• John Patrick Starling

Buddhism for Business Leaders - a leadership philosophy (part 2)

Buddhism for Business Leaders (part 2)

The 4 Noble Truths and Enlightened Leadership

Enlightened Leadership - Part 2

The path to Enlightenment


For the record, I wasn't there, but it has been passed down over the ages, first by oral tradition, and then written by monks, and lay people alike, that Buddha taught the path to Enlightenment through what he called "The Four Noble Truths".

 After leaving behind his crown and life of privilege as a prince, and traveling for years as a monk begging for alms, and looking for the meaning of life... he finally attained enlightenment after a long period of meditation under the Bodhi Tree in his native India.

 When asked by his brother monks with whom he'd been traveling and seeking for many years... "How'd you do that?" he laid out the following remedy for life's troubles, and the path to a more enlightened life - if not enlightenment itself.

 I'll paraphrase, lending my own interpretations, with which I realize all may not agree:


The First Noble Truth: Life is suffering

Life is suffering or, synonymously in Sanskrit, life is change.

 At almost 50 years old, I literally feel this in my bones. All things change, and suffer. My back especially, but everything.

My home gets older, and needs a new roof. The tires on my car become worn, over the many miles I travel. The mighty oak tree that grew in the back yard has become old, withered, and decrepit with age and rot, sad and untrustworthy in its ability to hold the old tire swing another season, more or less another generation.

 We suffer, because "a third of the company's fleet of vehicles have aged out, and are going to have to be replaced next year".


The Second Noble Truth: We suffer, because of attachment

Life is suffering, and we suffer, because of attachment.

It's not, because the tree fell that we suffer, or because it had to be put down. But, because of what that tree meant to us - the attachment we had to what it was for us, and would continue to be for us.

We hold onto the memories of riding the old tire swing that hung from its mighty lower limb when we were kids - and we suffer from the broken dreams, and dashed fantasies we had of our own children playing together under its magnificent boughs someday.

Perhaps we were going to building them that tree fort that we never got around to when we were younger.

 We suffer, "because our quarterly earnings reports were much lower than expected".


The Third Noble Truth: The possibility of the absence of suffering

The Third Noble Truth is the simple notion that it doesn't have to be this way - that we can live on this planet in the absence of suffering.

That is not to say that we can exist on this planet, without pain; that we will never break an arm, catch cold, or contract a disease. We certainly will. Our backs will ache with age, misuse, and lack of care - but it's important to distinguish pain, disease, and the like from "suffering". Suffering, within the context presented is more akin to grief, sadness, disappointment, longing, and the like.

 What Buddha posited in the Third Noble Truth is that it does not have to be this way. He stated that a human being can live in the absence of suffering.

Suffering is a choice.

And the path to enlightenment is founded in the understanding of the possibility of life without suffering.

But if so, how?


The Fourth Noble Truth: The path leading to the cessation of pain

The Fourth Noble Truth is predicated on accepting the previous 3 tenets: Life is suffering (change); we suffer because of our attachment to how it was (the past), or how we think it should be (the future); and it doesn't have to be that way, because we can live in the absence of suffering if we are willing to not be attached to the past or the future.


But if we simply detach from our emotional connections to the past, or the future, doesn't that just leave us empty, and directionless? No. Because, in its place goes the 4th Noble Truth: The Eight Fold Path.

It's a sort of set of directions, or an HR manual for a good life - and the end of suffering. I'll discuss The Eight Fold Path in more depth in the subsequent article, but in short... all paths lead to compassion. Compassion for yourself - and compassion for others.

The 4th Noble Truth tells us that a life without suffering requires 100% compassion for all beings, because standing from there (complete and total compassion) there is no "you" to suffer. You give that up (you) in your commitment to compassion for, and the easing of the suffering of others.

That is, insofar as we mere mortals are concerned, the height of compassion. That is a Buddha.

And it's an ideal example of Enlightened Leadership (and the path to it) - and one that you can probably talk about safely in the workplace, because Buddhism is a philosophy - not a religion.

If your path of compassion is total and complete in each moment, for yourself, and for all beings, you may in fact attain enlightenment. Maybe someday they will sell statues of you at Target, or place them on the counter in a restaurant so people can rub your belly for good luck, but if not it's OK. You and the world will be better for your transformation, none the less.


If you don't attain Enlightenment, it's okay. You're okay. Everything is okay.

Simply being engaged in a conversation for compassion - with yourself, and those around you will make you a more enlightened leader, and it will bring about more compassion in others, as they reflect your compassion back to you.

It will make your job as a leader easier, your vision and consciousness clearer, because you acknowledge your own suffering and that of others, you realize where it comes from, and that it doesn't have to persist - and, as a habit of mind you ask yourself in every instance "what is the most compassionate action I can take among the options available to me, and still reach the result" - before you act.