Is corporate meditation bad for Buddhism?

Courtesy of Hari Om Yoga Vidya School via Creative Commons

Harvard Innovation Lab is offering an interesting new resource to students hoping to launch their own businesses someday. The lab, which dispenses entrepreneurship advice, now provides a meditation adviser, as well, according to The Harvard Crimson.

This announcement makes sense within the broader context of the business world. Companies such as Google and Aetna have long offered employee mindfulness programs.

But does it make sense for Buddhism, which inspires modern, secular meditation practices?

Buddhist leaders answer that question differently. Some believe religions must evolve to stay relevant in new contexts, while others say meditation shouldn’t be aimed at improving a business’s bottom line.  

This edition of ReligionLink explores the rise of mindfulness in the business world and highlights people who can help you cover meditation in many forms.

Related research

Background reading

U.S. sources

  • Hugh Byrne

    Hugh Byrne directs the Center for Mindful Living, a meditation community in Washington, D.C. He is also a teacher for Insight Timer, a meditation app for smartphones.

    Contact: 301-649-9090.
  • Erik Dane

    Erik Dane is an associate professor of management at Rice University. He specializes in the study of organizational behavior and has researched the effectiveness of workplace mindfulness programs.

  • Richard Davidson

    Richard Davidson is a professor of psychology and psychiatry and director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has studied the brain activity of meditators and since 1992 has collaborated with the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monks to study the effect of meditation on mental activity.

  • Nalika Gajaweera

    Nalika Gajaweera is a research associate and anthropologist with the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. She studies Buddhism, transnationalism and religious innovation, and she’s written about the mindfulness movement in the U.S.

  • David Gelles

    David Gelles is the author of Mindful Work, which is about meditation in the business world. He is also a business reporter for The New York Times and mindfulness practitioner.

  • Wakoh Shannon Hickey

    Wakoh Shannon Hickey is an assistant professor of religious studies at Alfred University in New York. She serves as co-chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Buddhism in the West unit.

  • Jon Kabat-Zinn

    Jon Kabat-Zinn is the executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He also leads the school’s stress reduction clinic and offers training on mindfulness and stress reduction.

  • Jaime Kucinskas

    Jaime Kucinskas is an assistant professor of sociology at Hamilton College in New York. She studies religion, inequality and the mainstreaming of Buddhist meditation, and she recently published The Mindful Elite, which is about the elite leaders behind the mindfulness movement.

  • Ellen Langer

    Ellen Langer is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, where she researches mindfulness, social cognition and well-being. She also leads the Langer Mindfulness Institute.

  • Janice L. Marturano

    Janice L. Marturano is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, which offers mindfulness training to people in the business world. Arrange an interview through Peter Thompson, the organization’s managing director.

  • David L. McMahan

    David L. McMahan is a religious studies professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and editor of Meditation, Buddhism and Science and Buddhism in the Modern World.

  • Scott A. Mitchell

    Scott A. Mitchell is a professor of Buddhist studies and dean of student and faculty affairs at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, Calif. He also serves as co-chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Buddhism in the West unit.

  • Elizabeth Prather

    Elizabeth Prather leads the Prather Group, which offers mindfulness training to business leaders and organizations.

  • Charles S. Prebish

    Charles S. Prebish is a professor emeritus of religious studies at Pennsylvania State University. He is a co-founder of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and can speak about the development of Buddhism in North America and the way the internet has been used to connect Buddhists worldwide.

  • Ronald Purser

    Ronald Purser is a professor of management at San Francisco State University, where he researches corporate mindfulness programs and the challenges of introducing mindfulness training into secular settings. He is an ordained Zen dharma teacher.

  • Clifford Saron

    Clifford Saron is a research scientist at the University of California, Davis’ Center for Mind and Brain. He studies the effects of long-term meditation on the brain.

  • Judith Simmer-Brown

    Judith Simmer-Brown is a professor of Buddhist studies and chairwoman of the department of religious studies at Naropa University, a college founded in the Buddhist tradition in Boulder, Colo. She can speak about American Buddhism and about Buddhist-Christian dialogue.

  • Daniel Stuart

    Daniel Stuart is an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of South Carolina. He is a scholar of South Asian religions, literary cultures and meditation traditions who specializes in the texts and practices of the Buddhist tradition.

  • Chade-Meng Tan

    Chade-Meng Tan became famous for launching and leading the Search Inside Yourself mindfulness course at Google for his fellow employees. He now leads the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute and writes and speaks about the value of mindfulness training.

  • Kassi Underwood

    Kassi Underwood is a meditation adviser for Harvard Innovation Lab, where she offers spiritual counseling to students. She is also pursuing her master’s at Harvard Divinity School. Arrange an interview through the contact form on her website.

  • Pamela Winfield

    Pamela Winfield is an associate professor of religious studies at Elon University. She has written about the rise of nonreligious Buddhism in the U.S.

  • Diana Winston

    Diana Winston is the director of mindfulness education at the University of California, Los Angeles Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. She has taught mindfulness practices for more than 25 years and published Fully Present: The Science, Art and Practice of Mindfulness in 2010.

International sources

  • Andrew Hafenbrack

    Andrew Hafenbrack is an assistant professor of business at Catolica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, Portugal. He researches the effectiveness of workplace mindfulness programs.

  • Damien Keown

    Damien Keown is a professor emeritus of Buddhist ethics at Goldsmiths, University of London. He has a particular interest in the ethics of medicine and biotechnology.

  • Kim Lam

    Kim Lam is an associate research fellow at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia. She has written about the transformation of Buddhist meditation into a secular mindfulness practice.

  • Jinwol Y.H. Lee

    Jinwol Y.H. Lee, a Buddhist monk and Zen master, teaches Buddhist meditation and culture as chair professor of the department of Seon studies and director of the Institute of Seon at Dongguk University, Gyeongju, in South Korea. He belongs to the Jogye order of Korean Buddhism, the major traditional Mahayana Buddhism in Korea.

  • Caroline Starkey

    Caroline Starkey is a sociologist of religion at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. She studies religious practice in Great Britain, religion and gender and contemporary Buddhism.

  • Jeff Wilson

    Jeff Wilson is an associate professor of religious studies and East Asian studies at the University of Waterloo. He focuses on the interaction of Buddhism and various aspects of North American culture and published Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture in 2014.

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