Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Five Principles of Windhorse:Evolution

I gave this talk to the teams at Windhorse in Cambridge a few years ago and the five principles outlined in it are still referred to when recruiting new people or training people in the ethos of the business.

Ever since I was a teenager I have been motivated by idealism. One of the reasons I left Ireland when I was seventeen was because I was worried that my idealism might lead me into extremist politics, which in that time and place would have been very dangerous.
That idealism led me to search for meaning in life and eventually to taking up Buddhist practice. That idealism has also led me to join Windhorse:Evolution. I am very keen to give my energy to trying to create a business with heart, a business that definitely makes money. But a business that makes money not to provide personal wealth, not to pay big salaries or give a big fortune to shareholders but rather a business that makes money to give away. The idealism of working for the purpose of generosity appeals very much to me, in fact it gives me a sense of purpose and meaning that I never could get from an ordinary career. I think I may be something of an extremist in this regard and I don’t really expect many people to share my passion for an idealistic life. If a few people share it, that’s enough for me.

So is Windhorse:Evolution (W:E) satisfying my need for idealistic work?

I have been here at W:E for just over one year now and sometimes when people ask me what I do here, what my role is, it is quite difficult to tell them clearly. This is because I have been learning as I proceed and my role has evolved over the year.

Initially I came here at the request of the Management Forum (MF) to help them reduce the level of stress they were under. There were all sorts of reasons why the senior managers felt burdened – recruitment issues, changes in the ethos of the business, inadequate structures to allow for delegation, inadequate provision of training, a difficult trading environment and of course a shortage of time to give attention to any of these issues.

One of the first things I did was to take on chairing the Management Forum meetings to help make the meetings more effective.
I also began reviewing the business to try to discover what people working here felt about the business; what they valued and what they wanted to change.

In the course of that review I met about 150 people, which is a good percentage of the total workforce. I am still engaged in following through the findings from that review.

One of the more immediate things I did was to enlist the help of Tejasvini and Dhiramitra to produce a magazine – because that was one obvious need that could be met relatively easily.

Then at the request of the managers I instituted a review of training in the business. That review, which involved several other people doing quite a bit of work, took six months and the report and recommendations that came out of it will be discussed by the MF soon.

The MF also asked me to look into how to develop a new management structure for the business. I spent time looking into this and creating models which looked good on paper – but in the end I concluded that it was going to have to be an organic process and a new structure would emerge out of the present structure if we could enable more people to take responsibility and free up some of the senior managers to have a more strategic overview rather than being involved so much in the day to day details. So with the help of Shakyakumara we have been enabling more delegation of responsibility. I have organised some of those who are taking up new responsibility to meet together to share experience and get a sense of the business beyond their own area. I help by chairing these meetings.

I have also organised and facilitated some strategy meetings to begin to formulate a longer-term strategy for both the wholesale and retail sides of the businesses.

This whole area of management structure and delegation is very much work in progress and has some way to go.

Another task I was requested to carry out was to look into the issues that gave rise to some people leaving the business unhappily in the past. I gathered together some people to help me with this and I met up with some of those who had left unhappily. I have now produced a report with some recommendations, which are either being implemented or discussed further.

More recently I have been supporting Beth in carrying out a review of the personnel function in the business. Beth did all the work really and produced a report and recommendations, which has led to some changes in the Personnel work. The main change is that a definite distinction has been drawn between Staff Welfare work and Personnel work, with Saddharaja now managing Staff Welfare and Dharmasiddhi managing Personnel.

I have also been taking a closer look at the accounts of the business and the Trust to familiarise myself with more of the financial details.

The main thing I am involved with now is working even more closely with Vajraketu and taking some of the weight off his shoulders so that he can concentrate more of his time and energy on buying and selling.

But to come back to where I began – with idealism. Underlying and underpinning everything here is our values as a business inspired by the Buddhist vision of life. This is of primary importance to me and I know to many others here.

Being here connects me with what is most important to me and I would very much like that to be the case for most people. It seems to me that if we can connect to what is most important to us in terms of values when we are at work then our lives will be greatly enriched.

I would like all of us to experience a real sense of community, of friendliness and mutual care. I would very much like this to be a business where like-minded people work together to create a really excellent working environment and an efficient and profitable business. I would like to see all our efforts resulting in something we could be proud of – something special as a workplace and as a business.

This is a kind of dream – a dream of working with people who want to work together for the benefit of others as well as themselves, a dream of a business that exists to give away money rather than accumulate wealth for shareholders or directors or workers, a dream of a community of like-minded people willing to work hard to achieve something greater than any one individual could achieve.

I would like to work in an environment where the spirit of generosity is pervasive – generosity towards each other and the generosity of generating profits to give away.

I would like to work in an environment where we treat each other with care and kindness and where we treat our suppliers and customers and anybody else we encounter, with kindness and care too.

However, I am well aware that none of us is perfect and that whatever ideals or values we have we will often fall short. I am also well aware that not everyone is able to respond to ideals in the same way or to the same degree. So we will always have a diversity of responses to deal with but I guess the minimum we can expect of each other is that no one will be actively undermining of what the business is about.

I see my current role here as one of trying to provide a focus for the values that underpin the business as an altruistic project and at the same time helping where I can to bring more efficiency and strategic thinking to bear on the money making aspect of what we do.

Currently we are looking into formulating strategies for retail and wholesale to meet the challenges of a more competitive market and shrinking profits. This also entails a lot of detailed work and research so that decisions are based on the strongest possible foundations. It is very clear that in future everybody in the business will have to have a clearer sense of how they are contributing to profitability and the impact of their teams’ activity on sales and profits.

Alongside this we are looking very closely at the way we have put our values into practice in the past and considering whether some definite changes need to be made. We are looking at the issue of support and wages and considering whether the principles that underpin the business are being served by the current practices. We are also looking at recruitment policy and Right livelihood training. This kind of review entails going back to first principles and seeing what is needed to serve the ethical and spiritual values of the business.

Here is how I would outline the first principles or fundamental principles of the business as a business and as a Buddhist organisation.

1. Being a business is the context in which we operate and therefore as a business our first principle has to be to make money. This may seem obvious but I have encountered people who feel we should not focus on making money.
However there is a difference between being a charity and being a business and although this business is owned by a charity it is not itself a charity. A charity can raise funds from donations, but a business has to create wealth. A business is in business to make money and if it doesn’t make money it will not survive for long. So making money has to be a fundamental principle of this business.

This puts the customer at the centre of the business. Everything else depends upon the customer. When you have plenty of customers and they are buying in sufficient quantities then you make money and then you can do other things.

So we have to remember in our daily work that the customer is central to what we do, to our existence and survival as a business and we need to be aware of our customers and treat them well. We need to serve our customers. Anyone in business who feels that the customer is a nuisance or can be ignored is really deluding themselves. If we are a mandala to use a Buddhist image then the customer is in the centre and everything else is in relationship to the customer.

The fundamental need to make money also implies that we need to give due appreciation to those who are directly involved in selling. We need to appreciate fully the sales team, the regional sales reps who take the vans out to our customers, the Retail team and the shop teams. They are at the front line communicating with customers, selling products and conveying the ethos of our business – so they are really the most important people in the business.
Appreciating them means understanding what a key role they play in business and supporting them fully. What they need to do their work effectively should take priority over things.

Perhaps each team should have a brief update on the profitability of the business every couple of months, if you don’t already have one, as a way of staying in touch with this fundamental principle.

So the first thing we are about as a business is making money.

