Managing a Buddhist Organization

It is interesting that while Buddhism teaches about rebirth and impermanence, some Buddhist organizations stubbornly cling on to a man-made identity. This is especially so when leaders are deluded.

While certain practices are worth preserving because they contribute to the identity of the organization, others are better dead because they may render an organization obsolete in the modern world.

There are 2 types of leaders in an organization. The official ones who were elected into office and the unofficial ones. Unofficial leaders are members with a huge ego and they go around trying to influence events and people according to their personal deluded preferences.

All these are usually done under the excuses of preserving the Dharma. But if you examine the matter clearly, it isn’t Dharma that is being protected but the projected manifestation of some personal ego or preferences. Sometimes it is the cultural or social structure that is being fiercely guarded. At other times the leaders are simply acting out of personal delusion.

Awaken leaders are woke to changes.

They are not deluded by their personal past experience. While it is true that people learn from their past experience, it is completely different when our mind are deluded by our past experience. When that happen, we no longer see the present situation.

If we are deluded by unpleasant memories, we see a monster in every corner.

Let us recollect the story of Angulimala, Buddha wasn’t concern about the past of this notorious serial killer. Buddha recognized the potential in Angulimala. While others condemned Angulimala as a criminal, Buddha recognized that he could be changed and enlightened.

For good leadership, one shouldn’t be too caught up in the web of our past experience. Nor should we bear grudges. A “protective” leader may stop an organization from evolving because they “want the best for the organization”. Unfortunately, they are just acting on their unfounded fear or personal preference After sometime, the organization simply becomes irrelevant to the world.

Therefore, a Buddhist organization need not be just a place for meditation and chanting. Music is important, cooking classes are important (and you need not limit it to Japanese food, Thai food or Tibetan food) Likewise for floral arrangement. (you need to limit it to Japanese style or western style)

Just refer to the story of Sigalovada. He was praying to the gods of the various directions when Buddha went to teach him. Buddha did not say “You are silly in praying to the various directions.” Instead Buddha used the directions as a theme for teaching the Sigalovada Sutta.

Awaken leaders don’t fantasize.

Everyone of us are deluded by fantasy. We believe in something that may not be a reality and when these fantasies affect the way we run the organization, the organization becomes unrealistic.

One may have fantasy about people’s aspiration. For example, we may expect everyone to behave like us. (Do we expect people to volunteer for life? or to work long hours for the “holy cause”?) Or we may fantasize about the resources available. We want to achieve something but do not recognize the limitation (truth of the present situation).

A visionary leader is not someone who simply barks order and expect faithful members to break their back serving the “holy cause” That is not Buddhism at all. Just take a leaf from Buddha’s biography. When Buddha wants to get things done, he set an example for others.

The most relevant story relates to how Buddha personally cleaned the filth of a sick monk to demonstrate that members of the monastic community need to help each other.

As a Buddhist leader, do we help clean the lavatories or sweep the floor? Or do we just sit in our meeting room feeling all important?

Awaken leaders do not crave for success

Buddhist organization shouldn’t be run with the same materialistic goal as a business. It is about bring wisdom to people and touching the life of others. It is not about gaining more converts and increasing the memberships and coffers.

It is definitely not a competition against past leadership.

Instead, we should be asking ourselves. “How can we bring the wisdom of Buddha to more people?”

Again, we just need to study how Buddha did it. In some cases, he awaken a leader and that leader help to awaken more people. In other cases, Buddha walked for day and night just to reach one man or woman to share his wisdom with an individual. (a woodcutter or a hunter, a “nobody”). No discrimination at all.

In short, He is aware of the potential of each moment and extract he best outcome from each one of them. That is living in the moment. He didn’t do a growth chart to plan the numbers of “disciples to convert” Teaching one person is as important as teaching a thousand.

Therefore, when we manage a Buddhist organization, we simply have to try our best and focus on sharing the Buddha’s wisdom. There is no place for a desire to be “the best leader who brought in the most converts”.

Sharing Dharma is not sharing personal experience and preferences

We might have experienced a euphoric high during a Buddhist Choir or found peace while preparing Kimchi. That doesn’t mean every other person on Earth can only experience spiritual insight while singing or making Kimchi.

Therefore, as a leader, don’t just change an organization into a cooking studio or a choir group. Sharing Dharma is about sharing the wisdom that was born, not the circumstantial situation.

While we enjoy the sights of rows upon rows of silent meditator, a newcomer may find that intimidating. While we enjoy chanting mantra and throwing stuff into a big bon fire during a fire puja, new comer may find it a complete irrelevant act of food wastage. While we get it, others may not.

If we are serious about sharing Dharma, we cannot forget how beginners feel or think. A Dharma centre is not our personal playground. As a leader, we cannot shape the organizations’ activities according to personal preferences.

We might feel at home sitting on the floor chanting for hours but we must not forget that it may put others off and stop them from coming again.

Learn to work with others and allow other leaders to shine too. Be inclusive and welcoming.


The order may seem too tall but in reality, being a Buddhist leader is also about practicing Buddhism.

Our action represents the Buddha. I am not joking.

If we behave in an evil manner, then the organization will also be evil. Then there is nothing Buddhist about the organization anymore. One important thing to ask ourselves is, “What will Buddha do?”

If you are familiar with the detail biography of Buddha, then many answers can be found within. We may not be perfect and we may not be totally kind and compassion. But as a Buddhist leader, it is more than just us.

Our decision represents Buddhist values when it is carried out by the Buddhist organization that we lead. Therefore, instead of screaming “YOU ARE FIRED!”

Ask ourselves, what would Buddha do?

May all be well and happy.

Leadership in Buddhist organization

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