Buddhism has always accepted the truth that happiness is an essential part of ethics, but then again, the world has changed significantly since the time Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha walked the earth. Buddhism believes that the mind leads all kinds of actions. And to be honest, after working in the business world for over 30 years, the following five precepts seem at times … ah … a little lacking:

  1. Do not kill
  2. Do not steal
  3. Do not indulge in sexual misconduct
  4. Do not make false speech
  5. Do not take intoxicants

For instance, precept 3 states not indulge in sexual misconduct.  Yet I have seen numerous cases where business leaders have conducted sexual discrimination on a day-in-day-out basis.  Still, when I compare these against the Buddhist precepts, discrimination or harrassment, specifically in and of themselves do not have a true fit. Pardon an old pun, “… like putting a round peg into a square hole.” The peg can fit, but it won’t be pretty.

An old Buddhist teacher practiced the belief that one must produce one’s own benefit first, because if everyone could bring about his or her own benefit, the result would also benefit others and society as a whole. But to contrast that, I relive the following story:

Many years ago, in a business room of company executives I attended, a Chief Executive Officer told the Vice President of Human Resources, “If our company hires someone from a poorer neighborhood, we should pay them less. Since they reside in a poor area, the cost of the employee’s standard of living isn’t as high.”

In my first person account listed above, the first precept doesn’t quite fit since its ethical core is based upon not physically harming someone. Yet, in truth, discrimination does harm, if not physically. Pay inequality of this nature tends to be rather illegal (if proved) and in some cases, while not illegal, highly unethical. In business, I am constantly fighting the ‘not illegal, but highly unethical.’ I absolutely detest these practices, but I cannot simply ignore their existence either.

Since I cannot put my head into the sand and forget the world, I recognize human beings must inevitably be involved in material things, because their lives are naturally dependent on them. We must have material things like food, clothing, dwelling places and medicine in order to live. Since human beings have to be involved in material things, they inevitably have to be involved in one economic system or another.

Thus, for me, the best essence of the concept of producing benefit according to Buddhism lies in that benefit leading to happiness both for oneself and for others benefit is received not only by oneself and not only by others. Thus the Buddhist idea of creating benefit refers to a harmonizing of the interests of the individual and society.

I believe that we, as leaders, must look after the people dependent on us, such as employees and their families, participate in social services that run our society and help support the dissemination of a better life for all.

Unfortunately, we can’t expect it to be easy.