2. Now we come on to the second fundamental principle of Windhorse. What distinguishes us from most other businesses is what we do with our profits. We make money in order to give it away. This is what the business was established for and this continues to be one of its main reasons for existing. This principle is very much in line with the Buddhist values that permeate the company.
We do not want to make any individual rich. We are not capitalist in the strict sense of providing dividends to shareholders in return for the provision of capital. We are not in business to provide large salaries for directors or to enable anyone to grow rich.

Primarily we are in business to generate wealth in order to give it away.

So generosity is our second fundamental principle. It has to be second because you cannot give away what you don’t have. As I said before we need to make money before we can give it away. I am emphasising this because some very good idealistic people really love generosity as a practice and love the fact that we help people in Kenya and Guatemala but sometimes feel that making money or even wanting to make money is somehow a bit dirty – not pure enough. But we need to be equally wholehearted about making money and generosity or we become a bicycle with only one wheel – going nowhere.

3. The third fundamental principle of Windhorse is ethics. We want a strong ethical practice to be part of our business ethos and also to pervade the working environment.

Ethical practice generates an atmosphere of trust, which is something we want to foster.

Put simply, the main elements of ethical practice for us are kindness, honesty and awareness.

I’ll just say something briefly about each of these.

Kindness here means trying to develop and maintain an attitude of goodwill and care towards each other in the workplace and also towards our customers, suppliers and anyone we encounter in the course of the working day. Kindness is an attitude that recognises and empathises with the humanity of others. This is the kind of atmosphere we want to create – one of recognising and empathising with the humanity of others.

Honesty is crucial to developing trust, both between ourselves and in relation to our customers and suppliers. This is honesty in the sense of not stealing or taking things without permission and also honesty in the sense of telling the truth. As a business we should try not to tell lies for the sake of advantage or profit and as individuals the same applies. What we say and how we speak to each other plays a large part in creating our working atmosphere. An atmosphere of trust needs honesty and truthful speech.

Awareness as an ethical principle is concerned with being aware of other people. If we are to be kind or honest in relation to others we need to be aware of them. This means being aware of them as a person with feelings and thoughts, needs and qualities. This kind of awareness of people as fellow human beings is actually not so common in the world as you notice if you pay any attention to the news media. But even those of us who are relatively polite and well mannered are sometimes only aware of others to the extent that they either help or hinder us. In other words we often relate to other people as objects that to some degree cause us either pleasure or pain. So as an ethical principle, awareness means going beyond that kind of relating to others and trying to glimpse the humanity beyond our own likes and dislikes. If we can do this we create an atmosphere of trust and care which makes our working lives a pleasure.

Another aspect of ethics is our relation to the natural world and this is also an area that we as a business should pay attention to.

So ethics is about enhancing our relations with each other, with customers, suppliers and others and with the natural environment and it is the third fundamental principle of Windhorse.

4. The fourth fundamental principle is personal development.

From a Buddhist perspective the whole purpose of life is to develop and grow from a state of relative egotism and separateness to a state of egolessness and compassion. Here at Windhorse, this idea that people can change and grow and unfold their potential is one of our underlying principles.

We can unfold our potential in all sorts of ways. For instance by developing skills we gain confidence and as we gain confidence we become more secure and happy to be who we are, which means there is less of a tendency to be self-centred. Developing new skills could mean just developing the ability to speak up in a group, or the ability to articulate our thoughts clearly. Or it might mean developing the ability to listen carefully – or the ability to make presentations – or simply the ability to engage with our work. For some it might mean learning leadership skills or management skills.

Personal development also means knowing ourselves and knowing how we limit ourselves through habitual ways of thinking and habitual ways of acting and speaking. The more we come to know ourselves in detail the more we can change ourselves for the better and become bigger people.
Meditation is one of the methods for learning to know ourselves. This is quite widely recognised these days and is being used in business more and more. The author and business consultant Danah Zohar recommends meditation to top executives, for instance. A friend of mine is just beginning to teach meditation to the employees of a large pharmaceutical company in the south of England and another friend used to teach meditation to staff at the London headquarters of Marks and Spencer.

Perhaps as a business inspired by Buddhism we should give more attention to meditation too. How about each team beginning or ending the working day with fifteen minutes of quiet time?

Personal development from the basic level of developing new skills right up to the spiritual heights of embodying Wisdom and Compassion is the fourth fundamental principle of Windhorse.

5. The fifth and last principle I want to outline is the principle of collectivity and community.
You could say this is the spirit in which all the other principles are carried out.
The first stage of this collectivity is working in a team – co-operating and collaborating with others as creatively as we can to achieve the goals of the team.

We enhance the ability to work collectively by creating a sense of community between us and we create a sense of community by getting to know each other better and developing empathy and care between us.

So the first building block of a collective endeavour is to get to know our fellow team members and develop trust and kindness in the team. This is what some of our team meetings are about.

Beyond that we can get a sense of the larger collective effort by reading the magazine and by interacting with people from other teams either formally through meetings or informally over lunch or at social gatherings. This is obviously more difficult for the shop teams.

I think Arthasiddhi’s singing workshops are very good in this respect and we could do with many more social events and opportunities for spending time together outside the working environment. Perhaps we should initiate an annual one-day festival for everybody from here and the shops and perhaps even some of our customers, as a way of building a stronger sense of community. I think this is an area that is wide open for anyone to take initiative and there is a theatre available as a venue, which we could easily make more use of.

However we go about it the principle we want to give life to is that of collectivity and community – a sense that we are doing something worthwhile together and that we are part of a community of like-minded people supporting and encouraging each other in our personal development, ethical practice and so on.

So these in brief are the five fundamental principles of Windhorse: making money, generosity, ethics, personal development and community.

We are already putting them all into practice to some degree – some more than others – and there is always more we can do. There is also room for creativity and innovation in how we put these principles into practice.

I have spoken about our fundamental principles. This is the foundation on which the whole organisation rests. From these principles we can build up something that we can all be proud of.

What I hope we can build is a successful business – with a heart, a successful business whose purpose is to be helpful, a business where we are all motivated to give our best and co-operate with each other in order to make money which we can give away and where we are motivated to create working environments that are pervaded by trust, kindness and awareness and where it is a pleasure to work in a collective spirit with our fellow team members.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Tantric Guru - dead or alive?

This a talk on the topic of Right Livelihood, given at Madhyamaloka, Birmingham, in April 2010.

A question that often arises for people when they study the Noble Eightfold Path is - why did the Buddha, or whoever compiled the list, include right livelihood. Surely all the considerations of ethics with regard to livelihood are already covered in the other sections of the eightfold path -- such as right speech and right action. Why does livelihood need its own stage? One answer to this is that it was a particular issue at the time of the Buddha - trade was expanding and this brought with it particular challenges. Another answer is that it was the only aspect of social life that needed to be addressed -- because citizenship was not meaningful then and domestic life was well regulated. Another possible explanation, one that I find very plausible indeed, is that the Buddha wanted to criticise the caste system. One of the things determined by caste is one's livelihood, but the Buddha is saying no - it is not caste but ethics that should determine your livelihood.

What strikes me about Right Livelihood as a stage of the Eightfold Path is that it is concerned primarily with activity and secondarily with mental states, whereas all the other seven stages seem to me to be primarily concerned with mental states and secondarily with activity - even the stage of Right Action. The implication of this for me is that from the beginning there was an ethics of intention and an ethics of consequences. In other words, it is important what mental state you are in before you act and what is skilful or unskillful is determined by that mental state. Greed, hatred and delusion give rise to unskilfullness and generosity, love and wisdom give rise to skillfulness. This is the ethics of intention, the mental state determines whether an action is skilful or not.

