Good morning/afternoon, everyone. It is my great honor to be among the prominent panelists of “Peace With No Borders”. I am Nobuyuki Ainoya of Chuo Academic Research Institute of Rissho Kosei-kai, Tokyo, Japan. Rissho Kosei-kai is a lay Buddhist movement organization enduringly committed to the interreligious dialogue for a long time.
Asian economies have witnessed a truly remarkable progress after the devastation of the World War II. They were often called an “Asian Economic Miracle” in which less industrialized countries were directly invested in by more industrialized ones due to the comparative economic advantages in terms of the natural resources, the human labor and the other forms of capital. Depending on the efficient utilization of resources, some countries got more industrialized, then seeking for other countries where the comparative economic advantage could be further realized.
While the economic efficiency might lead to the increase of the gross economic products/services in the countries, this would likely do so in an inhumane and unsustainable manner. As a matter of fact, in all other areas of the world as well as Asian countries, many challenges are still persisting, such as inequalities, epidemics, climate change, violent conflict and others.
Economic progress is implied to be the end rather than an important means to the betterment of human life when the primacy is placed on its economic aspect. Individuals are presumed to be the atomized units to satisfy their own private interests to the greatest degree possible. They are also posited to choose the most rational among all courses of behaviors. Thus, economic progress is often squared with an atomistic view of human nature.
When human nature is reduced to an over-simplified but certainly compelling dimension of human life, it could make possible that individual behaviors would be predicted and thereby designed into the collective behaviors through the institutional analysis.
However, it should be noted that Adam Smith wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) that human behaviors are shaped by the sympathy as well as by the self-interests. Smith wrote, “there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” One such principle is “pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner.” Furthermore, Smith added that the feelings and actions of others are judged whether to be appropriate. Thus, Smith placed the sympathy to imagine the feelings and actions of others and then to judge their appropriateness as the source of human moral sentiments.
As Smith stated succinctly, we are intrinsically relational. In other words, we perceive ourselves that we are so interdependent that we are affected by the feelings and actions of others and vice versa, which, in turn, socially constructs the reality of our world. To the extent that we perceive that we are mutually competitive, we are in such a war where every man is against every man. To the extent that we perceive that we are interdependent, we share the same life.
A very important teaching of Mahāyāna Buddhism is the idea of Emptiness, which asserts that all the things of the world are devoid of “self-nature”, that they have no intrinsic essence of their own in isolation from other things. Since we are interdependent and are thus part of a web of the oneness of all life, we are encouraged to be compassionate and care for all others.
For example, I ate banana for breakfast. The banana could be harvested by a poor young boy working for a large farm of Mindanao islands of the Philippines invested in by a foreign trading company. If so, that boy is supporting myself and said to be living within myself. The difficulties and challenges facing him vividly appears in my view. A part of his contradictions would derive from the comparative economic advantage stated above, however, from which I might have benefitted within the social structure I am partly committed to building. When I eat banana, I must, knowingly or unknowingly, take in all contradictions of the world including him.
Being beyond an atomistic view of human nature and standing on the understanding that we, the humans, are interdependent and part of a web of the oneness of all life, we are called into the sympathy that we imagine the feelings and actions of others and judge their appropriateness and, if not, that we should take our parts of the responsibility to construct the fair world with compassion.
In conclusion, economic activity is inherently good in that economic progress is made possible, however, it has to be made with our sense of sympathy Smith emphasized and of interdependency Mahāyāna Buddhism teaches, if not, we need to get committed to the correction of its impairments for the dignity of ourselves.