Buddhism in Corporate Life

Symbol for Noble Eight Fold Path

I enjoy reading about Buddhism although I have never been formerly inculcated in it. In my lay-person’s opinion the Four Noble Truth’s and Noble Eight Fold Path are the basic premise on which Buddhism is based. These in my opinion provide a methodology for living a principled, ethical and emotionally intelligent life. These teachings focus on providing guidance to minimize personal suffering and stress by applying wisdom.

I decided to explore the application of Noble Eight Fold Path in corporate life. By applying this methodology what benefits will the corporate world achieve.

I am covering two perspectives in this post:

  • Application to organization
  • Application to employee

 Background of Noble Eightfold Path

The Four Noble Truth’s define the essence of Buddhism and the Noble Eight Fold Path define the procedure for practicing it. The path is designed to lead a spiritual life and end suffering from its source.

The Buddha has defined that suffering commences with the physical process of life involving birth, aging and death. Suffering is caused by our emotional reactions to disagreeable situations (death and sickness), attachments (love for family and home), desire (material possessions, power and status), aversion (towards specific people or things) and delusion (mental sickness).

To reduce suffering we need to cut at the roots. This indicates that we master our emotions and control our mind. The Noble Eight Fold Path enables us to bring wisdom to us by enhancing our consciousness on suffering. The eight steps are building blocks for leading a principled life and have to be worked on simultaneously. The concepts mentioned below on Buddhism are extracted from the Noble Eight Fold Path written by monk Bikkhu Bodi .

 Now let us explore how these are connected to our working life and organizations. This post contains my personal opinion and inferences I have drawn. So please bear with me.

Noble Eight Fold Path

1.      Right View

 Buddhism: Our views indicate our perspectives on reality, attitudes, personal values, objectives in life and outlook of the world. Views are the driving forces in our life and have far reaching consequences. The two different kinds of views are- right view and wrong view. Adopting right views will lead us towards positive actions and principled life. Developing wrong views will result in negative actions and unprincipled life.

Organization: The vision, mission and strategy of the organization determine the path which it takes.  The organization culture and tone at the top indicates the sincerity with which the organization will follow business ethics. Incorrect vision, mission, strategy, organization culture and tone at the top are considered the major reasons for downfall of an organization.

Employee: Organizations value employees with positive attitudes, high level of integrity, adaptability to different cultures and people and those who see the bigger picture. Employees with negative attitudes, deceitful natures, narrow mindedness and small thinking generally are not successful in the corporate world. The deciding factors are always on how the employee views himself/herself, the organization and the world.

2.      Right Intention

 Buddhism: “The Buddha explains right intention as threefold: the inten­tion of renunciation, the intention of good will, and the inten­tion of harmlessness. The three are opposed to three parallel kinds of wrong intention: intention governed by desire, inten­tion governed by ill will, and intention governed by harmful­ness.”  

Organization: Organizations with right intention focus on profits while fulfilling corporate social responsibility. They adhere to laws and regulations, corporate governance and follow ethical practices. Organizations with wrong intention achieve profits at the cost of social environment, adopt unethical and fraudulent practices, disregard corporate governance and breed unhealthy competition.

Employee: Employees with right intentions attempt to achieve growth through performance, team work, and follow constructive management practices to succeed. Employees with wrong intentions attempt to achieve growth form silos to safeguard their positions, sabotage colleagues work and adopt destructive management practices to succeed. Developing wrong intentions in the long run results in psychologically damaging the employee by fostering ego, anger, jealousy, hatred, anxiety and depression.

3.      Right Speech

Buddhism: “The Buddha divides right speech into four components: abstain­ing from false speech, abstaining from slanderous speech, abstaining from harsh speech, and abstaining from idle chat­ter.” Impact of speech is significant as verbal and written communication has long term consequences and hence extremely important.

Organization: The present day mantra for organizations is to build brands by positive communication. Internal communication is also critical to build the organization culture.  Communication which is seen by customers, employees or public as deceitful ruins the image of the senior management and the organization. Organizations indulging in slanderous speeches regarding competitors or announcing fictitious information as facts are viewed negatively. Incorrect communication in the long run ruins the reputation of the organization.

Employee: An employee who is honest is considered trustworthy, reliable and capable of maintaining confidentiality regarding sensitive information. An organization values an employee who weighs his/her words carefully, does not indulge in office gossip and spreading rumors. Employees, who spread malicious rumors and gossip, lie frequently, are deceitful and cunning, destroy the grounds for trust and are viewed with suspicion.

4.      Right Action

 Buddhism: “The Buddha men­tions three components of right action: abstaining from tak­ing life, abstaining from taking what is not given, and abstain­ing from sexual misconduct.” Taking for what is not given includes theft, fraud and deceit.

Organization: Organizations focused on right action formulate and implement business ethics code of conduct and adhere to good corporate governance practices. The present day environment protection laws, financial rules and regulations (e.g. SOX) and employee protection laws (e.g. anti-in discrimination, sexual harassment), clearly indicates the importance of right actions. Organizations which do not focus on right actions, contravene these laws and regulations, and suffer legal and reputational risks. This results in significant financial and reputation damage.