However there are certain actions which are always unskillful. This is what the stage of right livelihood is saying. This is ethics determined by consequences. In other words, some actions have such disastrous consequences that it doesn't matter what the mental state of the perpetrator is -- they are just unskillful or to put it another way, some actions imply negative mental states. Under the heading of right livelihood the Buddha mentions trading in living beings, trading in poisons, trading in meat, intoxicants and weapons. These are to be avoided. And further to that, monks are to refrain from using divination and fortune-telling as a means of livelihood. So the implication here is that all of these activities are wrong in themselves. They are harmful to living beings and there is no way to perform these activities from a positive mental state. They can never be an expression of Metta or generosity or wisdom.

This is important because sometimes Buddhists are in danger of elevating the subjective and ignoring the objective. Sometimes we can talk and act as if meditation or mindfulness is the whole of Buddhism. But this limb of the eightfold path is reminding us that however mindful we are, however much bliss and rapture we experience in meditation, there are some things which are just plain wrong and cannot be purified from the inside out, so to speak.

The Noble Eightfold Path is a specific application of the more fundamental principle of pratitya samutpada (variously translated as dependent arising, conditioned co-production, the law of conditionality) - everything arises in dependence upon conditions. The Eightfold Path is pointing to the conditions which give rise to Insight and the mental states and ways of life which give expression to Insight, when it has arisen. The mundane Eightfold Path is indicating the conditions that give rise to knowledge and vision of things as they really are (yathabhutajnanadarshan) and the transcendental Eightfold Path gives expression to that Knowledge and Vision.

So right livelihood is part of the conditions for making spiritual progress. I think we could make the definition of right livelihood very wide indeed. The division that we take for granted between work as an activity separate from other activities is an artificial division that has grown up in money-based economies. We have come to see some of our activities as concerned with acquiring money and other activities as concerned with leisure etc. This division is not inherent in the nature of reality -- it is socially conditioned.

The notion that we have an economic life or a work life that is somehow separate from the rest of our life is a delusion. Just as the notion that we have a spiritual life is a delusion. Everything we do in our life has economic implications. When we have a shower in the morning - the shower gel, the shampoo, the water, the shower hose, all have economic implications. The toothpaste, the toothbrush, the towel, the hair dryer, the light bulb, the electricity - all of these are being consumed by us and produced and delivered by others. This web of activity has vast implications - economic, as well as environmental, political, spiritual, domestic and so on. Our livelihood involves us in earning and consuming.

Work came to be seen as separate from the rest of life when some members of a society were able to gather a surplus of requisites for themselves and force others to work on their behalf. In primitive societies the main concern was with survival and everything was geared towards that, including religious ritual, the sculpting of fertility figures or the painting of animal images in caves. Interestingly when some of the first European settlers encountered the Native Americans they thought they were very idle because all they did was hunt and fish. "While Indian women generally gathered plants and tilled fields, native men "for the most part live idlely, they doe nothing but hunt and fish," observed one New England minister. William Byrd II, the scion of a wealthy Virginia family, added that Indian men "are quite idle or at most employ'd only in the Gentlemanly Diversions of Hunting and Fishing." As these quotes suggest, in England hunting and fishing were considered recreational and were generally reserved for members of the gentry. They were vital, however, to the subsistence of native peoples. (Taken from Internet article)

The ancient Hebrews viewed work as a "curse devised by God explicitly to punish the disobedience and ingratitude of Adam and Eve" (Rose, 1985, p. 28) The ancient Greeks considered all work with contempt and saw it as a hindrance to the cultivation of the mind. The Greek word for work was 'ponos' which comes for the same root as 'pain'. The Romans carried on the attitudes of the Greeks and this was also an influence on early Christian monasticism. It wasn't until Martin Luther and the Reformation that attitudes to work began to change. Calvinism brought about the greatest change and gave birth to what has come to be known as the 'Protestant work ethic'. The Calvinists believed that only a select few - the Elect - were destined to be saved and one of the few ways of telling who was favoured by God was to note who was prosperous. If you were prosperous it was because God favoured you and therefore you were probably one of the Elect. To become prosperous you had to work hard.

By the 20th century work had become a commodity under the influence of industrialisation. There were some, from the 18th century onwards, who hearkened back to some Golden age when there was no separation between work and leisure and sought to recreate their fantasy of a primitive paradise. The majority had to head for the factories, mills and mines. Nowadays we are likely to hear people talk about the importance of the work/life balance. Work is one thing, life is another and the two must be balanced. This is an idea which seems to undermine itself.

I think we as Buddhists need to take a more holistic approach than the ancient Greeks and Romans with their dependence on slaves or the modern work/life balance gurus with their dependence on a dichotomy which is strengthened by any attempts to balance it.

Work is an activity that constitutes part of the economic aspect of life and no part of life is without an economic aspect. Whether we are earning or consuming, economics is involved. Economics is basically about energy. We are either expending our energy, saving our energy or using other people’s energy and all of that has a value, a monetary value.

So, for instance if I visit an Art Gallery here in Birmingham, it doesn't cost me anything. No monetary transaction takes place. But it would be foolish to think that my visit to the gallery somehow falls outside the economic realm. It all costs a lot of money, a huge expenditure of energy and it is my presence there that justifies that expenditure. Or, to take another example, if I sit down to meditate - the place where I am sitting, the cushions and mats I am sitting on, the shrine, the candles, the heating and so on, all represent a vast expenditure of energy. The fact that I am not too hungry or sick to meditate also has huge economic implications.

Our life is an economic activity from cradle to grave, from morning to night and indeed all through the night. And it has always been so. The Buddha and his followers were not engaged in earning, but they did consume and were dependent on others for their subsistence. Their lives were not divorced from economics because economics is about energy and every life involves the expenditure and consumption of energy in one form or other.

Coming back to livelihood and Right livelihood. Livelihood focuses on the expenditure of energy in the production and delivery of goods and services. Right Livelihood is a use of energy in this way that causes no harm to oneself or others. But, of course, the production and delivery of goods and services cannot be divorced from the consumption of goods and services. So, I would like to extend the meaning of Right Livelihood to cover both sides of this equation - production and delivery on one side and consumption on the other. So Right Livelihood then becomes the production, delivery and consumption of goods and services in such a manner that no harm is caused to oneself or others. The Pali term for Right Livelihood is Samyak Ajiva. The dictionary translates ajiva as 'livelihood' and also as 'mode of living'. So Samyak ajiva could be translated as Right Mode of Living or perhaps even Right Lifestyle. One could take this further and say that Right Livelihood as a stage of the Noble eightfold Path represents all altruistic activity or at least the attempt to make all activity altruistic and as such it is the beginnings of the Bodhisattva ideal. This is why I think Right Livelihood is part of the Eightfold Path. It is there because the Dharma is inherently compassionate and that compassion extends into all areas of life. Right Livelihood makes explicit the need for compassion in all our dealings with others and especially in this area of life that involves the production, delivery and consumption of goods and services. This area of life isn't really an area at all. It permeates into every detail of every moment of our lives. As we sit here we are consuming and therefore creating a demand for production. We are affecting the lives of people all over the world - the people who make our clothes, or the dye in those clothes, the washing powder we use, people who service buildings, work on oil platforms, in carpet factories and furniture factories and so on.

I am saying all this to make it obvious why Livelihood has to be included in spiritual practice and also to indicate that it is perhaps not as simple as it could at first seem from a glance at the Pali canon. A spiritual practice that ignores livelihood is like a mathematician ignoring equations.

