Lately I’ve been doing a little reading and research in Buddhist literature and philosophy. At the core of Buddhist thought is the achievement of personal wisdom and the practice of ethical conduct.
Buddhism argues that the world is imperfect, that life is full of suffering and that human nature is flawed. Nevertheless, our goal as rational and spiritual creatures is to accept the imperfections of reality, overcome our limitations and try to create a self that is free from the false illusions of success and the deadening effects of fear, frustration, disappointment and depression.
My reading of this venerable tradition is that life is a journey of suffering and self-improvement. We must find a middle way between self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism) to achieve contentment. The goal laid out by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) is the achievement of the “Noble Eightfold Path.”
1. Right View
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration
At its core the “Eightfold Path” is, in essence, a prescription for ethical conduct with others. In an imperfect world full of suffering and toil each of us must try to find a way to live with others. The “Eightfold Path” exhorts us to free ourselves of false illusions, to detach ourselves from false decisions, to overcome selfishness, to pursue charity and good will, to avoid cruelty and violence, and to develop a deep compassion for those we live with and love.
It seems to me that the essence of Buddhist thought can be easily rolled into the ethos of this Christmas season. Both positions, by different means, are advancing the same issues and outcomes: an undistorted view of reality; personal serenity, right conduct and charity, peace on Earth; and, lest we forget, the true purpose of the season — “goodwill to all.”
Al Gini is a Professor of Business Ethics and Chairman of the Management Department in the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago.