What does Buddhism teach about wealth and poverty?

Buddhism teaches that all human beings should display compassion to each other as part of a global community. This involves helping the poor whenever possible.

Owning wealth is not seen as an issue for Buddhists, but they do believe that it can cause dukkha, if it is the focus of greed, and gained through exploitation. However, wealth is also seen as a great opportunity for generosity, which benefits the recipient, and also the giver since it is a good action. Buddhist believe in karma or 'intentional action'.

Most Buddhists see the possession of wealth as the outcome of good actions in the past. Wealth, therefore, can bring happiness.

There is no satisfying the senses, not even with a shower of moneyThe Buddha

Buddhism teaches that monks, the members of the Sangha, live a simple life where they have the necessities to be comfortable and no more.

Key teachings that Buddhists consider

The Four Noble Truths

Dukkha is caused by greed and craving, also known as tanha or 'thirst'. Buddhism teaches that people in MEDCs should be satisfied with what they have and help LEDCs to have basic necessities in life, so that they can live without suffering.

The Buddha reflected this teaching in his life. He had realised that his life of luxury would not enable him to understand the truth he was seeking. However, when he joined the ascetics and experienced periods of extreme self-denial, even to the point of starvation, he realised that this did not work either.

It was only when he began to live the middle way that he was able to achieve enlightenment. This became one of the Four Noble Truths.

The middle way

Buddhism teaches that it is this middle way between denial and self-indulgence that can help someone reach enlightenment. Approximately 20 per cent of the world's population consumes 80 per cent of its resources. Buddhism teaches that if people live in a moderate way, just like the Buddha did when he lived the middle way, this inequality will be reduced and the problems of poverty could be avoided.

The Five Precepts

The teaching to avoid harming living things is the first of the Five Precepts. Buddhists believe they should act with compassion and loving-kindness to all people in an effort to avoid harm. Buddhists, therefore, want to help those experiencing suffering due to poverty.

The second Precept teaches that people should not take what is not theirs. Many Buddhists believe that everyone across the world is inter-related and interdependent. If we remember this, we should be compassionate to everyone because we are all part of the same community.

Noble Eightfold Path

Most Buddhists believe that if they follow the Noble Eightfold Path, they can attain freedom from suffering. Part of following this path is to act with the Right Action. This means acting with compassion and love, eg giving aid to those who are suffering.

Householders, there are five benefits that accrue to a man who performs meritorious acts and practices morality. The first benefit is that he acquires his wealth by honest means.Sutta Pitaka Digha Nikaya 11:85-86