Capitalism Humanity and the Buddhist doctrine of dependent co-origination
by Janaka Goonetilleke on 27 Nov 2010 0 Comment

Since the advent of European colonialists two hundred years ago to other continents in search of wealth, dramatic changes in the moral Zeitgeist have occurred during this period, designed to exploit man and nature. The elimination of the Red Indians and Australian aborigines to the present-day carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan has been justified in this context. In an economic sense, the myth of creation of wealth in a world where wealth is a zero sum game is nothing but a cloud to shroud the ultimate aim of monopolising all wealth.


This transfer of resources has been carried out with ponzi schemes emanating from the worlds large central banks.Some people create money the rest has to earn that money,’ or so it is said. But that is only the mechanism of transfer of wealth. Nature which needs to be nurtured now has been made into mince-meat and sold as a commodity to achieve this transfer, all in the name of capital, economic growth and consumption.


The incestuous relationship between Politicians, Businessmen, Bankers and Media driven by corruption and violence under the guise of Democracy is responsible for the continuation of this embezzlement. The growth of the economy is portrayed to the ordinary citizen in terms of a GDP which is an assessment of economic activity. However GDP does not take into account the negatives of the economic activity. It is creative accounting to give one the illusion of progress.


China has been growing at the rate of about 10% in the last two decades but the ecological damage is never reflected in the growth rate. It is interesting that the leading four most polluted cities in the world are in the two fastest growing economies in Asia - China and India. More disconcerting however is the long term detrimental effect on humanity, a price paid from the womb to the tomb and by future generations. At this moment of history the international community is only focussing on the symptoms of ECOCIDE by exercising energies to curtail greenhouse gases but doing nothing to address real causes. The causes are of course the much-hyped myth that westernisation is modernity and that the road to modernity is consumption economics.


Modern Economics and Society: Destruction of rural economies and marginalisation of the poor


Present city-centric development has attracted all capital to cities at the expense of rural communities. The rural population has been not only marginalised but an impetus has been created for rural workers to migrate to cities, causing havoc in the sense of ever-increasing ghettoes and disrupting rural societies. It has created mass migration of the poor to rich Middle Eastern countries for slave labour. Other issues of human trafficking, prostitution and ever expanding sweat shops have exploited these vulnerable people. The marginalisation has now extended to the urban middle classes. This disruption of families and the stresses and strains that the poor and dispossessed undergo are never properly assessed or remedial actions taken. The poor just have to endure. The marginalisation of these rural communities has instigated social unrest in certain countries.


Depletion of Resources, Pollution and Industrialised Agriculture


Mining and drilling for resources have not only transferred pollution to other countries but have left large areas deforested and unliveable because of toxic waste left behind. Recent incidents in Hungary of leakage from an aluminium plant that destroyed a whole village and polluted the river Danube and oil leakage in the Gulf of Mexico, USA, are standing examples of what can go wrong and the pollution left behind by these catastrophes. Up till now the pollution in the Niger Delta and other third world countries has been ignored by the corporate sector and the media. Not only have the resources been depleted at a faster rate but the soil and rivers have been left barren. If this mayhem continues further damage to the earth is inevitable.


Hand in hand with the reduction in resources (mining) there is deforestation, global warming and growth of industrialised agriculture. The industrialised agriculture needed to feed the urban population is responsible for 10% of CO2 emissions. Industrialised agriculture has created antibiotic resistant bacteria that can cause harm to humanity. Genetic modification, weedicides, insecticides have proven without doubt to have detrimental effects on the health of humans. Vast areas in Africa and Asia have been enlisted to produce food for the rich, causing further destruction of the environment and rise in food prices because of speculations in the market, thus pushing the poor further into poverty and malnutrition.


The greatest threat to humanity is however the expected scarcity of water due to human abuse of the environment.




Human migration from rural areas in search of jobs is a result of city-centric development in this new economic era. Urbanisation has resulted in overpopulation of cities, in the excessive demand for housing, utilities, healthcare etc. The resultant ghettoes are partially responsible for the increased mortality in the recent earthquake and cholera epidemic in Haiti. Such excessive expenses are never reflected in the GDP.


A recent lecture by Harvard Prof Elizabeth Warren on The coming collapse of the middle classes emphasises the economic marginalisation of the two working parent families and the stresses and strains it entails. She says the chances of a 16 year child having a mum at home was more likely in the 1970s than a baby of 6 months in 2003 in the world’s richest country. Her research shows that a two working parent family in 2005 saves nothing but a family in 1970 of comparable living standards saved 12% even though only one parent worked. The largest household expense was the mortgage payment.


