1588-9726 © 2018 Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest
Society and Economy 40 (2018) 4, pp. 515–529
MINDFULNESS AND BUDDHIST ECONOMICS
IN THE FINANCIAL MARKET–GENERATING
DELTA OR ALPHA?
ERNEST C. H. NG
Honorary Assistant Professor, Centre of Buddhist Studies, The University of Hong Kong
The ﬁ nancial market is undeniably the prime exemplar of capitalism where practitioners com-
pete under intense pressure to excel in decision making every nanosecond. This unrelenting pursuit
of outperformance is limited by human physical and mental capacities to make decisions based
on the available technology and information. This paper reviews the state of contemplative prac-
tices as a form of “mind technology” in the ﬁ nancial market. In order to deliver outperformance,
ﬁ nancial Alpha, in the market, this mind technology seems to suggest that it is important to engage
in contemplative practices so that our brainwaves could transcend from the faster neural Gamma
and Alpha waves to the slower and advanced state of neural Delta waves. This research looks into
the beneﬁ ts of these contemplative practices, particularly in decision making and management. It
then evaluates the potential integration and conﬂ ict between contemplative practices and material
pursuits. It argues that while contemplative practices are conducive to better decision making and
management, they have not reached their full potential. It explores the potential unique contribution
of Buddhist Economics and offers some avenues for the modern mindfulness movement to rethink
how we could develop our mental capacities to cope with the challenges in the market economy.
Key words: mindfulness, contemplative practices, Buddhist Economics, market economy, deci-
sion making, Applied Buddhism
JEL-codes: D80, M10, Z10.
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Society and Economy 40 (2018)
The financial market is undeniably the prime exemplar of market economies
where practitioners compete under intense pressure to excel in decision-making
every nanosecond. It is where competition, self-interest, and profit maximization
are most celebrated, causing significant and unsustainable volatility and stress at
the individual, social, and environmental levels. Despite the meaningful improve-
ments in overall income level, mental health conditions in the world are deterio-
rating with the World Health Organization predicting that depression will be the
second leading cause of world disability by 2020 (WHO 2001). Based on the data
between 1998 and 2011, income disparity has also worsened; the incomes of the
lowest 10 percent increased by only US$65 per person, while that of the highest
1 percent grew by US$11,800 per person (Oxfam 2017).
The performance of practitioners in the financial market is measured not only in
an absolute term, but also in a relative term – how they score relative to their peers
and the benchmark market indexes. The financial outperformance (Alpha), is gen-
erated from the underlying market exposure (Delta) through the highest achieve-
ments in discipline, focus, and insight. This unrelenting pursuit of outperformance
is not only constrained by factors such as time, social norms, moral codes, regula-
tions, laws, but it is also limited by our physical and mental capacities to make
decisions based on the available technology and information. While new technolo-
gies support transactions in higher frequency and volume, our mental capacities
are increasingly overloaded by enormous time, moral, and financial pressures.
This paper reviews the state of contemplative practices as a form of “mind
technology” in the financial market. This mind technology – prominently known
as the Mindfulness Movement over the last few decades – is now adopted by
the financial market as a collection of secular and evidence-based techniques
to reduce stress, reduce biases, increase productivity, increase attention, and so
forth. To deliver financial outperformance (Alpha) in the market, this mind tech-
nology seems to suggest that it is important to engage in contemplative practices
so that our brainwaves could transcend from the faster neural Gamma and Alpha
waves to the slower and advanced neural Delta waves. This interchanging pursuit
of materialistic outperformance Alpha and neural happiness Delta has always
been an essential process in human history. We will first discuss the implica-
tions of an instrumental use of mindfulness practices and the impact on the integ-
rity of Buddhist values. We will then further illustrate the unique contribution of
Buddhist Economics and Threefold training. This research will attempt to offer
some potential avenues for Buddhist teachings and mainstream mindfulness to
consider how we could develop our mental capacities to cope with challenges in
the financial market.
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2. MINDFULNESS IN THE FINANCIAL MARKET
Contemplative practices refer to a range of practices and exercises in which indi-
viduals look inward to become aware of, realize, and reflect on our mental activi-
ties inside. They have a deep linkage to ancient cultures and religions, but could
also be atheistic and secular. With decades of research and development, cer-
tain well-established contemplative training programs such as the Mindfulness-
Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) pioneered by Kabat-Zinn (1982), have proven
to be effective in cultivating mindfulness through a structured secular program.
