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Excerpt: The Buddhist CEO by Thane Lawrie

BY Thane Lawrie

16th May 2023 Excerpts

Excerpt: The Buddhist CEO by Thane Lawrie

In his novel The Buddhist CEO Thane Lawrie draws on his own experiences to explore how to incorporate Buddhist teachings into an authority position in high-pressure work environment, especially when having to make difficult decisions about other people

Former CEO and practicing Buddhist Thane Lawrie took an early retirement in 2021 on account of his own health issues. Now, Lawrie has drawn upon his own experiences in order to present the story of protagonist Hamish, who strives to apply his commitment to Buddhism to his high-pressure CEO position at a struggling non-profit organisation.

Complicated relationships with colleagues and difficult professional decisions lead Hamish, a loving family man who also dreams of becoming a monk one day, to experience inner turmoil as he questions whether he can successfully balance Buddhist values like compassion and abstinence with the challenges of his role.

Through regular visits to a monastery and advice from real monks, Lawrie’s novel sees Hamish engage with his mental health through Buddhist teachings in order to navigate his professional, family and spiritual commitments, as he seeks a peaceful equilibrium in his relationship with himself and with others.

The Buddhist CEO by Thane Lawrie
Credit: köehlerbooks 

Excerpt: Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey, Hexham 

I was about to deal with a very tricky situation at work. Standing in a monastic setting made the situation more surreal. Here I was, the committed Zen Buddhist who for many years had been content attempting to live the Buddhist life. Simple, peaceful, grateful, contemplative, diligent, honest, compassionate, non-clinging, and not particularly career ambitious.

"I started to experience strange and challenging behaviours from staff, and it made me question myself as a Buddhist and a CEO"

However, I had found that I was good at some things. I seemed to naturally get on with people, manage and run things well, motivate people, make good decisions. Career opportunities opened up for me as my life progressed, culminating in becoming the CEO of a fantastic organization, RCC, at the age of forty-three.

Throssel Hall Buddhist Abbey Credit: Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey 

All had gone well in the first three years of my CEO journey, but then I started to experience strange and challenging behaviours from staff, and it made me question myself as a Buddhist and a CEO. How did someone without much ambition become a CEO? Was this the right path for me to take? At times I had to dismiss people from their duties, discipline staff, and make tough decisions that made me unpopular. Buddhist teaching is all about letting go, living in the moment, and cultivating a life of compassion and peace. Is this compatible with being a CEO? These thoughts would race through my head from time to time. In true Zen fashion, I tried to observe them and not get too caught up in them. But this is easier said than done, especially given the road I had travelled.

I had married at twenty-two and had two kids by the time I was twenty-four, so it was difficult to turn down opportunities that meant having more money for the family. I deeply love my wife and boys, but our journey has not always been easy. I met Beth when we were students at Aberdeen University. I was studying social work and management, and she nursing. I fell in love with this amazing woman immediately. Thankfully, Beth felt the same way about me! We moved in together quickly, renting a one-bedroom flat near the beach in Aberdeen, and our boys arrived just after we graduated. For some time, money was tight, but we were happy sleeping on a pull- down sofa in the living room whilst our boys shared the one bedroom together.

Abderdeenshire soto zen group monastery hall Credit: Abderdeenshire Soto Zen Group 

I look back at the early years of our family life with fondness. In one sense they were difficult times, mainly due to the fact we had little money, but we lived well and were happy. I had been interested in Zen Buddhism for a few years before meeting Beth, and after meeting her, I joined a local Soto Zen group in Aberdeen. The group was affiliated to the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives (OBC), a monastic order founded by the late Reverend Master Jiyu Kennet. This amazing Zen monk was one of the first Westerners, and the first woman, to be accepted into monastic life in Japan in the early 1960s. Once her Zen master, Keido Chisan, certified Reverend Jiyu as a Zen master, he asked her to come to the West and establish an order that would welcome and encourage Buddhist practice amongst laypeople, and provide opportunities for those interested in monastic life. She founded the OBC and established two large training monasteries, one of which was Throssel Hole.

"Buddhist teaching is all about letting go, living in the moment, and cultivating a life of compassion and peace"

As I slowly walked towards my car parked in the monastery grounds, I felt childlike, reluctant to leave, dragging my feet, my gut wrenching at the thought of tearing myself away from my spiritual home. I caught sight of Reverend Lucas, his brown robes flapping slightly in the gentle breeze. I raised my hands in gassho, and this quiet monk beamed a timeless smile at me and raised his hands in gassho too. This smile said more to me than many words.

Hands placed palms together in front of a torso Credit: ipopba

“Ah, Hamish, nice to see you before you leave. Have you enjoyed your stay with us?” “I most certainly have, Reverend. I most certainly have.”

"He reminded me again to stay grounded in the practice, act with a pure heart, and do what I felt was the right thing"

We talked briefly, and he referred to our discussion earlier that week about what I was heading back to at work. He reminded me again to stay grounded in the practice, act with a pure heart, and do what I felt was the right thing. “Check and be sure your actions are in line with the Buddhist precepts.” I thanked him, said my goodbyes, and slowly drove out of the monastery grounds, a tear in my eye and a heart full of gratitude.

The Buddhist CEO by Thane Lawrie is out now, published by köehlerbooks. 

Listen to an interview with Thane Lawrie talking about The Buddhist CEO here: 

Banner credit: Thane Lawrie 

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