How Buddhist Economy and Bhutan’s Model of Happiness Show Us Path to Post-COVID Era
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Each adversity comes with its own lesson. It is another question whether we can see it or learn from it. Those who learn from it improve, and those who don’t continue to suffer. But one thing is certain: everything happens for a reason. In his inspiring book ‘The Fifth Mountain’, Paulo Coelho wrote: âThere are times when problems come into our lives and there is nothing we can do to avoid them. But they’re there for a reason. It is only when we have overcome them that we will understand why they were there.
Like all epidemics of the past, COVID-19 will go away, but it will surely have a profound impact on us in the years to come. The devastation it causes on human lives is unthinkable. He really exposed the optimistic forecasts of our policymakers and, more importantly, our economists, who believed that only economic growth was the main parameter to solve all the problems that human beings face. It laid bare our ability to fight in the face of massive upheaval, both economically and socially. The problems faced by migrant workers in India are a prime example of our inability to care for our own people in the face of a crisis.
Some experts believe it was something that was waiting to happen. The economic policy of consumerism, which encourages unbridled greed, has ultimately failed us overwhelmingly. In our quest for growth, we’ve always valued capital and ignored the people who matter most. By targeting strong growth, we have destroyed nature, biodiversity and ecological balance. Nature is now taking revenge on us through COVID-19, global warming, massive pollution, and other never-before-seen ways.
In his groundbreaking book “Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered”, published in 1973, renowned economist EF Schumacher stressed the need to look after people rather than capital. He called this new method âBuddhist economics,â an economic model that will make people happy and content rather than aspire for more. In Buddhist concepts, love, compassion and interdependence between people are the fundamental elements for having real growth in a country. Here, not only people, but every animal on earth and Mother Earth itself matters. He argued that long-term or sustainable human growth is not possible if we destroy nature.
Helena Norberg-Hodge is another person who doubted the current growth model in the early 1990s. She proposed the idea of ââlocalization rather than globalization by stressing that the root cause of inequality is globalization. In her book “Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World”, she showed us how Ladakh was once a happy place before her initiation into Western ideas and material goods. From her own experience of living in Ladakh, she wrote that previously the interdependence within the community was very strong but that everything changed socially, ecologically and economically after the so-called “development” took place there. .
She has also written a book called “Local is Our Future” (2019) in which she strongly advocated for a localized economy as an alternative to the globalized economy. In her localized economy model, she advocated the development of a robust local food production and delivery system and a democratic structure that can empower local farmers. Local producers will thus be less dependent on “external power”.
If there is one country that has adopted and implemented this concept of Buddhist economics in letter and spirit, it is the small Himalayan nation of Bhutan. When the rest of the world was occupied with gross domestic product (GDP) or gross national product (GNP), Bhutan was engrossed in promoting happiness through the policy of gross national happiness (BNB). In this small nation, achieving happiness is a goal, a mission for the government and its citizens. They measure the well-being of their citizens by happiness, not economic growth. In 1979, Bhutan rejected the concept of GDP or GNP because the then King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, believed that gross national happiness was more important than gross national product. He doubted that the GNP growth model would be a good economic model for them because it would destroy the biodiversity and ecological balance of their country.
Bhutan’s policymakers believe that the high-profile economic model of globalization only fosters greed and consumerism – the ‘more is better’ concept. It promotes the illusory idea of ââobtaining happiness by consuming more products. But we have seen that the culture of consumerism leads to individualism, which is at the origin of unhappiness. It also creates a huge divide between the rich and the poor.
In a world where everyone wants to cling to power by all means, the current King of Bhutan, Jigme Namgyel Wangchuk, son of retired King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, has relinquished power on his own and allowed for democracy to take root in its country in 2008 Bhutan believes that interdependence from each other, preservation of its own culture and rooting for local articles can lead them on the path to happiness.
Bhutan has 80 percent of its country covered by forests. Its constitution states that Bhutan must be covered with at least 60% greenery. In the Western growth model, countries have destroyed forests to build new cities. Although Bhutan is a deeply spiritual country, these concepts have some similarity to socialism but with a religious flavor. Buddhist economics depends on the eight-pronged approach to Buddha’s life such as proper livelihood, ethical career choice, interdependence towards people and things, and compassion for all, among others.
With the current growth model failing to make people happy, more and more countries see Bhutan’s model as the solution to the problems facing the human race. In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing “happiness” as the basic human goal. One can only hope that the world will eventually learn the lessons of the current COVID crisis by learning from Bhutan and coming up with solutions that will allow us to coexist peacefully and joyfully with each other.
Biswajit Jha is a guest contributor. The opinions expressed are personal.