Maitreya Buddha In-Action

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012 | Uncategorized

I spent last week in Zhejiang, China, where I enjoyed reconnecting with a group of senior government officials, academicians, and business executives. When I met them for the first module in Boston in June my MIT colleague John Sterman ran a climate-change-simulation game with them that put the participants in the shoes of all of the countries negotiating with each other on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. After each round, the results of their negotiations were input into a science-based simulation model that calculated the outcomes of their decisions for the climate. The result of this multi-round simulation was catastrophic: the combination of sea-level increase and a typhoon would have caused key areas of their province in China to be submerged.

Four weeks ago when I led the next module with the group in China, midway through we lost all ten of the mayors in the group (it includes about ten mayors of cities and communities with populations of 500,000 to 5 million) when they were ordered home to lead disaster preparations in advance of two typhoons headed for their region. Working day and night for three days, they helped to coordinate the evacuation of 3 million people from their homes. The typhoons and the ensuing flooding were the worst in the past 60 years. But due to the superb disaster preparedness not a single person was killed.

During this week we met in Hangzhou Lin’an, from where we took a side trip to visit some thousands of year-old Gingkoe trees. Several of them had grown and then “given birth to” (a holding space) for the next generation. The picture below shows a tree that is part of a five generation tree of trees, each generation growing on top of another (the oldest one apparently 12,000 years old). Five generations of trees in one big tree eco-system. What a beautiful picture of evolution that we are part of on planet earth!

Another side trip at the edges of our workshop led us to the construction site of a Silicon Valley–style innovation eco-system (the fifth of its kind in China). When I drive around in the United States I am sometimes shocked to see the erosion of bridges, streets, schools, and other public infrastructure; when I return to my home town in Germany I find people still discussing the pros and cons of the same Autobahn extension that they were already talking about 30 years ago. But in China they envisioned, planned, and and are building an entire high-tech innovation eco-system in a mere 12 or so years. Simply breathtaking to see and feel that dynamism!

On the last day, after the completion of the workshop, some of the participants arranged for me to visit with the head monk of a nearby Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou (picture), one of the major Buddhist temples in China. He told me that he was increasingly invited to teach the essentials of Buddhism to corporate leaders in China. I asked whether he also teaches them in the temple and monastery. Yes, he responded, he runs three-day workshops in which the CEOs live and work with the monks at the monastery; and for three hours per day, he teaches them.

During the meeting I received a small statue of the Maitreya Buddha as a gift from the head monk and the two senior officials of the provincial government who also attended the meeting. The Maitreya Bodhisattva is the Buddha of the future, who is expected to follow the reign of the historic Shakjamuni (Gautama) in the future. The Maitreya Buddha is also the Buddha of Compassion. One of the government officials explained to me that since the U process is about letting go of the past and letting come the emerging future, the Maitreya Buddha would be particularly connected to it. The Maitreya Buddha is usually depicted with a very big belly and is very relaxed, smiling, and compassionate, allowing him to harmonize seeming contradictions. I thought to myself that that’s what I experienced on the day of my visit: head monks teaching business CEOs, Party and government officials telling me about the Maitreya Buddha, compassion and the U, and all of us together in a generative conversation that planted important seeds for future work…

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2 Comments to Maitreya Buddha In-Action

Robert M. Burnside
September 2, 2012

Connecting the Buddha of the future with the U process is a lovely insight. Both seek to let go of the past and welcome the future, both are full of compassion. The Buddha’s big belly is a symbol of the possibility and the wish for abundance for all. Glad to see this group of human beings in China striving for a future that includes all of humanity.

Robert M. Burnside
September 7, 2012

There are some interesting conversations on LinkedIn in the general area of cultural relationships. They tend to be short questions and responses on a variety of topics. One group is called “culture curious global minds”, has a current thread on “why are relationships more important in Asia”. Ff interested join the group and the conversation.

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