Why is Buddhism unpopular

DEBATE 2: "There is a lot of room for Buddhist ethics"

The article in BUDDHISMUS aktuell 4/2016 ("Does life mean suffering?") Had our reader Dr. Rigmar Osterkamp was in a thoughtful mood - and challenged to object on some points. Here is the reply from the author Karl-Heinz Brodbeck.


Dear Mr. Osterkamp, ​​thank you very much for your letter - which surprised me after all these years (we probably met each other at the end of the 1980s at the Ifo Institute or the School of Politics). The Buddhists call such a thing "karma". To your letter; I will only take up a few points in more detail, but I have to deepen them a bit in order to remain understandable for non-economists as well.


"Not empirical"

You use the words "assertion" and "... not easy to prove" at the beginning. Well, the Buddhist dharma is not an empirical science. He only suggests something that you can try out yourself, in no way “must” or “should”. Buddhism is not a normative religion like the Abrahamic religion. To show that promises of happiness are offered as goods, it only takes a look at various magazines, which at least I can think of to read in my dentist's waiting room. "Glück + Seminar" delivers almost 600,000 entries on Google. Is that empirically sufficient for you? That is enough for me as a phenomenological starting point.


Death and impermanence. Sure, everyone knows that - somehow. There is no need for Buddhism to know that. What did the Buddha say about this? As a starting point, they are simply surefire truths. In any case, no immortal has yet been discovered. According to the Buddha, one should build one's life on the basis of truth, not illusions. What has been mentioned - transience and death, as well as other sufferings - is traditionally regarded as the "first noble truth." In an undertaking, forgetting the transience of many plans is also "common" (do you want empirical evidence for this?), But just unhelpful. Practiced and preached as a habit - e.g. in movies; Love films usually end with weddings, not funerals - when it becomes an unnoticed, secret mistake of reasoning. That means: a hope that grows on the wrong basis (“happiness is timeless”) is sure to disappoint for everyone at some point.



"Underestimating people"


They think I would "underestimate" my fellow human beings. Let's say you have "empirically tested" this statement. I would then say: I am less likely to underestimate my fellow human beings than the politicians who elect them. You know that the global average temperature has risen rapidly again in the last two years, that the polar ice caps are melting faster than the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) had predicted that many marine fish are carrying more and more plastic, etc. - And that applies to " only “ecological issues; I am silent, for example, from the financial markets or the countless wars or the figures from the Oxfam Institute on the global distribution of wealth. I want to say: If my fellow human beings, the 7.4 billion on our planet, are always jointly responsible for this - at least as voters - then I do not "underestimate" anyone, but I notice that it is with the compassion and the recognition of the entanglement with the Global nature and human actions are not that far away. So there is still a lot of room for Buddhist ethics.

Correct: What Buddhism says about the structure of human existence is entirely based on tangible foundations. That's the joke about this teaching. The Buddha says: "Do not go after opinions, holy books, gurus, mere theories, hasty conclusions, etc. But if you realize yourself, then you may give up corresponding thoughts and actions that cause suffering." This is the essence of Buddhist ethics , actually a thoroughly secular ethic, as the Dalai Lama emphasizes again and again, because "ethics are more important than religion". And if you have found with parents and friends that they see it that way and have therefore implemented the embedding in nature, the living, the society in compassionate practice - excellent! I am only asking those who have not, perhaps, to reconsider.


"That I"


Well, that's not a theoretical question. I would have to say a lot about Descartes (this is not a rhetorical phrase, but can be read in detail in some of my books). Above all, it has to be clarified what the word “exist” means here - you also indicate that, perhaps in the spirit of Heidegger. But that has been an essential point of Buddhist philosophy and practice for 2500 years. Simply writing a “not” in front of me or thinking that doesn't help. Therefore the answer in Buddhism is not a theoretical one here either. And that's exactly why there are so many meditation practices. The only thing I dare to say from my own experience: Anyone who tries it out and perseveres for ten or twenty years will discover amazing things about the supposed "I". This truth can be rewritten somehow. But that's as helpful as describing the taste of strawberries or the feeling of being in love. Not finding cannot be captured by a concept, and emptiness is also not a feeling, to be silent about something. Yes, it is not even a nothing. (I know it is extremely confusing or sounds like sheer nonsense when pronounced.)

