Gods and hungry ghosts

The discussion about the corporatisation of mindfulness is getting interesting. Thich Nhat Hanh has joined in the discussion during his recent visit to US where he held workshops at, among other places, Google and The World Bank. His view: that as long as business leaders practice “true mindfulness” it does not matter if the intention is triggered by a desire for bigger profits, because the practice will “open their hearts” and will develop their desire to end the suffering of others.

He goes on to say (or so it is reported) that having the wrong intention e.g. wanting lots of money, will bring about only be an “imitation” of mindfulness – “you will not have touched its true purpose”.

I can understand this but I am not sure it will prevent the self-help industry for business people offering a shallow version of the practice and for many to be satisfied with it’s limited benefits. The 7 Effective Habits of Successful People will not, I suspect, be quickly replaced by the 8 Fold Path.

Mark Leonard uses the following analogy (I paraphrase – apologise if inaccurate) “If you are throwing life rings to drowning people you do not ask their politics/intentions before rescuing them”

At the time it made me think of an old thanka (wall hanging) I have of the Buddhist “Wheel of life”. It’s a complex early teaching aid but part of it depicts the six realms of being: gods, demi gods, human, animal, hell and hungry ghosts. In each realm the Buddha is shown bring the dharma (teaching) and pointing the way off of the turning wheel.

I got to thinking that we have our own gods and demi-gods these days. Wealthy business people who wield enormous power through their companies and technologies, we have even called some of them “Masters of the Universe! Perhaps Thich Nhat Hanh was just visiting their realm and pointing the way – throwing them a life ring.

Would I prefer to keep meditation unsullied by the world and kept in monasteries. No I think not. It has and will survive misinterpretation in the past. A taste of something beautiful is a powerful thing.

Another news story caught my eye this week that I feel has some resonance. Caroline Murphy is the heir to the Murphy Group (building contractors). She took a proposal to her board to hand the company to the 3,500 staff creating a worker co-op, albeit more like John Lewis. She would have ceded her £40m personal stake in the company creating a staff share ownership scheme. The board and shareholders rejected the proposal. Caroline said she was inspired by her fathers philosophy “ you can only sleep in one bed and only wear one pair of shoes at a time” (coincidentally my own father had his own version but it involved the number of shirts you can wear)

Caroline looks like she will be working for courses outside of the business including workers rights. Here is a business woman taking brave and radical action, and giving away her wealth, to change a business. What happened .. the shareholders blocked it. Maybe they are in the realm of hungry ghosts? – beings who are never satisfied no matter how much they have or eat.