The Buddha and his followers didn't work in the ordinary sense of the word. They expended their energy in meditation, Dharma discussion and teaching and they kept their needs to a minimum. They were valued by the society around them and given support to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, clothing and medicine. In 1968 when Bhante gave his lectures on the Eightfold Path, he encouraged his disciples to work as little as possible and to live simple lives with few needs. This was in keeping with the Buddhist tradition. It is worth noting that the consumption side of the equation was not ignored by the Buddha or Bhante. Having few needs or living a simple life means consuming less and this is an intrinsic part of any discussion about Right Livelihood.

Fourteen years later in 1982, Bhante said he would encourage those working in Team Based Right Livelihood situations to ‘work as much as possible or at least ‘as well as possible’. This is because with the development of co-ops, which later became Team Based Right Livelihood businesses, what was being developed was a new way of putting Buddhism into practice very fully, on a daily and hourly basis, in our western context. This was part of a new vision of what it meant to be a full time practitioner of the Dharma, which superseded the traditional Bhikkhu / laity split, which in much of the Buddhist world was no longer of much genuine spiritual benefit to either the Bhikkhus or the laity. It was also a development that gave women an equal opportunity to practice fully and engage in creating the conditions for the spiritual development of as many people as possible.

Team Based Right Livelihood businesses were to be ‘Right’ in the traditional sense of avoiding activities that caused harm. They were to be ‘businesses’ so that they could generate a surplus which was then used to make the Dharma available. They were to be ‘Team Based’ in the sense that the people in them would see themselves co-operating on a common project for the benefit of themselves and others.They were 'livelihood' in the sense of meeting the basic needs of those working in them.

So in principle a Team Based Right Livelihood venture was seen as a practice of exemplifying Metta, generosity and spiritual community. Each of these could be taken further. The ethics of Right Livelihood could be looked into more thoroughly and updated for our modern age. The aspect of generosity could be furthered by individuals deciding to take only enough money to meet their basic needs, leaving the rest to be given away. The spiritual community aspect, which is encompassed by the phrase ‘Team Based’, could be taken further through practices such as spiritual friendship, confession, telling life stories, taking on personal precepts and endeavouring to co-operate. In a sense their is no limit to the practice, because if taken seriously it continuously confronts egotism and encourages self-transcendence and selfless activity. Team Based right Livelihood has the potential to bring about the transformation of the individual practitioner and, by a process of exemplification and influence, to contribute to the transformation of the wider society.

That is the vision and the theory. What about the practice? What has happened in our Movement? Team Based Right Livelihood is listed by Bhante as one of the six distinctive emphases of the Movement. How have we got on with it? Do we practice it?

The short answer, at first glance, is that we haven’t got on very well and that not many of us do practise it. The longer answer is perhaps more complex. My own view at present is that Team Based Right Livelihood businesses may not survive in our Movement. As far as I can judge the evidence seems to be saying that Team Based Right Livelihood businesses are unlikely to survive. It may be that this particular practice, as recommended by Bhante, will have to be revived by a later generation or in a different culture. I think there may be more hope for Team based Right Livelihood to survive in the non-profit making sector ( i.e. Buddhist Centres, Retreat centres etc.,) although even here I think the practice in it’s purest form, of being on ‘support’ and living a simple life, rather than taking a wage or salary may have declined too. Although I am not currently optimistic about the survival of the practice of Team Based Right Livelihood businesses in our Movement, I am committed to the practice, because I believe it to be of crucial importance to the embedding of the Dharma in our western industrialised cultures, as well as being a very effective context to help individuals to progress spiritually.

Some years ago Subhuti gave a talk entitled Bodhisattvas in the Market Place, in which he takes a very thorough look at the whole topic of Right Livelihood. That talk was published in 2003 in a booklet entitled Roads to Freedom. I would recommend it to anyone interested in this topic. In his talk Subhuti, very skillfully and clearly draws out six different ways of practising Right Livelihood, from simply engaging in ethical work at one end of the spectrum to the Team Based Right Livelihood enterprise at the other end. I think Subhuti’s approach is very helpful and I hope many more people will read and study his lecture, which shines a light on this important area of practice.

I am making a different distinction here, a distinction between two different kinds of Team Based Right Livelihood. That is the distinction between a profit making enterprise and a non- profit making enterprise, or more simply the distinction between a business and a charity. I think we have sometimes failed to be clear about this distinction in the Movement – or at least some people have been unclear about it. I have heard of the twin absurdities of some people thinking that a business should not be trying to make a profit and others thinking that a charity should be trying to make a profit. This kind of unclarity can only be detrimental. It can lead to confusion about the nature of the practice and how to practice. If you don’t have a commonly held view of what you are trying to achieve, then it is not possible to co-operate in achieving it.

This is just one issue that has been problematic in our attempts to practice Team Based Right Livelihood. There are I think a number of other issues which I will just touch on, before finishing with a few thoughts about what I think would need to happen if the practice of Team Based Right Livelihood business is to be rescued and developed in our Movement.

Another issue that comes to mind is to do with what I consider to be a certain amount of confusion about what a team is and how it should function. This confusion may stem from some things Bhante has said over the years about co-ops and co-operation. Here is an example from a Question and Answer session in Baker St., Buddhist centre in 1983.
“When you are working in a co-operative you are working together. As for ‘working’ everybody knows what that is, but ‘together’ is not me telling you what to do or you telling me what to do: in a co-operative you are all working together. To do anything together is very difficult indeed. Usually one person is the ‘leader’, the other the ‘follower’. One person takes the initiative and the other person allows them to take the initiative. One person is ‘active’, the other ‘passive’ – with or without unconscious, or semi-conscious or semi-unconscious, resentment or resistance. Whether between two people. Or three, four or a larger number of people, this is the usual situation. You very rarely get actual co-operation.
Co-operation means you all put your cards on the table. You consider what is to be done, and what is the best way of doing it. You consider this person’s suggestion and that person’s suggestion, and having discussed the matter in this way and agreed on a certain line of action you all pool your energies and your ideas, your abilities and your skills and, because you have a common objective, you all work together. No-one is trying to order anyone around. No-one is shirking his or her share of responsibility. No-one is having to take more responsibility than they really should. This is a co-operative situation. In such a situation you are very aware of other people. You make no attempt to impose yourself upon them. There is no question of ‘power’. A co-operative of any kind functions entirely in accordance with the love mode – and that isn’t easy. In a genuine co-op situation you abdicate the power mode absolutely. Only the love mode is ‘allowed’ to operate, or to have effect. If you are working in this way, or relating to others in this way, there is a sort of abnegation of your individualism, your egoism. “

This seems to me to be a strong statement of the ideal at which we are aiming, with everybody equally committed and continuously effectively Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels. It’s a statement about the self-transcendence that can come from confronting egotism and co-operating to achieve an objective goal. I don’t take it to be a statement about business management techniques or the best way to distribute responsibility and tasks.

However this kind of statement from Bhante has sometimes been taken to mean that everybody must be involved in making every decision and in discussing every aspect of a business. It has sometimes been taken to mean that no-one should manage a business. At it’s worst this can lead to endless discussions about trivialities and the stultifying of initiative or entrepreneurial flair. That is a recipe for failure in the world of business, which is pretty unforgiving of inefficiency. I have seen some of our businesses limp from week to week under this kind of levelling ideology.

