Is There a Place for Buddhism in the Workplace? Experiential Sharing from Three Buddhist Business Leaders

Article excerpt


Buddhism is considered a religion by some, yet a psychology, philosophy, or science by others. In recent decades, Buddhism has gained tremendous interest, partly due to the fact that individuals worldwide have been exposed at a greater level than ever before to alternative perspectives, but abo due to the global travels and enhanced visibility of the Dalai Lama, and the ongoing issues between China and Tibet. This article will review whether Buddhism has a place in the world of work. As part of a larger study project, three Buddhist business leaders, two American and one Tibetan, were interviewed in-depth, and the findings will be presented.


This paper presents a comparison among three Buddhist business leaders that were interviewed in-depth, as part of a more comprehensive study on the applicability of Buddhist practices in the workplace. For discretion purposes, the names of the leaders will not be revealed, yet their work environment will be described. Subsequently, the common factors detected in the interviews with these three Buddhist business leaders will be presented, with inclusion of an illustrative table and figure. The purpose of presenting these common factors is for members of the workplace as well as researchers to determine the achievability of Buddhist practices at successful work environments.

Buddhism in a Nutshell

Buddhism, the religion founded by Gautama Siddharta around 527 BC, has gained high interest in past decades due to reasons varying from the increased access to other cultures and mindsets, increased dissatisfaction with the status quo, as well as increased visibility of the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.

Part of what makes Buddhism so interesting is that it is perceived in different lights by different people. Lama Yeshe (1985) explains the possible reasons behind this perceptional divergence:

"When we study Buddhism, we are studying ourselves, the nature of our own minds. Instead of focusing on a supreme being, Buddhism emphasizes more practical matter, such as how to lead our lives, how to integrate our minds, and how to keep our everyday lives peaceful and healthy. In other words, Buddhism always accentuates experiential knowledge-wisdom, rather than some dogmatic view." (p. 5)

Lama Yeshe (1998) points out that many Buddhist scholars don't see Buddhism as a religion in the conventional sense. He explains that, from many lamas' points of view, Buddhist teachings are often related to philosophy, science, or psychology. Johansen and Kopalakrishna (2006) concur with Lama Yeshe and many other Buddhist Lama's perspectives about Buddhism as a philosophy or a psychology. They content that Buddhism presents a specific worldview and way of living that leads to personal understanding, happiness, and development. They describe Buddhism as a moral, ethical, value-based, scientific, educational system, that serves the purpose of enabling its observers to see things in their true nature, which will, in turn, help them get rid of suffering and attain happiness for themselves and as many others. Johansen and Kopalakrishna underscore that, although Buddhism allows for supernatural beings, it is non-theocratic. The Buddha is not worshipped as a god but revered as an enlightened teacher.

While there are two main schools in Buddhism today, Theravada, or teaching of the elders, and Mahayana, or great vehicle, the overarching beliefs and principles are similar for both. The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path are main guidelines of life for all Buddhists.

Rahula (1959) explains the Four Noble Truths as: i. Dukkha, 2. Samudya, the arising or origin of Dukkha, 3. Nirodha, the cessation of Dukkha, and 4. Magga, the way leading to the cessation of dukkha. Some further explanation on the Four Noble Truths may be helpful in understanding them.

Rahula (1959) points out that the First Noble Truth is considered by almost all scholars as 'The Noble Truth of Suffering'. …