Buddhist culture is an ancient culture which is universal and profound; corporate culture is a young culture with a history of just thirty years. Although they appear more than two thousand years apart, the two cultures can be very closely connected. If we are able to integrate both, whether on the operation of a business or as a guide to our life, the effect can be surprisingly positive.
USING ANCIENT WISDOM
Buddhist culture dates back more than two thousand five hundred years ago and is a universal and profound culture. Corporate culture has its origin in the research undertaken by several Harvard professors in the 1980’s and is a young culture with a history of around thirty years. Although they appear more than two thousand years apart, the two cultures can be very closely connected. If we are able to integrate both, the impact on the operations of a business as well as on the direction in our life can be surprisingly positive. This is because the wisdom of the Buddha brings light; the compassion of the Buddha warms the heart.
From a structural standpoint, corporate culture is comprised of four elements – product, organization, behavior, and ethics. Business ethics is the spiritual core of corporate culture; it is founded on the values of the corporation. The values of a corporation are critical to its survival and prospects.
In integrating Buddhist culture into corporate culture, it is not necessary for corporate executives to study the Buddhist teachings or become Buddhists. Having faith or not is unimportant. The objective is to apply the wisdom of the Buddha to managing and developing a business and to promoting the mental health of the employees. Actually, most of the Buddhist thoughts transcend the centuries in their greatness. Even after two thousand five hundred years, the teachings are still alive and indispensable to the spiritual well-being of people in the modern age.
THE SIX PARAMITAS
Buddhist culture is extensive and cannot be easily condensed. Here we can only give a simple introduction to the six paramitas in Mahayana Buddhism.
The word paramita is a Sanskrit term which means “crossing over to the other shore.” Of course, from the Buddhist perspective, this term has a more profound meaning.
When a person or a corporation starts with nothing and achieves success along the way in meeting ever higher goals, this is likened to the process of crossing over to the other shore. If such is the case, how do we make use of the six paramitas to enrich corporate culture?
The six paramitas are generosity, moral conduct, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom.
1. Generosity is giving. In a corporation, giving is a very important part of its aim, mission, and culture.
2. Moral conduct does not imply going to the monastery to have vegetarian food, to recite the sutras, or to receive the precepts. It is a set of moral standards built on self-discipline. It is to know clearly what one should and should not do. The current problems that pervade everywhere such as contaminated cooking oil and milk powder are the result of moral decline. Upholding moral conduct is the bottom line for a corporation, with which it will not lose its corporate conscience for a profit.
3. Patience is especially important to people today. We live in a world where material goods are abundant, but spiritual sustenance is on the decline. This spiritual crisis has already led to all kinds of disharmony; thus we must learn to be patient.
4. Diligence is having passion for and exerting effort in whatever work we do. Diligence is the driving force of a corporate culture. If top management and employees are all dedicated to the company and to their work, the business will succeed. In the hundred years after the nineteenth century, among the more than one hundred corporations that existed in Japan at the time, only two were left in the end. Why were they so weak? Why was the lifespan of these corporations so short? They failed because of the absence of teamwork – or in Buddhist terms, the absence of diligence. Japan is generally recognized as having the most dedicated workforce in the world. If this can happen in Japan, the prospects are not good for other countries.
5. We have all heard of Ch’an Buddhism or Ch’an (Zen) culture, though our understanding of the term may differ. Ch’an culture has a history in China of more than a thousand years. In recent years, it has taken root in the West and has generated great interest there. Currently, Ch’an culture is already known throughout the world as a spiritual culture. However, the vast majority of people only know the definition of the term. Few actually understand the essence of Ch’an culture or know how to apply it in life and at work.
We all know Steve Jobs made many major decisions which were critical to the success of Apple products worldwide. In reading his biography, we understand these decisions were connected with and inseparable from his meditation practice. Through meditative concentration, the mind can be trained to reach a state of crisp clarity. When decisions are made with this state of mind, they can have a greater and better impact on the operation and the development of a product.
Meditative concentration is not only important to the management and strategic direction of a company, but also invaluable in promoting the mental well-being of corporate leaders and the employees. Without mental concentration or focus, how do business executives cope with all their social obligations? How do they dissolve the stress they are under? What about suffering from feeling empty and restless, trouble with insomnia and depression, and inefficiency? One can imagine how difficult it is to make accurate decisions under these circumstances. Meditation practice can help ameliorate, even eliminate, these problems. Money, which we normally place such importance on, is of no use to us at this time.
6. Wisdom in the Buddhist context is not about intelligence, which is normally associated with doing well in studies, in amassing wealth, etc. Wisdom and intelligence are quite different. Wisdom has a broader and more profound meaning; it is very closely connected with the perception of life and the world, having the right view on life and values, and so forth. Lacking wisdom, faith will turn into superstition.
