Buddhist Leadership: The Path Leading to the Better Society

Deepak Prasad Acharya, PhD

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to describe Buddhist way of leading an organization to resolve the problems of the contemporary business world. Specific objectives are to identify key problematic issues of leading and offer recommendations to create better and harmless leadership culture. The Buddha preached non-violence and peace as a universal message. The maitri (friendship), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and the thought for welfare of society found in Buddhist philosophy is the foundation of an effective and efficient leadership. Enlightened leadership is about accepting change, creating harmony among those you work with, and treating all people with dignity and respect. Problems are rooted with greed, hatred, delusion and lack of mutuality of interest. The paper recommends major restructuring the organizations using four noble truth and precepts to create better society. The better society can be created through the Buddhist principles of Right Livelihood, Right Speech and Right Mindfulness causing no harm to others and environment. Business organization should consider social responsibility and promotion of harmless culture.

 

Key words

Buddhist leadership, Spiritual leadership, enlightened leadership, Buddhist management

 

Introduction

Leadership occupies the central part in managerial studies. A person having leadership quality persuades his followers and friends to make loyalty towards him and the organization. It has been considered as the process of directing and influencing followers to operative activities[1]. It is utilized everywhere in the context of directing and influencing others. It is a personal role of a leader where the leader prepares a vision and coveys it to his/her followers. All managers need not having leadership tactic. Leadership can be public or private. The focus of public leadership is mainly on the government as well as social activities. Similarly, private leadership concentrates on business.

Leadership is an important function of management. It is the key to effective managerial performance. Organizational success depends on the quality of leadership. People are the main concern of leadership. Leadership is influencing and guiding people to achieve goal willingly and enthusiastically in a given situation. It is action orientated.

Despite much hardships and setbacks the Buddha never veered from his course but persevered until he achieved his goal, the Enlightenment. Guided by his vision he made an inclusive mission of helping everyone in the universe to live a happier life. He stated that he wanted to create a four-fold following, comprising of laymen, laywomen, monks and nuns, who, having learned the Dhamma and Vinaya well, practice it, teach it and respond critically to any distortion of the message. It was a mission based on universal love and wisdom.

Buddhist teachings consist of not only the facts related to leadership but also significant views regarding economics, law, politics, health, sociology, psychology, culture and aesthetics. They are mostly available in conceptual form and need clarifications. Surely, we can make a positive contribution to those fields of study.

Objectives of the study

The main objective of this study is to describe the Buddhist way of leading an organization to resolve the problems of the contemporary business world.

 Methodology

The research is qualitative and descriptive in nature. It is library research mainly based on secondary sources such as books, journals, theses, and seminar papers. Original Pali Tripitaka has also been used in the research.

Results and Discussions

The quality of life is not dictated solely by maximizing one’s utility, but also includes non-material factors as well. Living in peace and harmony with others should be considered in economic decision-making. In order to truly enhance the well being of society one must consider factors other than material possessions. While the Buddha did not directly address leadership or economic issues, but matters related to leadership can be found everywhere in the Tripitak. Buddha can also provide timeless advice for modern day leaders regardless of religious orientation.

Buddhist Leadership

The Buddha never considered himself as the leader; rather he requested to take him as a member of the sangha society. He never claimed himself as a savior; rather he presented himself only as the guide or teacher. Attempts to combine Buddhist education and practice with leadership are rarely found. The maitri (friendship), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and the thought for welfare of society found in Buddhist philosophy is the foundation of an effective and efficient leadership. Buddhist education believes that friendship and compassion are the basis of all relations and behavior. An efficient leadership is drawn from the tireless practice of compassion. When the followers are satisfied with the work and behavior of the leader, then they become happy with the leader. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests us to evaluate the quality of leadership on the basis of compassion inherent in it[2]. And he also adds that authority to lead must be received due to our inner wisdom not because of our wealth and position. Not only what we do is important for effective leadership but what we think is also most essential. The effect of ideal leadership is to guide the society and make welfare of the society. According to Buddhist philosophy, the meaning of leadership is by effective thinking and proper use of power. Hanh indicates the misuse of power as the reason for suffering. The right leader decides to create welfare of others and happiness in the society. By using the power awakened and compassionate creates praise and respect, while misuse of power yields adverse results.

