Buddhist Monastic Economy
The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the monastic economy of the Buddhist religion. The basis for the monastic economy is that a person can experience a great amount of happiness and contentment in this world by not have a great deal of worldly possessions. In fact, having fewer possessions and sharing what one does have with others is really the foundation for the monastic economy (Feiss 101). The Buddhist religion is about bringing simplicity to a person's life. In this regard, the monastic economy is centered around this idea of simplicity. The simplicity comes from not having the burden of trying to obtain large amounts of worldly possessions and then trying to figure out how to hold on to those possessions or comparing what you have to the amount of items that another person has in his possessions.
In many respects, understanding the economy of Buddhist monks is to understand their religious beliefs and ethics. Buddhism attempts to teach peace and harmony to those who practice it. For people who have chosen to become monks of the religion, the economy that surrounds their lifestyle is interconnected with their beliefs in how they can attain happiness and fulfillment in this life.
The Buddhist religion teaches that those who have chosen to move out of the worldly realm of life and to pursue a life of religion can only do so by having in their possession only what is needed to live. This means that Buddhist monks only need the clothing and food that is necessary to sustain their lives. They do not need abundant amounts of food, clothing or other items because these are only obstacles to attaining peach and fulfillment, and they are actually obstacles to those goals. With this basic understanding of the Buddhist religion and of the lives that monks live and the goal of that lifestyle, it is easy to understand that the monastic economy is not about creating wealth or power, but about having what is necessary for the monks in a particular area to live and pursue their religious duties.
Much of the basis of the monastic economy is the growing of grain and other foods that are harvested from the land. Buddhist monks often pursue hours of work in fields producing agricultural products such as wheat and other grains. The growing of grains, fruits, and vegetables allows monks to be able to support themselves off of the land. In this way, the monastic economy is about monks being able to support themselves and not needing to be able to raise money to buy food or other items to support themselves.
However, in the modern era, it almost doesn't need to be mentioned that monks must have some type of way of raising money for items that cannot be grown or produced by the monks themselves. The way of raising money comes from a couple of different areas. The first of these areas is through the sell of grains and other crops grown by monks. The monastic economy is truly dependent upon the work of the monks not only internally to be self-sufficient, but also to allow monks to sell their crops to obtain revenues that can be used for the training of new monks and the construction of temples or other buildings.
The second means by which the monastic economy functions is actually through the gifts and donations of laypeople to the monks. These donations and gifts are important because it is the gifts of land that has allowed the monastic economy to have the resources necessary in modern times to be able to produce crops. In addition, monks can receive many gifts, ranging from clothing to jewelry to money, from laypeople for their services. All of the monks in a monastery receive the benefits of the gifts. They are not used or kept by a single monk because this would go against the teachings of the Buddhist religion.
In more modern times, the monastic economy has broaden into being more than just about using the land and agriculture to sustain the monks. Instead, the monastic economy has spread to include the services and products that can be sold to others from agricultural work. These services can include selling food in restaurants and shops. However, it has almost meant for some monasteries the running of hotels and even factors (Harvey 203). In this regard, the modern era has really seen the monastic economy spread outside of purely agricultural pursuits. However, for the monks themselves, the monastic economy is still about working to get in touch with a feeling of contentment. The businesses are seen as helping others and providing services. The revenues that are raised are used for the monasteries and all of the monks. These businesses are not intended for individual monks to receive salaries and begin to acquire their own possessions outside of what is needed for life in the monastery (Ji).
In many respects, this description of the monastic economy of the Buddhist religion shows that the monastic economy has had to change as life has evolved. At one time, the monastic economy truly centered around purely agricultural pursuits. However, modern times have meant that the monastic economy encompasses other pursuits including restaurants, hotels, and services to the larger public. However, for the monks who have taken a calling to pursue a religious life of attaining peach and contentment, the basics of the monastic economy still exist. Monks work to benefit the entire monastery and even the larger population of laypeople. They do not work to obtain wealth and worldly possessions for themselves.
In fact, the monastic economy can be seen in the actual Buddha temple and its layout. For example, the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai, which was founded in 1882, has two large Buddha statues. There area also other smaller Buddha statues that are present to remind the monks and the laypeople who visit the temple of the traditions and beliefs of the Buddhists. The temple also has a great hall and a chamber housing the Jade Buddha. What is interesting, however, is that the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai also has two restaurants for the laypeople who visit the temple throughout the year. One of the restaurants has a variety of dishes of soup and noodles that are very inexpensive. This restaurant has tables where visitors are served, and the tables may be shared among many people, rather than just those who traveled together to the temple. A second restaurant also operates at the temple with more formal dinning services and higher prices.
This is an example of the current state of the monastic economy. The temple and monastery is still the center of monastic life and the monastic economy. However, the way in which monks raise money and support themselves, and work to attain peace and continent has changed through decades and centuries. Of course, the serving of food created from agricultural pursuits and the serving of others without regard to personal wealth or possessions is still the cornerstone of the monastic economy.
Crook, John H. and Osmaston, Henry. Himalayan Buddhist Villages. Hong Kong: Motilal
Banarsiddass Publications, 2001.
Feiss, Hugh. Essential Monastic Wisdom. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. London: Cambridge University Press,
Jade Buddha Temple. Wikipedia.
Ji, Zhe. Buddhism and the State: The New Relationship. China
Tachibana, Shundo. The Ethics of Buddhism. London: Routledge, 1992.