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Right Livelihood is an important aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha encouraged his followers to engage in compassionate activity, and to make their living in a way that does not cause harm and that is ethically positive. But what does that look like in today’s world? How do we engage with work as Buddhists, and what are the options if you want to work with other Buddhists? The idea behind the “Building a Buddhist Business” workshop held recently at the London Buddhist Centre was to explore these issues and come up with some practical answers!
Sanjay Poyzer, one of the organisers of this event, writes about how it went and what might come next:
“What we do for work is one of the biggest decisions we need to make in our lives. We all know the kind of impact it can have on our mental states, and it can also be one of the biggest ways we make a difference in the world.
We’ve got a history of integrating spiritual practice into work in Triratna, with a whole host of “team-based right livelihood” projects across the world. But what does the future look like for Buddhist businesses? That was the question on my, and my friend Joris’, mind when we came up with the idea for the Build a Buddhist Business day at the London Buddhist Centre (LBC). As Jnanavaca said in his talk which opened the day: starting a business is hard, but if our motivation is right, it’s the exact kind of self-transcendence we need to move towards Enlightenment.
Both Joris and I have experience in the start-up world, where everybody wants to be the next Facebook or Uber. New startups often come out of day events called “Hackathons”, where strangers are brought together into teams around new ideas. They’ll elaborate on these ideas over the course of the day, and often pitch them at the end to investors. I actually started a business in exactly this way a few years ago.
So we decided to see if the format would work at the LBC, with less focus on tech, and more on creating viable businesses that were really Buddhist. We weren’t sure if the idea would be particularly popular, but it really was! More than 60 people showed up on the day, many coming from outside of London. After being inspired by talks by Jnanavaca, plus Gabi talking about New View Letting Agents and Abhayanandi about Lama’s Pyjamas, the Centre was alive with energy and excitement as people started pitching their ideas and forming teams. We had everything from a Buddhist ethical management consultancy, to a support service for women experiencing the pain of losing a baby.
To help people develop their ideas, we expanded on the Business Model Canvas, an established idea in the startup world, to create a Buddhist Business Model Canvas. This gave participants a format to think through all the core aspects of their business - costs, customers and so on, whilst also considering how it helps deepen their going for refuge and practice generosity.
The day ended with a feedback session with our esteemed panel of investors: Suryagupta, chair of the LBC; Amalavajra, co-founder of FutureDharma Fund; Keturaja, chair of Windhorse Trust, and Milly, an associate at Bethnal Green Ventures, Europe’s leading early stage ‘tech for good’ venture capitalist firm. An absolute wealth of experience! This was an opportunity to hear how experts responded to their ideas and what kind of questions they have for them, but also to make contact with people who might help them, either financially or otherwise.
In the end there were twelve teams pitching to the panel, with some really exciting work being proposed. The panel made insightful comments about who the customers might really be, what might be more expensive or difficult than assumed, and how the ideas could be taken forward. There was lots of rejoicing as well as constructive critical feedback - really showing our community at its best as we support each other to create projects that help the world.
After such a successful day, we’re now talking about what we do next. Our plan is to run another day the LBC later this year with a follow-up course for people to continue developing their ideas. We’re also talking to other Triratna Buddhist centres about how we might support them to do similar things.
We ended the day with the transference of merit and self-surrender, from the Sevenfold puja, which really underlined what Buddhist businesses can offer the world that’s different: “So may I become that which maintains all beings situated throughout space, so long as all have not attained to peace.”
Read more about Right Livelihood
Watch Jnanavaca’s talk ‘Why build a Buddhist business?’
Gabi Thesing talking about New View Residential
Abhayanandi speaks about Lama’s Pyjamas
Recording of the Dragon’s Den and pitches
Visit the Jobs, Volunteering and Communities space on The Buddhist Centre Online