Wealth must not only be accumulated by ethical means, we must also put a limit on our wants
Economics is the science of prosperity. Hence, the desire for economic development is associated with the pursuit of higher income, a higher standard of living and, subsequently, more happiness in life. However, in the same breath, study after study have shown that this earning, accumulation and consumption of wealth is becoming a source of agony in people’s lives and derailing them from the path of happiness
If happiness is the ultimate goal of every citizen, then shouldn’t we investigate the presumed links between wealth, happiness and peace from an economics lens? It is in this context that we go beyond modern economics and discuss the economics of Mahavira (founder of Jainism) or simply, the Economics of Jainism.
Modern economics is based on materialism, this is why the success of economic development is measured through Gross Domestic Product or the volume of goods and services produced in a country.
Mahavira’s economics accepts both materialism and spiritualism. While the ultimate goal of modern economics is for its citizens to become wealthy (that is, wealth = happiness), the objective of the economics of Jainism is to live life peacefully and happily (that is, limit to wealth = peace + happiness). It acknowledges one of the ignored tenets during the accumulation of wealth — that is, happiness comes through peace.
To achieve this, Mahavira’s principles state that desire is endless like the sky and hence, focusses on controlling desires and limiting needs. The Economics of Jainism should not be misconstrued as not having any needs. Food, water, clothes, and a house are the basics that one needs.
Similarly, Jainism recognises the need for sensory organs, like listening to music, watching music, enjoying tasteful food, etc. In fact, any article that does not harm physical, mental and emotional health is acceptable. But it is often the excessive consumption, that causes problems and hence the teachings insist on controlling desires.
This phenomenon is described as hedonic adaptation in psychology. When someone buys a new product, the initial pleasure will bring them happiness, but then after a certain time, they won’t gain more happiness from it because they become accustomed to the pleasurable state. Hence, to satiate it, we engage in a new cycle of buying more products and seem to be stuck on the invisible treadmill of forever chasing happiness. This is why Jainism insists on limiting desires and wants.
Jainism also prescribes the general principles for the economic development of society:
(i) Ahimsa (non-violence) and purity of means; (ii) Non-erosion of moral values; and (iii) Limits to self-interest.
Every society should examine if economic development is leading to more violence and whether it is being achieved through ethical means. The development of compassion should be at pace with the economic development. If not, then a man can amass wealth by cruel means, which would lead to development, but will impoverish millions.
Purity of means
According to Jainism, when peace becomes the primary goal of society, then the purity of means also gains supremacy.
Hence, to be a part of a developed society, a man shouldn’t just consider controlling desires, but also be mindful of the purity of means in earning income and wealth. This principle is absent in modern economics which doesn’t ascribe any moral principles to the means of development.
Finally, another important tenet is limiting the accumulation of wealth. We all know that amassing wealth has no limits, and hence, some limits will have to be observed to help gain peace of mind. A person can commit to owning a specific number of clothes, vehicles, houses, etc. while donating the rest of the wealth to the causes close to their heart.
A famous story tells us how John D Rockefeller had amassed wealth but was still at a loss for peace. He met with Swami Vivekananda, who told him that the wealth that he has accumulated is essentially not his, but he was a mere channel of God, and keeping that in mind, he should donate this wealth and do good for people. The origin of Rockefeller’s legacy: the Rockefeller Foundation found its roots in the wisdom of a person who also believed in the unhappiness that accrues from merely hoarding wealth.
Economics has propagated for more wants in our lives, often equating it with happier and satisfied lives. However, the economics of Jainism has a different take on the subject. It does not talk about the dispossession of resources but shows a mirror that the society also cannot live peacefully while mindlessly expanding its needs.
Hence, the economics of Jainism prescribes the principles of limiting desires and wants, while using fair and standard means to earn wealth and maintaining a definite limit to the accumulation of wealth. These principles have the potential to help every person attain peace and happiness while ensuring higher economic development for the state.
Seth is a PhD Scholar and Jain is an associate professor at Bennett University