Another misunderstanding that has arisen over the years arises from one of the aims of Team Based Right Livelihood being described as “ to provide a situation within which the workers can experience spiritual friendship in a way that will conduce to their spiritual growth” or Team Based Right Livelihood being spoken of as a “supportive context” for spiritual practice. Some people have interpreted this to mean that they will and should receive a certain amount of spiritual friendship, in the way that the chick in the nest receives food from it’s mother. In other words a certain amount of passivity entered into Team Based right Livelihood businesses with some people joining in the expectation that something spiritual would be given to them, provided for them, without them having to do anything. This often led to the phenomenon of someone not pulling their weight and being shocked and disappointed when it became clear that others had expectations of them.

Another issue that has arisen over the years is that people have been recruited into Team Based Right Livelihood on the basis that they identified themselves as Buddhists and regardless of whether they had any aptitude or ability for the work. This was identified as an issue by Bhante back in 1980. Here is a quote from a seminar he did with some women on the Ethics and manners section of the Jewel Ornament of Liberation :
“One of the biggest lessons of the last year or so is that, in order to establish the New Society, though you cannot do it without individuals, you cannot do it simply with individuals who are lacking in competence in certain areas. That is, in a way, quite a sobering thought. Individuality is indispensible: that is the foundation of the whole thing; but, by itself, in certain respects in isn’t enough. It is enough to take a meditation class. It’s enough for the sake of your own spiritual practice. But it’s not enough when it comes to setting up something which must function objectively and successfully in the world. You have got to have, then, in addition to individuality, know how, and practical experience, and certain abilities and capacities. This has become more evident to us than it was before.” However, although this was evident to Bhante and others thirty years ago, for various reasons it wasn’t possible to fully act on it. I think it was only about five or six years ago that this problem was fully recognised in Windhorse and I think it probably hasn’t been recognised yet in some situations. This led to many unfortunate situations, with some people taking on more responsibility than they were capable of and becoming very stressed as a result, and some teams becoming very dysfunctional.

Related to this is another issue, also probably the result of a misunderstanding – a misunderstanding of Metta and compassion. This is the issue of allowing untenable situations to carry on for far too long. Asking someone to leave a situation would be seen as unkind or exercising the power mode or risking conflict. I have known of communities where everybody else would rather leave than ask the difficult person to go.

Another problem that has sometimes arisen in Team Based Right Livelihood is a tension between work relationships and spiritual relationships. A Kalyana Mitra might feel the need to say something as Kalyana Mitra which might have a detrimental effect on a working relationship or they might feel the need to say something as a work colleague that might have a bad effect on the friendship. This kind of issue can be amplified when a management structure is in place.

Another issue that has dogged Team Based Right Livelihood businesses over the years is a lack of entrepreneurial spirit or business sense – sometimes leading to lacklustre businesses or poor decision making and an inability to look outwards to see trends and opportunities.

Then there has been the issue of not enough Order Members engaging with the practice of Team Based right Livelihood, with the result that too much was expected of relatively new people. The complete practice of Team Based Right Livelihood and community living – give what you can take what you need, co-operation, idealism etc., demands high levels of inspiration and committment.

Another drawback has been that people would frequently have a positive response to working with other Buddhists but no feeling of interest in the particular business. Allied to this is the perennial difficulty of staying in touch with the bigger vision and the spiritual aspirations that are the motivating force.

And sometimes the semi-monastic lifestyle was given a bad reputation by a certain harshness and regimentation that crept into some situations.

The phrase ‘give what you can, take what what you need’, has also been very problematic at times. The little word ‘need’ can cause all sorts of difficulties and be interpreted in wide variety of ways.

Given all these issues and problems ( and there may be others I haven’t thought of) it is a wonder that we have managed to create any Team Based Right Livelihood enterprises at all.

I think we have been more successful with the non-profit making enterprises such as Buddhist Centres and Retreat Centres, than with businesses - the notable exception being Windhorse:Evolution.

Three reasons for this that come to mind are:
In running a Buddhist Centre it is probably easier to stay in touch with the spiritual aspiration and spiritual vision that motivates the work. Secondly, Order Members and especially senior and experienced Order Members are more likely to be involved in Centres and thirdly, you can probably get by with less business acumen – indeed, business acumen might even be a hindrance at times.

It could be, then, that the future of Team Based Right Livelihood is more likely to evolve in non-profit making enterprises; Buddhist Centres, Retreat Centres and other charities. The main problem that I see with this is that it would be in danger of perpetuating the traditional split between full-timers who can’t make a living without the financial support of a wider community and that wider community who rely on the full-timers to do too much on their behalf. Team Based Right Livelihood businesses overcome that split because Buddhists are both practising together and generating wealth.

If we are to rescue and develop the practice of Team Based Right Livelihood businesses, then I think we have a lot of work to do as a Movement.

Here is what I think needs to happen:
Firstly, Many more Order Members, who are effectively Going for Refuge, would need to be motivated to practice within the semi-monastic framework recommended by Bhante, i.e. working in Team Based Right Livelihood on a ‘give what you can, take what you need’ basis, living a simple life in terms of comsumption of resources and living in single-sex communities. This is the bedrock on which the practice of team Based Right Livelihood rests. There is of course plenty of room for others to live alone or with partners or families, but the foundation of the semi-monastic lifestyle is essential. The emphasis here is on simplicity of lifestyle.

Secondly, the practices of semi-monasticism and Team Based Right Livelihood would need to be valued within the Order and Movement as a valid Insight practice. They would need to be valued in the same way that other practices are valued – such as Dharma teaching, going on retreat, meditating, studying or doing rituals. As Bhante puts it “ Insight can arise if you are working in the right sort of way. If you function, patiently and persistently, in accordance with the love mode, - if you refuse to invoke the power mode- if you are continually transcending your narrow individualism - if you really are co-operating, - if you’re sensitive to the other person’s needs and abilities, - if you really have a common aim, - if you really see through your individualistic narrowness.”

Thirdly, I think it needs to be widely recognised that the quality of our Order is dependent on the quality of relationships between people. The depth of those relationships is influenced by how much time people spend together and how many different situations they experience each other in. If our knowledge of each other comes from a weekly meeting for a chat that will lead to a particular experience. If we always meet someone on retreat that will lead to another very particular experience of them. If we generally meet someone at a class at the Centre that is another very defined experience. If we live with someone we see much more of them and we see them at their best and their worst – we get a fuller picture of them and they get a fuller picture of us. If we not only live with someone but also work with them, we get an even more complete view of them. We experience not only how they relate to us but also how they relate to others. We experience not only their conversation but also their actions. My experience is that working with others is a more intense and demanding practice than community living and consequently, for those who engage with it fully a very rewarding practice. It concerns me that we are increasingly accepting people into the Order who have never lived or worked with their Kalyana Mitras or Preceptors. It is my view that at least some experience of the semi-monastic life should be part of everyone’s preparation for ordination and part of everyone’s Order life, in the same way that going on retreat is. Even it was only for a few months or a year.

Fourthly, I believe that the practice of Team Based Right Livelihood business needs to be elucidated in more detail by those with the ability to communicate. One issue here is that often those doing it don’t have the time to talk about it. There is a body of knowledge and practice that is not being fully shared in the Movement. In recent years we have had some very articulate expositions of the practices of meditation and mindfulness coming out of the Order. We need an equally lucid and attractive exposition of the semi-monastic life and of team Based Right Livelihood in particular. Some of the areas that need more detailed elucidation are: what is meant by a team in this context? What is the role of leadership? What is the place of consensus decision making? How does a Team Based Right Livelihood business interact with legal and commercial requirements? What does ‘give what you can, take what you need’ really mean in practice? and so on. I tried to address some of these issues myself in a talk I gave in 1998, entitled The Spiritual Significance of Team Based Right Livelihood, which was published in a booklet and which is now available on the Internet ( ) ( )

In his book Living Ethically, Bhante says Right Livelihood is “ work you would do regardless of how much or how little you were paid for it”. (p. 56) This is to set a very high standard. It is a standard that has been seriously challenged as people in the Order have grown older and become more concerned about issues of financial security and well-being. It has also been seriously challenged by the consumerist values of the wider society, which are so all pervasive and so persuasive. However the Order is still in it’s infancy, historically speaking, and there will inevitably be major changes in the wider society over the coming century, which may make the the practice of semi-monasticism – communal living and ethical working – seem much more normal and sensible and obvious than is currently the case.

