CSR through the heart of the Bodhi tree
Purpose – This paper seeks to explore an alternative direction to break the theoretical impasse in CSR.
Design/methodology/approach – The study employs ancient insights from the core of Buddhist
teaching, featuring the Four Noble Truths and the concept of ‘‘me’’ and ‘‘mine’’, for the modern
application of CSR by investigating the crux of major related theories.
Findings – The Noble Truths emphasize that suffering should be eradicated at its root. The Buddhist
model of CSR suggests that beyond doing good such as supporting philanthropy and avoiding evil as
mitigating the impact of corporate malpractice, which are consistent with major CSR theories, it is also
crucial to purify the hearts of stakeholders from the ‘‘self’’ and ‘‘what belongs to self’’, the genesis of
suffering. Detachment is the key.
Research implications – The shift from an institutional to an individual level, more speciﬁcally the
transformation from a mindset of over-consumption to one of conscious consumption, is an alternative
direction to the progress of theory and practice in CSR.
Practical implications – Deﬁled by greed and proﬁtability, consumers and investors, who provide
income and funding to an organization and deﬁne its business practice, are of the highest priority among
all stakeholders to start the change according to the Buddhist model of CSR.
Originality/value – This paper takes Buddhism as timeless insight, rather than a religious belief, to
propose an alternative model and direction to development of CSR in theory and practice.
Keywords Buddhism, Corporate social responsibility, Consumption, Ethics, Self, Stakeholders,
Corporate governance, Organizational culture
Paper type Conceptual paper
he paradox between the popularity of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the
continuation of economic, environmental, and social devastation from business
malpractices signals that attempts in developing and applying major related theories
are likely to end in stalemate. Since the end of 2008, a sharp drop in the world economy and
negative environmental and social impacts from globalization have gradually escalated the
suffering of the stakeholders affected. Taxpayers express their anger at governments for
supporting the bankers and fund managers who spun wealth for the plutocrats and
themselves to the extreme, yet leaving the working class in a great recession (The
Economist, 2009). The history of the robber baron practices during the industrial revolution
(Wren, 2005) tends to repeat itself today amidst the current proliferation of corporate social
responsibility (CSR). Philanthropic contributions from proﬁteering businesses seem unlikely
to leverage the well-being of the society at large. Such a failure leads to the quest for a more
meaningful direction of CSR and more importantly, a condition to make CSR work.
This paper proposes an alternative angle by employing the Buddhist perspective of the
cause-effect relationship of interdependent nature to examine the crux of CSR concepts.
Contending that suffering should be eliminated at the root, the Four Noble Truths – including
suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to cessation of
suffering – complement a common emphasis of various CSR theories on tackling the
SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY JOURNAL
VOL. 8 NO. 2 2012, pp. 186-198, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1747-1117 DOI 10.1108/17471111211234824
Kraisornsuthasinee is an
Assistant Professor in the
Faculty of Commerce and
The author wishes to gratefully
acknowledge the late
Panyananda Bhikkhu, who
introduced him to Buddhism.
This paper is dedicated to him.