NEWS

The University of Hong Kong hosts International Buddhist Values and Economics Conference

By Justin Whitaker
Buddhistdoor Global | 2019-04-16 |
Presenters and moderators pose together for a photo before the conference. Image courtesy of The HKU Center of Buddhist StudiesPresenters and moderators pose together for a photo before the conference. Image courtesy of The HKU Center of Buddhist Studies

From 13-14 April the Center of Buddhist Studies (CBS) at The University of Hong Kong (HKU) hosted an international conference titled, “Buddhist Values and Economics: Investing in a Sustainable Future.” The conference, sponsored by GS Charity Foundation Limited, drew speakers and workshop presenters from across North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The conference addressed a wide range of perspectives, from academic analysis of early Buddhist texts and interpretations of wealth to contemporary applications of Buddhist values for business leaders and investors.

In his introductory keynote address Saturday morning, Prof. Richard Payne of the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California, noted that historically, Buddhism has existed in a context of exchange economy. Modern capitalism, he continued, with its ideals of individualism and rational choice are foreign to Buddhism, since the latter rests on the premise that people are driven instead by varying degrees of ignorance. Charles Lief, President of Naropa University, delivered a paper which was more optimistic about integrating Buddhist ideas into contemporary business, citing the example of the large corporate insurance company Aetna, which has successfully implemented a mindfulness program for its employees.

Prof. Hendrik Opdebeek then spoke of the urgency of addressing economic concerns with an ideal of “enough” rather than a proliferation of consumer goods; and Prof. Knut Ims offered the example of Deep Ecology pioneer Arne Naess as a way for Buddhists to reflect on ideals of prosperity and flourishing and potentially challenge contemporary consumerist ideals.

Presenters and moderators presented with gifts from the Center of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Yan ChanPresenters and moderators presented with gifts from the Center of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Yan Chan

In a second keynote on Saturday, Dasho Karma Ura, President of the Centre for Bhutan Studies & Gross National Happiness, spoke of the exploitation of labor as a form of “taking what is not given,” the avoidance of which is the second lay Buddhist precept. Papers continued through the afternoon exploring Buddhist perspectives on material wealth by Prof. Ven. Jing Yin and Dr. Guang Xing of the University of Hong Kong.

University of California, Berkeley economist, Prof. Clair Brown, offered the keynote address on Sunday morning, pointing out ties between wasteful economic choices and our current ecological crisis. She noted the correlation between income inequality and unhappiness around the world, using a chart showing that the United States of America has uniquely high levels of both. Her call was for citizens to realize that we are all in this together and that governments must choose a more sustainable path forward for the sake of future generations.

Professor Clair Brown shows the correlation between income inequality and increasing health and social problems among various countries. Image courtesy of the authorProfessor Clair Brown shows the correlation between income inequality and increasing health and social problems among various countries. Image courtesy of the author

Dr. Georgios Halkias and Dr. G. A. Somaratne of the University of Hong Kong offered historical accounts of Buddhist practice and belief around wealth, Dr. Somaratne focusing on early Buddhism and Dr. Halkias covering Tibetan ritual practices for prosperity. Dr. Ernest Ng, Buddhistdoor columnist and CEO of the Buddhist NGO Tung Lin Kok Yuen, offered a paper placing Buddhist economics in the context of the varied Western perspectives.

Dr. Ernest Chi-Hin Ng speaking before the audience at The University of Hong Kong Sunday. Image courtesy of the authorDr. Ernest Chi-Hin Ng speaking before the audience at The University of Hong Kong Sunday. Image courtesy of the author

Concurrent workshops explored, on Day One, topics such as integrating transmundane Buddhist wisdom with contemporary corporate management strategy, led by business administration scholar and senior HKSAR government directorate Dr. Anthony Lok, leadership excellence and organizational transformation, led by Julia Culen and Christian Mayhofer, and a Mahayana Buddhist approach to stress management, led by Ven. Sik Hin Hung and Bonnie Wu. On Day Two, the workshops explored social values in entrepreneurship with Francis Ngai Wah-sing, founder of Social Ventures Hong Kong and David Yeung, founder of Green Monday, and sustainable finance and banking with Ven. Hin Hung, Andrew Fung, CFO of Henderson Land, and George Leung, advisor to the deputy chairman and chief executive of HSBC.

A closing workshop on Day Two, led by Debra Tan, Director of China Water Risk, emphasized the importance of the Tibetan plateau, often refered to as the “third Pole” because of the amount of fresh water stored there in glaciers. Global warming, Tan warned, is effecting the plateau at twice the average rate of the planet, which will lead to drastic reduction in existing glaciers, effecting the fresh water supplies of over a billion people living in the region.

Buddhistdoor Global Senior Writer Raymond Lam moderating a workshop on social values in entrepreneurship. Image courtesy of the authorBuddhistdoor Global Senior Writer Raymond Lam moderating a workshop on social values in entrepreneurship. Image courtesy of the author
Debra Tan's slide showing the disproportionate effects of climate change on the Tibetan plateau. Image courtesy of Raymond LamDebra Tan's slide showing the disproportionate effects of climate change on the Tibetan plateau. Image courtesy of Raymond Lam

The conference showcased a wide variety of perspectives in addition to those discussed here, across both geography and varied disciplines in both academia and the business world. In the closing session, Ven. Phra Dr. Anil Sayka, Rector of the World Buddhist University in Thailand, noted that the very term “sustainable” is derived from the Latin sustinere meaning “to hold up, to support or bear” and this is nearly identical to the root meaning of the Buddhist term “dharma,” which is "to hold firmly, support." Thus, he suggested, in our promotion of sustainable economic ideals, we are in turn promoting and promulgating the Dharma. 

Presenters receive gifts at the opening of the Buddhist Values and Economics conference. Image courtesy of Raymond LamPresenters receive gifts at the opening of the Buddhist Values and Economics conference. Image courtesy of Raymond Lam
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