminds us that the suffering of one person causes suffering for everyone. Now is the time to reduce the painful anger of the Trump supporters, along with the pain of people around the world who are suffering from hunger and from climate change.

As we care for each other and for Earth, our love and compassion for one another and for our planet grows. As peace and harmony pervade the world, as hunger and physical deprivation end, as people live comfortable lives with dignity, and as Earth’s ecosystems are protected—then life is good, and meaningful.

The leap to Buddhist economics takes moral courage to act, to speak out, to mobilize with people around the world. Mobilization to stop harmful policies by the Trump Administration and to demand that our governments at the local, state, and national levels do the right thing to stop global warming and to care for all people must be our top priority.

We have no time to lose, and together we can accomplish much!

 

Humans Are Causing Sixth Extinction, and What You Can Do!

This week’s blog brings together several important studies about how human activity is killing species and overheating earth. If we don’t change the way we are living, even humans will not be able to live on planet Earth. Buddhist economics reminds us that we are connected to each other and earth. We must stop doing harm, and heal Mother Earth.

Let’s begin with humans destroying habitat for many species, and causing the sixth extinction.

Era of ‘Biological Annihilation’ Is Underway, Scientists Warn

A new paper describes the threatened mass extinction of thousands of animal species around the globe. The authors say that human activities are in large part…

The NY Times, July 11, 2107

Then let’s read about how we are hurting Emperor Penguins, a role model for both parents caring for the young. Human’s dependence on fossil fuel is overheating the planet. Buddhist economics reminds us to care for Nature as she has cared for us thru the ages!

Emperor penguins may disappear by the end of this century

New model suggests their numbers could climb until 2050—before falling off a cliff (Sciencemag.org)

Here is an important article on how global warming will make earth too hot for humans. This scary story has received lots of attention.

When Will the Planet Be Too Hot for Humans? Much, Much Sooner Than You Imagine.

Plague, famine, heat no human can survive. This is not science fiction but what scientists, when they’re not being cautious, fear could be our future. The author takes us on a tour of death from heat, famine, plagues, poisoned oceans, suffocating smog, wars, and economic collapse, by looking into these “high risk” outcomes from global warming. This is not the world we want to create, and not the way we want to die.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html?utm_source=fb&utm_medium=s3&utm_campaign=sharebutton-t

What can you do?

A new study compares now much emissions are reduced from different things that people can do to change their lifestyles. Americans need to remind themselves that we emit an enormous 16.1 tons of carbon per person annually, which is eight times the 2050 goal of 2.1 tons set by the Paris Climate Accords. Buddhist economics reminds us that it is our ethical responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint to protect species and earth.

The four most effective actions to substantially reduce annual average personal emissions are familiar: have fewer children (58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emissions saved per year for rich country), live car-free (2.4 tCO2e saved per year), avoid airplane travel (1.6 tCO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight), and eat a plant-based mostly vegetarian diet (0.8 tCO2e saved per year). These are much more effective than simple daily acts of recycling, driving a more fuel efficient car, or changing lightbulbs. These actions require us to rethink our daily habits of getting around and eating, and even forming our families, we can use the transformation to think deeply about what is important to us, and how to live with more awareness and compassion to create meaningful lives.

http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541

A Buddhist prayer for daily living:
“May we heal Mother Earth as we heal ourselves, for the benefit of all.”

(Image Credit: John Wessels/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

How Will This Affect ME…or WE?

Living more naturally and mindfully will change our lifestyle. That is the point: We must end our addiction to fossil fuels, meat, and shopping, so we may live happier, more fulfilling lives.

This is the core of Buddhist economics: happiness comes from caring for ourselves and others, from supporting Mother Earth, as we live mindfully with love and compassion. We know our true nature and develop our full potential, and use our talents and energy to help our family, community, and world.

Now we understand that driving gas guzzlers, overeating meat and wasting food, and tossing stuff into the landfill is hurting both ourselves and others, and destroying Mother Earth. We want to change our lifestyle to become happier and healthier, as individuals and as a global society.

Often when people are confronted with the climate crisis that is killing the earth for humans, they shrug it off, as in “this is how everyone is living, and how people like us have always lived”. Then they continue to destroy our planet with their wasteful lifestyle that pollutes the air and water and earth. We do not have the right to harm people and other species as we overheat the earth. Our entitlement is to clean air and water and nourishment, and not to our addictions to fossil fuel, meat, and wasteful consumption. Freedom is knowing yourself and developing your full potential, so you can pursue a life that is filled with meaning and happiness.

Remember Aristotle’s eudaimonic happiness, where happiness comes from self-realization and living a worthy and moral life. This is based on people developing their full potential and living a life in service to others and the community. Aristotle teaches us, “He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.” He also says, “The contemplative life is happiest.”[i]

The Dalai Lama teaches us that material gain is based on an erroneous assumption that what we buy “can by itself alone, provide us with all the satisfaction we require,” and wrote that “genuine happiness is characterized by inner peace and arises in the context of our relationships with others.”[ii]

Moving from a closetful to a mindful way of life is not hard to do, once you realize the benefits to yourself and the world. My book Buddhist Economics shows you the way, including working with environmental and political groups to demand that local to global governments restructure the economy to use clean energy, develop sustainable agriculture, redistribute resources from the rich to the needy, promote peace, and evaluate economic performance as quality of life.

