As capitalism depends on the desire to consume (the more you consume the better), is it fair to say that Buddhism goes against capitalism?

Or does anyone thinks that Buddhism can coexist very well with capitalism?

  • 1
    Why the downvote, I'm curious, is that an inappropriate question? Please let me know so I can try to adapt it, I think it is an interesting topic as Buddhism is gaining momentum in the west, the more we understand it the better we can debate with our friends/relatives.
    – konrad01
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 0:03
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    +1, I think it's an interesting question, except maybe a bit opinion-based...
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 0:08
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    You are very kind my friend, I always admire your great mahayana answers, I do follow Theravada, but I really like your point of view, they are always useful
    – konrad01
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 0:10
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    -1 because "capitalism" may just mean: - Paying for what you buy; - Working for your pay; - Choosing your work and choosing what you want to buy; - A method to budget how much investment is made in new business. Your question seems to be a crude caricature of capitalism (perhaps say "consumer economy" instead). In any case, the question seems to be more about capitalism (more specifically, your caricature of the "capitalist way of life") than about Buddhism; invites subjective/opinionated/off-topic answers; and IMO it's hard to see how or to whom any answers to this question could be useful.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 0:10
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    HI Chris, Buddhism is spreading in traditional capitalist countries, so this is a question any buddhist can face, I did not include any criticism or personal opinion on capitalism, I just sad it depends on a lot of consumption to grow, please friend try not to see caricatures where there are none, I am not judging anyone. Anyway, thanks fir elaborating.
    – konrad01
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 0:17

5 Answers 5


Buddhism is a threat to the universe... the answer to the famous "what would happen if everyone became enlightened?" is that the universe would cease to exist.

In the meantime, sure, the more people in a society practicing Buddhism the less the demand for new products, prices drop, people have less money, less spending, even less demand, and so on.

On the other hand, I don't think this would immediately threaten capitalism as a philosophy, in the sense that barter could still carry on unimpeded; truly necessary items could still be shared and traded, and a free market would probably do well in such a society.

I imagine there would be many socialist aspects to the society as well, involving health care, social assistance, etc. But would the society incline towards communism? I doubt it - communism seems too structured to me; people would probably just mind their own business, sharing or trading as needed.

I've always thought that the only problem with capitalism is greed. I'm not an economist, by any means, but my short answer is no, I don't think it would be a threat to capitalism.

Economic materialism, sure.

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    I think the main problems with capitalism are (1) formation of monopolies that abuse their position and (2) resource depletion or the "tragedy of the commons"
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 14:42
  • I would like to add in @Adam 's point - 3. accumulation of personal property.
    – sangharsh
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 16:41
  • but these problems would be ameliorated by Buddhist capitalists... Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 17:15
  • @sangharsh why is accumulation of personal property a problem?
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 18:09
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    Capitalism isn't the problem, lack of generosity is. Markets, rich merchants and traders existed in the Buddha's time, and Buddha didn't censure them. In fact, Anadapindika the trader who fed the poor, was much praised for his generosity. As for the universe ending by all becoming arahats, that is a long way off.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 8:18

Buddhism will be an enhancer for any social order may it be capitalist or otherwise. The reason being is when you start practicing Buddhist your moral base and value system will go up. These are the 1st grouping in the Noble 8 Fold Path or the 1st item in the 3 Fold Training.

In society we have contacts and a legal framework to support enforce social order with relations to commerce. This process will become more efficient.

In Business (or in any other matter also) decision making should be well balanced proactive than reactive. The next two items in the Buddhist practice will help towards cultivating this since you will develop a balanced and controlled mind.

Right decision making without / reduced hate or greed will mean there will be no excesses. This does not mean to accept austerity which intern will in reducing consumption and bringing down the economy. People will live within ones means.

Also the Buddha preached you should generate wealth though right means and put strong efforts to earn and protect your hard earned wealth. If you so not have some comfort as a householder you will not practice the Dhamma.

Lack of greed should not viewed to reducing the effort to progress, but it is the lack of grasping / attachment to the outcome and reacting to it. E.g. you have Rolex and it break the question is whether you have a hurt feeling or sensation in you or not. It does not mean that (as a lay person) you should not have one if you can afford one.

Buddhism will help towards better and well organised society as a whole what ever system may it be Capitalist or otherwise.

As a final note in Buddhist literature reference to economy, social order and finances appear before Dhamma. (Always Artha then followed by Dhamma). Historically in Buddhist Culture (may be in even Hindu Culture also) it is accepted you have to give prominence to Artha before Dhamma. Without Artha you cannot do Dhamma. May reason behind breaking morality and ethics is the lack of prosperity. So always you have to aim for prosperity then morality will be easy. Also generosity and charity (Dana) will help towards building a better socially as a whole. If you look at America which is one of the most capitalist countries, there is a lot of charities and charitable activities. These will also become more streamlines, efficient and effective in a Buddhist context.

There are ways Buddhism differs from modern thought capitalism where there is room for improvement from what has been found in Buddhist texts.

One main drawback of capitalism is that capital is not available to some who might want to start a business with social or economic impact. In Buddhism one of the commendable action of the King is to give grain to the subjects. In modern times like might be like giving Grants, Subsidies and Venture capital. In modern capitalism this is frowned upon, inevitably due to the financial crisis the government has resort to doing this through Quantitative Easing (QE). So some of the ancient wisdom seam to be helping revive the economy than being a threat to it.