Buddhist philosophy gives education to honor and respect others. Respecting others is not a sign of weakness, but it is an important specialty of greatness and ideal leadership. Dhammapada mentions that Greetings and service of senior citizen increase age, color, strength and happiness[3]. Generally, leadership is taken in the sense of being powerful and ruling others. In Buddhist philosophy, it is taken in the sense of being compassionate and prudent and crossing with Cravings and Negativity. Hanh has mentioned three characteristics of Buddhist leadership as[4]: a) The Virtue of Cutting Off is the quality of getting rid of anger, desires and ignorance, b) The Virtue of Loving is the quality of being compassionate, thoughtful and forgiving and, c) The Virtue of Insight is the quality of using wisdom to lead people towards happiness. It gives the leaders of the current time to be awakened, open minded and flexible to face the complex and dynamic situation feeling a small part of a complex and variable world[5]. Assuming that everything in the world is temporary and variable adds to the workplace harmony and friendship by respecting and honoring each other.

Buddha always chose peace instead of war. According to Buddha,“Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the no-best victor who conquers himself.”[6]. He handled the conflict on Rohini river between Sakyas and Koliyan peacefully[7]. Similarly, he converted brutal culprit Angulimal to Buddhist monk. He used to fight big battles with the weapons of peace, non-violence and compassion. Buddha told Kalams not to accept something as being traditional, it is the teachings of great spiritual teacher or written in the scripture[8]. He also told them to accept only after scientific experimentation.

Brahmajal Sutta of Dighnikaya mentions that it is not okay to be happy in the praises and to be sad in criticism. There should not be anger in the criticism of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha[9]. If there is any mistakes that should be corrected and if there is need for clarification, it should be clarified. There should not be angered in the wrong interpretation of its leader and policy. Rather it should be clarified that it is real and it is wrong. The Buddha said, “As a solid rock is indifferent to the wind and rain, so the wise are indifferent to praise or blame.”[10] The ideal Buddhist leader does not easily sway his or her position in the face of challenges and social pressure. It is important to maintain one’s true self and values. This is not to say that the leadership style is fixed one, in fact it is just the opposite. Leadership style may change, and in most cases should change to fit changing situations, but the leader’s values remain as constant as a rock.

Lesson on Leadership in the Tripitaka             

Before renouncing worldly life, Gautam Buddha was a prince of Kapilvastu. Thus, he belonged to a warrior caste and was linked with kings, princes and ministers. Despite his origin and association, he never resorted to the influence political power to introduce his teachings, nor allowed his teachings to be misused for gaining political power. But today, many politicians try to drag the Buddha’s name into politics by introducing him as a communist, capitalist, or even an imperialist. They have forgotten that the new political philosophy as we know it really developed in the west long after the Buddha’s time. Those who try to make use of the good name of the Buddha for their own personal advantage must remember that the Buddha was the supremely enlightened one who had gone beyond all worldly concerns.

There is an inherent problem of trying to mix religion with politics. The basis of religion is morality, purity and faith, while that for politics is power. In the course of history, religion has often been used to give legitimacy to those in power and their exercise of that power. Religion was used to justify wars and conquests, persecutions, atrocities, rebellions, destruction of works of art and culture.

When religion is used to pander to political whims, it has to forego its high moral ideals and became debased by worldly political demands. The thrust of the Buddha Dhamma is not directed to the creation of new political institution and establishing political arrangements. Basically, it seeks to approach the problems of society by reforming the individuals constituting that society and by suggesting some general principle through which the society can be guided towards greater humanism, improved welfare of its members and more equitable sharing of resources.

There is a limit to the extent to which a political system can safeguard the happiness and prosperity of its people. No political system, no matter how ideal it may appear to be, can bring about peace and happiness as long as the people in the system are dominated by greed, hatred and delusion. In addition, no matter what political system is adopted, there are certain universal factors which the members of the society will have to experience: the effects of good and bad Kamma, the lack of real satisfaction or everlasting happiness in the world characterised by dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), anicca (impermanence), and annatta (selflessness). To the Buddhist, nowhere in Samsara is there real freedom, not even in the heavens or the world of Bhrahmas.

Although a good and just political system which guarantees basic human rights and contains check and balances to the use of power is important condition for a happy life in society. People should not fritter away their time by endlessly searching for the ultimate political system where men can be completely free, because complete freedom cannot be found in any system but only in minds which are free. To be free, people will have to look within their own minds and work towards freeing themselves from the chains of ignorance and craving. Freedom in the truest sense is only possible when a person uses Dhamma to develop his character through good speech and action and to train his mind so as to expand his mental potential and achieve his ultimate aim of enlightenment.

The Buddhist approach to political power is the moralization and the responsible use of public power. The Buddha preached non-violence and peace as a universal message. He did not approve of violence or the destruction of life, and declared that there is nothing as ‘just’ war. He thought: ‘the victor breeds hatred, the defeated lives in misery. He who renounces both victory and defeat is happy and happy and peaceful. He was perhaps the first and only religious teacher personally to prevent the outbreak of a war. He diffused tension between Sakyas and Koliyas who were about to wage war over the waters of Rohini. He also dissuaded King Ajatasattu from attacking the kingdom of the Vajjis[11].

