“Self-realization Community Management”: An Antidote to Capitalism

“Self-realization Community Management”: 

An Antidote to Capitalism


Rho Boo-Ho | Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Business Administration, Sogang University



Recently, many young Korean men and women have quit their company jobs in what has become almost a trend. Many said they felt a sense of crisis in that they were losing themselves without being able to live their own life. It seems what we need now is a new management to help employees find their self and live their own lives. In Buddhism, finding the “self” is said to be enlightenment. If you read the Dharma talk by Ven. Gyeongbong titled “Find the Owner,” describing a Chinese monk who found his true nature with enlightenment, you can see that “find the owner” “find your true nature” and “find the self” have the same meaning. To “find the self” is thought to be identical to self-realization. A sculptor once said that his artwork is the process of finding the image he envisioned in his mind, in his case “to find” is “to create.” Thus, I would suggest that finding the self equates to “creating the self,” or realizing the self. 

Self-realization is the most critical matter of life; it is at the top of the pyramid used to illustrate Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Satisfying one’s needs brings happiness, so self-realization can be said to bring the highest happiness. If self-realization is important in life, the purpose of business management should also be to help employees achieve self-realization.

To achieve self-realization, one needs to know one’s “self” which consists of character and talent. By developing character and talent, one can realize the self. As business is a place where people come together to work, the ideal form of management should motivate people to work with passion and cooperate with others based on love. Therefore, two desirable character traits are passion and love. How are these character traits developed? Character traits are developed based on values, values are established based on belief, and belief is formed based on introspection. Introspection requires asking diverse fundamental questions about life such as: What is life? Why do we live? What is the right way to live? What is work? What is a human being? Introspection is the foundation of philosophy. For example, if one accepts the belief that work is a creative expression of the self through introspection, then one will have values to produce good results by doing their best(this is called business values) because they are appraised by the results of their work. When one works driven by business values, one will have the character trait of passion to be completely engaged in their work.

A human being is believed to have infinite potential, and if they have the belief they have to work hard in concert in order to develop this potential, they’ll have values to respect and cooperate with others (this is called human values). Then, from human values, they’ll have the character trait of love that ‘we are all one’. A series of steps starting with introspection, forming beliefs, establishing values and developing character traits are called consciousness transformation because they represent the process in which a human being finds and changes themselves.

How is talent developed? Talent is developed when we are involved in our work with passion and cooperate with others with love. With the development of passion and love in our character, talent will develop naturally. Therefore, self-realization can be said to be the development of character.

Introspection is basically to question ourselves about what kind of person we want to become. Thus, as a result of consciousness transformation, dreams will emerge while character is developed. Dreams are a concrete form of the self, and the realization of dreams is self-realization. In order to realize one’s dreams, one should freely pursue opportunities and initiate changes to get recognition. Dreams, autonomy and recognition comprise the three components of management that spur passion and love. 

In the repeated process of dreams, autonomy and recognition, passion and love, our character is reinforced. In other words, self-realization is deepened. Self-realization is a process of developing passion and love; it cannot be achieved by consciousness transformation alone. It must also go through a management process of dreams, autonomy and recognition where our character is practiced and reinforced. Self-realization management consists of consciousness transformation and the management process.


Consciousness transformation 

Consciousness transformation to develop an employee’s character is performed by the employee himself/herself, but it can be facilitated by imparting the manager’s own beliefs and values. For example, Inamori Kazuo, founder of the Kyocera Corporation, cultivated business values in his employees and spurred their passion, saying, “We only have one life to live. Let us work with all our might!” He further instilled human values and inspired love in his employees, saying, “We are working together now even though we had no relationship before. Doesn’t this fact alone make our relationship precious?” Meanwhile, he took the lead to demonstrate his passionate fighting spirit and demanded passionate action, saying, “I work so hard, but what are you guys doing?” so that the character trait of passion among his employees can be developed. 


Management of Dreams, Autonomy, and Recognition 

When we have dreams, we harbor hope for the future, after which passion and love naturally arise. An individual’s dreams can be realized within the vision of a business. When the vision of a business is noble and challenging, employees are impressed. They then have passion and love and a sense of community; they think, “This company is not much now, but it can become great in the near future. Let us exert all our might together and work hard toward that vision.”