Numerous corporations in the United States, such as Aetna, Google, eBay and
Bridgewater Associates have made available mindfulness training programs, ei-
ther in MBSR, Transcendental Meditation (TM), or other in-house, tailor-made
programs such as the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI). These
programs have been widely adopted worldwide as personal development, leader-
ship training and management tools, due to recognition of their benefits to em-
ployees’ physical and mental health (stress reduction, relaxation and emotional
intelligence) and overall contribution to a more effective organization.
Contemplative practices have also gained momentum in the financial mar-
ket. The importance of developing mental health, concentration, and emotional
awareness is well-recognized by leaders in the financial markets such as Paul
Tudor Jones. He reveals that “one of my strengths is that I view anything that has
happened up to the present point in time as history. I don’t care about the mistake
I made three seconds ago in the market. What I care about is what I am going to
do from the next moment on. I try to avoid any emotional attachment to a market”
(Schwager 1993). Other notable leaders in the financial market have publicly at-
tributed their success to different contemplative practices as well (Ng 2015). The
former chief investment officer of the Government of Singapore Investment Cor-
poration, Ng Kok Song, comments that meditation could help investment profes-
sionals “by allowing one to emerge with a clear mind [...] transcending our ego
[...] habitual mode of self-centeredness” (Rowe 2015) and that “[g]reater clarity
makes you more orderly” (Rathbone 2013).
Ray Dalio, the founder of the world’s largest hedge fund Bridgewater Associ-
ates also attributes his investment success to meditation. He believes that it is
very useful in generating creative thought and in evaluating and responding to
the overload of information in the market (Saft 2013). He mentions that medita-
tion “gives me a centeredness, it gives me an ability to look at things without the
emotional hijacking, without the ego, in a way that gives me a certain clarity”
(Saft 2013). He also suggests that it provides “an equanimity […] to see things
from a higher-level perspective and […] to make sensible decisions” (Rathbone
2013). Bill Gross, the founder of the world’s largest fixed income fund PIMCO,
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suggests that meditation helps him remove “confirmation bias” (Rathbone 2013).
Philipp Hildebrand, the vice-chairman of BlackRock and the former head of the
Swiss National Bank, further raises that the time spent on meditation is “a pause
that refreshes” (Rathbone 2013).
These empirical endorsements are also supported by scholarly research. Lo,
Repin, and Steenbarger (2005) demonstrated there is a relationship between in-
vestment trading performance and emotional reactions of traders. Their research
argues that the ability to perform in trading does not necessarily relate to innate
personality profiles – there is no specific “trader personality type” (Lo et al. 2005).
Good investors could be developed, trained and practiced as a skill. Instead there
seems to be a strong link between “emotional reactivity and trading performance”
in financial decision-making, specifically in this case, the intensity of reaction to
“monetary gains and losses” (Lo et al. 2005). Their results suggest that “extreme
emotional response[s] are apparently counterproductive” and hence, a potential
means to make successful investment decisions is to develop a reduced level of
emotional reactions. Instead of allowing automatic emotional responses such as
fear and greed (mediated by the amygdala) to dominate, they recommend that
one could allow for more controlled or higher level responses (mediated by the
prefrontal cortex) to guide their decision-making process (Lo et al. 2005).
Hafenbrack, Kinias, and Barsade (2014) provided data in support of mindful-
ness meditation as it positively correlates with increased resistance to the sunk-
cost bias, even with a 15-minute mindfulness-meditation induction. People have
sunk-cost biases when they fail to delineate present decision-making from the
choices they made in the past, either because of the cost or effort incurred. Medi-
tation facilitates higher resistance to sunk-cost bias by (1) developing a temporal
focus on the present, instead of wandering among the present, past, and future,
and (2) reducing negative regretful feelings that hinder the rational decision-mak-
Initially, those engaged in contemplative practices in the financial markets
may have been considered to be part of a cult. With the publication of the Medita-
tion Guide for Investment Professionals by the industry organization Chartered
Financial Analyst Institute (CFA Institute 2016a), contemplative practices are
now considered acceptable and even recommended in the financial market. The
Guide includes detailed discussions on the basics and background of meditation
in addition to highlighting of specific styles and forms such as Vipassana, Insight
Meditation and Loving Kindness Meditation. It even shortlists reports on medita-
tion by leading corporations and notable individuals with meditative practices, as
well as secular and non-secular resources. It has also published a detailed note on
the scientific studies on the benefits of meditation (CFA Institute 2016b) together
with a separate reference list (CFA Institute 2016c).