Our Movement is unique in it’s teachings on the New Society. As Robert Bluck says in his book British Buddhism “No other [British Buddhist] tradition, has developed such a distinctive social organisation, with its single-sex communities, Right Livelihood businesses and a new Buddhist Order which is neither monastic nor lay”
I believe the practice of semi-monasticism and Team Based Right Livelihood is of obvious benefit to individuals and to society. I believe these practices do constitute a sensible norm and other more conventional frameworks are deeply flawed. I believe that the practice of Team Based Right livelihood in the context of a business is particularly helpful in avoiding any split between full-time and part-time Buddhists and in embedding the Dharma in industrialised cultures. It is because I believe this that I have willingly dedicated my life to this vision.

So I have talked about Right livelihood in a general way and said that Samyak Ajiva could be seen to include both the production and consumption of goods and services. This could be supported by the secondary translation of ajiva as ‘mode of living’. I outlined what I think have been various issues and problems for Team Based Right Livelihood businesses and I have mentioned four things I think will need to be in place if the practice of Team Based Right Livelihood in business is to be rescued and developed.

Finally, I have not said anything about The Tantric Guru, which was the title Dhammaloka gave me. I will finish with a quote from Bhante, from a seminar he gave in 1979 on Advice to the Three Fortunate Women. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about how it relates to Team Based Right Livelihood and why Bhante on another occasion referred to work in team based right livelihood businesses as the Tantric Guru.

“ mental, philosophical, ethical, rational teaching, doesn’t really penetrate down to quite deep levels of the psyche where there are very powerful energies which can be represented or symbolised in terms of gods and demons and so on. That mode of teaching just doesn’t penetrate deeply enough. So Padmasambhava (the Tantric Guru)has to be called in. His kind of teaching, his approach is able to do this. The Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path – that is all very good, it’s all very beautiful, it certainly has a great effect. People follow it. But on a broader front, even though individuals may gain liberation through following that teaching, in the world all sorts of deeper forces and energies are churned up and come into opposition. It’s as though the initial promulgation of a teaching, in the course of it’s very success, stirs up or churns up very basic energies in human beings, not just indibidfually but perhaps socially speaking, which later on have to be brought under control by some more radical presentation of the teaching. Padmasambhava, (the Tantric Guru,) represents that. “

Is the Tantric Guru, as Bhante uses the term in relation to team based Right Livelihood, dead or alive? Will the Tantric Guru live or die in our Movement? It depends on us. I don't believe it depends on what we think, I don't believe it depends on what we feel, I don't believe it depends on what we want, I believe it depends on what we do.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Spiritual Significance of Right Livelihood

I have often been asked if I have any material on Team Based Right Livelihood, so here is the text of a talk given at a Team Based Right Livelihood day in London in July 1998

Right livelihood in Buddhism
Right livelihood has been part of Buddhism from the very beginning according to the tradition recorded in the Pali. One of the first discourses of the Buddha concerns the Four Noble Truths of which the Eightfold Path is the fourth. And of course right livelihood is one of the stages of the Eightfold Path. Three stages are concerned with ethics - right action, right speech and right livelihood and at first glance it seems peculiar that livelihood should get mentioned separately. After all, the stages of right action and right speech deal with the ethical issues concerned - i e non-violence in respect of people and property. My own view is that the Buddha refers to livelihood separately as a direct challenge and contradiction to the system of caste which was prevalent in India. According to the caste system your livelihood was determined by your birth, each caste had its own professions, but the Buddha is saying, no it is not caste that should determine your livelihood but ethical concerns. This would have been a socially radical step that would have distinguished the Buddha's followers from the followers of other sects.

In other words the element of social transformation is there in Buddhism from the very beginning, and right livelihood as well as being about ethical behaviour which involves self transformation, is also about applying spiritual and ethical criteria to work and is therefore about the transformation of society and has always been concerned with the transformation of society.

We do not have a caste system and careers are chosen on different grounds. However it is not the ethical principles of non-violence, generosity, truthfulness and so on which are uppermost in most people's minds when choosing a career. Their concerns are more likely to be money and, for some, status. So the theme of right livelihood still needs to be emphasised both for reasons of personal ethics and for social reasons.
Sangharakshita has emphasised from the start the social aspect of right livelihood. Out of this emphasis there grew the phenomenon of the team based Right livelihood business. It is possible to practice right livelihood without team-based right livelihood businesses, but the team based right livelihood is a particularly intense and effective form of the practice.

So in the FWBO we have developed our own situations in which we can practise and fully explore the Buddha's teaching of right livelihood. The development of these situations has been a long and at times painful process of learning and experimentation. And there is still plenty to do to make our businesses more total right livelihood situations and then of course, beyond right livelihood is perfect livelihood - the transcendental level of practice.

The development of team-based right livelihood has involved the simultaneous development of all the elements that go to create a work environment and context where people can effectively go for Refuge to the three jewels. The elements I would like to look at more closely are: Ethics, Dana, Work as Practice and Sangha.

The ethical element of team-based right livelihood applies to what kind of business we carry on, it applies to our relationships with our customers and suppliers, and of course to our relationships with each other in teams. The basic principle of Buddhist ethics is non-violence or Metta and that is the basic principle we need to apply to our businesses. They must not cause any violence to people, animals or the natural environment and where possible they should encourage positive emotion towards people, animals and the natural environment.

We also need to be honest and friendly and kind with our customers, suppliers, auditors etc. This is a very important aspect of the practice of team-based right livelihood, exemplifying the Dharma in the world. Sangharakshita has said that we can't always be happy but at least we can be friendly and this is worth bearing in mind. If you are unhappy, you don't have to be grumpy or taciturn with the customers.

And of course we need to observe the principles of non-violence, generosity, kindly speech and so on in relation to our fellow team members. This is extremely important. Sometimes we may be tempted to indulge our negative emotions at the expense of our fellow workers and if we do we need to apologise immediately. But better would be to be so constantly aware of the ethical dimension of our interaction, that we take responsibility for our own unskilful mental states and work on ourselves to change them, with the help of other team members.

So the ethical element of team-based right livelihood runs through every aspect of what we do and is very basic. Sometimes people think of the ethical aspects of team-based right livelihood purely in terms of what we sell and who our suppliers are and so on. But I want to emphasise that it also applies to our interactions with our customers and others and even more importantly to our interaction with fellow team members. Ethical responsibility should work from the centre out so to speak. You need to have a skilful response to yourself first, then to those you are most in contact with and so on just like the stages of the Metta Bhavana. If you practise like this then your principles and values will become firmly based in your character and your ethical response to wider issues will become quite natural.

Now I'd like to move on to the Dana element of team-based right livelihood. A big part of the original reason for setting up our businesses was to generate funds for the Centre. Because we don't have a large pool of ethnic Buddhists willing to support the full-timers and because we don't even want to encourage that split between full-timer and nominal Buddhist or monk and lay, it is essential that we can generate income for our Centre through our businesses.

