Your Thoughts: A Buddhist Response to the Economic Crisis

The current global economic crisis is easily understood through a Buddhist framework. The institutions saw the world as self and other. They saw, and see, it as something to “win”. They focused on Profits and the Trickle Down Theory of economics.

Buddhism teaches us about no self, no other. It teaches us that the “I” thing we grasp isn’t real. It opens us to the world of interconnectedness and interrelatedness. That’s all well and good but the thing is, we’re here now.

There’s little point in “I told you capitalism doesn’t work”. This highlights past problems and mistakes. Addressing past issues is a great cause of anger and frustration. It also goes nowhere. For change to occur, it must be addressed presently, with future action. We must learn from our past, but we can’t stay there.

The question I’d like you to answer is:

As a Buddhist, or through a Buddhist lens, what is our response and action to this Crisis? Where do we go from here? How do we use compassion, at this moment to aid all sentient beings?

I’ve looked through recent editions of Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Tricycle, Mountain Record, Shambala Sun, as well as the Blogroll. No one is addressing this issue. The Dalai Lama yesterday spoke of the causes, but offered no advice out of this Crisis. This global crisis is causing a world wide recession. As Buddhists, what is our message? What is our stance?

It may not be as tangible as the Chinese occupation of Tibet, or the arresting and murdering of Monks in Burma, but this is just as real and important. This is in our own backyard. This is in every backyard throughout the world.

We need to respond. How are we to act? How are we to speak? What stories are we telling?

I’m asking your help to define a Buddhist response. Our formulated responses will be circulated to all the above magazines, with full credit. Please leave your reply below.

(photo mashup)

34 Responses to “Your Thoughts: A Buddhist Response to the Economic Crisis”

  1. 1 sycadel

    Hi, I’ve been reading this blog for a while but I have never felt inclined to post any comments. However, for this particular situation, I believe the most suitable response that a Buddhist examination of this crisis is the following:

    All crises can be met, rather than with despair and fear, with earnest mindfulness and with compassion radiating out to all suffering beings. We will see that, in fact, these challenges and difficulties we face are actually opportunities for growth. Perhaps this crisis can be transformed into a pivotal turning point for humanity, should it turn for the worse. In this case, it is our duty to spread our loving-kindness to all equally, to the corporations responsible for crisis as much as to those that suffer because of it. And alongside this message of love, we can divulge the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path to help humanity overcome this crisis from its roots. It is our most urgent imperative, in my opinion, to spread a twofold message of love and liberation, that we can get through this together, as one species awakening to its indivisible unity with all that there is in existence.

    thanks for the post Wade

    may all beings be HAPPY.

  2. 2 Stacy Alexander

    Wouldn’t the Buddhist view of the crisis be somewhat reliant on the concept that everything we see is actually illusory in the first place? I’m not so sure there *is* a Buddhist “solution” to the crisis other than the advice that we not be attached to it.

  3. 3 Martha Egan

    You’ve missed Gil Fronsdal’s wonderful “Zencasts” I gather… “Karma and the economy”

  4. 4 Martha Egan

    also I enjoy Eckhart Tolles take on now

  5. 5 Karen Murphy

    I am not a Buddhist although my daily meditation practice is a Buddhist form of meditation. I am a big believer in the art of mindfulness: when we are truly PRESENT in our path, we cannot help but assist other beings in being as present as they can also be in a given moment. Being present leads to joy; it leads to being within the flow of our lives, wherever that happens to lead. One of the Buddhist precepts that helps guide me is the precept of impermanence, of nonattachment. There is a lot of trust in that idea, trust that each being is able to walk his own best path at a given time. If we feel led to assist others, then so be it. That is our path. If we are simply led to feel compassion for others, then so be it as well: that act of feeling compassion has an energetic effect upon others even if there is no overt act involved.

    In other words, I think we are each following our own best path in this time. We cannot do otherwise, however that happens to manifest.