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Not only does the Guide (CFA Institute 2016b) summarize the physical and
mental benefits of meditation, it also covers the ethical benefits of meditation.
On the physical level, it highlights that meditation and increased mindfulness are
effective at relieving stress, lower inflammation, lower levels of cortisol, lower
stress levels, greater emotional regulation, lower neuroticism, decreased nerv-
ous system arousal and greater purpose in life. On the mental level, it highlights
that increased mindfulness is associated with a higher level of focus, better mul-
tidimensional thinking, better task performance under stress, and so forth. Its
discussion on ethical benefits is particularly noteworthy as it emphasizes that
meditators are more empathetic and altruistic, less likely to cheat and have more
3. INSTRUMENTAL USE AND ITS DOWNSIDE
While contemplative practices can be associated with many benefits, they seem
to be taught, learned, and practiced as an instrument or a mind technology. In
some cases, mindfulness was even adopted as a magical branding tool, a “mind-
ful” prefix added to all activities from education and parenting to financial advi-
sory services. While acknowledging the Buddhist root in the process of secular
mass adoption, these programs “don’t want to muddy the message with religion”
to maintain their access to the corporate world (Clarke 2014) and other profes-
sional fields. Mindfulness programs were successful in entering major financial
institutions such as Barclays, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, partly in response to
employee burnout and stress (Clarke 2014). Instead of searching into the deeper
root of greed and fear, these programs are offered to allow participants to cope
with the overstretched workload and better balance work with family and other
competing obligations. In its simplest form, a 15-minute mindfulness practice or
even a three-minute daily “breathing space” exercise, introduced as a “quick fix”,
were proven to make a difference, allowing the bankers to stay competitive and
contain their mental and physical stress. What are the potential downsides of such
an instrumental and materialistic use of mindfulness practice? This research will
explore this from both Buddhist and Buddhist Economic perspectives.
Scholars have explored the downside of the instrumental use of spiritual prac-
tices. While analyzing Buddhist Economics, Zadek argues that Buddhist Eco-
nomics should not be subject to the view of the markets. It “[should] turn this
equation on its head and insists rather that economic development must cohere
with Buddhist values” (Zadek 1993). Economic and materialistic development
should be instrumental in achieving spiritual advancement, not the other way
around. In response to the advocacy of frugality in relation to savings and invest-
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ments for enhancing future welfare, Bouckaert, Opdebeeck and Zsolnai (2011)
argue that “this instrumentalization of frugality ends paradoxically in its elimina-
tion on the economic scene. Consumerism and material greed, just the opposite
of frugality, become the basic drivers for increasing wealth, which leads to an
erosion of the intrinsic and spiritual meaning of frugality.”
While instrumental discussion typically asks “how” certain objectives could
be achieved, the spiritual discussion tends to look deep into the fundamental rea-
sons of “why” and “why we should” make certain decisions. The Deep Ecology
approach is another example which goes beyond the instrumental question of
“how to live” but dives into the ethical questions about “how we should live”
(Ims 2015). It focuses on the “underlying causes; the roots of the problems”,
including a deep reflection and change on the idea of humans as a subject (Ims
2015). This approach could therefore be a long-term, deeper approach as op-
posed to the shallow ecology which is a “technocratic attitude” of addressing
the symptoms through technological fixes – regulations, technologies, levies or
so forth. The shallow approach implies that progress and affluence is vital and
hence other sacrifices are necessary to keep the consumption and production lev-
els intact (Ims 2015).
Goulet (1980) advises that values – cultural, spiritual, or intrinsic – must not
be treated in a purely instrumental way. He argues that a non-instrumental treat-
ment of values is in fact more humane and efficient because “indigenously-rooted
values are the matrix whence people derive meaning in [their] lives, a sense of
identity and cultural integrity, and the experience of continuity with their environ-
ment and their past even in the midst of change” (Goulet 1980). These traditional
values “harbour within them a latent dynamism which, when properly respected,
can serve as the springboard for modes of development which are more humane
than those drawn from outside paradigms” (Goulet 1980).
