Reconciling Dhamma in the corporate arena

Friday, 7 September 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Vipula Wanigasekera

Except for non-Buddhists and a very few, almost every Buddhist family sends their children to Buddhist schools on Sundays whether they study Buddhism as a subject in school or not. The purpose of this is said to be efforts on the part of parents to retain the Buddhist teachings and values among their children and youth at large.

Parents send their children to Buddhist schools on Sundays to retain the Buddhist teachings and values

among their children and youth at large


This being the common thinking, what do they encounter when they truly enter society which consists of those who emphasise that their children carry righteousness throughout their career? In reality the situation that the youth face is a paradox to what they are taught which one might see as hypocrisy way beyond arrest with desire and greed operating in the guise of corporate goals and objectives.

Corporate thinking

In Buddhist school, they teach Lord Buddha’s autobiography until his departure. The most profound findings of his quest were the four noble truths viz Suffering, Cause for suffering, Nirvana and the path to Nirvana. Those who join the corporate world with these teaching embedded into their hearts soon find that society and the corporate world have different perceptions that are independent of what is commonly accepted by society.

Profit is the primary driver that determines performance of managers. Wealth and power are the rules of the day to assess what is good or bad. The so-called CSR factors are heavily publicised as a marketing tool, probably with tax benefits. It is a mockery to publicise the CSR which is expected to be known only by the employees as a motivation that company could do better next time to benefit the society in years to come.

One leading corporate giant at a seminar said: “You have to be ruthless to be successful in business.” This is true only if success is interpreted as being composed of power and wealth. Ruthlessness therefore overrides the four Brahma Viharas in Buddhist teachings, viz Loving Kindness, Compassion, Altruistic Joy and Equanimity.

As the youth grow in the corporate world, they tend to drift from these qualities towards seeking profit-making mechanisms, which they themselves are not sure how they distribute the earnings.

Emphasis on performance

The emphasis on performance today is indirectly interpreted as equal to ‘make the competitors go bankrupt’. Has any corporate leader ever preached ‘live and let live’? Wouldn’t it be more rational from countries’ perspective as such a vision compels more employment generation thereby well-secured employees rather than profits into individual pockets?

The law of impermanence has proved time and again that not only individuals but entities too are subject to this truth. We have seen many blue chips in the ’80s and even ’90s crashing down, leaving debts on the shoulders of the innocent. Others offer VRS, which essentially is getting rid of the excess which the companies once thought were useful on the advice of so-called HR experts. The victims are not the decision makers.

Who is the boss telling newly-recruited employees today that “your job is guaranteed, do your best. Whatever happens you are an asset to our organisation. We will feed you, shelter you until you yourself decide to leave. If we go down, we will drown together.” Hardly anyone! However, the writer does not advocate that this should exactly be the scenario.

Others would argue that companies cannot have bad eggs. This is countered in Dhamma that vicissitudes of life applies to every aspects from individuals, groups and entities.

At the same time, corporates are entities which have no life if not for people who run them. The corporates boast of their brand image without sometimes realising that the people who have contributed building them have either left or joined other institutions. The brand image will not hold water for a long time when promises are not fulfilled.

Employees, particularly the marketing and sales staff, have to lie. They do that for survival. Or they are trained to lie. This is breaking a cardinal rule in Dhamma, which neither their parents nor superiors can rectify. Besides, the true value of products or services cannot be hidden for a long time.

Those who hit headlines of business become role models for others for a while and then they disappear from the business news. If they are too old, nobody wants them nor would the media want to write about their heroic deeds in the past. If they are ailing, most corporates turn a blind eye.

The youth that takes over the organisation is too busy trying to generate ideas to knockdown the competitors without realising that there is another generation being groomed to oust them. Eliminating the competitor is portrayed as ‘having a competitive edge over rivals’. Words are manipulated to make them look morally right.

The impact of such competition on other companies is not considered detrimental whether they go completely bankrupt or insolvent, leaving many families on the lurch. So it contradicts the Dhamma that the new entrants into companies have learnt which they find hard to reconcile.

Strategic thinking

Then comes the strategic thinking which always tends to fail when the thinkers are asked to determine what profits they are expected to bring in the next 10 years. Buddhism on the other hand speaks of an existence without the time factor that enables more creativity and innovativeness which only a few have realised and practised successfully.

Hundreds of thousands visit this country every year to witness the advanced civilisation and engineering marvels that existed in history and were at their peak in a culture empowered and enriched by Buddhist teachings. It is sad that those values are gradually confined to schools, temples and individual homes while everyone has to play the so-called ‘ ruthless role’ either to survive or grow in business, which is yet to prove its success from the country’s or a global perspective, keeping mankind at the forefront.

(The writer is a former senior

Sri Lankan Diplomat.)