Einstein once made a most interesting comment late in his life, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” This is indeed the case. A religion must have wisdom and evidence; if not, it is reduced to blind worship, simply just superstition. Similarly, science must also take into account the human mind for its proper development. And the mind needs ancient wisdom to right its wrong, to bring it back to equilibrium. Either one must not be without the other for the two to be complete.
In the same way, the original intent of building a business is to provide jobs and a better life for everyone. However, without wisdom, this intention is naïve.
The rules governing the mind are a natural law. They are not directed or controlled by God or any spirit. Buddha Sakyamuni did not create these rules; he only discovered them, and subsequently developed and promulgated methods for regulating the mind.
Whether Buddhists or not, we can all learn these methods. We need not necessarily be followers of Buddhism to read up on Buddhism, sit in meditation, or practice concentration. Just as in the case of certain drugs developed by a religious group, we can also use them if they are effective in treating an illness.
We acknowledge the vast majority of people cannot be happy if their livelihood or basic necessities are not met or guaranteed. Once food and shelter are provided for, however, we should not be content with just that but seek fulfillment at the spiritual or mental level. At this stage, things like philosophy, arts, religion, etc. that provide us with spiritual or mental sustenance ought to account for greater importance in our life.
What we most need to accomplish now is to transform the process of making a living into a happy one. In other words, whether we are a corporate executive or an ordinary employee, the real issue is how we can be a happier person in the process of seeking higher profit and better income.
The celebrities in industry and the entertainment business all live in two types of world or space: one is the public world of money, status, and glamour which everyone is envious of and aspires to; the other is a smaller, private world, that is, their personal space. Apart from the celebrity him or herself and a few associates, no one knows what this personal space is like. Perhaps it is filled with unimaginable pressure, suffering, fear, mania, anxiety, and depression. When problems are no longer manageable in this small space, many people in high places will unknowingly transmit their negative energy to all the subordinates and employees. Intentional or not, no one is happy as a result; if serious, it may even cause some people to take their own lives.
For ordinary people, there is only their own personal space. Even so, it is important to take good care of this space for the benefit of both family as well as society. If a business leader can manage his or her own space and well-being, and in so doing set an example for all employees, everyone in the company will be able to experience both economic prosperity and inner happiness. It also helps the enterprise to be more united and dynamic.
How one manages and creates a fine inner space depends on wisdom. An intelligent person with towering achievement in the world outside may not necessarily succeed in managing the inner space. All the issues related to this task must be resolved with wisdom. Therefore, wisdom is the guide for the enterprise. This is when the wisdom of the Buddha is pertinent and useful.
Some people might think that Buddhism is about reciting the sutras and eating vegetarian food, while corporations are in the business of making money. When the two are diametrically opposite, how can they possibly be connected?
Although Buddhism does advocate being vegetarian and leading a contemplative life, Mahayana Buddhism – unlike Theravada Buddhism -- is extremely liberal and humanistic. We should not think the bodhisattvas are celestial beings, sitting high above, who have no afflictions and cannot be bothered with the mundane world. Just as a picture of a person is not the real person, the statues and paintings of the buddhas and bodhisattvas in the monasteries are not the actual buddhas and bodhisattvas, merely their representation. A real bodhisattva is a person who is willing to give selflessly of him or herself for the benefit of others. Anyone who practices Mahayana Buddhism can become a bodhisattva. It does not necessarily have to do with eating vegetarian food and living a life of contemplation, or with a person’s work, appearance, and status. It is about what’s in the mind.
We often hear the expression: Only help other people, never oneself. In Buddhism, the word “people” is replaced with “beings”; hence the expression is “Only help other beings, never oneself.” It would be too narrow a scope if we help only people. The word “beings” refers to all living beings. If we can help all living beings, we become bodhisattvas. In describing a good person, people often say the person is a “bodhisattva.” Actually, there is a certain difference between the two in terms of their attributes. A good person is like the seed that produces a bodhisattva; when a good person elevates the mind to the next level, he or she becomes a bodhisattva.
How do we become a bodhisattva?
Solicitude, Recognition, Understanding, Tolerance, and
Sincerity -- These All Constitute Generosity
Although the goal of a business enterprise is to make money, it should not be its only objective. A business which is unconcerned about people will not last long, like a computer that does not have software.
If the management in a company is only interested in generating profit for the enterprise, the employees will also think only of money and their self-interest. This can lead to embezzlement and mutual distrust which hinder the progress of the company. To build a company, the employees have to work as a team; teamwork in turn comes from concern for others and generosity. An enterprise in the manufacturing sector can contribute to society by providing customers with better products; an enterprise in the service sector can offer customers better service; an owner of a business can provide the employees with care and various benefits.
Certainly, a small business owner cannot afford to pay the workers much at the start, but it is important to acknowledge their effort and strive to improve the work environment. Many enterprises run into problems not because of financial difficulties. To be able to take care of the non-material side of the problems is also necessary for the sound development and stability of a company.
