Where you least expect it
What's one of the most interesting aspects of the Wharton School? Vipassana meditation
'At The Wharton
School MBA Program, University of Pennsylvania, I learned many interesting things, but the one that I value the most was something
I never imagined I would discover at one of the world's most respected business schools - recognised in particular for its
hard-core financial prowess. That thing was meditation!"
The speaker was Matthew Chapple, the general manager
of Mead Johnson, a major local consumer products company, itself part of a large international group. And the meditation thing
he was talking about, and on which he would later expand with much enthusiasm, was Vipassana meditation.
The reputation for The Wharton
School for most people is the effectiveness of its financial curriculum. In fact, I'm quite surprised to know that Vipassana
meditation is available as part of the curricula of this most prestigious of business schools. If it was not for the recent
occasion that I was invited to share my thoughts and experience with 400 of Mead Johnson's management and staff at a mid-year
conference in Bangkok, I would not have discovered this knowledge.
With rising enthusiasm Matthew explained, "The school
has a wonderful leadership programme under the guidance of Professor Michael Useem who is known for his innovative methods
which, among other things, include taking a group of students to the Himalayas each year
on a quest for personal awareness and self-discovery. The half day mindfulness course I attended was part of this programme.
"I went along suspecting that meditation might be something
that could help me develop some genuine inner peace and calm to enable me to more adequately cope with the increasing pressure
of corporate life and, more importantly, to be a good father and husband.
"The session I attended was led by young business graduate
Andrew Scheffer who had earlier spent several years as a Theravada Buddhist monk. I was captivated from the very start of
the session by the simple, practical idea that life should be lived 'in the present moment' rather than spent dwelling on
the past or anticipating the future. Andrew led us through a basic mindfulness meditation technique and I experienced a rare
sense of calm. I was hooked."
Here's another interesting account of the same programme:
"With self-awareness as its main theme, the event sought
to develop new methods for participants to hone their inward focus in order to become more effective leaders. Meditation was
the primary practical skill emphasised to develop self-awareness, the benefits of which - the ability to observe one's behaviour,
recognise the impact of one's actions on others and reduce stress - strengthens a leader's abilities to motivate others and
work with teams."
In his much appreciated keynote speech, Bill George addressed
the current crisis in corporate leadership frankly, by drawing a connection to a lack of inner balance and well-defined values
among the current vintage of senior leaders. Questioning the philosophy championed by Gordon Gecko, "greed is good," Bill
George challenged the audience to examine their own motivations in the business world and develop long-term goals which do
not segregate work and life into two exclusive categories. Bill also encouraged the audience to develop their own "authentic"
leadership style as opposed to emulating the popularly touted styles of existing executives. He brought in several examples
from his work and personal life to highlight the key messages and drive home various points. Bill closed by challenging the
audience to be part of a new wave of corporate leadership to replace the current bankrupt generation.
"A new wave of corporate leadership." Now that's something
this column would certainly encourage, providing such a new wave is driven by "hard-core" (as in fundamental) Buddhist principles
based on the Five Precepts and motivated by Loving Kindness and Compassion.
Loving Kindness and Compassion in the cynical and sometimes
brutal world of business where profit rules supreme and being ruthless is seen as the prerequisite for success? Yes, why not?
Recent high profile scandals and corporate failures surely suggest that the "Nothing personal, it's only business," approach
doesn't work. So it's great that some businessmen whose feet are already on the beckoning rungs of the corporate ladder should
be encouraged to discover their "inner selves." It's even more important, though, that they do it for the right motives and
not see their new found meditation skills as just another addition to their corporate success bag of tricks.
Here's what the Dalai Lama had to say recently to another
group of business students as he urged them to avoid seeking happiness in wealth and power, and instead to have compassion
and a wide perspective, for then "no matter what you are, rich or poor, it creates a very warm atmosphere."
One of the main problems in this world of 6 billion people,
the Dalai Lama said, is the false concept that we are independent from one another.
"The concept of 'we' exists, so does the concept of the
destruction of 'them,' the destruction of the other side," he said. "It is very important to promote that we are all from
humanity. It is very important you make an effort to understand that your future depends on others; that the individual future
depends on society." To find true happiness, one must have genuine compassion for "all creatures," and to see other human
beings as "brothers and sisters," he said.
Matthew Chapple for one seems to understand the importance
of getting it right.
"At our business here in Thailand we have begun in a small way with company assisted meditation retreats
built into the personal development plans for some of our key talent. We also incorporate meditation into our team meetings
as team building activities to help develop mindfulness and give people a taste for new techniques and tools that can help
them in their business and personal lives.
"The principles align nicely with the type of business
I want to be a part of and the way I want my team to operate. Things like compassion, perspective, concentration, focus, self
awareness and steadiness are key tenets of truly great leadership and consistent with what the top business schools and leadership
experts are teaching."
Here are a final few words of encouragement from His
Holiness the Dalai Lama to Matthew Chapple and all those other potential students of meditation from the world of business.
"If humanity is to survive, happiness and inner balance
are crucial. Otherwise the lives of our children and their children are more likely to be unhappy, desperate and short. Material
development certainly contributes to happiness - to some extent - and a comfortable way of life. But this is not sufficient.
To achieve a deeper level of happiness we cannot neglect our inner development."