However this is not the only reason why Dana is a major element of team-based right livelihood. There is also the fact that from a spiritual perspective it is necessary to develop the altruistic dimension of practice all the time and, in every area of our lives, because eventually as we progress and gain greater insight there is really no other dimension. All spiritual practice leads to compassion and generosity is the beginnings of compassion. By practising generosity we are exercising the muscles of compassion and by giving away money generated by your business you're going beyond any tendency to narrow down into self interest and are moving towards compassionate activity.

So this is how we usually speak of the Dana element of team-based right livelihood, in terms of giving away part of the profits to support the Centre. But there is also the whole area of give what you can take what you need. To give what you can is to operate in the spirit of generosity. Sometimes especially when people are new to team-based right livelihood, they tend to see themselves as employees who must assert their rights, which in the case of team-based right livelihood means their needs. So they're very keen that their financial needs are known and satisfied. This is as one would expect. It takes time to identify with the business as your business and to be able to give freely and generously of yourself without thinking of reward, it also takes time to form friendships and while our emotional needs are not met we tend to experience greater financial or material needs. So people sometimes think in terms of their financial needs being met as a reward for their hard work. But this is not how it works at all. There is no financial reward for labour in our businesses, there is no financial reward for taking responsibility. The principle is generosity not exchange. You need to practise team-based right livelihood in the spirit of giving what you can to the project, to your workmates, to the customers - this is the spirit of generosity. And it is this spirit that takes us beyond egotism, beyond self-centredness and prepares us for an insight into reality. If you work with the attitude that your needs are the main thing and you must remind the rest of the team and even fight for your needs to be met, you will find team-based right livelihood an unpleasant experience which never really rewards your efforts. If you work with an attitude of generosity and developing trust, then team-based right livelihood will be a very satisfying and inspiring experience. A basic principle in Buddhism is that of Going Forth. Going Forth means giving up attachment to and dependence on everything except the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This is something that usually happens gradually. Joining a team based right livelihood business is a form of Going Forth because the principle of generosity and living a simple life is so much at the heart of it. Non-attachment or Going Forth is another way of talking about generosity. So the Dana element of team-based right livelihood can be seen in terms of the whole team generating profits and giving away some of those profits and it can also be seen in terms of each individual having an attitude of generosity towards the whole project and towards the rest of the team ; it's a case of mutual generosity - a better phrase perhaps than the Marxist 'give what you can, take what you need'.

Work as practice
The next element of team-based right livelihood we can look at is work as practice. So what do we mean by work as practice? Well what I mean is using the actual task in front of you as a method for spiritual development, i.e. development beyond your current sense of personal limitation and beyond self-centredness and also development of greater awareness.

So obviously with any work or task we can practise Mindfulness. To practice Mindfulness is to be fully engaged, fully with yourself and with the task in hand. Just as in meditation you need to have broad awareness and focus, so also with the task. As Sangharakshita put it "if your work is not your meditation then you meditation is not your meditation". Also as with meditation, when we work we can experience mental hindrances - anxiety, resentment, pride, impatience and so on and we need to endeavour to transform these hindrances as we work, so that we can work from mental states of goodwill and good humour. In some of the businesses people take on personal precepts and make an effort to work on their particular hindrance with the help of the rest of the team. I think this is an excellent practice. Another aspect of work as practice is taking responsibility and contributing rather than complaining and going along with this is allowing others to take responsibility.

Another very important aspect of work as practice is reflection. Every day as we work we have a great many experiences both internal and external, some more significant than others, and we need to develop the habit of reflecting on our experience. Initially we will reflect on our experience after the event - for instance we could spend some time each night before we go to sleep, bringing to mind events of the day and reflecting on their meaning. You may have had an argument with someone and been upset and now in a quieter moment you can try to see the deeper significance of that, generalising out from the specific to gain some understanding of the meaning of quarrels and even perhaps looking into what conditions give rise to such situations and perhaps relating it to the Buddha's words in the Dhammapada, "people forget that their lives will soon end. For those who remember, quarrels soon come to an end". So you can reflect in this way on all sorts of events and mental states and gradually you will become able to reflect as the event is actually happening, so that your experience more and more takes place in the larger context of the Dharma. This sort of reflection makes team-based right livelihood an insight practice.

So these are some aspects of work as practices - mindfulness, working on mental hindrances, taking responsibility and reflecting on our experience.

Now we can look at the Sangha element of team-based right livelihood. Personally, I give most importance to this element because it is so fundamental and also because it has within it the potential for unveiling reality to us. So I would say that the primary purpose of team-based right livelihood is to build Sangha - in other words to create the conditions in which we can develop friendship. This cannot of course be divorced from the other elements of team-based right livelihood, you cannot cultivate spiritual friendships without a spirit of generosity, a willingness to transform yourself and the motivation of a common spiritual aspiration. Working together in a team gives us the opportunity to get to know each other very fully. You can live with someone for years without encountering them fully, but in the work situation, where we are so dependent on each other and co-operation is essential, there is no hiding from each other.

So team work provides the ideal conditions for developing friendships. The first thing that becomes obvious in a team situation is how different we all are and then we become aware of how those differences can be allowed to be a hindrance to co-operation and friendship or how they can become the very means of co-operation. Each of us carries within our own hearts and minds conflicts and contradictions, elements that are not integrated into our overall purpose and tendencies which we are unaware of as yet. A team is similar and the task of Sangha building has to include firstly, rejoicing in merits, secondly, awareness of difficulties, thirdly ,conscious effort to change and fourthly, constantly bearing in mind the spiritual context. If we miss out on any of these four we will have problems. For instance, I have seen situations where there is a greater awareness of the difficulties and even efforts to change but the spiritual context is somewhat forgotten, which means a loss of perspective occurs or the ethical dimension of relationships is forgotten. Or you can have a situation where everyone is so focused on spiritual attainment and being good Buddhists that they avoid looking at the conflicts and contradictions, the messy bits.

Rejoicing in merits or positive feedback or praising what is praiseworthy, in short telling people that we appreciate their qualities and their actions is an extremely important aspect of Sangha. It creates the right atmosphere for all other communication and it is beneficial to both giver and receiver. Rejoicing in merits is a verbal form of generosity. It benefits the person who is praised or appreciated because feeling appreciated is a basic emotional need and it benefits the person doing the rejoicing because any generous act, whether of body, speech or mind, raises our state of consciousness.

As Dhardo Rimpoche put it, if you can't think of what to do, do something for somebody else. The solution to many of our mental or emotional difficulties lies in generosity, because the practice of generosity is expansive. So rejoicing in merits is beneficial to everyone. We can rejoice in someone by telling him or her what we appreciate or we can rejoice by telling others. The first is kindly speech, the second is harmonising speech and both are essential to Sangha building.

After rejoicing in merits we come to acknowledging difficulties. Building Sangha can be difficult, to be generous can be difficult, but these things are the essence of team-based right livelihood and they are also the reward of team-based right livelihood. If we apply ourselves courageously we can experience the happiness, joy and ease of Sangha, of deeply satisfying friendship based on mutual trust and respect. This is the reward of team work in this context. The reason why it is difficult for us to co-operate, to be generous and to trust is because we are spiritually ignorant, we do not see clearly. We cannot see ourselves or others as we really are. The tendency of our minds is to fix ourselves and to fix others with a static identity, personality and habits and this fixed view has consequences for us individually and for our relationships. You could say, that usually when we look at someone what we see is a fiction, a fiction of our own making. The more of a true individual we become the less fictional other people become, because we are less fixed and we have less need to fix them.