We have a habit of thinking all things of the mind are useless if they have no monetary value.
This way of thinking is understandable but it dates back to the period of “primitive accumulation of capital.” We know all living things need to survive. As an example, when a man is held captive for five or six days without food and water, the only thing of importance to him when he is released is food. All other things like money, gems, music, philosophy, and religion are unimportant. They cannot satisfy his hunger at the moment. However, once he is full, his perception of things will begin to change.
A society, a nation, a business enterprise, or every individual is the same way. When basic necessities in life are not met, people focus on having money since they depend on money to survive. However, if they persist in this attitude after their livelihood is guaranteed, problems will surface.
Just as when the body is injured, it can heal itself; when the mind is hurt, it can also restore itself through gradual adjustment. Actually, the mind is often capable of producing miraculous results which we cannot begin to imagine.
For instance, the Japanese entrepreneur Inamori Kazuo single-handedly founded two Fortune 500 conglomerates. When Kyocera Corporation first began to operate, eleven employees once submitted their resignation en masse. Worried over their future, they threatened to resign unless they received higher pay and a bonus. At the time, the company was strapped financially and even had problems raising working capital. The only recourse Kazuo had was to make an emotional appeal.
He invited the eleven employees to his home, spent two to three days communicating his vision, and gave a sincere promise to all of them: if the company realizes a profit in the future, he will definitely share it with everyone; in all his decisions, he will also take everyone into consideration. The eleven employees were extremely moved by his words and departed in tears. Subsequent to that, they worked side by side with him, united in spirit and character, to build a company that would eventually become a Fortune 500 corporation.
A corporate leader must learn to be understanding and tolerant. If employees develop business plans that do not succeed, the effort they put in should nonetheless be recognized. In this way, they will naturally be willing to work with the boss in good and bad times.
If the boss can share with employees the risk and benefit of the business such that the profit and loss of the company is everyone’s profit and loss, and treat employees as equals and strengthen communication, a foundation for teamwork and mutual trust will be established.
Although money is also a factor in building team spirit, it can only bring people together for a period of time. However, a spirit that is built on the base of sincere participation and genuine concern for the welfare of all will never get stale.
How do we learn to be understanding, tolerant, and generous with acknowledgment? The best way is to adopt the view of equality in Buddhism. At the same time, the mission and purpose of an enterprise should also contain the spirit of altruism in Mahayana Buddhism.
To Give Is to Receive
Perhaps someone might ask how we can solve our own problems if we only help others.
Actually, there is a hidden secret here which only someone like Buddha Sakyamuni can know. That is -- when we let go of our attachment to the self and think only of benefiting others, we inadvertently receive all the things we deserve.
To give an example, when people rushed to help raise funds for victims of a natural disaster, some beggars and the handicapped joined in the effort by donating all they had – twenty dollars, one hundred dollars – to a charitable organization. At the moment, it appeared they had donated everything they had and were suddenly left with nothing. But perhaps because of their act of kindness, they touched and inspired others, and ended up receiving many times more what they gave. When they made the donation, they were sincere in their wish to help and had no other intention in mind. As long as giving is done with true sincerity, the person who gives will unexpectedly receive in kind -- this is the amazing secret underlying cause and effect.
Among the five top marketing consultants in the United States is the author Joe Vitale, who wrote a book The Greatest Money-Making Secret in History! Although the book dwells on a lot of things, the most important secret is generosity.
The real secret to making money is: the more is given, the more is received. As a corporate leader, one cannot be stingy with the employees and should always share the profits of the company with them. Do keep in mind that generosity is the seed of reward.
Of course, there are those who put this knowledge to work for their own gain. They give but their intention is not pure; being utilitarian, they actually end up cheating themselves. By giving with a pure intention, whatever is rightfully yours will come naturally.
Whether a corporate leader is truly concerned about the employees depends on his or her constitution and inner cultivation. If a person’s character and cultivation are not up to a certain standard, it is difficult to be selfless. We should know if we are not happy in our personal space, whatever glory there is in the space outside is useless. Only by learning to give can we create a perfect world for ourselves both inside and out.
Cultivate Compassion and Build Happiness
Generosity is founded on compassion. We should not give to benefit ourselves, nor give for the sake of giving; we should give to benefit others. As long as there is mankind and cyclic suffering, compassion is always needed.
Every person or living being has compassion to a varying degree. As the saying goes, “a tigress will not eat her cub.” It is also the nature of fierce animals such as tigers, venomous snakes, etc. to care for their offspring. However, this compassion is very limited and is largely supplanted by hostility.
Ordinarily we consider our own interest first and do not think of others; sometimes we consider our own interest first, but will think of others afterwards. No one is willing to completely give up self-interest to serve others. Only in Mahayana Buddhism do we find the concept of giving unconditionally.
