Clair Brown: “The courage to change course. »

- through Sophie Solere

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Clair Brown teaches “Buddhist economics”, Buddhist principles applied to economics, at the University of Berkeley in California. She is also the author of a book on the subject (1) which seeks to promote a holistic model of development based on values ​​of interdependence and human dignity.

How did you become a Buddhist?

I have been practicing Tibetan Buddhist for about ten years. Daily sitting in silence has become, over the years, a very important element in the balance of my personal life. I grew up in an Episcopalian family (a member church of the Anglican Communion established in the United States, editor's note) and embarked on several spiritual paths before meeting the Tibetan Buddhist through a Rinpoche who opened a temple not far from my home, in an old Episcopalian church.

How can we associate terms as contradictory as economics and Buddhism?

Throughout my professional career as an economics professor, I have been interested in the means that we could implement to reduce the inequalities that have been growing steadily for four decades. Added to this today is climate change, which is hitting communities and individuals hard. This is the greatest challenge facing our generations. In 2011, I started teaching Buddhist economics to first-year students as part of a seminar. The “buddhist economics” are based on the Buddhist concepts of interdependence between people and of people's interdependence with the planet. They are also based on the values ​​of compassion alone can relieve suffering.

Buddhist economics emphasizes earning an honest living. This requirement does not seem to be a priority in the dominant economic models...

These are the four Noble Truths which must guide our behavior within a Buddhist economy. The Fourth Noble Truth teaches us that there is a way, the noble eightfold path, which is a way of transforming ourselves that can put an end to suffering. There are eight aspects to this path, three of which are closely related – Right Action, Right Effort and Right Livelihood – particularly relevant to economic activities. Doing right means acting mindfully and compassionately with respect for others. Righteous livelihood refers to earning an honest living without harming anyone. Right effort consists in developing qualities of generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom which are the antidotes to the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance. These ways of life are those advocated by all the great traditions, but also by many societies which have taught, throughout history, not to harm one's neighbor and, on the contrary, to behave towards him with generosity and kindness. The problem is that market economies have encouraged consumerism, selfishness and a form of dominance over nature that has given rise to the suffering we are experiencing. Buddhist economics, on the contrary, promotes the values ​​of respect for Mother Earth, relief of suffering and maximization of the well-being of individuals, contrary to neoliberal injunctions which tend to maximize income and consumption.

Can these Buddhist principles be applied within the framework of a market economy? Or do we need to completely rethink the way our economies and societies work?

The Buddhist economy cares for people and focuses on respecting the land and alleviating suffering. Its objective is to maximize the well-being of all men. In a Buddhist economy, the government strives to implement social programs and an effective social security system that ensures individuals have access to quality health facilities, while taking care of the most vulnerable, children and primarily elderly people. This, while introducing regulations and taxes that frame the markets in such a way as to achieve the desired results. Corporate social responsibility requires companies to ensure the well-being of their employees and the community, while respecting the environment, and not just their shareholders. In a Buddhist economy, people live mindfully caring for each other and the planet. The economic policies that would achieve such goals already exist. Buddhist economics has brought together those who have proven themselves and who are the only ones able to create an economy and a society that reduce inequalities, while betting on renewable energies and focusing on alleviating suffering.

“Buddhist economics promotes the values ​​of respecting Mother Earth, alleviating suffering and maximizing the well-being of individuals, in contrast to neoliberal injunctions which tend to maximize income and consumption. »

In the developed countries, it is undoubtedly the Scandinavian countries, Sweden and Denmark in particular, which have succeeded in creating fair and equitable societies, approaching the closest to a Buddhist economy. We have all the tools and all the cards in hand. The United Nations has presented roadmaps showing how to convert to renewable energy. The UN Development Goals focus on what it would take to reduce extreme poverty and hunger in the world, improve education and ensure respect for human rights in the world. planetary scale. Everything is there to branch off towards a Buddhist economy. What we need most today is political will. THE Neuroscience demonstrate that helping each other and taking care of others makes people happier. And, conversely, consuming can obviously not lead to lasting happiness. Let's turn off our screens and our electronic equipment, let's stop feeding conspicuous consumption by watching advertisements and celebrity magazines. Let's favor social ties, a guarantee of fulfilment.

In your work Buddhist economics, you emphasize the notions of interdependence and sustainability. We have been talking for a very long time about sustainable development, but much less, on the other hand, about interdependence and interconnection, notions that are struggling to penetrate our societies and our economies...

Sustainable development and interdependence with the earth are, however, closely linked. We are beginning to realize that an economy based on the domination of nature depletes natural resources and destroys the planet. That the economic model that is that of our market societies, based on selfishness and materialism, leads us to live in a stressful and unhappy way. On the other hand, when people feel interdependent and help each other, their lives become more harmonious and meaningful. The teachings of Aristotle and those of the Dalai Lama on happiness have been confirmed by neuroscience research. A Buddhist economy is not incompatible with our modern societies. What matters above all are the objectives we set for ourselves to build a sustainable and united economy.

Do you think that a model of Buddhist economy could one day spread across the planet on a significant scale?

The climate crisis is leading people to become more and more aware of their interdependence with each other and their interdependence with the planet. "Big business" could be living its last hours. The multinationals will not be able to continue for long to dictate our energy policy, that of health, as well as our military choices. Men must stand up and act together. Building a Buddhist economy requires courage to change course, create a regenerative economy, promote social justice, and live happily.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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