You can also argue rationally here. “Empty” means not to be deceived (for me, for example: not to fall for the deceptions of the economic models). Such delusions can be purged step by step. Nāgārjuna is the exemplary philosopher for me here, whom I have systematically pursued in some texts (see e.g. here). But I ask for your understanding: If a patent answer without Buddhist meditation practice were possible in a small article here - I would try to formulate it immediately.

"Dispute between economists"


But now I come to the actual background, which unites us as well as divides us. Sure, I've studied economics for years, taught for 30 years, and probably published around 200 essays and a dozen books on it. But here (in “Buddhismus aktuell”) I am not insisting on something like expert knowledge. On the contrary. All the fuss of my guild serves only to hide a simple truth: They know damn little, even if they are always able to hide their embarrassments verbatim. In the name dropping to subdisciplines of economics, which you put at the end of your letter, the most important one is missing: monetary theory. What most economists say and know about money is… how am I supposed to say that politely: “Far too little”? (That's why I wrote a 1200-page book about it; but that's just by the way.) Why is it so difficult? Because something strange reveals itself in money, at the heart of Buddhist knowledge of the world: a collective illusion becomes an economic reality every day until it - every now and then - bursts. That then means a crisis. I know this is, as I said, far too simple for the ears of an expert. Suzuki Shunryu once said: In the mind of the layman there are many possibilities, in the mind of the expert there are very few possibilities. In Europe the déformation is known professionnelle. My own craft suffers from this disease: economics. With money, this can be shown down to the smallest detail. Very few others in the history of dogma have approached this idea of ​​“money as an illusion”. But ask about the opposite and be honest: Which money and financial crisis have transaction cost models, quantity theory, the theory of rational expectations or similar models ever explained empirically? I can't go into this any further here; if you (or the readers) like it, you will find many free articles on my homepage - guaranteed well under 1200 pages like in my money tome. If you like, you can find out briefly in advance in a video that was shot once for the show by Gerd Scobel.

"He didn't understand Adam Smith"

Finally, a critical point, because it is “slightly” polemical. With not very subtle criticism, you write that the author did not understand what Adam Smith had found: The competition of many egoists leads to a stable equilibrium, known as the market, and this shining star of science is also to be honored in politics (“I only say market, market and again market!” - Hans-Werner Sinn). Unfortunately, almost all model prognoses (really "all" would have been a stochastic miracle) were false prognoses. You are sure to know, having worked longer at the Ifo than I did (after two years I fled), all of the false prognoses of the last few decades that have gotten to dust somewhere in the basement of every institute. Economics pretends to be a naturalistic science. But it has remained just a doctrine of faith - in all the beautiful sub-areas that you apparently do not mention without the pride of the knowing economist at the end of your letter. Yes, there are countless models, including welfare economics (you say: “social benefit”; do you also think of indicators such as “gross national happiness” from Bhutan?). But there are also whole libraries of refutations, at least serious modifications to the contrary of the original Smith point of an invisible hand of the market. Admittedly, during the time when I was still playing in the circus of the refereed journals, I also contributed a little, which is hardly of interest to the readers of this magazine. My insight: Neither crises nor creative processes (something like that occurs every day in the real economy) can, however, be prognosticated, indeed at all, through all these beautiful models, up to and including those mathematically improved by the Nobel Prize economists Debreu, Arrow, Hahn etc. be recognized.

Economics has remained an “implicit ethic”. Everywhere economists have a say in how something should be designed, casually put away all the false prognoses (I really have to remind you of the many false prognoses, let's just take the one of your former “boss” Hans-Werner Sinn: Bazar economy? Euro? Green Paradox? Etc. - I spare the readers of “Buddhismus aktuell” from having to explain these statements in more detail when they are proclaimed as quite nonsensical). After their failed forecasts, economists simply ... carry on. (For example, where are the 4 million unemployed that Sinn had forecast through the introduction of the minimum wage?). Always in the gesture of: “we know it”. In talk shows nobody asks about it - devotedly devoted to economists - anyway. There are of course millions of “experts” in various institutes and organizations, ministries and universities around the world who are going on unchallenged. I once made myself very unpopular with a proposal that was highly liberal and in line with the market: “Economists are demanding more and more markets. Let's just make the financing of institutes or chairs that want to stand out in terms of prognosis dependent on success. Incorrect forecast outside the usual 5 percent probability of error - no money. ”Do you have any idea how dear colleagues reacted to this suggestion for“ more market ”?




