By N.K. Singh
Literally, Zen means a tranquil focusing of the mind through meditation, concentration or dhyana. It is a synthesis of the inner and outer reality fusing into a spontaneous flow of mind. Often, the actions of Zen masters appear quixotic. But their thoughts and actions are actually in tune with cosmic forces
WHAT IS ZEN?
A man comes to Bodhidharma with this question: ‘Why is my mind so restless? How can I set it at peace?’
Bodhidharma: ‘Show me your mind and I will put it at peace.’
Man: ‘But when I search for my mind, I do not find it.’
Bodhidharma: ‘See, I have already put it at peace.’
This parable gives the simple message that if you cannot identify your own mind, how can it be restless. This is the essential beauty of Zen—a simple and direct understanding of life and your environment. It is as if the mind is directly linked to the creative forces of life and the Zen monk’s chi or prana or élan vital gushes forth to reach its quintessence.
To achieve this simplicity of thought and action, you need to cultivate a mind through discipline, shedding greed and selfishness of the ego and relate yourself to the elements. This kind of harmony is not a result of any religious experience as there is no religious or moral code involved in the tranquility and joy of living in consonance with the changing universe.
Firewood does not become ashes and life does not become death
Just as the winter does not become the spring
Every moment of time is self-contained and quiescent
This saying of Dogen, a great Zen master, is the essence of Buddhism, modified in time not only in its metaphysical meaning but also as a way of living. Zen could be painting, writing poems, swordsmanship or just sitting still. Zen is liberating the mind from convention and opening the doors of creativity. It is a revolt against bondage as Buddhism is averse to any convention. There is nothing sacred in Zen.
I quote from the Cheng-tao Ke:
Like the empty sky it has no boundaries,
Yet it is right in this place, ever profound and clear
When you see to know it, you cannot see it
You cannot take hold of it
But you cannot lose it
In not being able to get it, you get it
When you are silent, it speaks;
When you speak, it is silent.
The great gate is wide open to bestow alms,
And no crowd is blocking the way
The Zen school of Buddhism was established in China by Bodhidharma around sixth century AD. His teachings were later transmitted to Hui-kyo. After Hui-kyo Zen split into two versions—northern and southern, representing the Universal Mind and the Empty Mind schools of thought.
The essential philosophy of emptiness in Zen was based on the Indian Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna’s shunyata. One manuscript of Nagarjuna’s works, written two millennia ago, was carried into China by a Chinese traveler. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, in his Discovery of India has described Nagarjuna’s philosophy of shunyata thus:
‘Shunyata is relativity. Everything, being relative and interdependent, has no absoluteness by itself. Hence it is shunya. On the other hand, there is something entirely beyond the phenomenal world and hence it is referred to as tathata or suchness. This absolute has also been called shunyata.’
Zen was, therefore, a result of the synthesis of the best of Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist philosophies. In China the term Zenis written as Chan. Actually, Chan-na is the phonetic rendering of the Sanskrit dhyana.
The Empty Mind school concentrated on acquired naturalness. One Zen master, His-yun, said that all deeds are essentially impermanent. To cultivate yourself through deeds is to misunderstand Buddha’s idea and waste time and effort. For spiritual growth, therefore, do your duty without any deliberate effort or motivation. According to this teaching, spiritual cultivation does not require special acts, such as ceremonies and prayers of an institutionalized religion. You should simply try to act with detachment, not worrying about results.
The whole approach of Zen is an effort to pass from delusion to enlightenment, live an ordinary life and do what everyone does but with a sense of detachment. Enlightenment, thus, becomes an achievable goal for all human beings and you don’t need to have a saintly aura or halo around you.
ZEN IN MANAGEMENT
On the face of it, Zen and management may seem irreconcilable, especially since so much has been propounded by Zen masters against motivated behavior and achievement of results. This difference is, however, merely of focus and is otherwise illusory. Even the Bhagavad Gita has emphasized the spontaneity of right conduct without regard of results. Clearly, the root of all these philosophies is based on a deep feeling for simply doing things rather than doing things for a bargain or for mercenary aims. Researches conducted in the in the Western world has also shown that most successful economies do not consider monetary gains as their sole objective.
