Ayn Rand vs Buddha on Knowledge


When speaking of education, Boddhi Bhiku states that commercialisation is focusing merely on maximising profits. Whereas, Ayn Rand says profit is needed to deliver the best quality possible. Are profits bettering education, or is it attracting the greedy to turn education into a corporation?

Let us start by questioning what an individual wants to do in life, and how their sphere of knowledge expands. Capitalist Ayn Rand and the community orientated Buddha, though starkly different they do meet at one point. They both give extreme importance to knowing oneself. For her, self-driven people, and individuals in themselves must grow independently. She does not believe in the idea of ‘owing anything to community’. She uses the concept of knowing oneself, to create the idea of individualistic societies.

On the contrary, nothing is in isolation for the Buddha. Pratītyasamutpāda, would teach that everything is interdependent, and thus knowing oneself is a starting point to knowing the universe. Thus, the Buddha’s reason to focus on the self would be mindful-ness of one’s existence. For him it is only by knowing oneself that one can further learn more about their existence, and society.

Based on these ideas we can further comprehend how commercialisation and education can move forward. The Buddha would say any incentive will only increase greed. Without incentive nothing would move forward, for Rand’s corporations. Eventually, the need for education moves in such a way that incentives keep growing and so does the hunger for prestige that is found in education. This skeptical idea has become true since prestige today is found (largely) in formal education, and not the process of acquiring knowledge (that may or may not be in line with education, as we know it today).

Boddhi Bhiku further states, “A major cause of our educational problems lies in the commercialisation…(it) demands that the educational system prepare students to become productive citizens in an economic order governed by the drive to maximise profits”. The fee gets higher and higher, thus increasing the expected salaries, and so on increasing the inflation (in the long run) such that, education will keep fuelling the demand for a higher pay. Profits may even be acceptable only if alienated from negative externalities. But, there may never be a profit making education system, that focuses purely on profit.

Why? Because one must remember that most powerful educational institutions, do have collaborations, and funding. This steers their focus away from profit, towards political motives, and even racial/communal preferences when making admission choices. In the battle of profit versus passion, truth is that both drive education, but negatively driven donations must not. These act as deflectors. To this the Buddha would say, that profit if directed to maximum positive externalities, would not be a problem. But when talking on education, Buddha’s triple gem must be incorporated, i.e. faith (saddha), virtue (sila), self sacrifice (caga).

These institutes being vulnerable to social pressures may never truly follow the triple gem. So, the final question comes down to – do we need an institutionalised education system for acquiring knowledge? Yes, for credibility and order. No, for it is not necessary to acquire knowledge only through an institution.

And so may an institute be profit making, or free, it is incomplete if individuals are not challenged to think. Along the same lines, Einstein says “The value of an education in a college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks”. The triple gem will direct positive motivation and a mindful spirit, and profits could direct expansion, quality, and credibility. In the end, the focus must always be to create a tradition of knowledge – and may that be with profit, of wealth and of the mind.

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