The difference between Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism is in the scope of perceived object. In Mahayana Buddhism, everything is for the benefit of others; its compassion is unlimited, hence it is the “Greater” Vehicle. In Hinayana Buddhism, not harming others is a basic premise, but the aim is only liberation for oneself; its compassion is very limited, hence it is the “Lesser” Vehicle.
In the history of mankind, the greatest concept is the Mahayana Buddhist idea of bodhicitta.
The word “bodhi” denotes the true spirit of selfless giving. In any book on Mahayana Buddhism, it is all about selflessness and compassion. Although everyone knows bodhicitta is good, how can it be applied to the management of a company?
A good company should offer its employees not just technical training but also spiritual training. As an example, when employees have personal problems, Google will give them time off and even provide activities such as golf and bowling to help them fully relax. The result is exceptionally good.
Aside from that, major Japanese corporations such as Panasonic and Toyota hold meditational activities and encourage their employees to go to the monasteries to attend retreats. Following in the tradition of the local area or that of other religious groups, these corporations also hold a yearly ceremony, led by the head of the company, to commemorate and pray for the deceased employees, or sponsor rituals for the dead in the temples. When the welfare of the staff is a priority in the business culture, it makes an employee truly feel “the enterprise is my family, my home” – the company is genuinely concerned about me not only when I am alive but even when I am dead and no longer contributing to it. Whether this effort is pretentious or sincere, it is nonetheless very useful. Certainly, it is best to be sincere with compassion; feigned compassion will be obvious to people sooner or later. Let us not lie to others and to ourselves.
The last general manager of Toshiba Corporation was a Buddhist and a model of compassion. He would spend an hour reading the Lotus Sutra every morning after waking up; returning from work in the evening, he would study the sutra again and meditate, declining invitations to social functions in general. He persisted in this practice, however demanding his work. He truly cared for the employees and thought nothing of traveling several hours, at the age of seventy, to visit workers who lived out in the countryside. As facts would substantiate, putting himself on the same level as the people he wanted to communicate with really motivated them. Where did his drive come from? The answer is Buddhist cultivation of compassion.
The cause of many problems with society today is a lack of compassion.
A while back, there was a major incident at the Harbin Medical School in which a doctor was killed and three people were injured. After the incident, a survey on the web was conducted -- with shocking results. The 6161 people who took part in the survey were asked if they were happy or angry over the incident. Among them, 4018 said they were “happy.” Even more alarming was one posting -- “bring on the fireworks, wine, and music!” which actually received more than 5000 likes.
This result compels us to think: What has happened to people? How did we become so cold-blooded? Why are so many people happy over the death of a doctor? Why do they hate doctors?
Many of the responses were simple – doctors are no good. Why are doctors no good? Reasonably speaking, a doctor should be a person who is most compassionate and whom we rely on most. If the professional ethics of doctors are in question, what can we expect of other professions? Actually, these problems in society are all the result of a lack of compassion!
The Department of Mental Health in the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention once released the results of a study: the number of people in China suffering from varying degrees of mental illness exceeds one hundred million. In other words, one out of thirteen people is diagnosed with mental disorder. Moreover, this percentage is on the increase. Among the people with mental disorder, more than sixteen million are diagnosed with serious mental illness. This is a terrifying statistic!
Separately, according to a 2003 report in The Guangming Daily, the number of people in China who die from suicide each year is around 230,000. More current information indicate on average 287,000 people die from suicide each year (the equivalent of several Wenchuan earthquakes in number of casualties), while another two million people attempt suicide but fail. If this situation prevails, ten million people will attempt suicide in five years; one hundred million will attempt suicide in fifty years. In the 2003 report in The Guangming Daily, experts believed eighty percent of the people who were disposed to suicide suffered from depression.
The World Bank and the World Health Organization expect depression to be the biggest public health problem in the world in the not too distant future. Apart from those who already suffer from the disorder, many people live in isolation and are increasingly alienated from society. The result of sustained isolation and anxiety over a long period is depression.
Depression leads not only to insomnia, lack of appetite, and refusal to communicate but also, in the case of extreme grief, to suicide. If this crisis is not resolved, there will be no possibility for happiness even if money is abundantly available.
Regarding this situation, experts have proposed a solution called “happiness prescription.” The “happiness prescription” requires everyone to be happy every day. But how people can be happy every day is a difficult question.
Presently, the most common treatment for depression is anti-depressants. However, these drugs have side effects and slow down our cognitive ability.
Actually, the best treatment for depression is meditative practice; meditation is not only recommended in Buddhism, it is also substantiated in many scientific studies.
There is a book called The Joy of Living. This book explains the process of realizing happiness through meditation and is very persuasive in its argument. Now we know meditation practice really can elevate our feeling of happiness.
To summarize, compassion is the most important driving force as well as cohesive factor in a business enterprise; a company’s contribution to society comes entirely from compassion. Compassion for the most part is rooted in religious belief. However, a non-religious person can certainly be very kind and loving as well.