Buddhism is a religion of dreams and vision. Buddhism teaches the “Four Great Vows,” one of which is to save all sentient beings. Under this great vow, we can make many smaller vows, which can be dreams for an individual and a vision for a business. Two teachings of Buddhism are that all things are transient and that the mind creates our reality; these teachings can enable dreams and the vision. As all things change moment by moment, and all things are created by the mind, our company can change to become a great one depending on our mindset.

When autonomy is given, people have passion and love. When left autonomous, people harbor passion to work harder to realize their dreams, and want to come up with better ideas by cooperating with others based on love. Autonomy is a concept important in Buddhism. The fact that all people have buddha nature means that all must be respected as human beings. If so, a manager must not force employees to work as he/she pleases and control them; rather, employees should be granted the autonomy to work on their own. To control another is to block the realization of buddha nature. For proper autonomous management, team-based management is desirable in which each employee can have a role in his own specialized area. In this way employees can work without interference. A team manager practiced this style of management, and his young employee became enthusiastic and asked, “Is it okay for work to be this fun?” In this case, the role of a boss is to meet with employees regularly and share information; he/she should also check to see if there are any difficulties at work and help employees when needed.

Recognition is a basic human need. Upon receiving recognition, people have passion and love. Recognition takes three forms: attention/consideration, development/growth, and evaluation/reward. To receive attention and consideration is to be recognized as a human being. It is to have a conversation with kind words and a smiling face, to listen to others with empathy, to spend time together, and give help when needed. To cultivate development and growth is to provide employees opportunities for education and training, to give feedback so they can work better, and to motivate them by encouraging them to do more challenging work. Rewards should be given according to an employee’s contribution to the company based on a fair evaluation, which will stimulate their motivation to work. Buddhism has diverse teachings on recognition, and one of them—“the seven non-material donations”— exemplifies the qualities of attention and consideration. They are: a pleasant countenance, compassionate eyes, loving speech, a warm heart, service, giving up one’s seat to others, and providing a place to sleep. The Śṛgālavāda Sūtra, which explains the responsibilities in human relationships for lay people, has a section about the relationship between employer and employee. It says an employer should give challenging work to employees and distribute work according to individual capabilities; this promotes development and growth. The sutra also says to give generous and fair payment to employees, which is related to evaluation and rewards. It is surprising to know that 2,500 years ago the Buddha spoke about principles of development/growth and evaluations/ reward, which explains the great development of commerce at the time.


Organization as a Community 

As self finding management or self-realization management emphasizes sharing the company’s vision and having passion and love among employees, the company becomes a community. A community has three characteristics: a shared vision, a relationship of trust, and a long-term relationship. With shared vision comes the community consciousness that we are all one. Passion and love with the motivation to work hard while helping each other cultivate selfless purity so employees can trust each other. In addition, self-realization management helps employees realize the meaning and values of life, which motivates them to remain long in the community.

Buddhism also emphasizes the importance of community. The Buddhist teaching called “four methods of winning people over” lists four components that are necessary for establishing a community: charitable offerings, loving words, beneficial conduct, and working together. Of these, charitable offerings, loving words, and beneficial conduct concern love; working together concerns shared vision. The Sutra of Six Harmonies emphasizes harmony that arises from trust, a characteristic of a community.


Self-realization Community Management 

At the center of helping employees find him/herself or self-realization management is the core concept of “values.” This is because character is developed based on values. Thus, self-realization management is called Theory V(Rho, B. H. 2021. How to live? How to manage?: Theory V and Self-realization, A paper presented at the 81st Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management 29 July-4 August 2021). Self-realization management becomes “self-realization community management” because it makes the organization a community.

Business occupies a large sector of the capitalist economy. If management is done well, many of the problems of capitalism will be solved. However, there are criticisms that ESG management, that is touted to solve the problems of capitalism, lacks authenticity like the word ESG washing connotes. This is because people’s fundamental values have not changed. Since “self-realization community management” changes people by establishing values, it will respond authentically to environmental, social and managerial issues with the vision to make the world better and contribute to the evolution of capitalism. In particular, it can decrease feelings of alienation, a phenomenon marked by decreased interest in work, lack of engagement and stress, all of which Karl Marx cited.

In addition, it will make management a noble profession. Self- realization is the highest level of happiness. No other job in the world offers this happiness so important in life. Perhaps it can be said that manager is doing a nobler work than priest, monk or nun.   


Rho Boo-Ho graduated from the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, Seoul National University, and received his Ph.D. in Business Administration from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Currently he is Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at Sogang University and co-president at 21st Century Business Forum. His Korean writings include The Third Management based on Theory V.

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