Buddhism and Mindful Leadership

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An examination of how philosophy impacts leadership would be incomplete without introducing the philosophy of Buddhism.  Many people confuse Buddhism with religion.  This confusion is easy to understand since there is a central figure; however, much like the great European philosophers, Siddharta Gautama (a.k.a. Buddha) was simply another systemic thinker who presented concepts from a holistic perspective.  Therefore, unlike in religion(s), Buddha is not a deity who is worshipped; and, unlike in philosophy, there are innumerable statues of his image.

Buddha is also frequently mistaken for being Chinese.  While his teachings are widely accepted across China, and much of Asia, Gautama (circa 566-480 BC) was the son of an Indian warrior-king.  He was a prince who grew up living a sheltered life of luxury.  Like many change agents, he appears to have been somewhat counter-dependent, since he decided to shockingly renounce his high-caste title and become a monk.  This act alone rendered him a lot of influence.  His breakthrough concepts on how to live life earned him the sobriquet “Buddha,” which means “awakened one,” or, the “enlightened one.”

The Four Noble Truths

Among Buddha’s teachings, he taught four basic tenets on life, which he called the Four Noble Truths.  These are the following:

  1. The truth of suffering.  Simply put, we all have it.  No one can escape it; so just face it.  It’s a part of life.   (This is reminiscent of Stoicism).
  2. The truth of the cause of sufferingDesire and the refusal to acknowledge suffering are the root cause of suffering.  As humans, we can never be satisfied with enough pleasure and possessions.  Consequently, these desires bring suffering.  Those caught in the so-called “rat race” of life may not recognize their suffering.  Ignorance comes from this inability to see the world in its actuality, which, in turn, invites the vices of hatred, greed, and envy…”Keeping up with the Joneses.”  (Notice how similar the message is to the Judeo-Christian messages of “Love thy neighbor” and “Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor’s.”)
  3. The truth of the end of suffering.  Once you stop desiring and ignoring suffering, you’re either dead or spiritually awakened.  Period.  Who can deny this pragmatic perspective?
  4. The truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering.  This is essentially Buddha’s Personal/Professional Development Plan.  He calls the action steps towards ending suffering, the “Noble Eightfold Path,” which is divided into three themes:

1) Moral Conduct (Understanding, Thought, Speech);

2) Meditation and Mental Development (Action, Livelihood, Effort); and,

3) Wisdom/Insight (Mindfulness and Concentration).

Buddhist rituals, such as chanting and meditation, are intended to help people focus their minds.  It is not to demonstrate faith.  However, the rituals are comparatively similar to these “great three religions” (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) which share the same deity (namely, Yahweh, God, Allah, respectively) in that the believers of the “Great Three” may rock, close their eyes, say memorized verses, and kneel or prostrate themselves in prayer in order to concentrate and focus their attention to feel a more powerful communication to their deity.  Buddhists often meditate by closing their eyes and focusing on their breathing.  If the Great Three believe the breath of life to be a gift from the Supreme Being, then meditation could be considered a practice acceptable to atheists and believers of the Great Three alike.

Corporate Application: Mindful Leadership

Standing in the land of the Delta Blues at the intersection of Christianity and Buddhism is Elmo Shade of Mindful Foundations.  An Organization Development Practitioner by trade, Elmo specializes in coaching executive leadership to optimize their energy management skills and increase their ability to aim and sustain their attention.  Ultimately, this practice results in improved present-moment awareness, clarity, and focus – which, together, lends itself towards purposeful decision-making.

Aside from his mellifluous Southern, Memphis accent, Elmo is unique, compared to Jon Kabat-Zinn, in that his sessions on Mindfulness and Leadership Effectiveness stem from his experience of living in the South during the Civil Rights Movement and his travels to the hinterlands of China.  Elmo welcomes skeptics to participate in a trial session to experience first-hand his approach to performance improvement.  He is a modern-day philosopher who walks among us.  You can find him at MindfulFoundations.com.

Breathe.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.  CorporateLookingGlass.com.

Note: The author is Christian, resides in the Bible Belt, has read the Old and New Testaments 3x over,  attended religiously-affiliated schools for 16 years, and is thoroughly amused by the movie Life of Pi.

Resources:

Holy Bible, Galatians 5:14; Exodus 20:17

Shade, Elmo.  MindfulFoundations.com

Stevenson, Jay, Ph.D.  Philosophy.  Penguin Group. 2014.

©Rossina Gil, 2013

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About Rossina

Thought Partner & Corporate Primatologist

Posted on November 10, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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