“I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.”

~ The Buddha

Buddhists regard The Truth of Dukkha as the first of the Four Noble Truths, and often explain it in terms of three categories:

  • The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying.
  • The anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
  • A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, because all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term dukkha indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never do and never will entirely measure up to our expectations or standards.

In my journeys through organisations large and small, I have seen much dukkha. Many organisations ill-at-ease with themselves, and with their situations. I guess it’s part of the human condition, as expressed through life in organisations. In other words, dukkha is part of the fundamental nature of our phenomenal world, including our organisational “worlds”.

“Such is dukkha. It can be fully known. It has been fully known.

Such is craving. It can be let go of. It has been let go of.

Such is cessation. It can be experienced. It has been experienced.

Such is the path. It can be cultivated. It has been cultivated…

Only when my knowledge and vision was clear in all these ways did I claim to have had such an awakening.”

~ Gautama Buddha

We can read this presentation of the Four Noble Truths  as a series of cause-effect relationships. By fully knowing dukkha, we can release craving. By releasing craving, we can experience the cessation of craving. And when we are no longer in the grip of craving, we have the freedom to cultivate the Path.

I might explain dukkha from the organisation’s perspective in terms of three categories also:

  • The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with start-ups, growth, crises, mergers, downsizings, and death (of the organisation).
  • The anxiety or stress that folks in the organisation collectively feel when trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing (a near-universal phenomenon in most organisations).
  • A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading “the organisation”, because everything is in some way always changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. People come and go. Product lines and products change. Methods and tools evolve. Priorities and markets change. And so on.

“Buddha Dharma does not teach that everything is suffering. What Buddhism does say is that life, by its nature, is difficult, flawed, and imperfect. From the Buddhist point of view, this is not a judgement of life’s joys and sorrows; this is a simple, down-to-earth, matter-of-fact observation.”

~ Surya Das

Maybe if you’re stressed at work, some consideration of the Truth of Dukkha, and the Buddhist approach to addressing dukkha, may offer some insights, and those, in turn, some comfort?

Aside: Not attending to one’s needs is also dukkha. As is attending to folks’ needs.

“What ordinary folk call happiness, the enlightened ones call dukkha.”

~ The Buddha

– Bob

Further Reading

Zen and the Art of Organisational Enlightenment ~ Think Different blog post

1 comment
  1. fjfish said:

    In the Tibetan tradition they talk about how non-enlightened people see Dukkha as unpleasant and inconvenient things. When people get closer to enlightenment the pain is described as being worse than constantly having something in your eye. I think those of us who know there is a better way and keep seeing the same mistakes being made again and again (Samsara, or wandering aimlessly – another Noble Truth) feel the pain in the eye. I think this most definitely includes you, Bob. 🙂

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