On the opening night of the 2016 Sustainable Brands conference, the venerable Phra Anil Sakya, buddhist monk and professor at Mahamakut Buddhist University, took to the stage. He came to share an important reminder with a group of sustainability professionals who were quite literally wiggling in their seats waiting for the networking happy hour to begin. Moderation should rule all our actions, Dr. Phra said. He pointed to capitalism as the root of our problem:
"Advertisements stole our identity. They tell us what we need and that is where it stole our identity. That’s where we lost our purpose."
“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it. When we don’t have a purpose, it’s a great tragedy." Dr. Phra wondered aloud whether one can even be human absent this centering mantra.
But purpose isn't the endpoint; it's the beginning of a personal journey. And a purpose is not static -- obviously our "life's work" purpose can differ from the purpose we bring to a day's work or an hour's work. That's why we need moderation.
"Sometime you go to the next room to pick up something and think, 'Why am I here?' If you don't know, you lack purpose."
"This is why we need to activate our purpose!," he exclaimed to audience titterers. "Purpose is the beginning not the end. In order to get to the beginning, we need to do a few things. One of the things is moderation." He admits that moderation is an easier challenge for him than for us.
"When I announce this, many people may turn off because in my life I can talk about moderation very proudly. In the morning I wear this robe," he gestures to his orange garment. "In the evening at dinner I wear this robe. At night I wear this robe as a blanket. I do not have trouble deciding what to wear. I do not have this trouble. For many people, moderation is a negative word."
"Of course we want to change this world. How can we make this world a new sustainable world? Everyone here has the same goal. Can we make it this day, this year? No. But that doesn’t mean that we give up. We are limited by technology, resources." It has to be enough to do your best.
Moderation keeps us mindful of our own limited influence, which keeps us balanced.
This definition of moderation was not the one we expected to hear at a conference on sustainability. Usually we are chided to think carefully about our own consumption. This definition is not at odds with Dr. Phra's. He believes moderation starts with a choice of how to spend our time and carries through to all of the decisions we must make to live our lives.
Of course, the message of moderation also extends to our purchasing practices as individuals and to our roles inside sustainable organizations. Moderation from a consumer standpoint is crucial in a world where natural resources are rapidly diminishing. But it is also important for passionate professionals to remember as we work day and night to make every brand a sustainable brand. We need to be mindful of protecting our health and well-being so that we can live to fight another day.
Mindful that his audience is largely American, Dr. Phra provided us with a memorable list he dubbed the "four keys to achieving success in life," (perhaps he lived a past life as a blogger):
Life without purpose is nothing, Dr. Phra said. However, "If you If you have purpose but no effort it is a dream," he explained. If you persevere without purpose and perspective, you lose your mind. You don’t know what you are doing because you are distracted by so many things. Attention brings focus. Perspective shows us the larger picture and allows us to act rather than react.
These lessons, so simple from the man in the orange robe, are some of the hardest for Westerners to keep with us at all times, especially with constant pings from our mobile devices alerting us to things we may or may not care to understand and the call of new people to meet and wines to sample in the networking break. Keep it in mind the next time your phone pings with the announcement of a new email.
Image credit: Sustainable Brands
— Sustainable Brands (@SustainBrands) June 7, 2016
Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California.
When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.