Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

An open and inclusive investigation into Buddhism and spiritual cultivation

Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby SamKR » Sat Oct 02, 2010 10:45 pm

Many non-Buddhist people (especially in India, Nepal and the subcontinent) try to prove that it is because of the rise of Buddhism the defense system in the subcontinent became so weak that it was defeated and ruled by outside forces for centuries. Further they claim that it is mainly because of Buddhism that poverty got rooted in the region many centuries ago.

Thus the weakness, defeat, destruction, enslavement, and therefore underdevelopment and poverty is historically attributed to the rise of Buddhism (especially because of Buddhism's prominent characteristics, as they claim: nonviolence, renunciation, anti-materialism, anti-development or anti-progress, philosophy of being satisfied with whatever you have, etc.).

What do you think about such claims against Buddhism, and how to refute them? I would appreciate your input.

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Last edited by SamKR on Sun Oct 03, 2010 12:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Oct 02, 2010 11:02 pm

I think it has more to do with politics than religion, not that the two aren't sometimes intertwined, but other forces seem to have let the poverty prevail or rather not let development occur.

Japan and Singapore have a long history with Buddhism and are doing very well economically, with relatively less poverty compared to most nations.
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby cooran » Sat Oct 02, 2010 11:22 pm

SamKR wrote:Many non-Buddhist people (especially in India, Nepal and the subcontinent) try to prove that it is because of the rise of Buddhism the defense system in the subcontinent became so weak that it was defeated and ruled by outside forces for centuries. Further they claim that it is mainly because of Buddhism that poverty got rooted in the region many centuries ago.

Thus the weakness, defeat, destruction, enslavement, and therefore underdevelopment and poverty is historically attributed to the rise of Buddhism (especially because of Buddhism's prominent characteristics, as they claim: nonviolence, renunciation, anti-materialism, anti-development or anti-progress, philosophy of being satisfied with whatever you have, etc.).

What do you think about such claims against Buddhism, and how to refute them? I would appreciate your input.

SamKR

Hello SamKR,

Can you link us to any articles claiming this please?

with metta
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Oct 02, 2010 11:33 pm

Hi, SamKR,
We had a thread on just this topic a while ago. I remembered replying to it and with a bit of hunting, I found it: viewtopic.php?f=12&t=3737
(Mods may even want to tag the new thread onto the old one.)
:namaste:
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby SamKR » Sat Oct 02, 2010 11:48 pm

Hi Cooran,

Hello SamKR,

Can you link us to any articles claiming this please?

with metta
Chris


Well, I do not have any articles to those claims. It was my real experience when I met and talked to non-Buddhist common people there (not necessarily scholars; most of them are associated either with Hinduism, or with communist parties like Maoists). And when I will meet them again I want to be better prepared with answers to reply. :)

I know there are also people and scholars who claim exactly the opposite: that the decline of India began with the decline of Buddhism. In fact, there might be more scholar supporters for the latter claim than for the former. Anyways among many common people and quasi-scholars there is the misconception (intentional or unintentional) that Buddhism is the a reason of defeat and enslavement centuries ago.
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby SamKR » Sat Oct 02, 2010 11:53 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:Hi, SamKR,
We had a thread on just this topic a while ago. I remembered replying to it and with a bit of hunting, I found it: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=3737
(Mods may even want to tag the new thread onto the old one.)
:namaste:
Kim


Hi Kim,

It is related but not exactly the same. Here, I am mainly concerned with the attribution of defeat and therefore poverty (of the south asian subcontinent) to the rise of Buddhism centuries ago. It's the claim that is mainly given by the Hindus and Communists (who favor violence) against the peaceful philosophies of Buddhism.

David N. Snyder wrote:I think it has more to do with politics than religion, not that the two aren't sometimes intertwined, but other forces seem to have let the poverty prevail or rather not let development occur.

Japan and Singapore have a long history with Buddhism and are doing very well economically, with relatively less poverty compared to most nations.

Hi David,

Yes, I also think that it has more to do with politics. But some people blindly claim that main reason is Buddhism. They would think that Japan, Singapore is a different case as Buddhism gained popularity much later there, and in a much different way from that of early India.
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Oct 03, 2010 1:07 am

SamKR wrote:Well, I do not have any articles to those claims. It was my real experience when I met and talked to non-Buddhist common people there (not necessarily scholars; most of them are associated either with Hinduism, or with communist parties like Maoists). And when I will meet them again I want to be better prepared with answers to reply. :)


Image

The two Koreas at night, a picture is worth a thousand words

North Korea above: Communist, atheist, non-religious, severely impoverished and undeveloped

South Korea: Historically Buddhist, developed and thriving
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby Lazy_eye » Sun Oct 03, 2010 3:44 am

Tang and Song dynasty China was quite developed compared to Europe during the same period, and is widely considered a high point in human cultural history. Buddhism had great influence during that time.
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby pilgrim » Sun Oct 03, 2010 4:46 am

SamKR wrote:Many non-Buddhist people (especially in India, Nepal and the subcontinent) try to prove that it is because of the rise of Buddhism the defense system in the subcontinent became so weak that it was defeated and ruled by outside forces for centuries. Further they claim that it is mainly because of Buddhism that poverty got rooted in the region many centuries ago.

Thus the weakness, defeat, destruction, enslavement, and therefore underdevelopment and poverty is historically attributed to the rise of Buddhism (especially because of Buddhism's prominent characteristics, as they claim: nonviolence, renunciation, anti-materialism, anti-development or anti-progress, philosophy of being satisfied with whatever you have, etc.).

