Buddha at Work: key to finding purpose, balance and happiness
Published by Hachette and written by Geetanjali Pandit, the book Buddha at Work is not just another self-help book. Here, Geetanjali shares the purpose of penning down this book and how can people benefit from the same. Told in a series of conversations with Gautam, and interspersed with tales from the Buddha’s life – along with real-life stories from people who’ve faced challenging situations in their jobs – Buddha At Work offers invaluable insight that will guide you through the challenges of the modern-day workplace. She is an alumnus of XLRI. Geetanjali also studied towards a Masters at Lesley University, Cambridge (MA). And while in America, she got the opportunity to work with the late Prof. John Kenneth Galbraith. Her career in Human Resources spans over twenty-two years, during which time she has been the CHRO for the India Today Group and the CPO for Zee Media Corporation Limited. At EIH Limited, Geetanjali played a global role in employer branding and in hospitality HR practices. An articulate speaker and an incisive thinker, she has written two books on career management and several articles in the Economic Times, the Financial Express and DNA. Currently she has forayed into skill-building and is a board member for a large organization. She credits her success to the application of Buddhist principles at the workplace.
Here, Geetanjali shares more about her book and more. Excerpts.
AABP: What was the inspiration behind your book – Buddha at work?
Geetanjali PanditGeetanjali: My inspiration stemmed from a difficult period in my life when I found (or maybe it found me!) the practice of Buddhism (specifically Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism) in the year 2000. I’d been struggling with the helplessness of continued unemployment and some other personal issues, but the principles of Buddhism made it clear to me that from the utter shambles of life and profession, new beginnings can emerge. All you need is the right view, the right perception and the right effort. A transformation is possible with the right attitude. And hope returned to my life. Soon afterwards, I got my first professional breakthrough with a wonderful consulting firm and there really has been no looking back since then.
Plus, my years of experience as a Human Resource professional had given me a window into all the pains, challenges and frustrations that plague people at work. From my own vantage point, I started to understand that a vast majority suffer through work their entire life. Oh sure, an increment, a job change, a foreign visit, a promotion, or a bonus brings some happiness. But since these are occasional episodes in the ‘general drama of pain,’ the story of suffering continues and does not necessarily find a happy ending.
My second observation was that though everyone had a job, they were, almost always, looking out for the next opportunity to give them something more…something that would make them happy…something else that would be professionally more satisfying. Always something else and, of course, somewhere else. Even those who didn’t have a job believe that finding the ‘right’ job will bring an end to their saga of difficulties. But since no job or organization is perfect, the honeymoon period comes to an end pretty fast.
And yet, I saw and realized that some rare people were happy, and had a fair degree of satisfaction, a great degree of success. Which got me wondering, what sets them apart from the suffering majority?
Most of this minority had optimism and resilience and the right way of looking at people, situations, money, targets and problems. A profound wisdom, if you will. This healthy, happy minority was using principles, consciously or unconsciously, that I had learnt in my study and understanding of Buddhism, principles that had enabled me to make a successful comeback to the corporate sector and a connect with a purpose beyond the drudgery of employment. Many of this minority had a sense of enjoyment of what they were doing professionally.
So the inspiration for Buddha At Work was really my desire to reach out and share this wisdom of the minority – what I’ve learnt, experienced and, later on, researched. I wish to enable people to find purpose, balance and happiness at their place of work.
AABP: Tell us something more about this book?
Geetanjali: Buddha At Work is not just another ‘self-help’ book. It’s written in a series of conversations with a fictional character called ‘Gautam’ and is, to an extent, autobiographical. It has some true events from my professional life. It’s also interspersed with incidents from the Buddha’s life which illustrate what I talk about in each chapter. There are also some real-life people who play a part in the book whom I’ve interviewed, and their anecdotes are also woven into the narrative as examples of what the right attitude and perception can achieve.
Buddha At Work also has simple exercises, tips and techniques that will help you get the most out of this book. These exercises are about building positivity, coming up with the strength to deal with every workday problem, remaining motivated, stress-proofing at work, and finding your true purpose at the workplace.
AABP: Who are your target audience?
Geetanjali: From a marketing point of view, knowing one’s target group, or audience, is really important. But from a writer’s point of view, this becomes somewhat tricky. I want to think that Buddha At Work has quite a broad appeal which makes the task of figuring out the target audience more difficult. I have received feedback all the way from homemakers to management students about the book.
The corporate sector is definitely a key audience, but the book is for anyone who is (or has at any point of time) grappling with their job search, dealing with difficult people at the workplace, struggling to meet a target and feeling stressed and dissatisfied. The place of work can be a school, a salon, a science lab, a factory shop floor, NASA, or anywhere else in the world, but there really is no escaping the people factor at your workplace. And there is no escaping one’s own self. So the things I talk about in Buddha At Work are, in that sense, universal.
AABP: Share your experience with your publisher.