"No market gods"

My advice to all non-experts: listen politely, but don't obey. Actually they just always say: The market solves everything with occasional state tutoring (“framework conditions”). But to doubt the market itself - that is blasphemy. I'm not talking about "socialism" as an alternative. Buddhism is simply a non-theistic doctrine - also in this question, which also does not believe in the market god. I'm talking about an ethical way of acting that puts its moral implications at the beginning, not hiding behind mathematics and a cemetery of numbers that proudly comes across as "empirical", but then turns out to be a mistake again in the next quarter (or in the next country, for the next company, etc.).


In the end, they suggest that the mathematical representation of interdependencies in economic models is what Buddhists mean by pratītyasamutpāda (mutual dependence, entanglement). No, you are really fundamentally wrong here. The interdependence is a categorical one. Just as, for example, mother and child are logically and socially dependent in a circular manner. This cannot be represented mathematically as: "mother = function (child)", nor: "child = function (mother)", differentiated and put together in a total model. (Which you might be thinking of.) These are mutually qualitative categories that remain empty for themselves: “Mother” without a child is a meaningless, empty term; also vice versa "child". Therefore, according to Nāgārjuna, pratītyasamutpāda and emptiness, śūnyatā, are also the same. In the sciences (except in quantum mechanics, which has been taught better and knows the universal entanglement) one always starts from elementary, identical entities, which are then functionally linked afterwards. In economics, it is households, companies, the state, central bank, environment, etc. That is a functional dependency, but not the entanglement that Buddhism speaks of. I just want to sketch it in terms of the “monetary value” (if interested, explained here and here): Money has a value because the many believe in it and trust the value by acting (performatively). Conversely, they believe that money has inherent value, which is why they trust it. They bring out what they believe to be an illusion of why it becomes "real". (Compare the Thomas theorem: "If you define a situation as real, it will be real by its consequences.") This circular entanglement is not an "interaction", not a feedback, but a holistic structure that exists entirely (for a While) or collapses completely (in the event of a crisis, stock market or real estate crash, etc.)

The knowledge of the entanglement therefore places the priority entirely on compassion for the ethical consequence. To trust a “market mechanism”, to only want to curb it through “framework conditions” (as in mainstream economics), that obviously worked wonderfully in the financial markets, in climate policy, in distribution - or did it not? I don't want to be cynical - but advise everyone: First, trust your compassion. Compassion and the market only go together to a very limited extent, because “market” always means: “I accept egoism as a natural condition and hope that competition curbs it.” Or not. In your listing of sub-disciplines of economics, you did not even mention the fashion discipline of economics per se: behavior theory - with one name: "Ernst Fehr". It no longer presupposes the homo oeconomicus dogmatically, but does presuppose monetary transactions as normality. The students in his experiments sit across from each other at computers and are not allowed to talk to each other under any circumstances, only to trade in money. Any violation is punished with expulsion. The real joke is already in the assumed economists' dogma: Everything has to happen through money and markets (incidentally, also our dealings with nature; keyword “certificates”, regardless of the multiple collapsed markets for it). On the other hand, I advocate what Fehr expressly forbids in his experiments, which does not appear in Debreu or in the Samuelson textbook: Mindfulness of one another and of nature, compassionate conversation and understanding, if possible without market and money.

Dear Mr. Osterkamp, ​​I thank you for your stimulating questions and I remain with best wishes - Your Karl-Heinz Brodbeck


Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Brodbeck

Karl-Heinz Brodbeck, Prof. Dr., has been a Dharma practitioner for 35 years; Member of the scientific advisory board in the Tibethaus Frankfurt. Until 2014 he was professor for economics, statistics and creativity techniques at the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt and at the University of Politics at the University of Munich. He is the author of numerous books.

All contributions Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Brodbeck

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