Poverty

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Poverty (daliddiya or niddhana) is a lack of resources necessary to maintain an adequate standard of living. In one place the Buddha described sympathetically a poor man as living in a dilapidated hovel that the crows could come into, having rickety furniture, a single pot with low quality seed and grain in it and a wretched wife (M.I,450).

The Buddha recognized the undesirability of economic deprivation saying: "Monks, poverty is real suffering for an ordinary worldly person" (A.III,351). He also described the difficulties that often accompanying poverty. "When a man is poor, penniless and in penury he gets into debt and that is suffering. When he is in debt he borrows money and that too is suffering. When he the bills aren’t paid they press him that is suffering also. When he is pressed and cannot pay they harass him and that is even more suffering. When they harass him and he still cannot pay they have him arrested and that is great suffering" (A.III,352).

Poverty can have a variety of causes; individual or social. Some of the causes of individual poverty can be making unwise business decisions, irresponsible spending or failure to husband one’s resources carefully. Other causes such as sickness or disabilities are perhaps beyond the control of the individual. The causes of social poverty include long-term unemployment, downturns in the economy or exploitive social systems and are likewise are not the fault of individuals and beyond their ability to solve. In the Buddha’s time, being crushed taxation (balipilita) by tyrannical kings sometimes drove large numbers of people into penury (Ja.V,98). Such poverty is unconscionable and one of the roles of the government should be to try to alleviate it. Another reason why a government should involve itself in poverty alleviation programs is because there is a link between poverty and crime and a government also has a duty to protect its citizens against crime. The Buddha recognized the link between poverty and crime when he said: "From (the king) not providing sufficient relief to the poor, poverty increased, with the increase of poverty theft grew, from the growth of theft the use of weapons became common and with weapons common there was an increase in killing" (D.III,67).

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