The collapse of the housing market in 2009 would have bankrupted many. In addition the family in 2005 was at a higher risk of bankruptcy if one parent fell sick compared to the family in 1970 where if one parent fell sick the other could work. The stresses and strains imposed on families in this present economic order have thus resulted in increased family breakdown. If this is the case for the middle classes in the richest country in the world the marginalised poor in the third world would have no hope. This is one of the reasons for increased mental diseases in cities. The greatest unaddressed problem in modern times is the effect of this economic system on motherhood and the future generations.


Epigenetic and the Future Generations


Children are the greatest asset of any society. Their wellbeing and development will be reflected in the progress of any country. A mother is defined as a person who nurtures her young. This motherhood has been at risk in the great drive to modernity where both husband and wife have to work. A woman pregnant at the present time knows that whatever she does will affect her unborn child. This has been formalised by the study of epigenetics which indicates that the behaviour of genes are determined by the environment. Hence the foetal environment will determine the setting of its genes and its future from the womb to the tomb, in terms of physical health, intelligence, temperament, and even sanity. These subtle DNA changes can be inherited, indicating how it could affect the health of future generations.


With urbanisation goes the widening disparity between the rich and the poor. Malnutrition and economic deprivation has progressed faster in this new economic order. Modern living with stresses, environmental pollution and malnutrition and problems of alcoholism and drug addiction has long term effects on humanity.


Impact of Air Pollution: Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons found in exhaust fumes, cigarettes, factory fumes cause subtle damage to genes resulting in increased childhood cancers and increase in the incidence of cognitive development and poor IQ tests


Malnutrition: smoking and drug addiction lead to low birth weight children which in turn carries higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, mental disease etc. Drug addiction will lead to an increased incidence of drug addiction in the unborn child.


Obesity: a disease of the modern age due to unhealthy eating and lack of exercise will result in the unborn carrying increased risks of obesity and health issues such as diabetes,  hypertension etc


Stress and depression in the mother has been co-related to schizophrenia and depression of the next generation. Adult health care issues of urbanisation are well documented. The increased incidence of mental disease, diabetes, hypertension and malignancies are well known.


Destruction of Biodiversity and human disease


All stable environments have a well established structure and harmony. When this is destabilised by global warming or deforestation, vectors that carry new diseases increase. This is attributed to be the cause of recent viral epidemics like dengue, encephalitis etc. Whether this was the initial impetus to the spread of AIDS is not certain.


Another threat to the stability of our ecosystem is genetic modification of agricultural plantations and its effect on other species. Its effect on bio-diversity is well documented. It is suspected that Honey Bees fly away from genetically modified sunflowers indicating distaste for pollen from genetically modified plants. The problem of collapsing bee colonies is a great threat to humanity as bees pollinate flowers that give 30% of food to humans.


Buddhist Philosophy of Dependent Co-Origination


Buddhists believe humanity and nature are interdependent, contrary to the western philosophy that humanity rules nature and that it is in the power of humanity to destroy nature for her material end without a price to pay. The poverty of that philosophy is now gradually dawning on humanity. The Buddhist ecological perspective is best expressed in the Noble Eightfold Path which is the Right View. This view is contained in the doctrine of Patticcasamuppada, dependent co-origination, where things exist interdependently not in their own right. The image of the jewelled net of Indra reflects it.


This holistic model undermines the power of the self over others. Human Development thus is greatly intertwined with nature and can never grow in harmony isolated. Urbanisation in that sense would never be healthy. Buddhism does not believe in absolutism, it believes in relativism, and therefore expects humanity to act with a view to the ‘welfare of the many.’ In other words, a holistic approach to once actions.


An interesting recent Dutch study has shown that the reduced incidence of 15 diseases such as asthma, heart disease, anxiety, depression etc was dependent on the amount of green space within one kilometre of the patients’ home.




In an era when a 100 species are disappearing every day, humanity is threatened, and the ruling elite are unable to address the problems precipitated by the new economic order. There is tunnel vision with cognitive and structural fragmentation of thinking. A compartmentalised assessment and narrow vision has put humanity at risk. Social silence has been achieved by the belief that the upper echelons are well in control of the situation and the illusion of a sense of well being in terms of monetary gain. This is actively propagated by the corporate media.


Until the ruling elite takes a more holistic view on development and economics, humanity is bound to suffer. To prevent this, they need to act with great vision for the welfare of the many, not forgetting that pursuing the same policies that initially created the crisis cannot cure it.


The author is a Sri Lanka national

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