Buddhism meets business

By Bianca Bartz, Editor in Chief at SocialBusiness.org

For the longest time I wondered how I could do good in the world, while still earning a good living. Was that even possible? Would my yoga practice be my way of contributing to peace and kindness, and volunteering on the side be my way to give back?

(CC) narsul-the-elf via Flickr

No. That wouldn’t be good enough. As soon as I made the decision I would find a way to do both — to feed my entrepreneurial spirit and my desire to make a positive difference in the world — I stumbled upon the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, his formula to escape suffering. What stood out for me was #5, the Path of Rightlivehood.

In its most obvious definition, rightlivehood means we earn our livelihood the right way. But what is right? According to the Buddha, the right way is one in which no harm is done to others, nor to the planet. While he broke it into doing no harm to living being (like prostitution, slaughtering animals, dealing weapons) and not selling harmful substances (like alcohol, drugs), his main premise was that we should not create more suffering.

Wouldn’t the Buddha love the idea of Social Business? And B Corporations? Companies that aim to meet the triple bottom line — people, planet, profit? And what would he say about the booming popularity of social innovation studies at major universities like Stanford and Harvard? It makes me smile.

Thich Nhat Hanh

In 1998, in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Vientamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:

“To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others.”

And those are exactly the types of businesses we feature on SocialBusiness.org. Not only do they not induce any harm on others, but they actually benefit society and/or the environment.

As I started learning more about social enterprise, and reading about the social entrepreneurs who were building incredibly cool companies while doing good, I was overjoyed to see example after example of successful companies making huge, positive impacts. For these people, the better business runs, the more good is done.

And once I realized that, there was no going back.

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