A compassionate businessman will create a culture which is concerned with the well-being of its people. Why is suicide a continuing problem in some companies? When employees are under excessive anxiety and do not feel the company is concerned, they take drastic steps. Hence, every conscientious businessman should give priority to the welfare of the employees. It is my sincere hope that people everywhere can go to work happily and return home safely every day.
Creating Blessings and Helping Others
To truly feel happy, we must first practice the Buddhist teaching “be content with less desire.” It does not mean we cannot earn a living and provide for ourselves, our family, and employees; it means we should refrain from excessive greed and the desire to keep all profits to ourselves while cutting back drastically on employee benefits. To be content with less desire is to live a simple life and to share, based on one’s own capability, the company’s profit with employees and society. Like the business magnates Bill Gates and Li Ka-shing, who have donated 70 – 80% of their wealth to charity, we should adopt the same spirit of giving back to society what we have taken from it.
How do we learn to give unconditionally? If we accept the ideals of Mahayana Buddhism, it will be easier.
Cutting Through Selfishness -- Exchanging One for Others
In running a business, the boss should be considerate toward the hard-working staff and think: except for a few employees, most do not receive high wages; they are not economically well off; they live far away and have to work long hours every day just to make a few thousand dollars.
Then, choose an employee who is normally in poor health and is financially strapped at home, and put oneself in that person’s place: if I were this employee or a member of his or her family, and not the owner of the business, how would I feel?
Sometimes we can even visualize an employee whom we dislike appearing before us, and think: if I were her father, and not her employer, how sad it would be to know she is neither obedient nor smart and consequently not well treated by her employer, and that she can no longer stay on in the company!
In this way, we will develop a special feeling – empathy.
We should further reflect: although she is not my daughter, she is no different from my daughter in wanting to be happy and to be treated fairly by her employer. If my daughter is treated unfairly at work, I will certainly be very unhappy. Thus how can I treat someone else’s daughter unfairly and think nothing of it? I am truly selfish and heartless! Truly shameless! Through this, we become aware of our own shortcoming.
If we can persist in training this way every day, we will naturally be motivated to share what we have with our employees, and achieve a good working relationship.
There is another Buddhist practice which is also very useful. When the mind is calm, visualize all our happiness and good health being transformed into a white gaseous substance which is expelled from the nostrils when we exhale and transmitted to all the employees; then visualize all the negativities which the employees suffer being transformed into a black gaseous substance and transmitted to us as we inhale. Moreover, imagine we alone will bear all their suffering.
Try it – do not worry about inhaling dirty air that will make us sick. It’s not likely to happen as this is just a kind of training. But through this practice, we can discover how selfish we are; we will also learn to put ourselves in the place of others, understand that people have no higher or lower status, only different functions at work, and thus develop compassion. As compassion grows, we will be able to benefit society by bringing kindness to more and more people.
In cultivating compassion, there is no better method than the practice of bodhicitta in Mahayana Buddhism. I would recommend to everyone a book called The Way of the Bodhisattva. The Chinese edition of this book can be found in the Chinese Tripitika. While this book is required reading for all followers of Mahayana Buddhism, it can also help non-Buddhists in understanding how the Mahayana ideals and philosophy can benefit them in life.
Great Love and Ordinary Love
Buddhism classifies love into two kinds: ordinary love and great love. Ordinary love is the kind extended to family and friends – it is self-centered and conditional; great love is the kind extended to society and all beings in the hope they are happy and free from suffering.
Although we all have the capacity to love, our love is very limited. It is narrowly focused on our family, relatives, and friends. What’s worst, we often appear to be loving and kind but are in fact very self-centered. For instance, when lovers break up, some may even take drastic measures such as killing or disfiguring the other party. This kind of love is extremely selfish and possessive -- when expectation is not fulfilled, one gets berserk. Its root cause is the ego or self-absorption. Ordinary love will not bring us true happiness. We may enjoy temporary happiness, but as soon as the other party is no longer able to meet or satisfy our needs, we immediately show our displeasure and the love is gone. Thus, ordinary love does not last; it comes and goes.
However, great love can last forever. In Buddhism, this love is said to be immeasurable – immeasurable loving-kindness, immeasurable compassion, etc. “Immeasurable” means the absence of boundaries. The Buddhist idea of love does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, and nationality, or even between human beings and animals. It is an all-encompassing love which does not change.
Buddhism uses the words “loving-kindness and compassion” to describe “love.” “Loving-kindness” is a sincere wish for all beings to be happy; “compassion” is a sincere wish for all beings to be free from suffering.
If every entrepreneur or successful person cultivates great love, this positive force will be transmitted to his or her employees, family, relatives, and friends, even to the entire society and to the world.
Upholding the precepts is to purge unwholesome actions and to exercise proper adjustment and restraint in conduct. In our present society, there is a real need to exert self-restraint. When people give in to reckless freedom and disregard for others, anything can happen. Although we all want our freedom, especially in the West where it is a fundamental right, we must also be vigilant in thought and in our action at the same time. Consider a world without law and ethics, where people did exactly as they pleased, such a world would be chaotic.
