Dr Tri Ratna Manandhar
What is understood by management in Buddhism? How can this philosophy be applied in business management?
The universal definition of management is to manage tactfully. In Buddhism too, the meaning is not that different. It refers to management of life. Buddha’s main concern was to understand how to manage the life that we live, in order to be able to gain the maximum benefit from our lives. Because we have the potential to utilise and manage our life, we cannot waste it aimlessly. Buddha’s teachings are about how human life should be managed. But the ultimate goal is different for different people. Hence, for some, the goal is profit maximisation. Buddhist management is about managing life for the ultimate goal.
Different defilements in our lives create problems. The inner mind brings out a lot of problems in people’s lives. If we manage the subconscious mind, all problems can be overcome. Buddhism and business management have a lot of similarities. At the core of good business is good management.
The objectives of management in the modern concept include planning, management, organisation, staffing and motivation. These aspects have prevailed in the Buddhist community in the form of Sangha. The same principles can also be applied to a successful business since Buddha’s teachings support the achievement of these goals. There are also scriptures written about Buddha’s encounter with businessmen, where the Buddha has shared his teachings about managing one’s workers, providing incentives to one’s labourers and managing finance. It is described in the Singalovadasutta, the 31st Sutta as described in the Digha Nikaya, the Long Discourses of Buddha. Also, most of us aren’t aware of the fact that Buddha’s teachings have been replicated today in the form of ethical business management but people are not aware of it.
What are the main components of this type of management? Why is it important for businesses to use this type of management?
Planning, organisational management and motivation are the main components of this type of management. Planning refers to the predetermination of a course of action that will be taken. First, an aim or objective will be defined. This is important to help the mind concentrate on a certain goal. A person needs to make plans to become alert. Buddha has taught about mindfulness and purifying the mind. Concentration and planning will make that effective.
Organising is about different groups working together. An organisation consists of a group of diverse employees that are recruited and delegated work, who are provided with rights that come with their respective posts. Buddha established the Bhikshu Sangha, and there are scriptures that describe how he organised the Sangha and assigned specific tasks to specific people and gave them work according to their skills and abilities without discrimination. In this way, he envisioned an institution which exists to this day in monastic communities. A business organisation can be established in the same way. In the case of motivation and work, employees need to be satisfied with their work environment first. Only then will they be able to work sincerely. The work cannot be forced down their throats. In the Singalovada Sutta, it is written that Ananthapindika, a businessman was taught to motivate labourers to work sincerely; otherwise, the work was seen only as a burden or just as a means to put food on the table.
Employees and staff need to be provided with enough remuneration and that is the responsibility of the business owner. They also should be provided extra funds when needed for health and other concerns at times. Breaks, incentives and overtime pay are important. Such things are mentioned in the Singalovada Sutta.
Besides this, the employer should not heavily criticise their employees. One must be soft spoken, that is how one can achieve the goal of convincing others to work for you. The Sigalovada Sutta talks about the 6 directions described by the Buddha as points of worship equal to one’s relationships. The East represents parents, West represents children, North represents friends while the sky and the ground represent ascetics and workers. The ground or nadir refers to workers or in this case, one’s employees. This is the only direction that we come in physical contact with. It is the base on which we stand. Similarly, a businessman stands on the support of their employees; they are the source of production. Hence it is important to take care of that direction. If we can blend other similar teachings of Buddha into management, it will be more effective and yield better results.
How are ethical business and Buddhist teachings related?
From the very beginning, Buddha talks about being ethical. He has stated in many discourses that people need to earn to survive. But he has also mentioned that it is not about earning by any means. There should be an ethical code of practice. One should not get into the wrong path of making a livelihood such as fraud, cheating or illegal means to earn money. Today, many companies have become conscious about running an ethical business. Ethical business is also being taught in colleges today as a part of business education. People are becoming aware of including welfare in the economy. Buddha’s teachings in this regard are very practical because it can act as a guideline for businesses to follow the ethical path.
