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"The key is in beginning to develop an ability, an understanding, to look a little bit beyond the surface."
Joel Metzger is the founder of the Online Noetic Network (ONN), which offers free email articles on living consciously.
The Online Noetic Network can be visited at wisdomtalk.org (site will open in new window).
Joel Metzger, "Basic
Goodness: Interviewing Michael Chendler"
This interview was one of a series focusing on people's work life in the context of their spiritual life. In this article, I speak to Michael Chendler, the president of two consulting companies, Metals Economics Group and Eastern Resource Capital. Metals Economics is a leading consulting company for the non-ferrous mining industry. Michael is also a member of the Tibetan Buddhist Shambhala community in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. -- Joel
ONN Joel: How do you see your Buddhist practice dovetailing with your business career?
Michael Chendler: Buddhist practice is a way one relates to one's moment-to-moment experience. So whether it happens to be in an area that's called business or an area that's called relationship or an area that's called meditation, there's nothing particularly different or separated. It's one reality. There may be ethical issues that come up -- in all of these areas, actually. But in terms of the basic Buddhist mindfulness or awareness practice or practice of loving-kindness, I don't see [a distinction].
ONN Joel: Does [your practice] ever come out in any obvious way? Do you ever speak about it with colleagues or with your business clients?
Michael C: Sure. In more recent years, you're always hearing things like, "Oh, my sister's a Buddhist," or, "Yes, I've been interested in meditation -- Can you give us some advice on a good book to read?" Lately I've also become more interested in finding the common ground. It doesn't have to be labeled as Buddhism, or anything in particular. There is now a common ground that many, many people share -- a common mission, a common sense of good heart, a sense of irony and humor about the world, and a desire to make a good society. That all goes beyond any sectarianism, and that's what I'm a bit more interested in.
ONN Joel: You just mentioned some very juicy things.
Michael C: I think it's wonderful for people to be attracted to the study of Buddhism. But, Buddhism has always existed in a strong cultural context. The Buddhism that I'm most familiar with comes out of Tibet, and, secondarily, I'm familiar with the Buddhism that comes out of Japan. In both cases, these were influenced and were nourished by the culture. So we can't just take on the Tibetan forms of Buddhism because there's a lot of cultural baggage that comes along with it. That can be very confusing, I think, even for serious students to sort out -- to understand what's essential and what's cultural.
For the valuable essence of these practices to really root, it needs a nourishing culture around it. The fact is that our society as a whole is under enormous pressure. So the question becomes, how do we create what you might call an enlightened society that you could call wise and compassionate?
Anybody that you talk to about this will nod their heads the way you're doing now -- even the so-called "business people" with no formal interest in spiritual disciplines I talk to over lunch. Everybody has this common yearning for a decent life and a decent world. This is the place I'd like to spend my energy -- creating a context so that my children and other people's children and the whole world can have some powerful reservoir of sanity. Because it exists everywhere. It exists in cultures, it exists in people, but it's in bits and pieces.
ONN Joel: That's a gorgeous reservoir you have, and that's a good term, "reservoir of sanity."
Michael C: The question is how do you leverage your vision, your inspiration, your sense of confidence. My own teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, had a tremendous amount of passion and genius around the issue of enlightened society. And so there's an enormous legacy of instruction and possibility there. It's not enough to do one's retreat. Buddhists in the Tibetan tradition are yogis and very much into solitary retreat. Many of us here have done quite a bit of retreat, also. But, then when one has strengthened oneself in retreat, how do you come back out where you can really serve?
ONN Joel: That's the main concentration of this effort that I'm on now with these interviews. How our practical work, our career, dovetails with our wisdom work.
Michael C: What's interesting is that if one makes wisdom into an extraordinary thing, then you have all sorts of esoteric trappings around the presentation of Buddhism. Obviously discipline and tradition are very necessary, but on the other hand, what's interesting to me and to many of my friends is how to find that seed of wisdom [in] ordinary activities. I point to that as a powerful part of the path, and point to how people can actually notice their own wisdom and begin to get confidence that the source of wisdom is actually their own direct experience.
ONN Joel: So you think the crux is for people to learn that there is a part of wisdom inside themselves and to use that in ordinary life?
Michael C: What I'm trying to say is that there are pointers to that simple state of what we could call basic goodness. They are all around us in experiences we have and just don't notice. They're in our frustration and in our longing as well as in our enthusiasms. The key is in beginning to develop an ability, an understanding, to look a little bit beyond the surface so you can begin to see them. Then you can sort of relax into your life much more, can be comfortable with frustrations and with possibilities. We can benefit other people in a deeply meaningful way without their having to become a Buddhist or go away for six years to a monastery or whatever.