In Buddhism, self-restraint is founded on the principle of cause and effect and altruistic values.
Cause and Effect Pervades Regardless of Our Belief
“You reap what you sow” -- this is the underlying concept in cause and effect. That good begets good, evil begets evil, is also a view which is beyond question. From a legal standpoint, when a person violates the law but is never exposed, the person is not subject to punishment. However, that is not the case with cause and effect. Even if a person’s actions are not exposed, the person will still suffer the consequences; this is a natural law. With or without belief, no one is outside the law of cause and effect.
The laws and regulations in every country are man-made. Most are set up on the basis of individual interests and represent a form of binding between people. The cause and effect expounded in Buddhism, on the other hand, is a binding among all beings. Whether it’s between man and animal, or between animal and animal, all must follow this law. Whoever violates this law suffers the consequences.
With an understanding of cause and effect, we become selective in our actions and know what to do and what not to do. In “good begets good, evil begets evil,” good and evil can very simply be stated as follows: whatever is harmful to other beings is evil; whatever is helpful to other beings is good. If good and evil are the ethical standard for a corporation, it can foster honest management and employees who in turn will work toward a common goal – to be responsible to society and to customers by delivering products which meet the required standard. Knowing what actions to take and reject based on cause and effect results in greater attention to honesty and trust. With honesty and trust, we can create a win-win situation for both the corporation and the customers.
Business transactions can be divided into three levels: at the lowest level, the enterprise makes a profit but at the expense of the customer -- this kind of transaction is short-lived since no one will want to deal with the enterprise again following a bad experience or two; at the middle level, the enterprise loses money but the customer stands to gain; at the highest level, the enterprise and the customer both come out ahead. An enterprise which can produce gains for itself as well as the customer has a good future. Conversely, an enterprise which does not understand the workings of cause and effect and will do whatever it takes just to make money will perish.
Actually, there is nothing mysterious about the Buddhist doctrine of cause and effect; it is because many people do not understand Buddhism that it appears mysterious. Moreover, some adherents of Buddhism like to act as if they know something about supernatural power; in so doing, they make common things mysterious and ordinary truth divine, thereby misleading a lot of people.
There are some things we must do out of compassion. There are some things we cannot do because they conflict with compassion.
If there is love and an aspiration to benefit others, people will not act against their conscience and harm others; neither will there be unethical practices in the marketplace. This is good not only for business but also the entire society and all living beings.
In Buddhism, patience is comprised of three parts: first, to endure hardship for the practice; second, to tolerate insult and oppression from others during the course of practice; third, to accept the profound Buddhist views without being frightened or shocked.
Patience should and can be applied to business management as follows: first, to endure hardship in running a business; second, to tolerate and accommodate competitors in the business; third, to accept and acknowledge with courage any new management technique, technology, or product which is introduced in the business, instead of rejecting the innovation for being unconventional or superior to one’s own.
Learning to bear hardship is very important. For a long time, we have gotten used to allowing our desire to grow unchecked and filling that insatiable desire by every possible means. When we are poor, we are content to have just food and clothing. As soon as this basic requirement is met, we begin to look around for other things to acquire. As desire continues to grow in power, we willingly surrender to its command. As a result, we become increasingly vulnerable and dissatisfied, blaming everyone around us -- country, society, friends, and family.
For example, a lot of wealthy parents send their children to prestigious schools and provide for their every need – the best there can be, whether it’s food, dwellings, or cars. At the same time, parents are extremely protective and are hesitant to reprimand them over any wrongdoing. While the intent may be to give them the best education and to prepare them for success in life, this approach inadvertently diminishes the children’s ability to withstand pressure in the real world. The facts are true to the saying, “Without the bitter cold, how can the scent of plum blossom assail the senses?” When these people enter society without any mental preparation, they are likely to flinch from even minor difficulties at work, with family and personal relationships. They simply will not be able to cope and may easily become depressed and anxious; in the worst case, some may even take extreme measures.
By enduring hardship, Buddhism is certainly not advocating asceticism. However, some setback or hardship in life is not necessarily a bad thing. Often times, suffering and obstacles are actually a strong impetus for us.
Buddhism teaches us to face suffering in the right way. We cannot run away from suffering; we should accept all circumstances with an open heart and embrace hardship. In so doing, we are able to transform suffering into a positive force or see it as a good teacher and friend.
Traditionally, we always reject suffering or try to avoid it; however, suffering does not go away because we reject it. The world is in a state of constant change. No one has complete control over the future of one’s business and family, even one’s own future. All things in the future are uncertain; all changes that take place are dependent on various factors in the present; these factors in the present also change due to various other factors.