The Buddha discussed the importance and the prerequisites of a good government. He showed how the country could become corrupt, degenerate and unhappy when the head of the government becomes corrupt and unjust. He spoke against corruption and how a government should act based on humanitarian principles. The Buddha told that when the ruler of a country is just and good; the ministers become just and good; the higher officials become just and good; the rank and file become just and good; when the rank and file become just and good, the people become just and good. In the Cakkvati Sihananda Sutta, the Buddha said that immorality and crime, such as theft, falsehood, violence, hatred, cruelty, could arise from poverty. Kings and government may try to suppress crime through punishment, but it is futile to eradicate crimes through force[12]. In the Kudadanta Sutta, the Buddha suggested economic development instead of force to reduce crime. The government should use the country’s resources to improve the economic conditions of the country. It could embark on agriculture and rural development, provide financial support to entrepreneurs and business, and provide adequate wages for workers to maintain a decent life with human dignity[13].

Focusing on leadership, the Buddha emphasized the importance of maintaining one’s value, promoting self-leadership, and developing one’s abilities and others. Buddhist believe that nothing is permanent, recognize that change is constant and inevitable in the environment in which we live. Effective leadership requires accepting to this change. The Buddha being accepted as the great visionary leader of all the time, there is no doubt of the leadership ability of himself.

Dasa Raja Dharma

In Jatak, The Buddha had given ten rules for good government, known as ‘Dasa Raja Dharma’. These ten rules can be applied even today by any government, which wishes to rule the country peacefully. The rules are as follows[14]:

  • Be liberal and avoid selfishness.
  • Maintain a high moral character.
  • Be prepared to sacrifice one’s own pleasure for the well being of subjects.
  • Be honest and maintain absolute integrity.
  • Be kind and gentle.
  • Be kind and simple life for the subjects to emulate.
  • Be free from hatred of any kind.
  • Exercise non-violence.
  • Practice patience.
  • Respect public opinion to promote peace and harmony.

Regarding the behavior of rulers, Cakkavati Sihananda Sutta further advised[15]:

  • A good ruler should act impartially and should not be biased and discriminate between one particular group of subjects against another.
  • A good ruler should not harbor any form of hatred against any of his subjects.
  • A good ruler should show no fear whatsoever in the enforcement of law, if it is justifiable.
  • A good ruler must possess a clear understanding of law to be enforced. It should not be enforced just because the ruler has the authority to enforce the law. It must be done in a reasonable manner and with common sense.

The Buddha’s emphasis is on the moral duty of a ruler to use public power to improve the welfare of the people had inspired Emperor Ashoka in the third century B.C. to do likewise. Emperor Ashoka, the sparkling example of this principle, resolved to live according to and preach the Dhamma and to serve his subjects and all humanity. He declared his non-aggressive intentions to his neighbors, assuring them of his goodwill and sending envoys to distant kings bearing his message of peace and non-aggression. He promoted the energetic practice of the socio-moral virtues of honesty, truthfulness, compassion, benevolence, non-violence, considerate behavior towards all, non-extravagance, non-acquisitiveness, and non-injury to animals. He encouraged religious freedom and mutual respect for each other’s creed. He went on periodic tours preaching the Dhamma to the rural people. He undertook works of public utility, such as founding of hospitals for men and animals, supplying of medicine, planting of roadside trees and groves, digging of wells, and construction of watering sheds and rest houses. He expressly forbade cruelty to animals.

Sometimes the Buddha is said to be a social reformer. Among other things, he condemned the caste system, recognized the equality of people, spoke on the need to improve socio-economic conditions, recognized the importance of a more equitable distribution of wealth among the rich and poor, raised the status of women, recommended the incorporation of humanism in government and administration, and taught that a society should not be run by greed but with consideration and compassion for the people. Despite all these, his contribution to mankind is much greater because he took off at a point which no other social reformer before or ever since had done, that is, by going to the deepest roots of human ill which are found in the human mind. It is only in the human mind that true reform can be affected. Reforms imposed by force upon the external world have a very short life because they have no roots. But those reforms which spring as a result of the transformation of man’s inner consciousness remain rooted. While their branches spread outwards, they draw their nourishment from unfailing source- the subconscious imperatives of the life-stream itself. So reforms come about when men’s minds have prepared the way for them, and they live as long as men revitalise them out of their own love of truth, justice and their fellow men.