A Zen master also works and acts. Zen is not a philosophy of complete idleness or escapism. Many Zen masters were also excellent poets, writers and even swordsmen. According to tai chi chuan, a martial arts expert reacts not in a personal manner but according to the natural law.
He aims to use the power of the universe itself. Every movement of the martial arts expert is deeply conscious. The spirit is at ease and the body quiet. The art of swordsmanship, like any other martial art, follows the principle of concentration, an empty mind, relaxation, balance, rhythm and suppleness. It brings the physical, mental and spiritual energies together as an undivided whole. This is, in essence, cultivating non-cultivation. The fact that Zen stems from a degree of concentration reflects the need to interject focusing powers and build up inner strength that moves and works in harmony with the higher cosmic order. This process demands a lot of synergy and attention. No manager can be successful unless he pays attention to priorities and is clear in his direction. The entire concept of strategic management is based on operationalizing the focusing of mind. The problem lies in choosing the right direction.
Recent studies in management strategies have revealed that profit alone is not the be-all and end-all of an organization. The strategic direction of management really pertains to focusing the mind of managers. The mechanistic framework of an organization and its resources are mere materials to be manipulated or utilized by the direction of its people’s minds. Those who talk of software, hardware, competitive strategies, learning organization, or self-organization are really referring to new directions of the mind. At the same time, they are also referring to a change in focus. By employing a focused mind, you become aware of new paths. And, finally, this becomes a natural way of behavior and action for a manager.
Every organization needs to energize its people. In doing so, it converts its inner strengths and draws within to finally act with boundless energy, completing tasks without appearing unnecessarily stressed. It binds the inner and outer strengths of its people and marshals the energy into completing tasks the natural way. Such an energizing also entails self-mastery and self-regulation.
Developing new choices, alternatives and options, building new linkages between hitherto unlinked forces of nature leads to a high degree of creativity. Zen art and poetry represent this principle in abundance. As technologies become similar and accessible to all, excellence is rapidly becoming a creativity-based feature. Similarly, the world market will respond favorably to more creative strategies and aesthetic principles. Of late, poetry and art are gaining importance in management schools as subjects of study. Department stores and large enterprises are using aesthetics to embellish their surroundings and create an Ambiance for innovative thinking.
The future will not demand different people to do things the same way. Rather, there will be increasing emphasis on the same people doing things differently. Zen teaches you to challenge conventions, live according to your own beliefs and create your own vision. Each moment of time is self-contained and here the principle of flux, the basic premise of all Zen thought, lends the required strength.
In management, we talk of the ability to stand apart and provide a right sense of reality. Organizations will become effective only if they are able to build a correct map of reality, both internal and external, and respond to the changed situation. It is impossible for any manager to be obsessive and biased in his emotional appraisal and yet build a right picture of reality. You have to detach yourself. This does not mean being indifferent but implies rising above the situation. Think objectively, appraise your strengths and weaknesses and chart out future opportunities and threats. A manager has to continuously think of his time, inner resources and strategic environment objectively in order to develop adaptable strategies for today’s fast-developing world. To do so, you must have a deeper awareness of the value of detachment and right perception.
A leader of an organization has to develop sensitivity and avoid greed. Management is concerned with the art of creating wealth. But the problem lies in the retention and greed for wealth. An organization leader must have a value system based on the four principles of dharma (cosmic order), artha (wealth), kama (love) and moksha (liberation). This will help him understand the multidimensionality of the task at hand as well as the essential human concern of an organization, which is not a mere conglomerate of material and power.
A leader must live in tune with the organization and the cosmic world where interdependence, networking and awareness of being part of the whole are vital. An effective manager of the future will see his role as a cosmic performer, part of the flux that flows through business and life, and finally discover joy for himself as well as others in society.
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