The Buddhist Contribution to Good Governance: Ajahn Brahm 2008

Buddhist Good Governance

On 11 May 2015 I had the privilege of attending the Thai IOD special event “Dhamma Talk on Corporate Governance”. The keynote speaker was a Buddhist Monk, Ajahn Brahmavasmo Mahathera, commonly known as Ajahn Brahm. Ajahn is a title approximately equivalent to “Professor”.

I found Ajahn Brahm’s presentation and discussion to be enjoyable, entertaining, and enlightening. He is a gifted speaker, clearly very intelligent and well versed in Buddhist philosophy and wisdom, and also very outgoing and engaging. During his presentation I kept regretting that I had come unprepared to take notes, as he had shared so many valuable insights on enlightened leadership.

Fortunately, Ajahn Brahm’s insights into Buddhist Governance have been published in a delightful short book format “The Buddhist Contribution to Good Governance”. The book, which is only 29 pages long, summarizes the Buddhist contributions to good governance, based on the Buddhist monastic code and other Buddhist principles, for three modern categories of governance: Leadership Skills, Decision Making, and Problem Solving.

Ajahn Brahm discussed Leading by Example, Leadership with Authority, and Leadership through Kindness. I was especially interested in the three types of authority: Conferred Authority, Inherent Authority, and Assumed Authority. Conferred authority (elected to govern) and Inherent authority (merits authority through superior knowledge or abilities) are the only legitimate forms of authority. Assumed authority (governance seized through force or contrivance) lacks legitimacy and is therefore always unstable.

It is a core responsibility of a leader to make decisions. Ajahn Brahm explained the Buddha’s teachings concerning decision-making, to ensure that one is not  acting out of self interest, ill will, delusion, or fear. He explores the details of each type of decision-making fault, and offered guidance to avoid these traps.

Finally, Ajahn Brahm provided guidance to be a wise problem-solver, by giving feedback, taking feedback, and creating a meaningful agenda.

Ajahn Brahm describes the Buddhist Sangha as the “oldest multinational corporation in the world”, and that he is therefore the “Managing Director” of the Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth and the “CEO” of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. As I was reading his book, and previously when I listened to his presentation to the Thai IOD, I was intrigued and impressed with his ability to bridge the gap between the spiritual and philosophical world of the Lord Buddha and the secular world of Corporate Governance. I am convinced that a modern business leader or manager should definitely add these tools to his or her leadership toolbox, and to use them frequently and wisely.

Ajahn Brahm was born in London in 1951, received a bachelor’s degree in Theoretical Physics from Cambridge University, and became a high school teacher. In 1974 he came to Thailand and was ordained as a Buddhist Monk at Wat Saket. He subsequently spent nine years studying and training in the forest meditation tradition under the Venerable Ajahn Chah.

In 1983 Ajahn Brahm was invited to help establish a Buddhist forest monastery near Perth, Western Australia. Today he is the Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Serpentine, Western Australia, in addition to holding several other spiritual leadership positions in Buddhist societies in Australia and Singapore.

Frank T.

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