    Thank you for the opportunity to think about this; I know these thoughts will stay with me a long time, and will continue to change and manifest more completely. We ARE all connected. :-)

  6. 6 Mark Cohen

    “buddhism” has nothing to do with economic forecasting…or solving these issues…and there is no “group” of buddhists. The term “buddhism” is merely a human construct used in order to define the world into recognizable units.
    If you are practicing your own spirritual development and have any faith in the following of the buddha’s method, you will have no desire to “solve” or “represent” this. This too shall pass and this economic condition will return again and again.
    If you want to have a say then have one BUT do not speak as some sort of “buddhist response.”
    It’s ridiculous!

  7. 7 ChrisF

    I just want to say that this would seem, my wife — who is much smarter than me — and I have decided, is an example of greed. For some reason people became so attached to cash, clinging to it for a false sense of security, and so worked so hard to feed their own fears. This started a few years ago, and now, in what would seem to be a great big example of Karma, they have now lost their shirts. Now paying for their previous bad deeds.
    The only part that upsets my wife and I is that some very hard working, completely innocent people are also paying for the misguided actions of these greedy others.

  8. 8 ChrisF

    Sorry this didn’t get posted with the above …
    All that I think we can do is stay compassionate towards one another and help others as much as we can to see the errors of their ways. It is simply condoning poor/wrong actions by giving anyone bailout money — are you listening government?! We need to, as a people and a species, change our way of thinking about wealth and money and try to make everyone happy in their everyday lives.

  9. 9 Alice

    Crisis is the perfect opening for opportunity. When things get tight, meditation teaches us to loosen up, open up. This is the perfect time to exercise the 3 generosities: offering of material goods, fearlessness and the dharma. I can feel that people around me are feeling especially insecure with their money of course, so I do small things like buy that cup of coffee or drink for them, or tip the delivery man an extra dollar or two. But more important than a few bucks here and there, this crisis is such a great opportunity to offer the gift of fearlessness and the dharma to those who truly feel they’ve lost their ground. This is a wonderful opportunity for Buddhism to offer what it does best, which is to provide permanent relief from suffering and its causes.

  10. 10 Molly DeShong

    Hi Middle Way,
    I work at the Shambhala Sun magazine and can say that you WILL see a response to this question in coming issues. Please stay tuned. And on our blog, Nuff said, for now.
    Yours in dharma,

  11. 11 Darrell King

    The biggest direct impact of the crisis on an average citizen in my area (Rochester, NY) has to be through credit accounts. And the hardest thing for when deciding to cut lose these anchors was letting go of all they represented: credit score, buying power, material advantages and possessions.

    Simplicity is a good concept to keep in mind nowadays. Complex material constructs seem more vulnerable to the shifting gales while simple and uncluttered lives feel less effect from high borrowing rates or sudden cutbacks.


  12. 12 Terry

    An easy approach to this mid-point issue would be to understand the role of love, wisdom, beauty and joy in it all. Knowing that this journey is exactly where were suppose to be. The gifts and challenges for this lifetime, and what must be mastered to achieve mindfulness!

  13. 13 Roger

    This is an important time to resist the temptation to use the economic crisis for political gain.

    As the Buddha said; “There is suffering”.

    Capitalism is not the cause of the current crisis, greed and mismanagement is. As long as humans run the show, there will be corruption. As much as we wish, there is no political or financial system that is not prone to manipulation and power grabbing. This is neither a conservative nor a liberal issue; it is an issue of human nature.

    What we can do as Buddhists is to teach the Dharma at every chance we get. Encourage others to stay in the present moment with the understanding that others have lived through even worse events.

    The world will continue to turn and in the end the human race will live to screw it up again.

  14. 14 Wade

    WOW! Thank you all for your replies.

    There seems to be 2 main replies here.

    1 is that it doesn’t matter, that there is no self, no thing no other. I feel a lot of anger in these replies. The post is very true from an Absolute perspective. Thing is, we live in a Relative world. In the Sutra of the Identity of Absolute and Relative, it’s said “the Absolute fits the Relative like a box and its lid”.