Together our society can move from “me” to “we”, as we enjoy life and support Mother Earth. In a Buddhist economy that cares about the human spirit, we suffer less and enjoy life more.

As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us, “The healing of our bodies and minds must go together with the healing of the Earth . . .Together, we can bring about real transformation for ourselves and for the world . . . We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth, or we will not survive at all.”[iii]

[i] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Oxford edition. Book 10, p. 18, 193.

[ii] Dalai Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium (New York: Riverhead, 1999), 16, 99, 61.

[iii] Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2013), 240, 572, 627.

How Can We Live Meaningful, Happy Lives in Today’s World?

Buddhist economics guides individuals to live a meaningful, happy life connected to others with compassion, and also guides nations to use resources wisely to improve the well-being of all people while living in harmony with nature.

To embrace a Buddhist approach to economics, you don’t need to practice Buddhism. You need only to care about the human spirit and share the Dalai Lama’s belief that human nature is gentle and compassionate.[i] Buddhist economics embraces a holistic economic approach that goes beyond self-centered materialism and includes sustainability, shared prosperity, and quality of life.

Let us ask how to make Buddhist economics alive in our lives. The question becomes: what makes you happy? How do you really want to live? Our economic system is a powerful force that we want to encourage the best in us as individuals and to restrain aggressive behavior that harms people and the planet.

Buddhist economics is based on what we truly value, which is a reflection of our true nature. Economic inequality, with the rich showing off their wealth and superiority, is based on false beliefs about what makes us happy. There is no problem with who we truly are. Yet when we are ignorant about human nature, we do confused and unskillful things based on misguided social conventions.

Even though we are all interdependent, we have our individual personalities and styles and talents. We don’t have to give up our unique personality, which makes life fun and helps us to navigate and enjoy daily life. Being connected to each other and Nature does not mean uniformity of action, or conformity. We want be in touch with our true nature, so that we are not driven by our ego that plays and replays our daily habits of negative thoughts and actions. Our continual judgment of ourselves and others, our attachment to possessions and relationships with continual longing for more, our ignorance of the suffering we are causing other people and nature, all these make us unhappy. If we know ourselves and are aware of the people and world around us, then our regrets about the past and our worries about the future dissolve. Buddhist economics teaches us to stop grasping and chasing, and instead look inward for happiness that comes with knowing our true nature, practicing compassion, and feeling connected to all people rather than feeling separated by our ego.

An editorial in Lion’s Roar sees hope in the character and values of UC Berkeley college students. McLeod writes, “Many young people today envision a future of service. For them, life is not about material gain. In a society that too often celebrates selfishness, Buddhism can inspire and deepen their compassion and give them the tools of mindfulness and self-care to handle the challenges of serving others. Ultimately, ethics and service are about leading a meaningful life.”[ii]

Many people have found that practicing mindfulness sitting makes them happier. They feel less like a separate self and more interconnected with the world as they shift from “me to we,” and as they see how their beliefs do not represent true reality. Studies have shown that monks’ meditation practices have changed the way their brains function, as brain activity in the right insula and both sides of their anterior cingulate cortices has increased. Other studies have observed that neuroplasticity occurred, meaning that long-term Buddhist meditators have altered the structure as well as function of their brains.[iii]

Once people’s basic needs are satisfied, we evaluate our consumption in terms of how it enables us to live meaningful lives and fulfill our human potential. Our social and creative activities allow us to enjoy life, while the idea of using consumption to distinguish yourself is silly (and destructive). We practice compassion to ourselves as we stop unproductive self-criticism. When we have negative actions, such as getting angry at our partner and shouting unkind comments, we take a break to be in touch with our love and compassion for this person. Visually we can stamp out the demon of anger. We can apologize to our partner for our ugly words, and then let all memory of the event fade away.

When our work demands and family needs keep us glued to our to-do list, our minds keep up an endless chatter about what we need to do. We are lost in our thoughts instead of enjoying the present moment. Although we are lucky in our lives with good jobs and wonderful children and friends, we are stressed out and don’t have time to enjoy life. We are tired, we are overwhelmed, and we are frustrated. Our inner wealth may be inexhaustible, but we feel exhausted by life.

We are surrounded by many people who think that human nature is not basically good or compassionate, and their fears keep them apart from others. With this assumption about selfish, aggressive human nature, we fall back on the free market model where people maximize their income and care only about themselves. Buddhist economics, with the assumption of human nature being kind and altruistic, is pushed away.

This is why human nature matters: when people are interdependent, then human nature is altruistic and caring. Then Buddhist economics approach is correct. Social welfare increases when we transfer income from the rich to those in need, or use a eudaimonic happiness approach where helping others makes one happy. The interdependence of people with nature provides the foundation of sustainability in Buddhist economics.

