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His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the Global Economic Meltdown

May 10, 2009

BusinessWeek
May 5, 2009

I’m a fan of the Dalai Lama thanks to the
groundwork of my spiritual adviser, Robert
Thurman, a professor of Buddhism at Columbia
University. It never occurred to me, though, that
I’d have an opportunity to meet the exiled
Tibetan spiritual leader, much less have a
personal audience with him, but that’s what
happened this morning. (The face-to-face session,
which lasted 10 minutes, was arranged by Marc
Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, who clearly has
some mojo in the Tibetan Buddhist community.)This
is BusinessWeek, so I asked the Dalai Lama about the global economic meltdown.

If you’ve read his writings or heard him speak,
you know he’s got a peaceful certainty about him
mixed with a hearty sense of humor. Meeting him
in person was for me both a calming and exciting
experience, which may sound like a contradiction, but, in this case is not.

The meeting was in his suite at the
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Now that’s a
discontinuity. Here’s this holy man dressed in
his monk’s robes in a grand relic of 20th Century
capitalism. He has a gentle handshake and
friendly, direct gaze. It seemed like he was
truly interested in me. He speaks softly, in a
natural flowing style—like water bubbling over
rocks in a stream. Every now and then, in the
middle of speaking, he makes a low moaning sound.
It reminded me of the gravel-voice Tibetan
Buddhist chanting style—like a little chant trying to get out.

I was nervous, so my note taking was even worse
than usual. It's lucky I took a digital recorder.
Here's an edited-down version of some of his comments:

--On what caused the collapse:

I’m telling people, including some businessmen
who are my friends, what this global economic
crisis was caused by too much greed, speculation,
and hypocrisy--not being transparent. These are
the moral and ethical issues. So be transparent
and honest right from the beginning.

--On the obsession with money:

There are those people who are only concerned
with money: It’s just money, money, money, money.
With such people, since the money crisis
happened, there are much disturbances. Of course,
money is important. Without money you can’t
survive. However, it is not the only measure of
value. We have other values: The happy family,
compassionate family, the family full of
affection, and the compassionate community. Those
people have much less disturbances due to this
money crisis. Therefore, this global economic
crisis reminds us you should find some other
values. Money value alone is not very certain. It’s a limitation.

--How people who have lost jobs and savings should deal with their anger:

Realistically, now, the tragedy has already
happened. Instead of more frustration and anger,
now think about other alternatives. Make an
effort. That’s better. There’s a Tibetan saying:
Nine times failure, nine times effort, without discouraging oneself.

--On the Buddhist approach to dealing with economic calamity.

According to Buddhism, these things happen due to
their own causes and conditions. Through years or
through decades this present crisis developed.
All the causes and conditions were fully ripe. No
force could stop it. It’s the natural law. So you accept it.

------

I later asked Thurman why business people should
listen to the Dalai Lama. This was his answer:
"In the new economy, after the collapse, ethics
are returning to business. Ethics keep the
customer. This is where long term prosperity lies."
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