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Report by Adam Dinan about the launch of Vaddhaka’s book The Buddha on Wall Street which happened as part of Buddhist Action Month in the Dublin Buddhist Centre:-
A large crowd gathered at Dublin Buddhist Centre on Friday June 13th to witness the launch of Vaddhaka Linn’s new book, The Buddha on Wall Street. As part of the launch, Vaddhaka delivered a Dharma Talk on the topic of “Evolution, Capitalism, and The Buddha”.
He began by describing how the organisation of our economic system is greatly influenced by our inaccurate perceptions about biological evolution. In particular, the popular phrase “survival of the fittest” is often taken to imply that self-interested organisms are automatically the best adapted to survive and reproduce, and this dictum of maximising self-interest underlies our economic system.
In fact, Vaddhaka pointed out, this interpretation of evolution rests upon a misconception of the concept of ‘fitness’. The best adapted (i.e. fittest) individuals are not necessarily the greediest and most self-interested, but can also be the most altruistic and willing to cooperate with others, reflecting the interconnection of all beings emphasized by the Buddha some 2,500 years ago.
Darwin himself did not use the phrase until the 5th edition of his book On the Origin of Species, and also emphasized the relevance of compassion and sharing as adaptive qualities among humans. However, these words fell largely on deaf ears and the damage had been done. Darwin’s theory was to become synonymous with the concept of maximizing one’s self-interest at the expense of others, and together with Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of market logic, formed the cornerstone of modern economic liberalism.
A century later, Ayn Rand, who was to become a highly influential figure in the progression of liberal economic ideology, described altruism as a ‘disease’, a blight on the otherwise perfect model of laissez-faire capitalism. She even spoke of individuals with an altruistic mindset as being potential “missing links” between humans and our great ape cousins.
The problems with this line of reasoning, as Vaddhaka explained, are multifaceted. Leaving aside Rand’s fundamental misunderstanding of Darwin’s theory, her notion that the “free” market can somehow operate in isolation from human influence flies in the face of historical fact. The truth is that the economic market developed in tandem with the State and has simply never existed without State influence and protection. As anthropologist David Graeber points out, coinage developed in tandem with the rise of empire and war, thereby taking the place of the social bonds that had tied together individuals in previous societies.
So how does Buddhism fit into this picture? The Buddha recognized the potential for greed, hatred and delusion as much as he recognized the potential for loving kindness. He warned that the former traits lead inexorably to suffering. Whatever our upbringing, all beings possess the capacity to free themselves from this suffering by actively cultivating the opposite qualities of love, understanding and insight.
Now, perhaps more than ever, the Buddha’s teachings have a profound relevance. By recognising the delusion that we exist as separate and discrete entities, ingrained in our economic system, and taking active steps to lead a life based on stillness, simplicity, and contentment, we can free ourselves from endless suffering and find true and lasting peace.
The Buddha on Wall Street is now available from Windhorse Publications. For more, see http://thebuddhaonwallstreet.com/