How Mindfulness Inspires 360-Degree Social Responsibility

By Michael Kourabas

“One way to read the injunction for Right Conduct, an essential part of the Eightfold Path, is to see it as calling us—as citizens—to translate the dharma into specific acts of social responsibility.” – Buddhist author and professor, Charles Johnson, writing in the Tricycle magazine.


Mindfulness has been in the news a lot lately, in part due to its infiltration of the board room, and the list ofhigh-level executives and thought leaders who practice mindfulness exercises such as meditation is long. To those of us who meditate, this is not really a surprise (in light of meditation’s myriad benefits), and though the co-opting of an ancient Buddhist practice for profit is slightly disturbing, as the renowned Mindfulness master, Thich Nhat Hahn, recently put it: With mindfulness, the means and the ends are one in the same.

But what is mindfulness?  Technically, it is the nonjudgmental observation of the present moment, no matter what that moment may entail, and it is arguably the paramount Buddhist instruction. The essence of mindfulness, though, is simply “paying attention,” the natural byproduct of which is heightened compassion and consideration of the impact of one’s actions on others.  Some real-world examples of mindful behavior might include: pausing to think before habitually reacting; choosing to recycle, rather than to litter; or choosing to eat humanely raised chicken, rather than broiler chicken from a factory farm. Put another way, mindful behavior is behavior that is socially responsible.

Mindfulness, corporations and “360-Degree Social Responsibility”

From a corporate standpoint, then, mindfulness could manifest either externally or internally. Corporate policies that are externally mindful (or “externally socially responsible”) would be those that concern how the corporation interacts with the outside world.  The type of conduct typically associated with classic corporate social responsibility (CSR) endeavors, in other words. Does the corporation minimize its impact on the environment?  Does it incorporate human rights into its day-to-day operations? Does it do diligence on its supply chain?

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