What do you think about such claims against Buddhism, and how to refute them? I would appreciate your input.

SamKR

There may be some basis to such claims. If you look at countries such as Mongolia in the past, Myamar , etc where a significant portion of the population joined the sangha, then surely there will be some impact upon the resources going into defence and the resources for productivity. However, we should bear in mind that strength and wealth is measured using a very modern yardstick using the assumption that GDP growth and Balance of Payments is the supreme measurement of success.

So we also should ask what is the best model for society, a peaceful, non-greedy one or one which focuses totally on the pursuit of wealth and power. Today we have 2 Buddhist Countries that we can compare. Bhutan which deliberatedly rejects many components of modernisation and emphasises Gross National Happiness and Cambodia which has fully embraced industrialisation and commerce. It may be too early to call which country will provide a better place to live for its citizens but it makes one think whether a strong but high pressured society is preferable over a weak Utopia. Buddhism unlike other religions, does not seek to establish a dominant theological state. It may seem like a weakness now, but it is possible that over a longer period of time, people will get tired of wars and competition and see value in living in world inspired by Dhamma values.
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby Lazy_eye » Sun Oct 03, 2010 12:35 pm

pilgrim wrote:There may be some basis to such claims. If you look at countries such as Mongolia in the past, Myamar , etc where a significant portion of the population joined the sangha, then surely there will be some impact upon the resources going into defence and the resources for productivity. However, we should bear in mind that strength and wealth is measured using a very modern yardstick using the assumption that GDP growth and Balance of Payments is the supreme measurement of success.

So we also should ask what is the best model for society, a peaceful, non-greedy one or one which focuses totally on the pursuit of wealth and power. Today we have 2 Buddhist Countries that we can compare. Bhutan which deliberatedly rejects many components of modernisation and emphasises Gross National Happiness and Cambodia which has fully embraced industrialisation and commerce. It may be too early to call which country will provide a better place to live for its citizens but it makes one think whether a strong but high pressured society is preferable over a weak Utopia. Buddhism unlike other religions, does not seek to establish a dominant theological state. It may seem like a weakness now, but it is possible that over a longer period of time, people will get tired of wars and competition and see value in living in world inspired by Dhamma values.


The Buddha of the Pali Canon acknowledged the importance of economic well-being as a basis for spiritual development. If society is poverty-stricken, people can hardly support the sangha, and they will not be in a good position to cultivate sila either. "First grub, then ethics," as Brecht said.

Chinese (Mahayana) Buddhism has picked up on this theme as well -- contemporary teachers such as as Hsing Yun write at some length about the Buddhist way to a prosperous life. Indeed, not to be a shocker here, but I saw "wealth guru" Suze Orman on TV awhile back and a great deal of what she was saying seemed to have been lifted from the dhamma.

If you look at the history of the Buddhist world there were economic high points as well as lows; the Khmer Empire was very powerful, for example. This cycle affects all societies whether Buddhist or not, and we might also look at factors such as colonialism and transition between economic and political systems. Or just our old friend anicca.
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby Rui Sousa » Sun Oct 03, 2010 10:53 pm

As for India the invasion of northern India by the Greco-Bactrian kings, and then the Kushan empire, between the 1st century BCE and the 2nd century CE migth be an example, if these kings and emperors were not Buddhists...
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby lojong1 » Mon Oct 04, 2010 11:07 am

SamKR wrote:What do you think about such claims against Buddhism, and how to refute them? I would appreciate your input.

The claims are against Buddhism? How can you logically refute the claim "I blame the victim"? Your critic is hostile towards poverty and wants to live in the same way as the dominating power.
Poverty is fine until a dominating force starts unskillfully misappropriating resources. Poverty with all basic necessities easily met is a perfectly natural, wholesome state.
If your critic respects violence and theft, thinking that the aggressor is in the right...beat him, take his money, and leave him tied in the basement to re-think that. Duh no don't but you get the idea.

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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby chownah » Mon Oct 11, 2010 2:11 pm

Could the fact that the region was by and large ruled (and exploited more than developed) by France and England for a long time have something to do with poverty?
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby Hanzze » Mon Oct 11, 2010 3:58 pm

_/\_
Last edited by Hanzze on Sun Oct 31, 2010 6:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby Hanzze » Mon Oct 11, 2010 4:09 pm

_/\_
Last edited by Hanzze on Sun Oct 31, 2010 6:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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Re: Poverty in South Asia and Buddhism

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Oct 11, 2010 7:34 pm

These kinds of ideas rise out of Hindu Nationalism, I don't think you'll find they have much traction outside of India and Nepal.

As far as poverty is concerned coming from a religion that brands a portion of society as untouchable and relegates them to a lifetime of poverty I think it's obvious that it's not Buddhism to blame. Maybe the Maoists are trying to do something about it but the gap between rich and poor is huge and Hinduism entrenches it, it's huge in some Buddhist countries too but at least the Buddha spoke against the caste system and it's not entrenched by birth.

Current events where India has spent billions on the Commonwealth games and shifted the slum dwellers out of town so the city looks tidier is a good example, it's hard to imagine such a thing happening in a western country.

As far as them becoming weak through Buddhist pacifism and therefore being conquered by Muslims they've probably got a point, however it is like blaming the victim for the crime as has already been pointed out. It was the rise of Hindu nationalism that led to them getting much of their country back.
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