Blogs >> Buddhist Economics in the Czech Republic - Tim Crabtree

Buddhist Economics in the Czech Republic - Tim Crabtree

Tim Crabtree

The question of whether there could be a Buddhist Economics is an intriguing one. Buddhism is a wisdom tradition which is having increasing influence in the West, for example through the application of mindfulness-based approaches in education and mental health contexts. The idea of Buddhist Economics is less well known, but was written about by EF Schumacher in his 1974 book “Small is Beautiful”, and more recently in discussions of ethics by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Perhaps rather unusually, I began my engagement in “new economics” – 30 years ago – at the same time as I started studying Zen meditation and mindfulness-based practices (aikido and shiatsu). These practices took  me to Japan as well as training with a number of teachers in the UK.

Over the last few years, Schumacher College has been building a relationship with Masaryk University in the Czech Republic’s second city Brno, and it was here that I taught the course on Buddhist Economics. Dr. Nadia Johanisová of the Environmental Studies department invited Stephan Harding to teach about Gaia theory, and I have been teaching one week modules for masters and PhD students for a number of years – first on local food systems and this year on Buddhist Economics. Three Erasmus “interns” have also joined us – Dagmar, Petra and now Hana. They have all worked mainly with Jane Gleeson in the gardens, though of course have enjoyed experiencing college life and finding out about the local Transition movement.

During the course at Masaryk University I shared my experience of trying to integrate Buddhism into economic practice, and also explored some of the parallels between new thinking in complexity economics and the Buddhist understanding of inter-connectedness.

Drawing on the teachings shared by the College’s current spiritual scholar in residence, Kaira Jewel, I focused on the centrality of compassion and generosity within the Buddhist tradition, as well as the importance of building community. This was contrasted with the mainstream economics assumption that competition and self-interest should be the drivers of the economy, and that well-being is simply equated with greater overall consumption. On the last day of the course, the group transferred from the faculty buildings to an environmental education centre on the edge  of Brno, run by the NGO Lipka. This provided the highlight of the week, as we sought to practice generosity and community building during a shared lunch – the centre provided a home made soup while the participants brought home made offerings, including Czech specialities and food from Sri Lanka (the home country of two of the students). It felt like Schumacher College had been transferred to Brno!

Tim will be giving a talk about Buddhist Economics at the Red Brick Building, Glastonbury, on Wednesday 24 June at 7.30pm.

Tim is Senior Lecturer on the Economics for Transition (link is external) and Ecological Food Systems (link is external) postgraduate programmes.