Thus the Buddha said samsara is filled with suffering and is impermanent. We should discipline or train ourselves and have the courage to confront this world. If this kind of spirit can be instilled in every employee, I believe we can prevent tragedies such as the succession of suicides that took place at an industrial compound.
How do we train our mind to face suffering?
First, don’t follow desire completely. If we give in to our every desire, we are feeding it. One day when we can no longer satisfy its every whim, it will take revenge on us. It will bring us to our knees and make us slaves to material possessions.
We all know, in prior times of poverty, few people suffered from the ailments that exist today – high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc. These ailments arise because of excessive consumption. There is a limit to how much we can consume, whether mentally or physically; problems arise when this limit is exceeded.
Actually, we do not need a lot of material goods to attain a sense of well-being. Sometimes, a very insignificant thing can bring us happiness; moreover, this sense of well-being can far surpass that which an expensive object can bring. Hence, it is imperative we learn to moderate our desire.
Second, do not idealize this life or the world around us. Instead, try to discover the imperfections of this world and be mentally prepared for impending suffering and ways to transcend it. Attachment to fame, wealth, or personal relationships should not go overboard, or it will certainly make us suffer.
Third, have compassion and a sense of responsibility. The founders of many of the top five hundred listed companies in the world faced very difficult challenges at the start of their business. The main factor in their success was compassion. They were willing to serve people unconditionally because they cared. With this motivation, they were undeterred by failure and disappointments and had the courage to move on. If our concern is only with the self, we will give up when we encounter the slightest setback: the profit I have gained from running this business has given me only a very small amount of satisfaction; considering all the difficulties I must surmount, it hardly seems worth it. If we think this way, we may close the business, or file for bankruptcy. However, if there is compassion and an aspiration to serve a certain group of people, even mankind or all living beings, we will go all the way regardless of the hardship we have to undergo. The end result of such persistence is success. This is true in any situation – persist, and you will succeed.
It is common to see competition among businesses. We should be tolerant of our competitors. Even if they cannot be trusted, are unethical, and bring harm to us, we should still treat them with patience. If in the course of competition, we fail once or twice, we should nonetheless remain calm and find a sense of balance. Do not act impulsively and commit a serious transgression by violating the law of cause and effect. When confrontations with competitors or customers are unavoidable, we must learn to face them with an open mind.
Accept and Support Innovation
When a new management technique, technology, or product is introduced, we need to have the courage to accept innovation and the challenge it brings. We should do our best to support innovation; if it is difficult to do so for the time being, we should neither resist the change nor repress it. Even if our competitors resort to tactics that impact our customer base and profitability, we must not suppress or obstruct their business because of jealousy.
An entrepreneur should cultivate him or herself first, then transmit compassion and the method for confronting suffering to family and employees, even to the entire society and country. Only such a person can find happiness. As with the saying, “First cultivate the self, next put one’s family in order, then govern the nation, and lastly bring peace to the whole world.”
In Buddhism, diligence is to apply great effort to studying, practicing the Dharma, and doing virtuous deeds.
Diligence is the driving force of an enterprise; with diligence, the enterprise will grow.
An enterprise will encounter difficulties over the long run if it is only motivated by profit; if it is driven by compassion, everyone will love his or her own work.
Man’s pursuits are likened to the pyramid. Most people occupy the bottom of the pyramid and chase after material goods and basic livelihood. Further up are those who have satisfied their fundamental needs and seek things beyond material pursuits such as music, art, philosophy, and religion. Only the very few at the top of the pyramid are blessed with an opportunity to unlock the secret behind the profound union of wisdom and compassion expounded in Buddhism.
Our values in life should mature with time and cannot be limited to seeking wealth alone. When we are more mature and able to open our hearts to embrace the world, we will gladly learn to give unconditionally to others. As long as it can benefit other beings, we will commit ourselves without hesitation, however difficult or stressful it might be. This is because of the great strength of compassion in our hearts.
It is common knowledge that those who do not care for their work are in it only for the money. However, when there is compassion, people will feel strongly about their work since it is their work that can help and benefit more people. With this passion, they will be diligent and will actively immerse themselves in work.
If the spirit of compassion is instilled in employees at every level, an enterprise will progress. Concurrently, corporate values will also begin to change. This kind of enterprise will not only be able to offer better products, but also contribute substantially to society and continue to prosper.
The purpose of meditation is to purify our mind. In the face of significant temptations in the material world today, our mind is easily distracted and unable to quiet down. Meditative concentration has thus become an important and necessary technique for calming the mind.
We should not think meditation is a practice for monastics only. Actually, meditation is an effective method for regulating the mind and alleviating stress. It can be practiced by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
Previously, we mentioned the last general manager of Toshiba Corporation had a daily practice of reciting the Lotus Sutra which helped him relax and put him at ease. To eliminate fatigue and stress, he would study the sutra, instead of relying on alcohol, dance, and other such activities. Indeed, in reciting the sutras, we automatically acquire the blessing of the buddhas and bodhisattvas; moreover, in placing our entire focus on the Dharma verses, which are profound and moving, we are able to relax as well. However, to recite sutras, there needs to be faith in the Dharma; without this faith, there will be no intention to read and hence no positive result to be gained.
