People's happiness risks being evaporated along with their wealth as the financial crisis bites. Millions of people around the world are falling on hard times as they lose their jobs or businesses.

Liu Changle, CEO of Phoenix Satellite Television, told a seminar at the World Buddhist Forum in Wuxi, that there had been an increase in suicides in Hong Kong, since the economy of the financial center began its downward spiral.

But in a nearby seminar, monks, believers and scholars spoke about the true path to happiness and the importance of cultivating contentment as part of a strategy to build a harmonious world.

Speaker after speaker said selfishness and greed are to blame for the economic crisis. "The financial collapse is a symptom of the crisis of the value-system predominating in western countries," said Xiao Wunan, vice president of China's Socio-Economic and Cultural Exchange Association. "Materialism … stimulates an insatiable appetite for wealth. Profits are being made at the cost of natural resources, without regard for natural rules."

"I think it's time to propagate traditional Chinese culture (a combination of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism) which calls for harmony between nature and human beings," Xiao said.

Yuan Chi, deputy curator of the China Buddhist Literature and Heritage Museum, said: "People are so addicted to the pursuit of profit that they rarely have the chance to experience a culture that can lead to wisdom. Government officials and entrepreneurs are dazzled by the prospect of profit, a double-edged sword that strips people of their dignity and their respect for law and morality."

To end suffering and curb corruption, the thinkers said people should cultivate altruism, a virtue capable of healing the pain caused by the financial tsunami. Gong Xiya, general manager of Beijing Capital Guarantee & Investment Co Ltd, said: "The Buddha once said 'a candle can still burn even after it has ignited 1,000 others. In the same way, happiness will never wane when it is shared by others'."

In spite of fierce competition in the financial field, Gong believes real happiness lies in a peaceful mind and the elimination of greed. She said: "The material, the exhaustible and the external are causes of conflict, while, happiness, which is infinite and internal, can be sought in peace. Happiness is unparalleled wealth; it should be pursued as the ultimate goal in life."

Her point was echoed by the Venerable Seik Hui Siong, abbot of the Vihara Mahavira Graha Pusa monastery in Indonesia. He said the lust for wealth is insatiable and the accumulation and consumption of worldly goods will not lead to happiness.

"Sakyamuni Buddha taught that suffering cannot be overcome by material things," the abbot said, "I believe a peaceful environment, free from selfishness, fear, and hatred, is a necessary condition for belief, for cultivating a spiritual path, and achieving common goals."

Group discussions on a variety of topics concerning the development of Buddhism, the relationship between Buddhism and Science as well as different Buddhist cultures, followed the opening ceremony of the forum in Fangong Palace, at Lingshan, a mountain in the countryside near Wuxi.

The delegates left Wuxi for Taipei, capital of Taiwan Province, by charter flight on Monday, March 30, where the forum will close on Wednesday, April 1.

By Wu Jin

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