Employee: Employee focused towards right action adheres to the code of conduct, works in best interest of the organization and protects the assets of the organization. Such employees do not harass, bully and mistreat colleagues. Employees who adopt incorrect practices, indulge in fraudulent activities and breach the code of conduct. Hence due to their actions they are generally considered a liability to the organization.

 5.      Right Livelihood

Buddhism: “Right livelihood is concerned with ensuring that one earns one’s living in a righteous way. For a lay disciple the Buddha teaches that wealth should be gained in accordance with certain stand­ards. One should acquire it only by legal means, not illegally; one should acquire it peacefully, without coercion or violence; one should acquire it honestly, not by trickery or deceit; and one should acquire it in ways which do not entail harm and suf­fering for others.”

In this section I am not covering my viewpoints on organization and employees as “Right Livelihood’ section of Buddhism has three sections – rightness regard­ing actions, rightness regarding persons, and rightness regard­ing objects. As extracted from the document, they define the past and the present organizations and employee life.

Rightness regarding actions – Workers should fulfill their duties diligently and conscientiously, not idling away time, claiming to have worked longer hours than they did, or pocketing the company’s goods.

Rightness regard­ing persons– Due respect and consideration should be shown to employers, employees, colleagues, and customers. An employer, for example, should assign his workers chores according to their ability, pay them adequately, promote them when they deserve a promotion and give them occasional vaca­tions and bonuses. Colleagues should try to cooperate rather than compete, while merchants should be equitable in their dealings with customers.

Rightness regarding objects– In business transactions and sales the articles to be sold should be presented truthfully. There should be no deceptive advertising, misrepresentations of quality or quantity, or dis­honest maneuvers.

As can be seen, a code of conduct for business organizations was defined in 483 B.C. also. 

6.      Right Effort

 Buddhism: Effort is driven by energy which can take wholesome or unwholesome forms. Energy fuels desire, aggression, violence, and ambition on the one hand, and generosity, self-discipline, kindness, concentra­tion, and understanding on the other. The exertion involved in right effort is a wholesome form of energy, but it is something more specific, namely, the energy in wholesome states of con­sciousness directed to liberation from suffering.

Organization: Organizations are required to gear their efforts towards legal activities and refrain from indulging in illegal activities. They are required to focus on social responsibility. Organizations are required to build constructive work cultures instead of destructive and aggressive work cultures. Those who focus their energies on illegal activities are required to close down their business operations. 

Employee: For employees effort is crucial and perseverance is the key to success. Without the right kind of effort, growth will be unsustainable. Performance is achieved through hard work and dedication. Employees who are dull, restless and unenergetic generally block the path of progress for their teams.  

 7.      Right Mindfulness

Buddhism: Mindfulness is presence of mind, attentiveness or awareness. The mind is deliberately kept at the level of bare attention, a detached observation of what is hap­pening within us and around us in the present moment. In the practice of right mindfulness the mind is trained to remain in the present, open, quiet, and alert, contemplating the present event. All judgments and interpretations have to be suspended, or if they occur, just registered and dropped.

Organization: The economic environment is such that organizations have to operate in an extremely dynamic scenario. They have to ride the changes while mitigating the risks. The senior management cannot afford to be caught in psychic traps and show knee jerk reactions as situations unfold. Organizations which are not geared with proper attention to detail are generally crashing and frequently facing crises situations.

Employee: Attentive employees who can view the bigger picture, analyze the changing scenarios and prepare the organization for them are rewarded. Employees without vision, understanding and analytical capabilities do not grow up the ladder.

8.      Right Concentration 

Buddhism: Concentration represents an intensification of a mental factor present in every state of consciousness. This factor, one-pointedness of mind, has the function of unifying the other mental factors in the task of cognition. It is the factor responsible for the individuating aspect of conscious­ness, ensuring that every act of mind remains centered on its object. This is focused on developing deep meditation techniques.

Organization: Although one cannot apply meditation techniques to organizations, but there is some sense in stating the organizations which concentrate on building a uniform culture and are focused on goals are more successful. In the present world, we see business groups divesting businesses which are not aligned to their core business. Organizations which are diversified in culture and operations have a far more difficult time achieving their business objectives.

Employee: An employee’s ability to concentrate on the objectives in chaos and crises is considered a major plus. Concentration brings about a capability to deliver accurate results with speed. Employees who are distracted with various activities like internet surfing, office gossip, and personal issues are generally not considered good performers especially under stress situations. Secondly, meditation techniques can be applied by employees as a stress buster.

As we can see, comparisons can be drawn between the present day needs of the organizations and employees with the spiritual guidance note defined in Buddhism. We have to consider the possibility of its applicability.

Great Stupa at Sanchi, near Bhopal

The adjoining picture is of an ancient Buddhist monument in Sanchi, a town situated in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India. I spent quite a few years of my childhood in Bhopal, a city around 70 KMs away from Sanchi. Visiting Sanchi always gave a sense of peace and serenity. The carvings on the monuments are unbelievable. However, what is unique about this city of Buddhist monks are the sign posts. There is no sign post which says “No Parking”. The sign post following right speech principle does not hurt the sentiments of the visitors. It says “You are requested to park the vehicle in the designated parking area as your vehicle may cause inconvenience to passersby”. Rather long but very sweet.

Invite you to share your thoughts on this post.