The wise and moral man
Shines like a fire on a hilltop
Who does not hurt the flower.
Such a man makes his pile
As an anthill, gradually
Grown wealthy, he thus
And firmly binds his friends
To himself.
--Singaalovaada Sutra

"Buddhist principles can help cut inventory and reduce supply chain costs."That advice was recently published in an information-technology trade magazine. And while the Buddha might not have had surplus equipment in mind when he advised his followers to reduce their attachments, it is a sign of just how far Buddhist teachings are reaching into the mainstream--even into the dog-eat-dog world of business.

Set the Day for Success

Buddhist monk and former diamond executive Michael Roach offers an ancient Buddhist strategy for spiritual--and professional--success.

A dozen books on Buddhism and business currently occupy bookstore shelves, a steady stream of conferences are being held on the topic, and an army of consultants has stormed the corporate trenches spreading the doctrine of mindfulness in the boardroom. The message: The Buddha never said profit was a dirty word.

"If I'm trying to be a compassionate Buddhist, how do I run the human resources department of my company? What is compassion when I have to fire someone?"

"Right livelihood [not doing work that causes harm to self or others] is a tenet of Buddhist practice, but that doesn't mean we should all be social workers," says Chuck Slotkin, a New York investment banker. "Being a Buddhist is not taking a poverty vow, but it's also not being an avaricious a--h--e and stabbing people in the back."

Mindfulness is the key element of Buddhism that many practitioners say they bring to their business lives. But it isn't always easy."I hear many business people say, 'If I'm trying to be a compassionate Buddhist, how do I run the human resources department of my company? What is compassion when I have to fire someone?'" reports Andy Ferguson, an investment adviser who is organizing a Buddhism and business conference next year that will be attended by the Dalai Lama.

"I find it a daily challenge to incorporate the dharma into the rough and tumble world I work in," observes Austin political consultant Glenn Smith, who has worked with such clients as former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. "I can easily fall into the trap of the competitive world and start beating my chest like the guy across the table."

"It's not like I'm pure and morally or ethically better than someone at a big Wall Street firm when it comes to money," agrees Slotkin, a volunteer director at the New York Shambhala Center. "All I know is that if I practice regularly, everything is more workable. But does that guarantee my deals are going to close? No, I have to be out in the world."

Many practitioners find that their more-measured, aware approach to business is no longer as alien as it once was. A small army of consultants is quietly incorporating Buddhist practices into American corporate life under a variety of other labels. Lama Surya Das, a well-known American teacher of Tibetan Buddhism and Beliefnet columnist, calls it "stealth Buddhism."

The approach is reflected in Jon Kabat-Zinn's mind-body workshops for corporate executives, the spiritually aware management systems of MIT's Peter Senge, and vipassana teacher Mirabai Bush's work with corporations like bio-tech giant Monsanto.

"Basically, we're teaching insight, mindfulness, and metta [loving-kindness] meditation, but we're not teaching Buddhism," explains Bush, whose Center for Contemplative Mind in Society coordinates programs on 75 college campuses that incorporate contemplation into professions from architecture to science--and even includes a program at West Point military academy.

"Many people fear that when you teach meditation in a business setting--particularly around a business making controversial products--you're increasing their efficiency," she acknowledges. "Our hope is that by offering an environment of awakening and trust, as people grow in the practice they will see more clearly what they are doing and make wholesome choices."