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Thailand: Spiritual impoverishment leads only to hardship

By Samart Mangsang, IHT ThaiDay, December 7, 2005

Bangkok, Thailand -- Practicing Buddhists and those interested in Buddhism would be familiar with Lord Buddha’s teachings on debt.

According to Lord Buddha there are two kinds of poor people. The first are those who lack sufficient means to live well. They are therefore forced to take out loans to make ends meet and suffer because they are unable to meet the loan repayments.

The second are the unrighteous, those who lack remorse, are indolent and fail to practice merit-making. Being corrupt in speech, action and mind, these people bring hardship and suffering on themselves and those around them. And those who are both financially and spiritually poor suffer doubly.

Media reports seem to suggest that both kinds of poverty are on the rise. People nowadays seem more willing to be in debt to banks and other lending institutions. Research indicates that most families think nothing of being up to 100,000 baht in debt. And it’s not just households but the business sector, which often resorts to taking out loans to expand, with the inevitable consequence that some businesses go bankrupt.

In recent weeks it appears that the government has also encountered financial problems. As a result, it has had to issue 80-billion-baht worth of government bonds to bolster national reserves.

What is behind this increasing debt burden? And what is the best solution? According to Lord Buddha’s teachings, poverty has several causes. The indolent are often poor because they are just too lazy to earn a good living. Others fail to set aside part of their earnings, as they would if they followed Buddhist teachings. Lord Buddha taught people to look at the example of the bee, which collects nectar from flowers to convert into honey to feed the colony’s larvae. The thinking is that, even if you save only a little at a time, eventually you will be rich. And finally, we are taught not to waste money on frivolous things.

A further reason for our rising debt burden might be the government’s policies, such as the village fund, which encourages people to take out loans. In consequence, the poor are having to suffer the additional burden of having to pay off loans with money they don’t have.

Let us shift our attention to the people who are lacking in virtue. These people can easily find themselves in trouble because of their undisciplined behavior. The unrighteous are motivated by greed, anger and ignorance – the source of all evil.

In general, if a large proportion of society is poor, both spiritually and morally, it will be beset with strife. In Thai society, agricultural and industrial laborers make up the majority of the poor. Many are enslaved by their debts, which they are unable to pay off.

More often than not, it seems the poor take out loans not because they want to invest the money to increase their incomes and lift themselves out of poverty, but to meet their daily expenses, without any consideration of whether they will be able to meet the loan repayments. Worse still, many, because of their lack of capital, resort to borrowing from moneylenders who charge extortionate interest rates.

There has been much in the news about the immoral conduct of those who work in the public sector. If those in government are corrupt, their actions adversely affect a great many people. Their disregard for regulations and their deceit will ultimately bring hardship to themselves in the form of fines and imprisonment, or perhaps even death. And if they die, according to religious belief, they will have to face the further torment of hell.

So what should we do to lift Thai society out of poverty?

It is extremely hard for one person, or even a single organization, to fight this social malaise. Instead, each and every one of us should first try to tackle the problem in ourselves and those around us – our family and friends. If we start in this way, before long the whole of society will become richer – financially and spiritually.

At the moment, the thirty-six-member Cabinet is left to deal with the problem of poverty. But, instead of trying to relieve people of their physical and emotional debt, the Cabinet just encourages the poor to become poorer.

The outlook for Thai society is far from rosy, and it seems poverty is set to grow – partly because of the government’s populist policies and partly because of the ineffectiveness of anti-corruption organizations in fighting fraud.

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