It is important to ask the question: in the process of tailor-making mindfulness
practices for mainstream application – to some extent marketing, branding, and
selling them like a commodity “McMindfulness” – do we risk removing not only
the Buddhist and spiritual labels, but also their intrinsic values which are integral
to make mindfulness practices truly beneficial to us?
4. THE LIMITS OF “MCMINDFULNESS”
In response to the recent Mindfulness Movement, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of
MBSR, expounds on the pros and cons of mainstream mindfulness (Baer 2017).
He realized the challenge of taking something thousands of years old, with really
grounded and deep wisdom, and making it mainstream “without destroying it”
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(Baer 2017). However, he is not too “worried about the robust health of mindful-
ness” because of the enormous potential and depth of mindfulness practices. No
doubt some elements from the Buddhist traditions were excluded, but he believes
“the potential benefits far outweigh the costs. MBSR is only eight weeks long and
it’s meant to be a launching pad” (Baer 2017).
Thich Nhat Hanh is also confident about the depth and the transformative pow-
er of the practices. He elaborates (Confino 2014) that “it does not matter if the
original intention [of mindfulness practice] is triggered by wanting to be more
effective at work or to make bigger profits. That is because the practice will fun-
damentally change their perspective on life as it naturally opens hearts to greater
compassion and develops the desire to end the suffering of others.”
In the beginning, you believe that if you cannot become number one, you cannot be happy,
but if you practice mindfulness you will readily release that kind of idea. We need not fear
that mindfulness might become only a means and not an end because in mindfulness the
means and the end are the same thing. There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.
Nonetheless, the Zen master reminds us that if business executives are conducting
the practice for selfish reasons, then they are experiencing a “mere pale shadow
of mindfulness.” If we adopt mindfulness as a means of profit, an instrument to
satisfy our materialistic desires, we are far from the true purpose. Thich believes
that “it may look like the practice of mindfulness but inside there’s no peace, no
joy, no happiness produced. It’s just an imitation […] If you’re happy, you cannot
be a victim of your happiness. But if you’re successful, you can be a victim of
your success” (Confino 2014).
Dhammajoti (2011) takes this debate further by challenging the very meaning
of the “modern application of Buddhism.” He argues that despite the good inten-
tion behind linking Buddhist teachings with modern application, “Applied Bud-
dhism” is a misnomer because the Buddha-dharma should not be considered as
purely a theory, it “has the sole purpose of guiding sentient beings out of the suf-
fering (Pali: dukkha) of existence with cycles of rebirth (Skt: samsāric).” Speak-
ing of research attempts to link Buddhist teachings with the results of certain
scientifically proven impact, Dhammajoti (2011) warns that “the greater danger
lies in their often over-simplification, and even distortion, of Buddhist doctrines
and the whole integrated system of Buddhist praxis.” In evaluating the impact of
meditation on personality transformation, it is important to know that in Buddhist
meditation “there is the integrated context of skilful understanding, awareness,
motivation and living environment, coupled with the powerful inspiration of a
religious ideal” – in brief, meditation is practised within the integrated context of
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moral discipline (Pāli: sī la), mental concentration (Pāli: samādhi), and wisdom
(Pāli: pañ ñ a). In conclusion, Dhammajoti (2011) reiterates that:
true, lasting and transforming impact of the Dharma is not to be judged by the great pomp
and popularity that a Buddhist event or project is accompanied by. It is to be sought in how
an individual is truly transformed through the development of insight on the basis of proper
understanding and practice of an inspiring teaching.
5. MINDFULNESS IN THE CONTEXT OF BUDDHIST ECONOMICS
In contrast with the financial market which focuses on maximizing profit, desires,
market, instrumental use, self-interest, Zsolnai (2007) highlights that the key prin-
ciples of Buddhist Economics are minimizing suffering, simplifying desires, non-
violence, genuine care, and generosity. Buddhist Economics is a “minimizing
framework where suffering, desires, violence, instrumental use, and self-interest
have to be minimized.” It is the comparison between “less is more” and “more is
more” (Zsolnai 2011).
