Sustainable development and Buddhism. 5


This week’s blog was written by Gareth Conlon. Gareth has been involved with Development Perspectives since 2008. Gareth has a Masters degree in Development from Kimmage Development Studies Centre and is a practicing Buddhist.

Sustainable Development and Buddhism.

Statue of Buddha

Craving is a human condition. In today’s world our craving is encouraged countless times a day. This is done through advertisements for products, or through newspapers and magazines for a particular body image. We are made to believe that happiness comes from money or a certain type of success, in business, being rich or becoming a celebrity.

Modernisation theory is often assumed to be the only type development, that if a country should modernise like the West, in a capitalist way – It will be “developed”. Countries that don’t expand in this way, are considered to be only “developing” or “undeveloped”. The way western countries have developed however is completely unsustainable. It has created issues such as climate change, growing inequality, massive mental health issues and high suicide rates.

The Buddha said 2,500 years ago that we create our own suffering through craving. In many ways our current way of developing promotes this craving. This leads to all and more of the issues above and very little satisfaction. So essentially we have created and bought into a situation or a system that is compromising the health of the planet, eradicating species, creating massive gaps between the rich and the poor, creating a situation were depression and anxiety are ripe and with all our modernisation, happiness still eludes us.

The Buddha also said that happiness can only really come from within. He showed a path on how to achieve this. In schools we teach our children subjects that will help them get a job and serve the economy but not subjects that help them figure out how to be happy in the world.  I am reminded of a quote by John Lennon “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”. Surely the economy should serve the people and not the people serve the economy, which is the current situation. If everybody were a Buddhist then climate change wouldn’t be happening.

We do everything because we want to be happy but we need to figure out what it is that brings us happiness because our current Western view clearly doesn’t work.


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5 thoughts on “Sustainable development and Buddhism.

  • John Smith

    It’s true that our expectation always hurt us. I agree happiness can only come from within. If you want to control your desires, then you should try Mediation . I also read article about mediation which is posted by Lama Surya Das. The article is quite inspirational.

  • Sarah Flynn

    Great article Gareth. I think we really do need to question the education system. I can remember learning the terms “developing”, “developing”, “underdeveloped” in school and I never thought to question them, I just accepted them as “fact”. I feel I am the product of an education system that doesn’t inspire students to really think about things for themselves and just focuses on learning things as facts and figures and then rhyming them off in an exam to get “points”. I believe some of the Buddhist teachings could help open students’ minds (at any age) and really start to understand themselves and the world, and how we are all interconnected. I have to say the teachings certainly have certainly opened my mind, particularly when it comes to the pursuit of happiness!

  • Gareth Conlon

    Thank you Vikas. It is great to hear DP is reaching as far away and beautiful places as India. Yes Buddhism for me has been transformative. I have long questioned our main stream education system. It prepares people for an economy but not to live in the world peacefully. I feel the Dharma or Buddhist teaching shows us a way to be in the world that benefits us and all things we come in contact. Thank you for your comment

  • vikas sarwande

    hi gareth, im a buddhist person from india. i always read buddhist books ,newspaper articles and so on and i also feel that only buddhissm talks about sustainable development . it just not talks but it also teach to how to behave sustainablly. and im totally agree with you. i liked your article.

  • Paul Crewe

    Interesting article Gareth. I have definitely become more interested in the link between wealth and happiness. I think very little is known about what makes most people happy and, yet, many seem to accept that wealth and happiness go hand in hand. From my experiences, I dont believe that happiness and wealth are inexorably linked. The Gross National Happiness concept over the 4 pillars of sustainability, promting cultural values, conservation and good governance. No mention of economic prosperity there! Decision makers needs to take note of this and create policy that focuses on the happiness of ALL without an over-emphasis on traditional economic values.