Meditation is different since it is not confined to any faith. Any person who is under great stress and suffers from insomnia or emotional outbursts – whether a corporate executive, entertainer, or ordinary employee – can alleviate the painful conditions and attain peace of mind by devoting roughly an hour in the morning and evening every day to meditation. In so doing, one can sleep better, regulate the mind, and eliminate afflictions. For this very reason, we should study Ch’an and practice meditative concentration. In the absence of this kind of spiritual support, stress can build up and get out of hand.
I believe many Buddhist concepts and methods for regulating the mind are useful to people in the modern world. As long as we are open to these concepts and methods, we will benefit from them. In the past when material goods were in short supply, spiritual problems were less of a concern; today with material goods in abundance, problems at the spiritual level have come to the surface. The Buddhist methods appear to be all the more indispensable at this time.
The specific meditation techniques have already been introduced in previous chapters.
The real core of Buddhism is wisdom. The main difference between Buddhism and other religions or branches of study – or one might say where it truly stands out -- is wisdom.
The Middle Way
Whether it’s running a business or managing it, we must stay the middle course and avoid the extremes. For example, if the management system of an enterprise is too harsh, the employees will not be able to endure the hardship; this may lead to suicides or circumstances beyond the company’s control. On the other hand, if the management system of an enterprise is too lax, the employees will become negligent and disregard the rules; this may obstruct the company’s growth.
Distinguishing Good from Evil
A business manager has to distinguish between good and evil, and know clearly what type of business is right or wrong. Any undertaking which inflicts harm on society, mankind, or living things is evil and must be avoided; any undertaking which is helpful to society, mankind, or living things is good and should be taken up. It is not enough to be smart; one must have wisdom to discern the difference. With intelligence, we only learn how to make money; with wisdom, we learn to do the right thing.
The Correct View of Money
In an earlier discussion, it was mentioned that money in itself is not a bad thing, nor is it all powerful. We need to know how to make use of money so as not to become rich but heartless.
In the first place, happiness is not entirely dependent on money. When income exceeds a certain point, it is merely a statistic in our bank account and is no longer related to our sense of happiness. Hence, we should not delude ourselves in thinking we will find happiness as soon as we become rich. This misunderstanding comes from not having a correct view of money. If we have unrealistic expectations of money, we will one day be deeply disappointed.
A survey was once taken in the United States: the participants -- comprised of the four hundred richest persons in America and one thousand other people, among them the poor and low income group – were asked to rank their well-being on a scale of 1 to 7 ( 1 denoting “very unhappy” and 7 denoting “very happy”). According to the results, the average happiness index of the very rich was 5.8.
The average happiness index of the Inuit people in Greenland, where the weather is bitter cold year round, was also 5.8. Even more surprising, the Masai nomads in Kenya, who live in squalor and in grass huts without electricity or water, had a happiness index of 5.8 as well.
Therefore, let us not place all our hopes on money.
There is a book written by the chief executive of a well-known U.S. multinational corporation. He had a very successful career which took a lifetime to build. In the end, he discovered he was stricken with cancer and had only three months to live. During that period, he quickly put all his corporate duties in order, took time to experience what it is like to truly live, and communicated that experience by writing it down. In the book, he said it was only in the last three months of his life that he felt he truly lived. Until then, he never had time to spend with his family or relax; to advance in his career, he worked overtime every day and never once felt completely at ease.
This is such a tragedy! Why should we have to wait till the end to experience the genuine meaning of life, to let go of unnecessary worries, and to have more time to spend with our family and friends?
We must be very clear about what we want. Is it money or happiness? It is difficult to have both. Even if we are blessed and have the ability to make money, there is no guarantee we can live as we wish. One can imagine, without a certain level of spiritual accomplishment, how difficult it is to maintain inner peace in the face of endless demands and pressure at work. As ordinary people, we usually have but one choice.
In Buddhism, the concept of no-self is a very profound one. The essence of no-self in Buddhism is best captured in the Heart Sutra: “Form does not differ from void, void does not differ from form; form is thus void, void is thus form.” The word “form” refers to matter, which is all illusory and empty. This is as in the film Matrix where the world is described as a computer system. When the system falls apart, the entire world disintegrates. The sutras tell us the world is merely an illusion; all things lack inherent existence, including the self and all that we possess.
However, we do not necessarily have to comprehend this concept now; for most of us, no-self means to forget oneself. Although we cannot be completely selfless at the start, we should be able to do our utmost to think less of ourselves and our own interests, and more of others.
Someday when we are able to give unstintingly of ourselves – that is, when we can give to the enterprise and, by way of the enterprise, to society and mankind, it is Buddhism in action.