Indeed, the financial market is built upon a world-view drastically different
from Buddhism, specifically in the realm of individualism and the reach of the
market. The market economy upholds selfish individual achievements which ap-
pear to be at odds with a moral life and generosity. Income equality, charity and
social responsibility are considered to be noble traits which can make people feel
enriched spiritually but poor in terms of material gains. In the maximizing proc-
ess, we indulge in consumption and spending without reflecting on the quality
of our life and work. We also ignore our responsibility to society and the envi-
ronment. The interests of those who are not represented such as future genera-
tions, non-human members of the environment and less influential low-income
and disadvantaged groups cannot be properly and equally reflected in the market
From a Buddhist perspective, the Mindfulness Movement would have a positive
impact on decision-making and organizational management. However, an instru-
mental and materialistic approach to mindfulness could lead to an over-emphasis
on the positive impact without a full discussion on the potential adverse effects
(Lustyk et al. 2009). The true meaning of mindfulness practices could have been
lost if these practices do not lead the practitioners to the realization of their “true
mind” (Sharf 2015), but instead lead people into the extremes of either deperson-
alization or personal empowerment craving for better “control” of their “self”.
Mainstream mindfulness promoted to financial professionals could serve as a
launching pad, but they are far away from the sophisticated and integrated Three-
fold training of the moral discipline, mental concentration, and wisdom (Pāli:
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sīla–samādhi–pañ ñ a) taught and practiced in the Buddhist teachings. Buddhist
Economics could offer some unique perspectives for mainstream mindfulness
6. MINDFULNESS AS PART OF AN INTEGRATED THREEFOLD TRAINING
While the modern instrumental world calls for a minimum viable product (MVP)
of addressing human sufferings – focusing on an even shorter or more efficient
version of mindfulness by downplaying the “religious” and “intensive” part of
moral discipline and wisdom, Buddhist teachings consider mindfulness as part of
an integrated Threefold Training, comprising moral discipline, mental concentra-
tion, and wisdom. If Threefold Training is the MVP of Buddhist teachings, each
one of them would require lifetimes of long-term committed training, leading to
the eventual perfect cessation of suffering comparable to the Bodhisattva and the
Buddha. Threefold Training can serve as core pillars for decision-making, under-
standing human psychology and guiding sustainable investment decisions in the
According to Karunadasa (2015), Threefold trainings are in fact three stages
of moral development corresponding to the three levels of expression regard-
ing moral unskillful qualities: (1) moral discipline, to restrain our morality,
expressed in vocal and physical actions; (2) mental concentration, to still the
mind in turbulence, although it cannot remove unskillful qualities lying below
surface-consciousness, and (3) wisdom, to uproot all roots of moral unskillful
qualities which have sunk to the “bottom” of the mind when the mind becomes
still. Instead of a quick fix, the practice of a moral life is a graduated discipline
(Pāli: anupubba-sikkhā), a graduated course of conduct (Pāli: anupubba-cariyā )
and a graduated mode of progress (Pāli: anupubba-paṭ ipadā) of our mind and
Moral disciplines in Buddhism are the dos and don’ts of a moral life. They are
the compasses to direct internal thought processes, and external vocal and physi-
cal actions (Ng 2015). External acts of transgression due to temptation could be
more harmful, but are easier to control than thoughts of temptation themselves.
They should, therefore, be the level where the practice of moral life begins (Karu-
nadasa 2001). Moral disciplines ensure harmony in the mental and bodily actions
within oneself, but also within a community and should be enacted based on an
empirical understanding of human minds and actions and how they affect devel-
opment. They are also a foundation for the cultivation of mental concentration
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While mental concentration can focus and relax minds, without the develop-
ment of wisdom and moral discipline, one can focus on the wrong subjects with
the wrong perspectives. Wisdom without concentration is equally fruitless because
our minds wander around without pinpointing on the right subjects (Ng 2015).
6.1. Mental Concentration
To achieve genuine stress reduction, happiness, control, and freedom in the
Buddhist context is neither through instrumental control nor indulgence, but
through mastery of truly free decision-making. True freedom, liberty, and happi-
ness are achieved when we have a mind and body fully under our control. A moral
life is truly free when our body and mind will not be overcome by greed, hatred
and delusion and hence, cause harm to ourselves as well as others (Ng 2015).
In contact with the outside world, our mental faculties receive information and
translate them into our internal consciousness with different perceptions of the
sensations. To understand this world, we cannot think and act in the usual way,
i.e. a convoluted endless action and mental process, which keeps interacting and
expanding. Buddhism suggests the meditative observation of a simple recurring
phenomenon, e.g. a simple flow of breath upon which we practice our ability to
focus. Reflection without samādhi is like seeing through a glass of muddy water.
