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.

Of Mediums, Paper Money, Houses, Mobiles … …

A video on facebook caught my eye.  Actually, Ven. You Wei tagged me and a small discussion started around this video of a ‘priest’ of unknown religion performing a rites.  In the video, he is seen reciting various words that is not recognisable by myself, Ven. You Wei or Rev. Kwang Tong (a taoist priest friend of mine).

Below are my thoughts about such practices.

Ven You Wei, the irony is that when someone do this, devotees will believe in ignorant bliss.

Rev. Chung Kwang Tong, there is no medium practice in Buddhist teachings.  Only the oracle medium exist within the Tibetan tradition, and it is not a part of their Buddhist tradition, but more perhaps a part of their lineage tradition.

If Matreya Bodhisattva, or for that matter, any Bodhisattvas, ever appear through a trance, he should be able to explain the teachings of the Buddha!  Further, since they have 辯才無礙 they would probably not be speaking in tongues, but be able to speak in a language that we understand! 😉  I would be very keen to invite them to conduct retreats and Dharma classes and not ask about how to have fortune for the new year etc!

Rev. Kwang Tong, while mediums seem more common in Taoist temples, are they part of Taoist practices or are they in fact, like a few practices found in Taoist temple that you have clarified before, not Taoist in nature as well?

If mediums, burning of incense paper, paper houses, cars, mobiles, etc are not Buddhist nor Taoist in nature, then we should help devotees know so that they can practise their faith with wisdom and understanding.

Intention and Expression of Intention

Chinese New Year lunch at KMSPKS!


With respect to burning of incense paper, paper houses etc, I like to focus on two things:  1) Intention and 2) Expression of Intention

The Intention behind these burning is a wish to provide for the departed deceased and it can come from their Filial Piety.  We should encourage that.  The Expression of such filial piety is a different matter.  I prefer to encourage people to be filial while one’s parents are still around.  Spend time with them.  Listen to them.  Don’t burn them mobile phones or consult mediums only when they are gone if we don’t even bother to talk to them and listen to them when they were alive.

Go for walks with them.  Be their ‘servant’ and serve them.  Don’t wait till they are gone and only then, burn them paper servants.

Stay with them.  Don’t send them off to the old age homes only to burn them a paper house when they are gone.

Go with them to the mall, provide for them what they need (except if they want $$$ to go to the casino!!). 
Don’t burn them paper money only when they are gone.

If we really want to be filial to our parents [1], share with them 1) Faith and Confidence in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, 2) Guide them if they stray from good morality and behaviours 3) Encourage them to be kind and giving with others and 4) Share with them the Wisdom of the Buddha Dharma.

In this way, we benefit our parents in this life and in future ones!

Be Easy to Serve

And for parents, be happy with whichever child you are staying with.  Don’t pin for that one son or daughter who is not around and ignore the ones with whom you are staying with.

Accept food, gifts, assistance and support graciously.  Chinese are always 客氣 (polite?  stand on ceremony?) and don’t like to 麻煩人 (give others trouble).  It’s ok to say no.  But say it when you really mean it.  Saying ‘no’ out of courtesy only to bear a grudge later for not receiving service from your children or juniors is a way to our own misery.

We as juniors can also be more understanding of the difference in culture.  When elders say no, many times, it is out of courtesy.  We must insist up to three times!  And even when the elder say ‘no’, we should just get them food or provide our service out of devotion and love to them.

While it may seem queer to some, think of how a young man may pursue a girl relentlessly for her heart despite her rejection.  He does so to prove to her his determination and sometimes (I heard!) a girl may coyly reject just to see how serious and sincere he is.

The same kind of devotion, perseverance and love should apply to our parents and elders!

Out of compassion, elders should also go easy on juniors.  Be easy to serve. Don’t pick on how they don’t necessarily know how to serve you the way you want to be served.  Focus on how they are trying.  It’s ok to tell them what you need and want. 🙂

If we all stayed with our parents, provided for them, served them, listened to them, and practised Buddha’s teachings with them, when they are gone, we are assured that our parents are bound for a good rebirth.  For as sure as a tree that has grown leaning towards the east should fall towards the east when cut off, likewise a person who has practised the Noble Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha inclines towards True Happiness even while alive, and continues in that direction in future rebirths! [2]


Eat and Drink in Moderation 於食知量

Swiss woman dies after attempting to live on sunlight; Woman gave up food and water on spiritual journey


Documentary film ‘In the Beginning, There Was Light’ gave her the idea

Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reports that a woman starved to death after embarking on a spiritual diet that required her to stop eating or drinking and live off sunlight alone.

