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Appamada and Gandhian or Nonviolent Economics

by gmoke Tue Apr 16th, 2024 at 02:31:52 AM EST

from my notes on Gandhi's Economic Thought by Ajit K. Dasgupta
NY:  Routledge, 1996 ISBN 0-415-11430-6
[All notes from my readings in Gandhian or nonviolent economics can be accessed through that site as well.]

"Buddhism does not, however, regard economic activity as such as unethical.  On the contrary it gives economic, and in particular business, enterprise an honoured place.  For a proper perspective on Gandhi's economic thought, certain specific elements in the Buddhist approach to economics are especially relevant.  First, a persistent theme of Buddhist texts is that the worldly and the spiritual spheres of activity are not different in kind.  They are, as it were, cut from the same cloth and the conditions required for success in them have  large overlap.  In the Majjjmanikaya, for instance, one who is successful in spiritual enterprise is likened to 'a rich and wealthy man on a long journey through the woods who should eventually emerge safe and sound without a loss of goods'.  Gandhi thought in much the same way.  In formulating economic concepts such as swadeshi or trusteeship Gandhi often used a 'saintly idiom'. This, I believe reflects not so much his religiosity as a belief that material and spiritual considerations can be described in much the same language.

"Second, the general principle of economic conduct for the Buddhist layman is appamada, which translates roughly as paying attention and taking care.  The basic virtues that this principle invokes are attention, carefulness, conscientiousness and diligence.  The householder who seeks to follow the Dhamma must therefore work hard, avoid wasting resources, cultivate his skills, practise thrift and, without becoming possessive, take good care of his possessions. The householder who succeeds in acquiring wealth by honest means and through his own energy and effort, who does not run into debt and retains ownership of his property, who enjoys both material well-being and independence and who uses his wealth for the public good is commended by Buddha;  and the wealth of such a man is described as 'wealth that has seized its opportunity, turned to merit and is fittingly made use of'.  Gombrich sums up:  'Buddha never suggests that laymen should eschew property, he commends wealth which is righteously acquired by one's own effort.

"Gandhi's concern with appamada runs through his writings on economic topics.  It underlies his praise of productive power as a form of godliness:  'There is no separate species called gods in this universe, but all who have the power of production and will work for the community using that power are gods-labourers no less than capitalists.'  The same concern explains his emphasis on the crucial importance of personal effort.  Even his own favourite project, khaddar, would, he said, be quite useless if it could be obtained without effort.  'Khaddar has the greatest organising power in it because it has itself to be organised and becase it affects all India.  If khaddar rained from heaven it would be a calamity.'"

"For the same reason, bettering one's economic condition by one's own active effort was superior to having the same outcome brought about by the state.  'It is one thing to improve the economic condition of the masses by state regulation of taxation and wholly another for them to feel that they have bettered their condition by their own sole personal effort.'

"The principle of appamada also provides a moral justification for being concerned with economic efficiency.  Unlike many other who have criticised capitalist enterprise on moral grounds, Gandhi never rejected efficiency as a worthy norm. Whatever the project, be it a school or a khadi shop or a rural health care system or even arranging a marriage ceremony Gandhi always insisted on costs being reduced to the absolute minimum required to achieve a desired outcome.  His persistent refusal despite criticism from the left, to condemn the acquisition of wealth, expresses the same spirit:  'my advice that monied men may earn their millions (honestly of course) but so as to dedicate them to the service of all, is perfectly sound.

"Likewise, while condemning exploitation of workers by capitalists, he refused to condemn all businessmen as individuals:  'My relations with the rich will continue.  I don't look upon the rich as wicked and upon the poor as angels.'  Statements of this kind are consistent with a Buddhist attitude to wealth which is in sharp contrast to that of the Christian Fathers who could see 'no possibility of acquiring great riches without resort to evil practices or inheritance from those who had resorted to them', and for this reason called on all Christians to avoid seeking riches."

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