    I’m with that. There’s both, nothing matters, everything matter, and even the bit inbetween doesn’t and does matter. We can’t sit around doing nothing all day. We aren’t here for ourselves. We’re to get back into the marketplace (ox-herd style), and be in the world.

    This “issue” exists in the world. The question is how do we meet the issues of the world, and using Right Speech & Right Action reply.

    The other style of reply feels much more inline with this. Funnily enough, it’s as timeful, and beautiful as ever. It feels to me like personal acceptance and honest of the “issue”. Mindfulness, Openness, Compassion, and Dharma. Beautiful.

    Thanks for all your comments so far. I’ve been talking to Shambala Sun, and they are willing to publish something for us.

    May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful. May all beings be safe.



  15. 15 Ryerro

    money isn’t real - we give our full allegiance to the belief in it - when our faith falters it loses value - we’ve created an unsustainable reality with our beliefs - we would do better to live without beliefs in the unsustainable

  16. 16 Liara Covert

    As you imply, we live the life we thnk about. What we think about, we create in some physical form, knowingly or unknowingly. People in Third World countries would not necessarily sense any kind of economic crisis. If you choose to believe in a peaceful existence, you create that as well.

  17. 17 Michael S

    I am thinking, in times of economic scarcity, share and cultivate spiritual things. In times of economic abundance, share and acquire material things. I am looking forward to cultivating spiritual things, while working in my garden and doing my art.

    I have been looking at Chinese Astrology sites, and they do not seem to see this year as being in the dire conditions we may find in some ‘news’ sites, though according to the astrologers, there may be a couple of trying months for some. Work hard and pay attention to what one is doing. Opportunity and prosperity can arrive unexpectedly at any time, so be ready for anything.

    So can bliss arrive at an unexpected moment. May we all share plenty of that this year!!

    May many blessings and divine bliss come to each and everyone!!!

    Gung Hay Fat Choi!!

  18. 18 Zyrius

    Looks like the economic crisis arose from greed in many areas… from the guys in charge, who want to make a killing AND from the investors, who bought it that they can indeed make a killing by believing in the guys in charge. Greed permeates through and through, enhanced by delusion :-[ Amituofo

  19. 19 Steven D. McIvor

    As far as the Buddhist community is concerned,
    the only way to overcome the issues you speak
    of is through compassion. To feel sympathy for
    suffering is one thing, but to understand that
    the suffering is necessary for spiritiual
    growth is true love. Do not resist the push
    of a recession, for if you do you will have
    wasted all your passion on an inevitable
    force. Instead, let the people live with
    the idea that they are all suffering equally.
    No economic recession exists in reality
    because in reality there is no economy.
    The economy is a byproduct of the
    meaningless concepts that organize the
    world, not reality. The world has broken
    away from reality and tightened it’s grip
    on the guidelines drawn out of fear. It is
    all intangible. Only those who accept the
    alternative to reality can suffer from its
    failure. As for the Buddhists, do not live
    under the rule of the economy. Do not fall
    victim to its recession. Most importantly,
    do not resist the push that recession seems
    to create. As soon as you resist, you accept
    it as your reality. Be compassionate for
    the suffering of the many, and stop the
    damage of economic crisis by not
    accepting it as real, therefore not
    adding to its collective consciousness.

  20. 20 Molly

    Molly here, from Shambhala Sun magazine. I wanted readers to know that we’re assembling a book anthology that will offer Buddhist Wisdom for Difficult Times, and in it we’d like to include practitioners’ personal stories of how the view and practice of buddhadharma has helped you deal with times of economic difficulty or social instability. If you’re interested, please read on: Stories should be written in the first person and be 200-600 words in length. They will be published anonymously and a small honorarium will be paid for the stories selected. Send your submission by March 15 to

    Sorry for the commercial announcement, but this one seemed worthwhile and timely.
    Best to all,

  21. 21 Liara Covert

    As each human being evolvs to better understand illusion, then the urge to react dissipates. To continue living with love, kindness and compassion is to move beyond ego to reconnect with one’s true identity without external distraction.

