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Interview with Ven. Phra Dr. Anil Sakya, Assistant Secretary to the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand and Deputy Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences of Mahamakut Buddhist University

Q: His Majesty the King’s philosophy of sufficiency economy has its roots in Lord Buddha’s Middle Path, or practice of non-extremism, it is said. How would you explain this to a layman or a non- Buddhist to have a good grasp of this idea?

A: Spiritually, Buddhism is the religion of ‘the Middle Way’ became its leitmotiv. Canonically, it is the middle way between two false views: indulgence and asceticism. However, the middle way is not a mere philosophical ideology but it is reflected in all aspect of human life i.e. social, political, economical, and psychological and so on. The pragmatism of the middle way in our daily practice simply means ‘reasoned moral self-discipline’. Or to have mindfulness and awareness of the body which neither ignores it nor try to force fully master it. Simply, it is neither to force nor to please one’s mind. Therefore, the middle way can apply in any circumstance of life.

Relating to economy, it is obvious that the world economy is heavily polarised to a certain extremism. Consequently, we are suffering from the economy which does not concern in ‘reasoned moral self-discipline’. In layman’s terms, the key of economy is human desire. From a Buddhist perspective there are two types of human desire: unlimited desire (i.e. aim for sensual desire) and disciplined desire (i.e. aim for a quality life).

Capitalist economy which devours the world economy at present is subservient to ‘the institution of unlimited desire’. It is a kind of extremism leading to competition, snatching, exploitation, human fight, suffering, social violence, and destroys peace and prosperity. The consequence is an extremity (always in a worst direction). It lacks value to keep it on to the middle way. Therefore, His Majesty the King proposed sufficiency economy based on the middle way of Buddhism. It is the type of economy with ‘reasoned moral self-discipline’. It is an economy based on disciplined desire. It is an economy based on compassion for others and environment. It is an economy based on sustenance of mankind and the earth. It is an economy allows you to enjoy life in peace and happiness with moderation simply by neither encouraging you to force your mind to a certain extremity nor to please your desire to a certain extremity. It is a well balanced life – a well balanced economy. This economy is eco-friendly and leading to happier life. The key concept is the wise moderation in consumption, ideology, life-style and so on – the true life of the middle way.

Q: How would this philosophy apply to non-Buddhists and their businesses?

A: This philosophy is not a religious based philosophy.
Therefore, it does not mean that it only applies to a certain religious adherents. In fact, Lord Buddha never claimed that his teachings were his invention at all. His teachings are basically ‘pointing out’ of the existed truth of the world and human nature. The benefit of this philosophy can be experienced by the practitioner himself without ‘a belief ’. After all the ‘Buddha’ means ‘to know’ but not ‘to belief ’. Therefore, the sufficiency economy is an alternative economy producing not only individual mental happiness but a well balanced economical growth of business as well. There is a clear example from the study of the ‘gross national happiness’ (GNH) of Kingdom of Bhutan that it not only produces happier society but desirable growth of ‘gross domestic product’ (GDP) as well. In fact, the core of GNH is another version of ‘the sufficiency economy’. Therefore, morally well-balanced economy is not relevant to religious adherents but human wisdom to produce a win-win situation between mankind and global resources. It is the showing of compassion and having responsibility for our own generation and future generations to come. It is a type of economy that does not encourage one to be selfish and self-centered so that we won’t steal and exploit what belongs to our future generations.

Q: If “the greatest wealth is contentment”, according to a verse in Dhammapada, how could a businessman, a human being, suppress the natural urge to gain physical wealth, and more?

A: ‘Contentment’ is one of the Buddhist philosophies difficult to grasp and always misunderstood. Contentment is a satisfaction with whatever is one’s own. It is the neuro-physiological experience of satisfaction and being at ease in one’s situation. In a Buddhist sense, it is the freedom from anxiety, want or need. Contentment is the goal behind all goals because once achieved there is nothing to seek until it is lost. In another words, contentment simply means a well balanced life or a life of middle way. The Buddha categorises three types of contentment:

1. Contentment with what one gets and deserves to get
2. Contentment with what is within one’s strength or capacity, and
3. Contentment with what is befitting

From a Buddhist perspective, it is clear that contentment does not mean to suppress the human urge to gain physical wealth, mental happiness and so on. Contentment is the mental pacifying process as a result of extremism. Buddha never tells us to be content for causes but consequences. This is clear from the Buddha’s advises on division of one’s rightfully earned money: ‘On one part he should live and do his duties towards others, with two parts he should expand his business, and he should save the fourth for a rainy day’. Therefore, Buddha never asks a businessman to be content in investment but he encourages investment. However, naturally, we cannot control the consequence of our investment so learn to be content with its consequence so that we won’t be affected by certain extremism of happiness and sorrow, but to able to be delighted with desirable result or able to hold oneself with disastrous result. Therefore, contentment is wisdom and source of a well-balanced life.

Q: Why should Thailand pursue the ‘sufficiency economy’ in the age of globalisation, mega-projects and liberal market policies?

A: Because ‘sufficiency economy’ is to be mindful of all foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences of actions. ‘Sufficiency economy’ is not anti-globalisation, antimega-projects and anti-liberal market policies at all. On the contrary, sufficiency economy encourages us to wisely ruminate on over all aspect of globalization, megaprojects and liberal market policies instead of just aiming at one dimensional consequence. Sufficiency economy produces a well balanced physical and mental development. After all, the essence of man is the integration of body and mind therefore the development should be based on balanced consequence of both physical comfort and mental happiness. A proper application of sufficiency economy teaches us to be responsible for projects and policies whether it is a global, national, organisational and individual. DC Consultants and Marketing Communications Limited one of a few examples of (Thai) businesses, making use of this philosophy while looking for growth and profitability.


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