Concentration is the process of acute focus and filtration, so still and calm that all
the dust and pieces of impurities are settled to an extent that only clear, transpar-
ent water is left at the top. Mental concentration is achieved in the Noble Eight-
fold Path through Right Effort, Right Concentration, and Right Mindfulness. In
other words, mental concentration requires the right efforts (methodology and
striving) to apply the right focus on the right objects (of meditation).
Ruedy and Schweitzer (2010) argue that people with a higher level of mind-
fulness tend to be more open-minded and less subject to biases or self-serving
views on relevant information related to decision-making processes as mindful-
ness is associated with greater awareness of one’s present environment and one-
self with an accepting, non-judgmental quality. They suggest that mindfulness is
also linked to ethical decision-making which is essential for meeting increasing
regulatory and compliance demands within financial markets.
6.2. Moral Discipline
Buddhism focuses on the ways we acquire, keep, and deploy wealth, not only in
ways that are morally sound, but also sustainable. It teaches us to use our effort
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and intelligence through moral means so that we can nurture our discipline, con-
centration and intelligence. Immorality includes activities like stealing, cheating,
and exploitation which arise from three unwholesome roots: greed (Pāli: lobha),
aversion (Pāli: dosa), delusion (Pāli: moha). Karunadasa (2015) illustrates that
there is an inseparable causal correlation between morality and happiness in
Buddhist teachings: what is morally good leads to happiness, and what is morally
bad leads to unhappiness.
From a psychological perspective, Karunadasa (2015) further explains that
moral wrongdoings exist on three levels of: (1) latency (Pāli: anusaya), where
our moral unskilful qualities are “asleep” below the surface-consciousness;
(2) arising-all-around (Pāli: pariyuṭ ṭ h ā na) where what have been asleep are now
fully awakened. Our mind’s turbulence is expressed through negative emotions
and excited feelings. With necessary conditions, our latent thoughts will lead to
the arising of emotions and feelings and will be further expressed externally,
(3) at the level of going beyond (Pāli: vī tikkama) where what has awakened is
expressed in the form of vocal and physical bodily actions. Morality is reflected
through mental-psychology-body activities. If economic decisions and activities
are the means to generate and enjoy wealth with the pursuit of happiness as the
goal, morality of economic activities then must become an integral part of our
Buddhism considers morality in the “skilfulness” or “unskilfulness” of our
psychological state. A mind is “skilful” (Pāli: kusala) when it has “skilful” quali-
ties. We experience mental health (Pāli: ā rogya), mental purity (Pāli: anavajjatā ),
and mental ability (Pāli: cheka), all of which result in mental happiness (Pāli:
a mind that is obsessed with greed, malice and delusion is a mind that is ‘defiled’ (kiliṭ ṭ ha-
citta), ‘diseased’ (ā tura-citta) and ‘in bondage’ (avimutta-citta). Such a mind cannot see
things in their proper perspective. A defiled and diseased mind is in a state of disharmony
with actuality. It is therefore called ‘unskillful’ (akusala). (Karunadasa 2015)
On the other hand, when the mind has the opposite qualities, such as generos-
ity, compassionate love and wisdom, it experiences positive qualities of mental
purity, mental health and mental freedom. It is a mind that is in harmony with
actuality (Karunadasa 2015). For professionals in the financial market, integrating
moral discipline into their work and life are conducive to the process of achieving
sustainable happiness for oneself, society, and the rest of the ecosystem. It could
gradually transform part of our daily moral decision-making into a habitual self-
correcting mechanism, which we can adhere to with consistence and confidence
even when we are emotionally or intellectually vulnerable. This, in turn, allows for
more resources to be used in other personal development and self-control areas.
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To explain the origin of things in this world, the Buddha rejects any dualistic
views advocated by other schools of thought. He proclaims the doctrine of de-
pendent arising as “when this exists, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that
arises” (MLDB 39 1995) and “when this does not exist, that does not come to be;
with the cessation of this, that ceases” (MLDB 39 1995). According to Karuna-
dasa (2001), it is defined “to mean the arising of phenomena in dependence on
other phenomena, with no unchanging substance behind the phenomena.”