  22. 22 Itsey

    I think Buddhism has a lot to teach us about economic crises. A recession is part of the business cycle (booms followed by busts), and Buddhism has a lot to say about this cyclical nature of life, particularly in the idea of the world as “samsara” — the wheel of existence, that goes up and down and up again. The economy, just like the good and bad fortune in our own lives, follows this cyclical pattern.

    Buddhism teaches about impermanence: nothing is ultimately reliable, nothing lasts. Economic prosperity does not last forever, but neither will the recession. Everything will change again, and this will go on indefinitely.

    Understanding this, perhaps we will find a measure of calm, of peace, in the midst of endless change. We will not engage too frequently in “irrational exuberance” as Alan Greenspan calls it, when the time are good, or paralyzing despair in bad times economically.

    We may adopt a view that–like the name of this site–is the Middle Way: between despair and exuberance, which is compassion, generosity, and skillful means.

    A Buddhist should not be surprised that a good economy can turn into a bad one quickly, and visa vera. But in either kind of economy, or somewhere in between, there is always opportunity for compassion, generosity, and skillful means. There is always work to be done. Even in a supposedly “good” economy, remember that many were left out or forgotten in all that prosperity because of the uneven distribution of wealth.

    Perhaps one Buddhist response is to say that the economic crisis exposes the fact that we’re all in this together–we’re all equally vulnerable to dukkha. In good economic times, it’s easy for too many of us to believe that dukkha is for “other people” but not us, and to feel a false sense of invulnerability.

    So maybe we need to take a look at our own selfishness and excesses, individually and as a society, and take a look at creating a safety net that includes everyone–whether it be through better education for inner cities or universal health care. At the same time, hopefully we will start to curb our materialistic excesses–our unsustainable ways of living.

    That, I think, would be a good outcome from a Buddhist perspective.

  23. 23 terry

    Miss reading your blogs once again. it brings much pleasure to receive comments from the middle way.
    I’ve been practicing along with the Way, not as much as i started out to last year. But I do believe in the Buddha way must believe in the fact that their own self is in the midst of the Way from the beginning, so that there is not confusion, no delusion, no distorted viewpoint, no increase or decrease, and no errors. To have such faith and to understand such a way and practice in accordance with it is the very fundamental aspect of learning of the Way. You try to cut off the root of consciousness by living in the way. Eight, even nine out of ten will be able to see the Way~suddenly.
    But this does not at all mean that one must believe that one’s small-minded, self-centered life is Buddha’s life-on the contrary! Casting all sorts of self-centeredness away and making yourself as a clean sheet of paper; unconditionally living, knowing that living itself is the actualization of buddha-hood-
    Everything around us is perfect, just the way it is being orchastrated or played out to be. If you feel from your heart you must change the chaos, then do so. Center yourself right now before your internal turmoil throws you into a pointless battle. Whatever you do, choose a non-toxic way to relief this over-bearing tension. And please don’t take it out on anyone else.

    When love wears thin it lets in the emotional weather.

    If one is alert from the very beginning, it can be saved. So pour your positive energies into it, but remember that sooner or later the negative will start coming in. When the negative starts coming in you have to release the negative alone. Go into a room, release the negative; there is no need to throw it on the other person.

    If you want to scream and shout and be angry, go into a room, shout, be angry, beat the pillow. Because nobody should be so violent as to throw things on other people. They have not done anything wrong to you, so why should you throw things on them? It is better to throw all that is negative into the dustbin.

    If you remain alert, you will be surprised to see that it can be done; and once the negative is released, again the positive is overflowing.

    From Vegetarian Times Magazine, I’ve read recently that when we eat meat, fish, fowl and eggs, we absorb the vibration of the instinctive creatures into our nerve system. This chemically alters our consciousness and amplifies our lower nature, which is prone to fear, anger, jeolousy, confusion, resentment and the like.

