Published in Capitalism Magazine

[May 20, 2004]

Buddha Bad for Business

By Wayne Dunn

Recently 115 corporate executives paid $100 each for advice from that repository of business acumen, the Dalai Lama. The Nobel Peace Prize winning Buddhist spiritual leader addressed the execs in Irvine, CA.

Granted, attendees were probably attracted more by his celebrity than his philosophy; I doubt anyone ran out afterward and joined a monastery.

Nonetheless, for businesspeople to give such a philosophy a platform, despite how "nice" the Dalai Lama may be, amounts to spitting in their own face. It would be like professional athletes sponsoring a lecture condemning sports.

The problem isn't that Buddhist philosophy is explicitly anti-business. Worse, at root, it's anti-life.

Buddhism is based on the notion that to avoid suffering and discontentment and thereby attain "inner peace," one must rid oneself of all desires. That's all desires. "Suffering ceases with the cessation of craving" is the third "noble truth" of Buddhism. Material things then - even food, clothing and other necessities - are viewed as mere allurements. Even desiring a loving relationship or good health obstructs man's path to "Nirvana," the eternal peace.

It's hard to imagine a belief system more anti-life than that.

So where do businesspeople fit into such a philosophy? Clearly they don't. The whole purpose of business is to satisfy desires - the desires of capitalists to earn a profit and the desires of customers for goods and services. If desires are immoral, then businessmen - from computer giants to corner grocers - are guilty of serving vice.

Of course the Dalai Lama didn't connect these philosophic dots in his talk to the corporate execs. Perhaps he hasn't even connected them in his own mind. No, he simply imparted his "spiritual wisdom" by encouraging "social investing" and the like.

What's ironic is that the same breed of people responsible for lifting the West to unparalleled prosperity - businessmen - sought moral guidance from a follower of a belief-system that's for centuries resigned millions to squalor. If the Dalai Lama is really concerned about alleviating poverty, he should be the one attending lectures - by capitalists!

"Do gooders" act as though human life depends on charity. But it doesn't. It depends on productive achievement. Before a product can possibly be given away, it must first be produced. Any blasted fool can hand out canned goods to the poor. But not just anyone can build and profitably operate the canned goods factory. If it weren't for productive capitalists bent on making money over the past couple hundred year, those few people who'd be alive today would be in the same state of abject poverty that characterized pre-capitalist nations of days past and non-capitalist nations of days present.

Indeed, if human life is the standard of value, who does more to advance it - the "selfless servant" content to swab some poor wretch's fevered forehead or a scientist who actually cures the disease? Yet which type of person ends up getting the moral kudos? Who's more likely to be called a saint?

As Ayn Rand, capitalism's arch-champion, disapprovingly observed, "We praise an act of charity. We shrug at an act of achievement."

Sadly, some businesspeople are all too willing to sanction the shruggers; they don't realize the immense virtue of their own productive activities. They've been taught that morality means self-sacrifice, yet realize business is based on the opposite, on self-interest. They're unaware that there exists a rational code of ethics, one that provides a moral basis for capitalism.

And this brings me to another irony. Smack dab in Irvine, CA - where those businessmen collectively paid a monk $11,500 to tell them to be charitable - is the Ayn Rand Institute, an organization that promotes a pro-reason, pro-freedom, pro-capitalist philosophy. And while I don't speak for the ARI, I imagine its Speakers Bureau would have gladly provided a lecturer for less than what the Dalai Lama charged - with the added bonus that attendees would've been helping advance capitalism instead of undermining it.

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© COPYRIGHT 2004 by Wayne Dunn