Of Buddhism And Businesses


A few groups of students interviewed me recently to find out how, if any, does buddhism or buddhist values affect singaporean businesses? Below are some thoughts.

Subtly, Buddhist values such as love, compassion and simplicity has brought awareness to people over the last 25 over centuries. It is said that Steve Job’s iconic style of simplicity in design for Apple products draws inspiration from the Zen Buddhist tradition.

Within the business environment, it is important to know when a decision is legal and when it is
ethical. The two are not always inclusive. It is perfectly legal to retrench a whole division or wrap up a whole subsidiary that is making a loss, but it would be unethical to do so without considering the impact on the staffs whose livelihood depends on the company.

In our drive to increase our margins, we may forget that we are more than simply numbers in a balance sheet or GDP. Having sound material foundation is important, but if a nation, the society only focuses on growth rate and P/L, then it would be akin to buying a car to earn money just to maintain the car and not go anywhere with it.

Life is not just about making money. No, it is not about making money at all. We have much more potential than simply being a cog in this whole well-oiled Singapore Incorporated.

Increasing productivity only helps us consume earth’s resources faster. Making profit is now not enough, having growth in profit making is not enough, do we really need to having growth rate that is double digit? Is that what life is really about?

Whatever beliefs and values we have that is good, wholesome and beneficial to ourselves, our loved ones *and* others, we should seek to better ourselves and pursue them. We should strive to bring happiness and welfare to one and all, and seek to remove suffering from our fellow human beings.

  • Anonymous

    Venerable Chuan Guan, a question I sincerely want to ask you.

    I look at modernity and all I see is decadence, “good and happy” is often misconstrued as “powerful or wealthy” now.
    So how can one remain compassionate in the face of all this decadence, while bringing happiness since their happiness seems to be inextricably tied to such material bases?

    Thank you for your time

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts Anon.

      The rich and powerful, or beautiful and glamourous is often celebrated by the media and upheld as a model to look up to. At the same time, I do see many youths who while doing well in life, is looking beyond these pursuits for more to life. They are seeking a more meaningful way of life and finding a more enriching attitude towards themselves and others through the Buddha’s teaching of love, compassion and wisdom.

      How can we remain compassionate inspite of the seeming decadence? In fact, it is precisely this decadence that is worthy of compassion. The best way I’ve found is to live our life in line with the Buddha’s teachings to our best ability. It is important to be realistic as well and not try too hard, ‘cos we will end up giving ourselves too much pressure.

      Know our present strengths and limitations and apply the teachings as much as we can. There will be those who will connect with way of life and gravitate towards you and the teachings.

      On the other hand, being a Buddhist does not mean that one should slack and be laid back. Instead we still strive for excellence in everything we do, but we recognise that success depends on many conditions and as long as we have done our part, we can accept less than perfect outcome much better. Further, in our pursuit for success, we no longer strive for just ourselves, but strives and share the victory and material wealth with our loved ones and others as well.

      Our life stop being just about ourselves, but becomes more wholesome and encompassing of others’ welfare and benefit. We start to live out love and compassion to more and more people, more and more sentient beings. We learn to be happy for others as well. We are able to be happy and content with our own success without going into the habitual tendency of comparing ourselves with others and become overwhelmed with jealousy.

      Gradually over time, our heart become truly kind and caring, reaching out to all people, all sentient beings alike. This would be a way to materialise the Four Immeasurables in our daily life.

      There is only one person we can effectively and directly change. Ourselves.
      I’ll start with myself and if everyone start doing it, the world will be a better place!

      Sabbe satta sukita hontu! Happy Vesak! 🙂

  • BK

    Apple range of products are all named with an ‘i’ as prefix, iThis, iThat, I reckon that it’s either he didn’t learn Buddhism well enough that his products strengthen our clinging to our ‘self’, or he knew it well enough to exploit this inherent nature of all human beings 🙂

    • Indeed, indeed! Sometimes I wonder if the marketing gurus around the world study Buddhism deeply. I saw in a documentary that corporations started engaging psychologists to aid them in shaping their products and marketing campaign for maximum impact on consumers.

      So, perhaps he did! 😉