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Buddhist Economics

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 129: Buddhist Economics - Page 1 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Lecture 129: Buddhist Economics

In the course of the last few weeks we've been very much concerned with gods and goddesses, particularly with the goddesses. Three weeks ago we saw in the course of our study of the sutra, the Sutra of Golden Light, we saw the four great kings come forward - that is to say the four great kings who are protectors of the four quarters of the world, the four quarters of the universe, and we saw them, or rather we heard them promise to protect the sutra, the Sutra of Golden Light. And the week before last there came forward the great goddess Sarasvati, and she too promised to protect the sutra - or rather she promised to protect the monk who is the preacher of the sutra. And last week another goddess came forward. Last week it was Drdha the earth goddess, and you may remember that she came forward out of turn; that is to say, out of the order of her appearance in the sutra itself. And she too promised to protect the monk who is the preacher of the sutra.

Now this week the third and last goddess comes forward and, as we'll be seeing, she makes the same promise as the others, the same promise as the two previous goddesses; and the goddess who comes forward this week is the great goddess Sri.

What these three goddesses in general represent, and what their coming forward and promising to protect the sutra represents, should by this time be clear, and I am therefore not going to repeat any of the previous explanations. By this time, perhaps, the gods and the goddesses are beginning to speak for themselves, or rather perhaps we are beginning to understand, even to fathom, their language.

Now last week I observed that all three goddesses promised to protect the monk who is the preacher of the sutra, but I also observed that nothing whatever was said about this monk himself - at least, not in the three chapters devoted to the goddesses. The monk remained, you may remember, a quite anonymous figure.

It was rather as though he was simply the hook on which the goddesses hung their promises, hung their vows. Last week, therefore, I not only spoke about Drdha the earth goddess, but I also had something to say about the monk who is the preacher of the sutra. We found, you may remember, that there was a description of the monk who is the preacher of the sutra, or rather of a monk who is the preacher of the sutra, in another chapter of the Sutra of Golden Light, in chapter 13, the chapter on Susambhava; and you may recollect that this monk was called Ratnoccaya, and he expounds, in that chapter, the Sutra of Golden Light to king Susambhava; and king Susambhava is greatly impressed by the exposition, and he offers to the Order, the Order of the Buddha of those days, he offers the four continents filled with jewels. And the Buddha, that is to say our Buddha, Sakyamuni, explains that he himself was Susambhava in a previous existence, a previous life, and that Buddha Akshobya was the monk Ratnoccaya.

Now last week we also tried to understand why the monk in particular should be the preacher of the sutra, and this led us to inquire what a monk was; and we saw that the monk is not one simply formally ordained as such. `Monk' really means one who is totally committed to the spiritual life, not committed to it for his own sake only, even, but for the sake of all living beings. The monk therefore is one who is free from all worldly ties and worldly responsibilities. The monk has no wife, no family. The monk does not engage in any wage-earning work. The monk is one who has set out on the noble quest, the ariyapariyesana. He is one who has made the transition from the conditioned to the Unconditioned, or at least who is very much in process of making that transition. The monk, again, is one whose natural energies have submitted to the Golden Light, whose natural energies are completely at the service of the Golden Light. Therefore in the sutra Drdha the earth goddess places her head against the soles of his feet. The monk is one who has identified himself with the Golden Light, who is as it were one with the Golden Light, at least to some extent, and it is he therefore in particular who is the preacher of the Sutra of Golden Light, the medium for the transmission of the Golden Light.

We also saw, you may remember, again, that the monk leads what some of the old Christian writers call an angelic life; leads, in fact, what is the best and happiest of all lives.

Now this week we are still concerned with the monk who is the preacher of the sutra, at least to some extent, as well, of course, as being concerned with the great goddess Sri. Sri comes forward in chapter 8 of the sutra, and she makes her promise. So what does she promise? She doesn't promise simply to protect the monk who preaches the sutra; she is much more specific than that. She promises much more than that.

