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  Life   More Features  14 Oct 2017  Threw out Buddha busts, then embraced him, says author Geetanjali Pandit

Threw out Buddha busts, then embraced him, says author Geetanjali Pandit

THE ASIAN AGE | ALFEA JAMAL
Published : Oct 14, 2017, 1:55 pm IST
Updated : Oct 14, 2017, 3:05 pm IST

The author deftly weaves into the work-field narrative Buddhist philosophies, particularly those espoused by monk Nichiren Daishonin.

The author deftly weaves into the work-field narrative Buddhist philosophies, particularly those espoused by monk Nichiren Daishonin. (Photo: Geetanjali Pandit)
 The author deftly weaves into the work-field narrative Buddhist philosophies, particularly those espoused by monk Nichiren Daishonin. (Photo: Geetanjali Pandit)

Human resources professional and life coach Geetanjali Pandit has had one hell of a conversation with one Gautam (Buddha?) in her recently-published book Buddha At Work.

The author deftly weaves into the work-field narrative Buddhist philosophies, particularly those espoused by 13th Century monk Nichiren Daishonin.

Gautam advises her how to deal with them all – stress, bad bosses, spiteful colleagues, regressive work culture, and even the pink slip.

Geetanjali’s book talks of solutions, physical and spiritual, of that one path that can lead to the end of suffering and of means to give our productive best. Look within, to face the world, she says.

Excerpts from an interview:

Has this book been inspired by any particular incident?

Not one, but many. I went through a lot – professionally and personally – after I came back from my studies abroad. But my attitude changed when I started reading, understanding and applying the principles of Buddhism to my situation.

I am a keen student of history. I was very skeptical of King Asoka’s transformation after he adopted the principles of Buddhism. I spent a lifetime at loggerheads with my father, who was a great scholar.

I am really ashamed to say that in 1989, in the midst of ongoing family problems, I believed an old wife’s tale and threw out three busts of Buddha from our home in the mistaken belief that they were unlucky and prevented folks from ‘settling down’. Now my office and my home have so many Buddha busts!

However, from 2000 onwards, when I embraced the principles of Buddhism my life, both my personal life and career saw a sea change. Having experienced the power of the principles of Buddhism to alter and to transform people’s lives, I now believe that Asoka’s transformation was equally drastic!

As a human resources professional, I saw most people suffering through their entire careers. Those who were not were the ones who were consciously and unconsciously using some (if not many) principles that could be traced back to the philosophy of Shakyamuni Buddha.

I wanted to naturally share this understanding, this approach with other people. I wanted to show that Buddhism is practical and very relevant to modern life and modern workplaces.

As my narrator in the book asks Gautam, her mentor, ‘How will you help me and what do you want in return?’

Gautam says, ‘I suggest that we go somewhere and get something cold to drink so that we can discuss how I can help you. As for what I want, I want you to help others, in turn, when you can.’

Who is Gautam in the book? Was it actually a voice who spoke to you or a real person you met? 

You know, the character of Gautam has raised so many questions! You cannot imagine the number of folks who come up to me and ask me if I can help them get in touch with Gautam. A few have also asked me if Gautam was a character in my past or someone I knew in college. I think that the curiosity is more about trying to understand whether there is actually a person like him - calm, composed, wise and deeply compassionate. But to answer your question: Well, I am Gautam. And you are Gautam.

Gautam is a guide, a mentor and coach. He’s also a way for me to make the principles of Buddhism more relatable to our modern lives.

The first nearly complete manuscript which I had written had all the principles of Buddhism in it but it was too technical and may have been difficult to follow. Then one night, I had an eureka moment and realized I could bring out the principles of Buddhism through a character like Gautam.

Plus, as I read more and more about the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, I fell under the spell of the Shakya prince.

Gautam is the guide who will take you and me through the valleys and peaks of the workplace. Gautam is the personification of both my experiences and the profound wisdom of Buddhism.

He is the combination of my research and my practice of Nichiren Buddhism for past 18 years. His wisdom is the distillation of my learnings over the years. And since the book is largely autobiographical, Gautam’s advice is also the route I took in those situations and circumstances.

Over the course of writing this book, Gautam has evolved from being a voice in my head to a friend I can turn to. Gautam has had the most positive and profound impact on the way I work now. An impact that those I work with in my coaching practice have come to depend upon and appreciate.     

Do you think women aren’t taken as seriously as men professionally? How do you think one can work around this?

I think women often lead more complex lives than men. Our lives are more complex both biologically and emotionally. Indra Nooyi said that the biological clock is totally at odds with the career cycle of women and this is so very true.

In India, our situation is worse because the urban milieu is changing fast, but without a concomitant social support structure. For instance, the number of good and reliable day care facilities is very limited, our working hours are wretchedly long.

We can no longer depend on our parents or in-laws to lend us a helping hand with managing the household or rearing our children, let alone our husbands. In our very nuclear worlds, the practical stress and strain on women is enormous. Much more than that on a man.

All this makes it tougher for women in the workplace, especially in higher paid and more professionally complex roles. So women, I think, need even more wisdom and calmness to deal with life and work situations.

There is no denying the problems that women face in any workplace but it is even more important to find solutions to those problems.

