Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Ambitious Buddhist

There are many, probably hundreds of thousands, of people who, like me, study Buddhism without being Buddhist. Without any desire or intention to become Buddhist. We just see wisdom in it and take on board the good stuff, without actually diving right in, as it were.

And there are those who don't approve of that, but I can't help their problems.

The point is that among us non-Buddhists who dabble in light Buddhism, and true blue lay Buddhists there are plenty of people whose goals and ambitions are not, actually, Nirvana, but success in any of a number of ostensibly material spheres. The far east is full of entrepreneurs, workaholics, and rising stars who are nevertheless good Buddhists, born into Buddhism, with a totally Buddhist outlook.

The essential difference is that for some people Buddhism is a religion. It has a supernatural element. While for others its a philosophy, and for others it's just a tool. In all cases it can and does work alongside and help towards achievements that are quite worldly.

So, a high flyer on the stock exchange could benefit from mindfulness meditation. It could benefit him in many ways, both within his career and in his personal life. In fact, I'd go so far to say he would have a distinct advantage in many and various ways over his competitors who don't meditate.


Well, when all is said and done, despite the end goal of real Buddhism being Nirvana, which is pretty obviously the opposite of business success, there's a path involved which is not the destination. And what is happening along that path are many moments. During those moments the practitioner is aiming to live fully IN the moment. To enjoy the now.

When that happens, it's actually easier to make decisions. It occurs to me that sounds illogical, but it's not. For a start, decisions can be made without fear. When a business decision has to be made, obviously it has to me made with mathematical decisions in mind, but the ethics of the decisions are clear, the objectives are clear, the angst is gone.

So, anecdote time.

Some years ago I discovered a second-hand bookshop in a small city near where I live. It was situated on the corner of a back street in a run-down area, but as is quite often the case, this made it a colourful area, with little caf├ęs and arty places. My kind of place. Malls have their uses but I prefer this.

The gentleman who owned and ran it was in his 60s and quite obviously an old hippy. When I first visited it hadn't been open very long, and he was still finding out what people wanted. He gradually added musical instruments (and ticket sales to local events), hemp clothing, jewellery, and other items, but also began to sell brand new books. Bear in mind that not far away was a mall with a chain bookstore, his selection soon rivalled them not only in quantity, but also in quality. He left the bestsellers to them and concentrated on the interesting, including esoterica, but also all manner of books you simply didn't find in in the bland mall bookstores. Plus, he still bought and sold second-hand.

Over the course of a few years his shop started to burst at the walls. And it was always busy. So one day I asked him what his secret was. He said "I believe in organic business, just let it grow the way it wants to". He also alluded to the "If you build it, they will come" concept. Essentially he believed that if you offer interesting things, customers will find you. He had faith in his business.

Then one day he had to leave. It wasn't his decision but something between the landlord and the city that I didn't really understand, but he didn't stress. He simply opened a larger shop in a town nearby. When I went to see him it was in summer and he was sitting outside in the sun chatting to people, the shop was busy, and he wasn't bothered about the browsers being unsupervised. He was there when they needed him. He said his clientele had followed him, they simply made the drive to the new location, and now he had new customers too. Business boomed.

There are many gurus on how to run a business, but he was mine. He loved what he did, and the money followed. Does that always happen? No, obviously, it isn't QUITE that simple, you do actually have to know what you are doing. But assuming you do, then this organic approach works really well, no matter what type of business it is, even if it's an airline.

And the reason it works is that business is not truly a different category to the rest of life. It's a process. The same process can be applied to painting a wall, making cookies, or catching a fish. The objective may look different, but it isn't. If you break it all down everything we do has two elements, a process, a path, a means, and then it has an objective, a goal, an end. By doing the former RIGHT we reach the latter, and then we do it all over again. In a million different ways. All the time.

Real Buddhists seek Nirvana, and if that isn't ambitious I don't know what is. It is only achieved by many moments, and by doing everything right.

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