Friday, July 15, 2005



The seven habits meet the eightfold path in surprising places

By Robert A. F. Thurman

At press time, the Dalai Lama's book, Ethics for the New Millennium, had
been on The New York Times's best-seller list for nine weeks and had been
listed as that paper's number-two business book, well ahead of Bill Gates
and Stephen Covey, for six weeks. What were business people culling from
the Dalai Lama's text? What lessons can today's market sages glean from the
original guru? Below, an exploration of the seemingly improbable
relationship between the pursuit of enlightenment and the pursuit of the
almighty dollar.

After Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became the Buddha, he
is said to have given his first teaching to five ascetics. He offered them
the famous four noble truths: that the unenlightened life is one of suffering
that suffering originates from misknowledge and misdirected emotions; that
freedom from suffering -- nirvana -- is attainable; and that there is an
eightfold path to that freedom.

This teaching became the basis of a peaceful revolution that changed his
society, a revolution in which the aims of pleasure, wealth, power, duty,
and piety toward the divine were superseded by that of total freedom from
suffering -- the supreme happiness that every being wants. This revolution
brought about not only a change in philosophy, but also a change in ethic and religious institutions.

Buddhism has since spread all over Asia -- and, lately, all over the
world -- without any crusades. A large part of the quiet success of this
continuing peaceful revolution must be attributed to Buddhism's popularity
with the merchant classes, and its continuing compatibility with today's
business-dominated culture.

At birth, Prince Siddhartha was prophesied to become either a world-
conqueror or a Buddha, and his father made every effort to see to it that
the former destiny would come to pass. He was raised to be a warrior and a
leader of warriors -- a king. In renouncing his throne and setting forth
to attain enlightenment, he betrayed his class and created a new, classless
profession -- that of the monastic philosopher sage, neither priest nor
warrior, a man or woman truly without rank.

The businessmen of his time, the merchant classes, felt a natural affinity
with this new order of individualists. They fully appreciated that education
makes the man, that enterprise creates a life of value, and that there are
no limits on what humans can achieve when free of the artificial constraints
imposed by political or religious authorities and the traditions that
support them.

When Buddha "awoke," he realized that perfecting the human understanding of
reality is the only way to achieve happiness. Merely maintaining one's faith
and following dogmatic rules will not do the job. Therefore, he saw his task
as founding an educational movement to develop reason and insight, rather
than a religious movement that would be reliant on faith and obedience.
Buddha rejected indoctrination of any kind and urged people to think for
themselves -- encouraging them to rely on their own enterprise and
intelligence to achieve their own liberation and fulfillment.

The Buddhist revolution, then, marked the beginning of a global process that
has lasted for thousands of years: the shift of power and status from the
warrior to the merchant class. It was clear to the Buddha that trade and
exchange was preferable to war and pillage as a method of creating wealth
with the latter, one violently takes things and territory from others, or
destroys them, whereas with the former, one negotiates with the other and
exchanges one's things of value for other things of value, continuing that
process in unlimited expansion, leaving the other alive and even enriched
to trade with again another day.

This process is not yet complete, however. The modern phrase military-
industrial complex tends to confuse the global trend involved, by implying
that industrialism and militarism are indistinguishable. Granted, the
sometimes militaristic, often sports-inspired ethos of today's
megacorporations has been encouraged by our century's addiction to warfare
leading to the focus on a very short-term bottom line. But the shortest term
bottom line approach -- conquering the consumer and taking everything he
has -- leads to destruction of your customers. Sooner or later, that puts
you out of business.

After the United States helped Japan and Germany get back on their feet
after the last world war, both countries pulled ahead of the war's victors
by putting their creativity into consumer industries instead of military
ones. Today, America is thriving in large part because it has shifted its
technological development from arms proliferation into biotechnology and
information-processing industries. When the Internet becomes better
understood, it might indeed change American attitudes about the connections
between peacetime and prosperity.

Our current fascination with Buddhism goes beyond fad and fashion. We may
be gradually recognizing the downside of our violence-prone lifestyle, which
not only drains our national budget but infects our households, schools,
neighborhoods, theaters, diets, hospitals, and television sets.

At the same time, we seem to be learning to enjoy the upside of our creative business culture, which brings greater pleasure, comfort, health, and
knowledge within our reach. Buddhists consider true happiness to be a
realistically attainable goal of human life and applaud the creation of
wealth as the foundation that makes possible the institutional and
individual efforts to attain that goal. The dawn of the 21st century may,
in fact, be the ideal moment for business to recognize the long history, and
long-term market potential, of awakening.

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