On individuality, the Buddha argues that there is “no independent self-entity,
mental or material, which is impervious to change” (Karunadasa 2001). By apply-
ing the doctrine of dependent arising into the analysis and synthesis of our reality
and self-entity, we could understand that the nature of reality is in fact centred in
impermanence (Pāli: anicca), while the nature of self is in fact selflessness (Pāli:
anatta). The Great Full Month Night Discourse (MLDB 109 1995) suggests that
it is from the clinging of our perceptions that we further fabricate a self-identity in
terms of the five aggregates because our “perceptions” could only be “justified”
if there is a continuous existence of “I” with the ability to cling.
According to Karunadasa (2015) this grasping process is expressed in three
ways: “This is mine (Pāli: etaṃ mama), this is I am (Pāli: eso’ ham asmi), and this
is my self (Pāli: eso me attā ). The first is due to craving (Pāli: taṇ h ā ); the second to
conceit (Pāli: mā na); and the third is due to a mistaken belief in a self-entity (Pāli:
diṭ ṭ hi).” Sufferings and conflicts arise as a result of “identifying ourselves with
what is impermanent (Pāli: anicca), with what does not come under our full control
(Pāli: anatta)” (Karunadasa 2015a). This is the wrong view of selflessness as self.
The Anumā na Sutta (MLDB 15 1995) suggests that conceit or ego are the most
important and difficult qualities for monks to admonish. Grasping of our “self”
would lead to contempt of others’ views and attachment to our views to an extent
that we would conceal our blemishes, as discussed in the Anaṅ gaṇ a Sutta (MLDB
5 1995). The “self” is therefore described as the “mother of all blemishes.” This fix-
ation on self and self-view can be addressed through inferring whatever unwhole-
some qualities are in us as if they are in others. This is an effective form of practice
because, in this way, we are getting rid of the idea of “self” by equating our “self”
to “others.” On the other hand, if we only look outward at the blemishes of others,
we will never be able to reflect upon our own blemishes and our self because the
notion of “self” is further inflated and promoted by stepping on others’ egos.
This commitment to self-control in our decision-making and actions is highly
valuable in the financial market because, through a deep self-examination, we
will be able to understand situations where we failed to maintain consistent ra-
tional decisions in real life (Ng 2015). Greed and fear in the financial market
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prevent us from thinking rationally because we crave for what we do not have and
fear losing what we already have. For each decision we make, our views reinforce
our identity, as we recognize the decision made and the “I” capable of making the
decision. When good or bad decisions are made, we feel accordingly good or bad
about ourselves as a decision-maker. We define ourselves not by the profit gener-
ated, but by the decision and action we took to maximize wealth.
Once we understand the meaning of dependent arising (Pāli: paṭ iccasamuppā da)
and selflessness (Pāli: anatta), we would understand that our decision is depend-
ent on all relevant causes and conditions and that we need to review the evolution
of events and our mental and physical activities constantly. We would identify the
source of uncertainties and risk and the impermanent nature of our internal and
We should be able to appreciate how individuals are inseparable from society
and the rest of the ecosystem. Each of us will share in the fortune or misfortune
that results from the rest of society and the ecosystem. The deepening of wisdom,
together with moral discipline and mental concentration are the ultimate Buddhist
solutions to personal, organizational and societal development.
This research attempts to establish that Buddhism can contribute to problem-
solving in financial markets by looking deeper into the underlying causes of hu-
man suffering through a holistic and multilayered approach – in contrast with
“cosmetic” and “stop gap” responses and solutions to social, political, and eco-
nomic challenges. As Ng (2015) proposes, a Buddhist-based sustainable approach
could address some of the negative effects of financial market organizations and
their stakeholders by including more profound and long-term considerations. The
entire package of Buddha-Dharma could be too intensive for beginners or for
secular purposes not only because it requires a thorough understanding of quite
a few fundamental Buddhist concepts together, but it also requires us to live the
practices in daily life. Still, Dhammajoti reassures that the values of Buddhist
teachings should stand against the test of time and popular consensus:
There is no need to worry about ancient teachings being “out of date” or being as good as
dead. Any truthful spiritual teaching—and, for that matter, any truthful and worthy human
thought system—will naturally find its ever-renewed form of manifestation and provide
inspiration in diverse manners, at different times and places of sentient existence. They are
the eternal legacy of mankind. (Dhammajoti 2011)
It is with this level of confidence and self-worth that Buddhist teachings can
maintain their integrity while continuing to contribute to contemporary needs.
528 ERNEST C. H. NG
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