A business’s main aim is profit maximisation. Usually that becomes their sole target and companies end up chasing it blindly without realising the impact it is making on others. One universal law that people need to understand is that if they bring harm to others, that karma will come back to harm them. In fact, this idea is prevalent in all religions, not just in Buddha’s teachings.
What are the benefits of Buddhist Management?
There are four types of management, namely Production Management, Financial Management, Marketing Management and Personal Management. Production is both tangible and intangible. Even a driver who transports goods is producing results. If in such cases, the staff can be taught to simply follow the Panchasheel or five virtues that are: No killing, No stealing, No sexual misconduct, No lying and No intoxicants it can have a positive change in the company’s production results.
Personal Management is about managing the people. The employer needs to decide what type of work should be assigned at what time to whom. And workers should be given the right training in ethics and personal management. Providing incentives makes personal management easier. Employ retention can also be achieved by personal management. People leave work places due to disputes and dissatisfaction. When a person leaves a workplace, that post needs to be replaced by another staff which will require months of training and getting used to the work load before he can work efficiently. So if a peaceful coexistence can be created in the workplace, such things can be avoided.
Buddha has mentioned that income should be managed effectively. According to the scriptures, a businessman’s income should be divided into four parts out of which, one part should be consumed, two parts reinvested in business and the fourth part saved for times of need. Buddha has also mentioned not to profit from business that brings harm to others such as the business of weapons or poisonous substances. We humans are different from animals and do not require hunting or killing to survive. So if we just try, we do not have to harm anyone in order to live.
The business should also keep Buddhist teachings in mind while marketing. Companies should sell good quality goods in order to ensure their customer’s trust in the brand. Marketing behaviour should be honest and trustworthy.
Why do you think very few organisations and businesses have been implementing this type of Buddhist practices in management in Nepal?
Although Nepal is known as the birthplace of the Buddha, most people do not bother to learn about his teachings. Rather than as a religion, Buddha’s teachings are more practical and can be adopted to live a stress-free life. But we only look at Buddha’s teachings from a spiritual aspect. In Nepal, we don’t embrace Buddha’s teachings, it is taken as a religious belief and is avoided. People may be propagating that Nepal is the birth place of Buddha but when it comes to his teachings, people do not embrace it. They feel that it comes from a different sector or a different religion that is not their own. That is why people tend to suspect that following his teachings would mean following a different school of thought than their original one.
We are not aware that Buddha’s teachings are in fact, lessons on how to live a peaceful life. It is about being mindful, about being be able to judge the good and bad from one’s conscience so people need to be liberal. There is no compulsion to follow Buddhism to be able to apply Buddha’s teachings into practice. Also if we cannot embrace and learn about Buddha’s teachings, we cannot take pride in the fact that Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha.
How do you observe the use and application of Buddhist organisational management in other countries?
Companies in countries including China, Korea and Taiwan have started to adopt the technique of Buddhist management. Japan’s TDK Corporation, for instance, has been following Buddhism practices in management. There are also examples of conferences held on the theme of Buddhism and Corporate Finance or Buddhism and Corporate Management. Companies are now learning to train their staff to avoid mental stress and clear their minds in reference to Buddhist teachings. If the employees become mindful, they can manage stress and avoid occupational hazards which can cause companies loss of finances.
What roles do Buddhist institutions play to make such practices widely popular in Nepal?
Buddhist institutions such as Dharmodaya Sabha haven’t been able to promote such practices. They haven’t been able to think of any strategies for promotion. As I mentioned before, currently in Nepal, Buddha’s beliefs aren’t so popular. So the Dharmodaya Sabha is caught up in working to preserve the true aspect of Buddhism for now. It hasn’t been able to work on the implication of Buddhist teachings in business application. On the other hand, Lumbini Buddhist University has been running a Master’s of Arts in Buddhist Studies that includes courses on Applied Buddhism which include Buddhism and Management and Buddhist Economics. Buddhist Economics is also taught in Lotus Academy. These chapters can be developed into a single course that can be studied in detail throughout a semester.
Of course, studies have been taking place about the practical application of Buddhism in other aspects of our lives. Many of the scriptures are yet to be studied and researched.