689 million people live in extreme poverty surviving on less than $1.90 a day.
Children and youth account for 2/3 of the world’s poor.
In Buddhism, poverty is understood to mean a lack of material requirements for leading a life free from hunger, exposure and disease. To alleviate suffering, all people require:
- food sufficient to alleviate hunger and maintain health
- clothing sufficient to be socially decent and to protect the body
- healthcare sufficient to cure and prevent illness
- shelter sufficient for serious engagement of the mind
The pandemic continues to challenge many people’s ability to meet the needs of their family. Our community and communities around the world are suffering.
The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa
Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day.
Our global economy, based on unsustainable growth, has vast disparities and heartbreaking inequalities. We have resource enough to meet the basic needs of everyone living on our planet. Yet billions of people continue to suffer. How can we begin to change our thinking, our habits and our consumption to transition to and advocate for distributive justice?
Distributive justice is a means of “providing moral guidance for political processes and structures that effect the distribution of benefits and burdens in society.” (plato.standford.edu) Buddhist dharma can offer moral guidance in understanding wealth and poverty. It offers an opportunity to examine collective structures and policies and challenge individual beliefs and habits in order to shape society.
A capitalist economy promotes individual wealth and exploits the natural world. Its growth is dependent upon continuous excessive consumption. This individualism and exploitation is in direct conflict with Buddhist values.
In Buddhism the root cause of suffering is craving. The free market exploits craving. We are constantly advertised to and reminded that we need more and more to be satisfied. Fortunately, when we slow down and begin to practice mindful awareness we see our consumptive habits and begin to make better choices.
Material wealth does not bring lasting happiness. However, there is pleasure in valuing beautiful items. There is community in exchanging gifts. There is ease in acquiring labor saving tools. Consuming is not inherently bad. The Buddha did not imagine nor teach complete renunciation, instead he offered 4 kind of happiness to consider:
- possessing enough material resources
- enjoying them
- sharing them with friends and relatives
- not being in debt
Poverty awareness month asks us to open our eyes and see the suffering in our communities. It also asks us to reflect on our values, re-evaluate our priorities and examine how we can become wiser consumers. Perhaps in 2021 we can re-imagine our society and work towards systems of distributive justice.
If you have the means please consider donating to one of the many organizations dedicated to feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, tending to the sick and educating our children.
These ideas have been researched using the works of:
Clair Brown (Buddhist Economics)
David Loy (The Great Awakening)
Helena Norburg-Hodge (Local is our Future)
Think deeply, read widely and act wisely.