Buddha At Work offers practical solutions for the modern woman at the workplace. Because it is empowering. Because it is enabling. Because it allows us to grow and thrive.

It offers sensible and practical wisdom to deal with those seemingly complex problems that women face at their workplaces. Allowing the reader to understand and acknowledge what they are experiencing. What they are feeling. The environment that is confronting them. And, most importantly, it brings out the reader’s innate ability to influence and shape that environment positively.

These techniques shared in Buddha At Work have enabled and empowered me, as a woman in the workplace, to deal with the complex, the uncertain and the downright turbulent with greater wisdom, to always find solutions, create a support system and bring a better me to the workplace.

I am sure when women readers read this book, they will think: ‘I am not alone in this experience.’

How should one deal with toxic co-workers, as studies show that even after being reported to HR 40% people feel that the organizations do nothing about the misbehaving colleagues?

The underlying cause of toxic behavior lies elsewhere within the individual – usually in their fear, stress or unhappiness. When we experience toxic behaviour at the workplace, we are actually experiencing that underlying cause.

Though there are no easy solutions on changing others and their toxicity, there is much that we can do to grow as human beings, as colleagues and as professionals.

Our growth enables us to respond in a very different way to the same negative behavior. With a changed response (one that emanates from our better self) we are able to change the situation such that our suffering stops, options emerge and we may even be able to start a dialogue or befriend the toxic co-worker.

I share this not from some lofty, preachy point of view. I share this from the conviction of my own experiences and observation of others at my own workplaces. Buddha At Work has some of these incidents in it; how either I or others have used different ways of addressing this toxicity at work.

I’m reminded of another quote by Gautam, ‘People are not the problem, so don’t label them as such. People simply are. They may be driven by their own motivation and impulses, but these are related to their own lives and have nothing to do with that of others.’ And elsewhere as well, Gautam says, ‘You are fully empowered to decide how you should interact with others.’

That it is not easy is known to all of us. But its being difficult is NOT a statement of its impossibility.

With the help of the practices described in the book, I have learnt, over the years, to deal calmly with the toxicity of colleagues and bosses. I know I didn’t succeed all the time. But I did succeed most of the time. I did make choices that I have had cause to regret -- my chosen response to other’s toxicity could have been different -- but I never gave up on myself or even on the others around me.

After the book, my ability to choose my response rather than react from habit is way better because I am regularly and consistently working with the exercises and techniques shared in the book.

How important is it to sit down and contemplate in today’s fast paced day and age?

Precisely because our lives are so fast paced -- the breakneck speed of work and different roles that we’re required to play in our daily lives -- we need to set aside some time daily for ourselves before insanity engulfs us.

In the book, all the tips and techniques for stress management emphasize the importance, the absolute necessity of setting time aside ON A DAILY BASIS for yourself – for physical activity or exercise, for meditation or breathing exercises, for reading and the pursuit of a hobby.

It’s vital to our happiness and balance that we carve out time from our daily madness to spend a little time with ourselves.

This time-out has three facets – the first is time for the body; the second is time for communicating with ourselves and the universe -- this includes meditation, calming techniques, journaling, and me-time. The third aspect is taking time out for a pleasurable activity or hobby.

The most rare element of life today is of time, of finding time and making time.

However to lead a life of purpose, balance and happiness this is the most crucial aspect. And it’s not just me saying it.

The finest research across the globe has linked our physical and mental health and even longevity to taking time for ourselves, and making time for meditation is at top of the list.

In the course of my research, I have found the loving-kindness meditation that the Gautama Buddha used and taught to be the most practical and effective technique of meditation.

And as for finding the time to do all this, it is as Gautam says, ‘Management of time depends entirely on your own will. It depends on you. On what is important to you. Not on what you say is important to you.

You will always find time for what is an absolute priority for you. But if you haven’t learned to identify it, you will never find time for it.’

How inspired is the book from Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings?

Buddha At Work was born out of the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin but, as I have shared candidly with you, I had to shelve my first manuscript which was based entirely on the principles of Nichiren Buddhism, because that was becoming too technical.

I had to really struggle and think of ways and means to present it all in a different way. And so, in a kind of backward integration, I started my study of Shakyamuni’s life and his teachings and philosophy.

Nichiren Buddhism is based on the second last sutra of Shakyamuni’s life called The Lotus Sutra. The essential nugget of wisdom contained in this sutra is the element of appreciation and respect for self and others. This is at the heart of all Buddhist practices.

What are the 5 top tips you would give to any young working person for them to lead a better life?

Given the paucity of time available to the young working person nowadays, I will make my answer as pithy as possible:

  • Never ever start your day with surfing the Internet, answering emails, or checking WatsApp. Focus on yourself instead.
  • Set time aside for meditation and to connect with yourself.
  • Respect and appreciate your uniqueness.
  • Consciously adopt the practice of gratitude and keep with it your whole life. It is transformational.
  • Chart out and understand your own life purpose. It is truly the wind beneath your wings.

The book is published by Hachette Publishing India Pvt Ltd and priced at Rs 399.

Tags: geetanjali pandit, nichiren buddhism, shakyamuni, nichiren daishonin, buddhism, gautam buddha