Financial section is the backbone of capitalist economy can means to influence monetary policy and money circulation. But the benefits are disproportionately towards the Financial Services sector. Hence the government look into means to help more of the Small and Medium industries and other sectors through Grants, Subsidiaries and infusion of capital as Venture Capital investments, etc. Those are frowned upon by pure capitalists this is the way forward as this is one step that is needed in bringing unity by a Universal Monarch.

  • Excellent point linking capitalism with the noble eightfold path, I agree Buddhism has a huge potential to benefit a capitalist society, this is what I have been looking for, a great way to address the issue in a debate
    – konrad01
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 17:31

What you may be implying is that greedy, self centered activity that values winning at any price with utter disregard for others needs is inconsistent with Buddhism and most other religious tenets.

I cannot find the exact quote, but the Dalai Lama said that he is not against capitalism, but to earn lots of money and then use the money with socialist's principles to help others.

Many people find their calling in business and are very successful. Some of them like Bill Gates set up foundations to help many people.

If a Buddhist is on the path of business, why not succeed at business and then succeed at caring for others?

  • I think this is a good point of view, thank you
    – konrad01
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 0:18
  • I find it non judgmental - all things can be used for the benefit of all with the right intention.
    – soulsings
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 0:20

oh holy beans. I'm about to go radical here and diverge from the dalai lama's take, but I can't speak from someone else's perceptions, so here goes.

a system based on ever-increasing gains from a finite thing is inherently unsustainable. and lookie! does it kinda seem I'm right?

I'm fine with making a living (and more fine just living) but not with profit. because I would prefer to continue rather than dwindle from lack of food, water, and liveable weather, and prefer doing so among healthy people whose basic needs are met. the bible doesn't like profit either. it calls profit "usury."

nutshell: profit is taking more than you give.

profit is the essence of capitalism. you are looking to "capitalize" on what you encounter, to take from it to make yourself "bigger" if you will.

my experience in Buddhism and related things is that there's no need to fret over abstract things that are basically the water you, little fishie, swim in right now.

if you keep meditation, continue to refine your clear seeing of yourself and others, notice what happens when things are/aren't done, and how differences in doing/not doing get different results, notice how you feel after doing/skipping the things you do .... your views and habits will change to naturally reflect where you are at any given time. just as they change when you don't meditate, but in ways that are more random and that you may not even like.

the only universe, the only sentient being, you can directly and fully perfect is you. and you are the system.

whatever it is "you" are, that is what touches and changes every single part of our world, aka "the world," reality, life.

as my teacher says, "just do your practice." people are all sorts of things. balance for living beings is a state change that suits conditions at the time (homeostasis).

with clarity comes being more of what you are, be it student, statesman, horse trainer, layabout, kite maker, baby maker, musician, pizza guy. the title, like the name of a system, is just the moving form that contains a slice of life.

as a living being you will naturally be happiest with things that support life rather than suck it dry. if capitalism furthers living, how is it against Buddhism? if it does not, how will it continue to exist? beings are expressions of life. with clarity life flourishes. systems support life or fail to. our awareness is what decides.

  • Hi Iquanyin and welcome to Buddhism SE. Could you add some paragraphs into your post and proof read it to correct grammar and spelling mistakes. The current state of the answer makes it difficult for other users to read. I tried to edit it and put paragraphs into but it was too difficult since i couldnt find any natural gaps to put the paragraphs.
    – user2424
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 13:21
  • I'm off grid with only a phone so I will fix it for you when I'm at an outlet. thanks for being polite. amazingly no doubt, I supported my family as an editor of nonfiction, el-hi, and trade books so I have a hunch how aht I call "mobile English" must feel to you: like a dog's ear flipped over. lack of paragraphs is because I wasn't sure I'd not inadvertently post before finishing (first post in the app, new phone.) typos: I just suck at mobile typing. OK. fix later today. :-)
    – iquanyin
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 16:15
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    "couldn't find any natural gaps:" me too! it's how my ADD mind rolls, dang it. I did my best tho. Hope it is more readable now.
    – iquanyin
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 16:48
  • Thanks for the explanation, and the new-and-improved formatting. Knowing the reason (i.e. that it's a mobile phone) makes it easier to 'read'.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 16:53
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    I was hoping it would ease the pain. ;-)
    – iquanyin
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 16:54

I don't know a lot about economics and the various "isms", but Capitalism has accomplished things in a couple hundred years that probably never would have happened otherwise. Chief among those are improved means of providing food, safe water (which has prevented more illness than all medical advancements combined) and medical knowledge. Faster, safer travel makes many things possible. If you can go somewhere to learn and practice the Dharma, this brings untold benefits to all. Consider most of the world 100 years ago or even today: the vast majority did not even have iron or the wheel.

There has to be a certain minimal amount of beneficial activity to provide a better life for many people, and Capitalism seems to provide the environment for that, facilitating research and technology that no other system has produced. As Robert M. Pirsig said in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: "From that agony of bare existence to modern life can be soberly described only as upward progress, and the sole agent for this progress is quite clearly reason itself."

Reason alone is not sufficient: you need money to do anything in today's world. If you have a better method, I would like to hear of it. That said, the ills of Capitalism need to be addressed, after recognizing that it is worth improving it. This is where Buddhism can be most helpful today. Right Livelihood is right there in the middle of the Eight-fold Path. Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration all fit in to performing work, and Aspiration is the way of defining goals. I see no conflict.

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    This answer doesn't say much about Buddhism, and very little about "consumerism".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 13:09

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