Geetanjali: I am so grateful and so fortunate that I have friends in the publishing world, friends who have encouraged me to write when neither of us knew if I had a book in me or not. I am so fortunate that I chose Hachette India as my publisher. They have a phenomenal team. The efforts of Team Hachette have been integral to my writing of Buddha At Work. And hopefully many more to come!
AABP: Describe your journey as an author and what are your future plans?
Geetanjali: I have been very fortunate in that I’ve never encountered any problems in getting published. I had offers based on my book proposal as far back as 2011. In fact, I completed my first manuscript in 2012. But it didn’t read right to me. My editor kept telling me to think it through and make it more anecdotal, friendlier and less ‘preachy.’
Most authors talk about the writer’s block. But in my case, the darned block just came and punched me out. I went into a shell and even refused to take my editor’s calls. I felt a sense of helplessness because for the first time ever I was simply not being able to communicate the way I wanted to. This frozen state remained in place for several years, if you can believe it…not just a day or two…not just a month…years.
While I had almost given up on completing or rewriting the book, I decided to give it one last shot. To give myself a tangible starting point, and to not get stressed, I started reading about the Shakyamuni’s (Gautama Buddha) life. I picked up various books and began making notes, rather desultorily, I must add. This started in October 2015.
One night, in February 2016, I was brushing my teeth, equally desultorily, when my Eureka moment happened. I suddenly knew what I had to do and how I had to write. I started writing the next morning and was able to complete the first draft and give it over to my editors in the next few months.
But, I must say, after that long process, the phenomenal response that I am getting from readers is so very encouraging. I am buzzing with ideas and thoughts. The block is long gone and I am looking forward to writing and publishing more.
AABP: As a writer, what do you aim to achieve when you start writing?
Geetanjali: As a writer, my starting point is somewhat selfish: I write because I really enjoy writing and it helps me to express myself, plan better, counsel myself, learn, and simply understand a situation or a problem. My writing is influenced by the fact that I am addicted to reading, particularly fiction. I want my readers to enter a different world when they read my book, experience what my characters are experiencing and find it (hopefully!) hard to put the book down.
But after that selfish reason, I write to share. To share with other people a thought, a point of view, an exercise or a technique that has helped me and perhaps may help others. As someone who has worked really hard to internalize Buddhist practice, I am motivated by a deep desire to help myself and others. So if I have some solutions, a few answers and can find many more from other’s lives, I would like to share it in a larger circle and help others facing the same or similar struggle.
It’s how the narrator of my book, GP (actually me), asks Gautam in the first chapter of Buddha At Work (very sceptically, I might add): ‘So how will you help me? And what do you want in return?’
And Gautam responds, ‘I want you to help others, in turn, when you can.’
AABP: In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing a book? Why?
Geetanjali: For me, writing is a totally voluntary activity. Like all voluntary activity, it is very tough to stay on course and write with discipline. Writing is a demanding mistress and expects discipline of the body, and the mind.
That discipline also means choosing the right words, the right expression, over others. As a writer, I cannot be so wedded to my own words that I fail to choose better ones. For instance, most people are somewhat shocked to learn that I set aside a near-complete manuscript and started writing again from scratch, something totally different. I did not borrow a word, an expression or a thought from my previous work.
It was hard to do this. It is harder still to discipline the mind and body and finish a piece of work that may or may not be published. That may or may not be accepted. That may or may not be liked. That may or may not be lucrative.
The other most difficult thing is to keep motivated and energized through the process. We all have great starts – filled with energy, positivity, motivation and the purposefulness of it all. Being off to a great start is good, but ending well is the challenge. Seeing things through is tough.
AABP: What writing/publishing advice do you give to aspiring writers of any age?
Geetanjali: In Buddha at Work, Gautam says to me, ‘Don’t let people discourage you in any way. You must work and live in a way that keeps you true to yourself. Carry on doing good work.’
The struggle of writing, of expressing yourself, is like of a good workout. Your muscles may be fatigued but the rest of you feels great. Write what you would enjoy reading. And be persistent in both writing and getting your manuscript published.
AABP: We live in a time when young people have numerous choices. What would you like to say to people who may be hesitant about reading a book for self-help?
Geetanjali: I have been the eternal maverick (or is it rebel?), with a great desire to find solutions to the many problems in the different stages of my life. My finest lessons have come either from my mistakes (and their consequences), or from books. Books talk a language that I can understand and accept. Books don’t judge me in any way. Books are not critical about the choices I have made. Books simply advise. It’s up to me to accept the advice or not. There is no pressure. I have truly been able to transform so many personal and professional problems of my life simply by learning through reading.
So I would tell the people who are hesitant, give this book a chance. Books have helped me before. You never know, they might help you too!
AABP: What next can the readers expect from you?
Geetanjali: I will continue on my journey and learn and experiment. I would like to reach out to more people and share what I find interesting and useful in a way that is also interesting and useful to others.