If The Buddha Were The CEO ...
Posted by Raymond Yeh on Jul 2, 2019
Prior to the industrial revolution, the culture of some old-time businesses could be considered more like the natural setting of a plant: the seed grows, it is nurtured by soil and water, matures, dies, and then breaks down into nutrients that feed the next crop of seedlings with extra seedlings produced to compensate for those that do not survive. Such a cycle continues keeping in balance with its surroundings. However, with the rapid pace of business expansions in modern times, more and more efficient means are utilized to improve the productivity and profit. Overtime, most business’s organizational cultures become self-centered and are characterized by quantity, expansion, competition and domination. As a consequence, less attention is paid to the care of its people and environment such as the rapid depletion of resources like fossil fuels as well as the increase of our carbon footprint. Should businesses be concerned with not only their shareholders, but also their employees, customers, communities, social and natural environments? What if the Buddha were the CEO of an organization, what will its organizational culture be like?
Indra's Net (depicted in picture 1), as found in the Avataṃsaka Sūtra of Mahāyāna Buddhism, could be a metaphorical description of Buddha’s garden:
“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net that has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in all dimensions, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number.” 
We note from the above description that each Jewel ultimately reflects and expresses the radiance of the entire Net, and all of totality can be seen in each of its part. In other words, each of the jewels reflected in one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinitely repeated interrelationships among all the members of the net.
While no organization is infinite in size, Indra’s net does provide a conceptual model for modern global organizations which is distributed geographically while highly connected via information flowing through the internet.
The concept of Indra’s net demonstrates two key concepts of Buddha’s teaching, namely, compassion and impermanence. Compassion means that we are all one in the sense that each of us is in all others. Impermanence means that changes occur all the time as each change is reflected in all. The concept of compassion can be considered as “taking the responsibility” for all, from the self to the organization, and then outward to society and the whole world. In other words, when acting from compassion, a person accepts the responsibility to help the self, the organization, the society and the world to be more sustainable. On the other hand, by embracing impermanence as part of an organizational culture, people take the responsibility to make the organization more resilient by initiating changes/innovation before they become necessary, a characteristic that is very important in today’s rapidly changing society.
We believe that a responsible culture helps people to find “the meaning of life” as noted by Viktor Frankl who recalled that he was able to survive four concentration camps because he found meaning in his deep desire to rewrite his manuscript, which was confiscated when he was first sent to Auschwitz, in order to help others. Because he found meaning for his life, he was able to survive the rigors of the camps, even in “overcoming the danger of cardiovascular collapse”. In his book, he challenged his readers to answer the questions posed by life. He said: “...to life he can only respond by being responsible!”
Here are some elements of a responsible organizational culture characterized by both compassion and impermanence:
- Participatory – democratization of decision-making such as compensation such as limiting the difference between workers and executives, quality of working life, etc.;
- Self-organizing -- a center could be formed with any node or a group of nodes depending on the quality and volume of information flowing through it so that innovation is a natural consequence of being responsible;
- Joy –a consequence of authenticity flows through the organization that connects people to share and celebrate together;
- Trust –the foundation of relationships among people inside and outside;
- Respect – to learn and to collaborate with people, community, society, and natural environment around;
- Service is natural consequence of being responsible provided to people, community, society and environment.
We believe that an organization with responsible culture will be will be more inclusive with a focus on: “conservation, cooperation, quality, and partnership”!
If leaders want to unleash individual and collective talent, they must foster a psychologically safe climate where employees feel free to contribute ideas, share information, and report mistakes.