The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Strategies for Managing Your Business and Your Life
Geshe Michael Roach
Doubleday, 2000
228 pp.; $21.95 (cloth) 

Michael Roach is the first American to complete the twenty years of rigorous study and examinations it takes to earn the ancient degree of Geshe, or Master of Buddhist Learning, in the Tibetan tradition. He founded and directs the Asian Classics Institute in New York, and under the aegis of his Asian Classics Input Project some 150,000 pages of wood-block manuscripts—carried out of Tibet by refugees in the wake of the destruction of Tibetan libraries—have been transliterated and transcribed into digital databases.

He also happens to know business down to its bones. While he was formally studying Tibetan Buddhist teachings, Geshe Michael was also helping to develop one of the world’s largest diamond and jewelry firms, Andin International Diamond Corporation.

Courtesy Doubleday
Courtesy Doubleday

It was Khen Rinpoche, Michael Roach’s teacher, who instructed the young man to explore the world of business as the perfect laboratory for testing Buddhist wisdom in real life. Rinpoche was met with resistance: “Why enter into a world of greedy, ruthless, and uncaring people?” But teachers are teachers and students are students, so Michael gave in and found work in the world of diamond traders.

Geshe Michael learned the trade and grew with the company, relying on three crucial principles: that businesses should make money; that we should not get so exhausted mentally and physically that we can’t enjoy the money made; and that at the end we should be able to look back at our business and say honestly that our years of work had some meaning.

Easier said than done, perhaps, but Geshe Michael walks us through a straightforward process that makes the principles surprisingly user-friendly. He starts off by describing and explaining the The Diamond Cutter Sutra. Roach’s explanation relies heavily on commentary by the great Tibetan Lama Choney Drakpa Shedrup (1675–1748) and is helpful to anyone who has struggled with the teaching. Among the many insights offered, he explains the diamond as a metaphor for our own minds. “Pure diamond is, first of all, about the closest thing to an absolutely clear physical substance….If there were a wall of diamond several feet wide between you and another person and if no light were reflecting from its surface, you couldn’t see the diamond at all.” Likewise the hidden potential for success that “imbues every person and thing around us…is invisible to us: We simply cannot see it.” Furthermore, since a diamond is the hardest thing in the universe, it functions as “a metaphor for that one thing which is truly absolute.” 

According to Roach, The Diamond Cutter was a teaching originally aimed directly at businesspeople, whom Roach describes as “talented, tough and savvy.” In it Buddha teaches his disciple Subhuti that, in any situation, there is both positivie and negative potential, depending on one’s perspective and relationship to the situation. For example, when a business grows so much it needs a new building, the move can be positive (more space to do one’s work, closer to some employees’ homes). The point, and it’s a big one, is that the move in and of itself  is neutral. 

But we attach meanings to every situation. We do this because of mental imprints—caused by past experiences—that determine how we’ll perceive a situation. And the imprints grow and blossom, all of them: “Reality itself, the very fact of business success or failure, is driven by imprints that we put in our own minds, by the good or bad that we do to those around us, throughout the business day.” 

Geshe Michael is generous with his examples of the impact of imprints on business situations, and argues that failure in business is simply the consequence of accumulation of many minor negative actions and thoughts—karma. He lists forty-six basic business probles, from the inability to find a place to rent (problem no. 13), to years in the business world taking an undesriable toll on our personal appearance (problem no. 29), to people in your company fighting with each other a lot (problem no. 42). Readers are then guided through the imprint-related antidote to each problem.

This approach makes gossiping a thing of the past, I can tell you that. And forget cheating anyone in any way. Carefully tracking our own thinking patterns leads to major shifts in the success of our businesses because we’re able to bring negative imprinting into our conscious awareness. Taking weekly time-outs in the form of “Circle Days,” as well as longer “Forest Circle” retreats, adds momentum to our tracking, in addition to feeding our creative and health-creating impulses. Like a ballet taking form, our experience of being in business changes dramatically.

I expect that this book will be a classic for those of us in the business world who yearn for success and integrity in the same lifetime.

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