The Function of Wealth in Buddhism

Ven. Jotika of Parng Loung*

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          All the teaching of the Buddha has but one taste that is the taste of freedom. The Buddha, as a teacher, has shown us the way to free ourselves from suffering that necessarily leads to peace and happiness. He delivered this same message to different people in various ways to suit varied intelligent status of His audience. Buddhism as a result is endowed with philosophy, which covers ethical aspects of many important fields such as political, economic and social. Here I would like to discuss about the economic thinking in relation to the function of wealth.

          In the Buddhist teaching, poverty is condemned and its causes are sought and examined from different positions. The lord Buddha said in the Anguttaranikaya that for householders poverty is suffering. It also is mentioned in the Cakkavattisihanada-sutta of the Dighanikaya that poverty is the cause of immorality and crimes such as theft, falsehood, violence, corruption, short life span, deteriorated environment, ill-health and declined family value.

          Many passages of the early Buddhist Pali Scriptures advise people strongly to seek wealth in righteous ways. The Buddha made it a point to describe protection of wealth and a balanced spending as a very important factor in relation to earning. Dishonest way of seeking fortunes, however, is blamed as it creates undesirable consequences to both oneself and society, and here and hereafter. Equally denounced is the one who, having earned wealth, becomes a slave of it and creates suffering as a result of it. It is of no benefit, according to the Buddha, to be unreasonably closefisted and selfish, and not to make use of one's wealth for the benefit and well-being of oneself and others.

          From Buddhist point of view, good and praiseworthy is one who accumulates holdings in rightful ways and utilizes it for the good and happiness of both oneself and others. Accordingly, many of the Buddha's lay disciples, besides looking after their family, liberally devoted much of their wealth to the support of the Sangha, the community of monks and to the alleviation of poverty and suffering in society. The Buddha taught that a person who shares his resources with others is following the Noble Ones, saying: "If you have little, give little; if you own a middling amount, give middling amount; if you have much, give much. It is not fitting not to give at all. Kosiya, I say to you, share your wealth, use it. Tread the path of the Noble Ones. One who eats alone eats unhappily".

           As just described, many discourses that the Buddha described the ways and conditions, which lead to happiness and benefit of people both here and now and thereafter. The following advice was once given to the great banker Anathapindika. It is known as the four kinds of happiness for a householder, of which the first three are directly related with possessing wealth while the last one although dealing with morality, has nevertheless practical connection with affluence. The Buddha said:

          "Herein, householder, these four kinds of happiness are appropriate for one who leads the household life and enjoys the pleasures of senses. They are the happiness of ownership (atthisukha), the happiness of enjoyment (bhogasukha), the happiness of freedom from debt (ananasukha) and the happiness of blamelessness (anavajjasukha)".

           Being students of Buddhist Philosophy, we have seen that Buddhism is not a religion of superstition whose goal is largely metaphysical, but a practical one for daily life. The Buddha made his teaching applicable to the people who lived a real life in the society of His time. Nevertheless, it is no less applicable to the society of ours, in which peace and happiness are in short supply.

          Buddhism sees economic activity as a means not only to a good but also noble life. It emphasizes that production, construction and the like business activities are not an end in themselves but a means to development of well-being within the individuals, society and environment. The essence of Buddhist economics is, therefore, the insurance of quality of life. Thus, the Buddhist view of life is established on pragmatic principles.

          Wealth is judged not only by its amount but also by its usefulness in both worldly enjoyment and in advancing one's spiritual progress. Buddhism offers an economic thinking with an ethical framework. Accumulate as much as you can through righteous means, share it with others and be mindful that the world including your wealth is not everlasting but impermanent. This enables one to follow the Middle Path as a businessman.

          Economics cannot and should not be separated from the Dhamma, the moral principle. Otherwise, it will not be one of the many efforts to solve human problems but will definitely become a part of the ills of the human existence itself. Wealth is to be utilized to free ourselves from suffering, which is the highest achievement of the Buddhist ethical morality.


  1. Buddhist Economics: by P.A. Payutto, Thailand 1992
  2. Buddhist Solution for the 21st Century: by P.A. Payutto, Thailand 1994
  3. What the Buddha Taught: by Dr. Walpola Rahula, Sri Lanka 1959
  4. An Approach to Buddhist Social Philosophy: by Ven. P. Gnanarama, Singapore 1996

          * U Jotika is one of the 60 Burmese Monks , 'Dana Srilanka Society' supports, for post graduate Buddhism Studies in Sri Lanka. Anybody willing to inquire about our society can contact or

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First posted on 27-01-99

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