As we saw last week, she doesn't even begin by saluting the Buddha. She plunges straight in. She comes straight out with her promises. And what does she promise? She says that she will give the monk, first, Lecture 129: Buddhist Economics - Page 2 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ zeal; second, garments; third, begging bowl; fourth, bed and seat; and, fifth, medicines - and, she says, other excellent equipment. And she also makes it clear why she is going to give them. She is going to give them, she says, so that the preacher of the Dharma may be provided with every equipment so that he may have no lack, so that he may be sound in mind, so that he may pass night and day with a happy mind, as it were with a carefree mind, so that he may examine the words and letters of the Sutra of Golden Light, so that he may perpetuate them for the sake of all living beings, that all living beings may eventually awaken to full, perfect Enlightenment. This is what she says; this is what she promises.

Now the chapter on Sri is quite a short chapter. It consists of less then three pages in the English translation, and Sri's promise takes up only a part of it. But before we go any further, I want to take up two questions. First of all, who is the great goddess Sri? And secondly, what is the significance of her promise - that is to say, her promise to give garments, begging bowl, etc., to the monk? We will then deal with the rest of the chapter.

The week before last we saw that the goddess Sarasvati is widely worshipped in India today - worshipped, that is to say, by the modern Hindus, especially by scholars, writers, students - by anybody who has anything to do with learning, with writing, with literature. And in the same way, the goddess Sri is still worshipped in India today. In fact, she is worshipped even more widely than the goddess Sarasvati. Sri is worshipped in practically every Hindu home, usually under the name of Lakshmi. And it's not very difficult to understand what she represents. The word Sri itself means simply prosperity, and Lakshmi means luck or good fortune. The prosperity, of course, which is meant here is material prosperity, and the good fortune is good fortune in the worldly sense; that is to say, it's the good fortune that causes you to win in the pools. It's not the good fortune that causes you to find a copy of the latest FWBO Newsletter lying on a seat in the bus.

So the goddess represents, very much represents, material prosperity. She represents material success. In a word, she represents wealth and riches, and the modern Hindu Lakshmi is depicted more or less like the modern Hindu Sarasvati: in other words, she is depicted as a beautiful young woman, dressed in a beautiful crimson sari, very often with a golden border, and she has long, flowing, glossy black hair. Lakshmi, however, is more definitely represented as a young married woman, and she wears the red tilaka of the married woman on her forehead, and perhaps also the red powder called kum-kum in the parting of her hair, as well as various items of jewellery. She is decked with, for instance, necklaces, bracelets, anklets, earrings, as well as, of course, nose ring or nose stud. The South Indian Lakshmi especially is adorned in this sort of way. Sarasvati, of course, is generally dressed much more simply, as in fact befits a goddess of learning. Lakshmi is seated, not on a goose as Sarasvati is, but on an enormous, usually pink or white, lotus flower, and sometimes she holds a lotus flower in her hand.

Now there are many images of Lakshmi in the temples, and often these images have more than one pair of arms. Usually Lakshmi stands beside her consort, who is the god Vishnu, that is to say the second member of the Hindu Trimurti. Vishnu represents, or rather embodies, the preserving aspect of divinity, according to the general Hindu tradition, just as Brahma represents the creative aspect or embodies the creative aspect, and Siva embodies the aspect of destruction. So Vishnu the preserver and Lakshmi the goddess of wealth and prosperity are very properly regarded as being as it were married to each other, and sometimes they are jointly known as, or jointly referred to as, Lakshmi Narayan; Narayan being another name for the god Vishnu the preserver. Some of you, that is to say those who have been to India, have probably visited the famous Lakshmi Narayan temple in New Delhi. It's an enormous temple; if you go to New Delhi at all, you can hardly miss it. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was built by a modern Hindu multi-millionaire, in fact I am told he was a multi-multi-multi- millionaire, one of the very biggest millionaires that India has ever produced in modern times; a very well-known businessman, incidentally, ...

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