Three Fetters

In traditional terms then, our problem and therefore the problem of team-based right livelihood, is that we are still under the domination of the first three Fetters. So we need to undertake as a team to work at breaking through these Fetters or at least weakening them. The first three Fetters are self-view, doubt and reliance on rites and rituals as ends in themselves or as Sangharakshita puts it - habit, vagueness, and superficiality. So how can we use the work situation to breakdown these fetters and hindrances?

Self-view or habit or personality view manifests as an experience of personal limitation, often accompanied by fear or anxiety. It also manifests as difficulties in communication and as a reluctance to take responsibility for one's own mental states or for the project you are involved in.

I mentioned earlier that in some teams each individual takes on a precept, in consultation with the rest of the team, and this seems to be a good way to work on these issues. Broadly speaking we could say that people fall into two types - those who emphasise the need for harmony and those who emphasise the need for autonomy. These types have different work to do on themselves, different limitations to overcome and therefore different kinds of precept to take on. Of course there are different degrees of these tendencies and as we work to go beyond our basic tendency we gradually become more truly individual. Those who emphasise the need for autonomy fear that their sense of individuality could be swamped by the group and that they will lose their freedom of choice. As a result, sometimes they cut off from human relationships and maintain an unreasonable independence. This means that they are so busy defending this independence and self-sufficiency that they don't really connect with others and don't really come into contact with others. So those who emphasise the need for autonomy need to take on precepts that bring them into contact with others, even precepts that make them dependent on others to some degree, they need to work on developing trust. Those who emphasise the need for harmony, on the other hand, may want to belong to a group because that is seen as bringing security and a sense of identity. So they are more likely to get totally absorbed in the group to the extent of denying aspects of themselves which don't seem to conform to group norms. They tend to feel that they have no power and it is up to others, the authorities, to sort out problems and tell them what to do. So those with this tendency may need to work on taking responsibility for themselves and making their voice heard. They need to risk disapproval and they need to ask questions of themselves such as, why am I doing this? What should I do now? Do I believe what I am saying or doing? Most of us will probably recognise some elements of these tendencies in ourselves or our team-mates.

What we are aiming at his individuality which is based on confidence in ourselves and goodwill towards ourselves. Lack of confidence and self hatred affect our relationships with others and leave us distrustful and suspicious, because basically we are distrustful of ourselves.

So in working with the fetter of self-view we need to strive for self knowledge and be prepared to acknowledge our weaknesses and our strengths, our personality tendencies and our aspirations and then by bringing this self knowledge into relationship with our friends we start to go beyond the limitations imposed by our conditioning and enter into spiritual friendship.

We can gain self knowledge in the work situation by noticing our responses, to the work, to our team-mates, to the customers and reflecting on these responses, reflecting on what they tell us about ourselves. If we were irritable, for instance, we can try to probe ourselves for the real underlying causes - what is it about me that causes me to get irritable when such and such happens? Am I anxious? Do I feel unloved? Why? How can I take responsibility here? What initiative can I take to become more positive? And so on. Insight is born of such reflections. If you're satisfied with saying that I am irritable because he or she did such-and-such then you are satisfied with a state of ignorance, from the perspective of Going for Refuge.

The next Fetter is doubt or as Sangharakshita puts it vagueness. In terms of team-based right livelihood this is forgetting why you are there. It is very important to work at maintaining a bigger perspective, a higher perspective - relating your work to going for Refuge, seeing the mythic context of your work. Different teams try to do this by having rituals at the beginning and end of each day, having study groups, retreats and so on. This is excellent and works well. As well as this each individual needs to make their own connection between the day-to-day, hour to hour work and their spiritual aspirations. I mentioned mindfulness and reflection earlier in this respect. Also you can chant a mantra silently or repeat some verses which inspire you or just have a phrase or sentence to turn over in your mind. For instance when you're irritable you could say to yourself, all things are impermanent, and allow your mind to dwell on the connection between that and your irritability. Anyway the main point is to find as many ways as possible to connect your work situation with the vision of the Dharma.

The third fetter is reliance on rites and rituals as ends in themselves or superficiality. Putting yourself in a community and a team-based right livelihood situation does not ensure spiritual progress. To use Sangharakshita's phrase from the talk on community living, 'it's an opportunity not an achievement'.

So we need to be on our guard against complacency. You can have all the right conditions and still not go for Refuge. Going for Refuge involves making an effort to transform yourself. Team-based right livelihood provides an opportunity for you to do this because you are in close contact with others who also want to transform themselves. If you are in team-based right livelihood because of the money or time off or because you can't cope with the world and are looking for security, you will probably find it unsatisfactory and it certainly won't help you much to make spiritual progress. Spiritual progress comes about as a result of a conscious effort to progress spiritually, and there is no other valid reason for working in team-based right livelihood except the aspiration to spiritual development. Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels is the beginning, middle and end of team-based right livelihood. The kind of work, the profits, the routines, the difficulties are all related to Going for Refuge or should be.

Leadership and management
There is one other issue I'd like to look at before closing, even though I've probably covered it indirectly already. That is the issue of leadership and management. Some people have the notion that working in a team means that everyone is equal and everyone should have a voice in every decision. In an ideal world this might be true, but our world and our teams are far from ideal. We have a wide range of abilities, and people are also at different stages of spiritual development. This means in effect that some people will be better than others at fulfilling different tasks. One person may be good at serving customers, another at dealing with suppliers etc. But some will have a broader spread of qualities and abilities and will quite naturally take a lead. Leadership is important because it provides spiritual direction and vision and leadership of this kind should be taken by the more spiritually experienced. Effective going for Refuge needs to be at heart of our businesses. This is the essential ingredient for a successful team based right livelihood. There can only be leadership where someone is prepared to take a lead and where others are willing to co-operate. For example, I am the leader of this mandala to the extent that I am willing to fulfill that role and to the extent that others are willing to co-operate. If either my willingness or the co-operation of others were missing it wouldn't work. So I think it is useful to acknowledge the leadership in our businesses, remembering as I said that leadership is a matter of effective Going for Refuge.

Management is a different thing and is concerned with the efficient running of the business. It is best I feel if the leadership and management are combined in one person but this may not always be possible. When it's not possible then it is of the utmost importance that there is harmony between whoever has the managerial overview and whoever is spiritual leader. And the spiritual dimension has to be taken into account in all managerial decisions. The spiritual always takes precedence.

Most difficulties in team-based right livelihood are to do with communication. Difficulties in communication are an opportunity for spiritual growth. They are an opportunity for confession, apology, forgiveness and generosity.

Team-based right livelihood is a spiritual practice. You can attain insight into the nature of reality through you're wholehearted engagement with your team and work and through reflecting on your responses to that engagement.

We are seeking to transcend egotism, to go beyond self-centredness, to overcome personal limitations and to dissolve wrong views. By working with others who are similarly striving we have a precious opportunity to transform ourselves and to create ideal conditions for living a spiritual life. We can go beyond conformity and individualism to individuality. Individuality begins with making the decision to change and it is carried forward by the practices of metta and mindfulness. In team-based right livelihood these manifest particularly as generosity, co-operation and reflection. If we understand this we will have understood the spiritual significance of team-based right livelihood and if we practice generosity, co-operation and reflection we will experience for ourselves the spiritual significance of team-based right livelihood.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Triratna Buddhist Order

I am very happy with the change of name from Western Buddhist Order to Triratna Buddhist Order. The Order can now be united by the name Triratna and by the centrality of Going for Refuge to the Triratna.
The FWBO will now be called the Triratna Buddhist Community or whatever the appropriate equivalent is in other languages. This means that we are more likely to use the actual name rather than an acronym, which is a good thing I believe.