    Our lives are written according to our spirit-light (soul)
    The events and relationships of our life are not random occurrences. Prior to taking this human birth, we are assigned a sacred contract, a symbolic life script that contains our life’s instructions. You are meant to meet certain people and you are meant to be provided with certain opportunities and to experience it all.


  24. 24 Sarah

    “Lack of spirituality and culture is the main cause behind the rampant corruption in the world. People have become selfish and materialistic, which has led to the economic slowdown,” Dalai Lama… I think his answer to overcome the recession would therefore be to concentrate more on spirituality in our lives, in our workplaces, in our schools and in our homes. If we have spirituality then we have morals and we remember that we are all human beings having the same human experience. The rest will fall into place.

  25. 25 Jerry

    I think Stacy has hit the nail on the head. Release your attachment to the crisis, and you will see that there is no crisis. Practice (meaning life in general) is experiential, not theoretical - and as such, I may have less money in my 401k, and my job may be less secure than it used to be, and a thousand other pieces of what could be called bad news are bombarding us all the time. But in mindfully experiencing our practice, we continue to meditate, chant and recite, and go about our business.

    with three deep bows,

  26. 26 Daito Zenei Thompson sensei

    “Sitting quietly, doing nothing.
    Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.”
    ~ Zenrin Kyushu

  27. 27 Nick Hill

    What is the reason for asking for a response from a buddhist when we are so detached from money itself. Yes many people have lost alot of money but true happiness doesnt come from money it comes from loving yourself and being true to yourself. So why all this fuss over money? yes money can help people but people can also help people they can provide each other with shelter/food/water whatever is necessary for the individual to live. If you want a Buddhist take on the situation take this on board: Meditate, learn to be true to yourself and dont be effected by outside occurrences. Im willing to answer any questions of yours you might have.


  28. 28 Kristi Jalics

    I have no answer to solving “the crisis” except to follow the Mindfulness Teachings. I try to do what I can to help those around me. I belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm in my area from which I get good organic vegetables for my family and which donated over 30,000 pounds of its harvest to the local foodbank. I think if each of us keeps making small efforts toward compassion and mindfulness, it will have an impact, first on us, and then slowly in a small way on the world around us.

  29. 29 Meditation Beginner

    I agree with Kristi - small efforts make big difference! I think we have to ignore all the bad and just focusing on our duty. What is going on in this world is a dirty business. I hardly can confront with it. Insted I try to do my best to improve others’ life.

  30. 30 Maria de Fatima Machado

    The Buddha says: ‘look at the world as empty.’

  31. 31 Rochester

    Love the post I stumbled it

  32. 32 Kes Lee

    I am delivering a meditation tomorrow and found you on Google search. When I was inviting those on facebook’s fan site for Gaia Minute Community I wasn’t thinking ahead when I gave the topic and posted it would be on Economy. So I have been studying the subject for 2 days preparing.

    Besides finding the best definitions for mindfulness and economy on google to help on my learning curve, I found two very thorough articles that opened the door for me to be able to help apply the current financial climate with a reality we can all understand. Once I deliver I am happy to send you the link from free conference calling dot com. Here is the links for the two articles:
    Thank you for the 32 comments. I am about to look up your other references and authors. Namaste

  33. 33 Martin

    Capitalism is a zero sum game. Its founders acknowledged this. A pool of willing workers would be kept aside to draw upon when needed, and to be dispensed with when not needed.

    During the mid twentieth century events came together that fostered, most coincidently, a middle way. From the mid forties through the early seventies, many of us alive then assumed we were on the right path. But then more events occurred that lured us off that path. We’ve been lost in the jungle ever since. Most economists today admit that proponents of trickle down economics are mountebanks.

    A good Buddhist could do no harm by continuing to present, like the occupiers, a picture of the way things really are to the powers that be. The powers that be, of course, are trapped by their ideologies and might be, deep down inside, desperate for a way out.

  1. 1 A Little Buddhist Thought on the Economy « Missouri Valley Eclectic

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