To embrace and practice Buddhist economics, you need courage. Courage to change, courage to protect the environment, courage to promote justice, and courage to live with joy. At the personal level, you need courage to quit the rat race of overworking to make more money, courage to live mindfully as you help others, and courage to enjoy life off the treadmill.

At the national level, you need courage to demand that your government provide the infrastructure needed for an economy that protects the environment and reduces carbon emissions, one that defines economic growth as improved well-being rather than more income. We also need the political will and courage to take action for ourselves on behalf of all species and future generations.

You need the fearlessness and nonaggressiveness of the Shambala warrior. Chogyam Trungpa taught us that confidence in our basic goodness equips us to live ethically and uplift our personal existence and that of other people.[iv]

Yes, everyone can be happy and live meaningful lives—and leave selfish materialism behind!

[i] Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, 10th anniversary ed, p. 54.

[ii] Lion’s Roar, July 2017, Melvin McLeod, “Ethics, Service, and a Meaningful Life”. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?shva=1#search/lion’s+roar/15bb076bed3408ea?projector=1

[iii] Christof Koch, “Neuroscientists and the Dalai Lama Swap Insights on Meditation,” Scientific American, July 1, 2013. Richard J. Davidson and Antoine Lutz, “Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation,” NIH Public Access Author Manuscript, IEEE Signal Process Mag., September 23, 2010.

[iv] Trungpa, Chogyam. (1984) Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior (Shambala Press).

What is our true self?

Buddhist economics assumes that people are kind and altruistic; we want to help others and relieve their suffering without any specific gain to ourselves and while caring for the planet. This is an important contrast with the traditional economic model assumptions that human nature is self-interested and doesn’t care about others, and ignores environmental degradation. Understanding what is the true self is critical for ensuring that our economic system supports social welfare and improves the quality of life.

In Buddhist economics, people are interdependent with each other and with earth. Human nature includes both self-regarding (egocentric and taking care of oneself) and other-regarding (altruistic and taking care of others) impulses, and the well-being of humans and nature are intertwined. Even when economists believe that humans are not only selfish, opinions abound as to what degree human nature is egocentric and to what degree altruistic; and economists mostly ignore environmental problems.

Economists begin with the assumption that everyone is egotistical, and then they look to see if perhaps caring for others is possible. Economists have observed in lab games that most people have some altruistic feelings, defined as unconditional caring about others with no ulterior motive. Even in an experiment on what people expected from dictators, the subjects expected the dictators to be fair and not behave selfishly. Generous behavior is not only observed in the lab, but also expected by subjects. These experiments have been important for economists to go beyond assuming that people are selfish and to incorporate other-regarding feelings into their models. Bowles and Gintis argue that humans developed cooperative instincts with moral sentiments over time to ensure group survival and growth. Now that the world is united by global warming, we have the opportunity to see how humans behave when existence is threatened in the short term, without time for evolution.

Buddhist economics complements the work of Bowles and Gintis. Yet rather than assuming basic human nature is selfish, and then asking what causes basically selfish people to become other-regarding, Buddhist economics sees human nature as being kind and loving, with self-interest (ego) something that we develop as we grow up in a greedy materialistic world. Then the question becomes “What creates materialistic self-interest (ego development), so people’s natural goodness becomes obscured by self-interest?” Certainly advertising creates endless desires; and inequality creates discontent as people compare themselves to the rich with their lavish lifestyles. Economic performance is measured by income growth, and society evaluates how well we are doing by how fast income is growing, while ignoring that the rich are getting most of the gain in income and our carbon emissions are overheating the planet and killing species.

Buddhist economics begins with the belief that our true nature is kind and altruistic, but then our ego obscures our true nature with delusions that lead to suffering from greed, hatred, and ignorance (the three mental poisons). The goal of life is to go beyond these delusions to be in touch with our Buddha nature, using contemplation and meditation along with our teachers and community of friends (sangha). Ignorance of our basic nature is the root cause of many of our personal, societal, and political problems, and failure to realize our own basic goodness or Buddha nature creates suffering.

We don’t have to agree to what extent humans act out of ego or altruism. What matters is that we agree that people have the desire, and responsibility, to take care of both themselves and others. Then the Buddhist economic system that redistributes income from the rich to the poor and caring about reducing suffering increases social welfare. We can make a living, even prosper, but not at the expense of others or the planet.
Audiences ask me about the violence and aggression promulgated by religions throughout history. Yet this observed violence and aggression is the result of confusion about who we are and how to attain eudaimonic happiness and relieve suffering. Violent behavior is never acceptable in Buddhist economics except to defend oneself and others in order to stop violence. Our mandate is to do no harm to sentient beings or to Mother Earth.

Without practicing Buddhism or any spiritual practice, one can adopt a pragmatic approach that accepts the interdependence among people and with nature, especially with global warming. In 1971, a founder of modern ecology, Barry Commoner, expressed this interdependence as one of the four laws of ecology: “Everything is connected to everything else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.”

Then when nature is degraded, and when people are harmed, all life suffers.
As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Caring about the environment is not an obligation, but a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival. We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth, or we will not survive at all.”

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