The doctrine preached by the Buddha is not one based on ‘political philosophy’. Nor is it a doctrine that encourages men to worldly pleasures. It sets out a way to attain Nibbana. In other words, its ultimate aim is to put an end to craving (Tanha) that keeps men in bondage to this world. However, this does not mean that Buddhist cannot or should not get involved in the political process, which is social reality. The lives of the members of a society are shaped by laws and regulations and economic arrangements of that society. Nevertheless, if a Buddhist wishes to be involved in politics, he should not misuse religion to gain political powers, nor is it advisable for those who have renounced the worldly life to lead a pure, religious life to be actively involved in politics.

  1. Conclusion

From above discussions, it can be concluded that Gautam Buddha was a great philosopher and thinker. The Buddha’s recommendations for modern leaders could be summarized as follows: be mindful, be compassionate, consider the fact that you are only part of a complex and dynamic situation, be flexible and open minded, and recognize that nothing is permanent – not the organization, not strategies that may work now, not you, or your leadership style. Buddhist leadership is about accepting change, creating harmony among those you work with, and treating all people with dignity and respect.

Gautam Buddha’s organization has been living force even after nearly 2600 years of his demise. This indicates splendid success of his teachings. Nearly a one third of the world is assumed to be Buddhist. It shows the Buddha’s extraordinary capacity as a great management philosopher. His doctrine is for the welfare and enlightenment of all beings. Buddhism was carried all over the world with a mission of granting love and piety towards all human beings with no distinction of caste, color or race. His teachings of Four Noble Path and five precepts are the best solution for managing organizations. In short, it can be concluded that in the time of increasing immorality, unrest, conflict, corruption, poverty, selfishness, environmental degradation etc., Buddhist way of leadership may be the excellent solution for the twenty first century.

Works Cited

Bajracharya, Dunda Bahadur,  Digh Nikaya. Lalitpur: Bir Purna Pustaka Sangrahalaya, 2000.

Bhaddamika, “Conveying the Buddha’s Message of Peace and Harmony from Lumbini”, Lumbini Darpan Journal, issue2, vol. 2, Lumbini: Lumbini Development Trust, 2068 V.S.

Charles A. Rarick, Enlightened Management: an Analysis of Buddhist Percept Applied to the Managerial Activity. (Retrieved from: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1021546.)

Dhammapada, Igatpuri: Vippassana Visodha Kendra, 2002.

Hanh, Thich Nath, Jahn Jahn Charan Pare Gautam Ke (Hindi trans. by Ramchandra Tiwari). Delhi: Hind Pocket Books, 2010.

…………………., The Art of Power, New York: Harper One, 2007.

Robbins, Stephen P. Robbins, Organizational Behavior, New Delhi: Prentice Hall of India, 1999.

Shakya, Chatra Raj, “Buddha ra Rajniti (Buddha and Politics)”, Anandabhumi, issue 19 vol. 4, Kathmandu: Anandakuti Vihar Guthi, 2048 V.S.

Suttapitake Anguttarnikaye, Igatpuri: Vippassana Visodha Kendra, 2002.

Suttapitake Dighnikaye, Igatpuri: Vippassana Visodha Kendra, 2002.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Stephen P. Robbins, Organizational Behavior, New Delhi: Prentice Hall of India, 1999, P. 347.

[2] Thich Nath Hanh, The Art of Power, New York: Harper One, 2007, p. 34.

[3] Dhammapada-109, Sahasavagga

[4] Hanh, F.n. 2, pp. 32-35.

[5] Charles A. Rarick, Enlightened Management: an Analysis of Buddhist Percept Applied to the Managerial Activity. (Retrieved from: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1021546.)

[6] Dhammapada- 103, 104 and 105, sahasavagga

[7] Bhaddamika, “Conveying the Buddha’s Message of Peace and Harmony from Lumbini”, Lumbini Darpan Journal, issue2, vol. 2, Lumbini: Lumbini Development Trust, 2068 V.S., pp. 30-34.

[8] Suttapitake Anguttara Nikaya, Igatpuri: Vippassana Visodha Kendra, 2002, pp. 194-200.

[9]  (a) Dighnikaya 1:1, Brahmajal Sutta .

(b) Dunda Bahadur Bajracharya (Trans.), Dighnikaya, Lalitpur: Birpurna Pustakalaya, PP. 1-2 .

[10]  Dhammapada-81, Panditavaggo.

[11]  Chatra Raj Shakya, ‘Buddha ra Rajniti (Buddha and Politics)’, Anandabhumi, issue 19 vol. 4, Kathmandu: Anandakuti Vihar Guthi, 2048 V.S., pp. 3-4.

[12]  Dighnikaya, Cakkvati Sihananda Sutta,

[13]  Dighnikaya, Kutdantta Sutra.

[14] Shakya, f.n. 11, pp. 3-4.

[15]  Dighnikaya, Cakkavati Sihananda Sutta.-

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