It is saddening to see such a news.  Sad on two counts.  1. That this woman lost her live because she adopted an inappropriate practice that would seem to be unsuitable for human beings.  2. While many hundreds and thousands around the world go hungry or starve, they don’t go on the news.

Eat and drink in moderation 於食知量

The Buddha taught the way to True Happiness by the Middle Way, the Noble Eightfold Path.  With respect to food and drinks, he advocated moderation as well.

In the Aparihani Sutta (AN4.37 [1]), the Buddha advised thus:

“And how does a monk know moderation in eating? There is the case where a monk, considering it appropriately, takes his food not playfully, nor for intoxication, nor for putting on bulk, nor for beautification, but simply for the survival & continuance of this body, for ending its afflictions, for the support of the holy life, thinking, ‘I will destroy old feelings [of hunger] & not create new feelings [from overeating]. Thus I will maintain myself, be blameless, & live in comfort.’ This is how a monk knows moderation in eating.”


To eat enough to sustain the body, and not to overeat.  Eating mindfully, one may allay hunger and not give rise to greed, hatred and delusion.

In the Buddhist commentary, Yogacarabhumi sastra  瑜伽二十一卷七頁云[2]:
What is Moderation in Food?  Where one has guarded one’s sense doors, reflecting rightly, consuming food not in excess, not for pride or wantonly, not for adornment or beautification, but for calming one’s body, for sustaining it temporarily, for removing hunger and thirst, for enabling one’s cultivation, for removing old feelings and not give rise to new feelings, for sustaining the effort and joy in blameless calm abiding.  This is named “Moderation in Food”.
Dear friends, are you hungry yet?



Dharma Circle – Beyond NUS Buddhist Society (or NUS) by Ven. Bodhi

Dharma Circle – Beyond NUS Buddhist Society (or NUS)


Speaker: Venerable Bodhi 

The sharing will focus on three aspects of a person’s life – professional, interpersonal and spiritual and how an NUSBS member (NUS student or a layman) can continue to develop these in the real work-life balance. 

Speaker Profile
Venerable Bodhi holds a Phd in Buddhist studies from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. Prior to that, she graduated from our local university. She has been teaching in the Buddhist Library, for both the diploma and post-graduate diploma classes.

Complimentary dinner provided.

To register for the dinner please email your name, contact number to Johan at dharma@nusbs.org.sg
or sms to 84209648 by 6th April.

For more information, please visit www.nusbs.org.sg

To Reason or Not to Reason – 講不講道理


To reason, we should be reasonable and to reason with people, but reason is to be reasoned by two person who knows reason. Educating children is even more so.

I’ve seen many parents try to explain and reason to their little kids. Some even try to do so to their toddlers who can barely speak, much less reason. It is funny or sad for me to see how parents seem to be expected to explain and account for their every actions and decisions while kids seem to be given a blank cheque to do as they please.

The Family Ground Rules 家規

Being born in a Chinese family, I was brought up in quite a different environment. While my parents were relatively open-minded to begin with and in many cases, entertained my “WHYs” when I was in my mid to late teens, there were many moments where they put their foot down and basically let me know that I’ve crossed the line. What line? The family ground rules (家規).

In my family, there are certain Dos and Don’ts that everyone have to observe. It is not a democracy. It is the family ground rules (家規). It is not something that we sit around and discuss how we would revise it. These may vary from family to family or clan to clan, and most parents
adapted or inherited theirs from their parents. In most cases, it was from either parents or a hybrid decided by the parents. Democrats can argue all they want, but I don’t see the whole nation go have a discussion on the constitution or the law every other day. Members of parliament (or senators in US) represent the citizens and they try their best to protect their interest. By electing them for their term of office, you trust their judgement and integrity to protect your interest. If they fail, don’t vote them the next term. Rinse. Repeat.

In the case of our parents, you did not elect them. Buddhist believe that we are all linked in some ways, some deeper than others. Parents and child are strongly linked in past lives and the links serve as a condition for this lives’ parent-child relation. So in a way, we elected with our link with people. Associate with wise people and you probably have a better chance to have wise parents (and wise kids too!). Associate with foolish or nasty folks and … …

Then there are those who are already on the path to Enlightenment and they associate with the foolish and nasty people in order to help them. Which are you? The former or latter?

I don’t know about the mechanisms for choosing parents or kids in other faiths or cultures, though I heard that the stork was responsible for people in the west.  In the past at least! :p Read More …