5/30/09 Updated 6/7/09

Global corporations have long been a vehicle for transforming the world system into the image envisioned by the rulers. Among their initiatives is a global spirituality that they believe makes the world’s democracies more governable while at the same time increasing the productivity of their work force.

Kai-Zen (or kaizen) is an expression of this global spirituality.

In the 1980s Eastern Mysticism and the Occult were aggressively promoted by corporate training programs in the guise of the Human Potential movement, “motivational training”, and “increasing human effectiveness” and employed various techniques including meditation, guided visualization, and affirmation. When confronted by individuals who objected to the workplace being used to force religious views and techniques on the employees, corporations began to use more subtle approaches to “transform” the work force. Corporations increasingly wanted to become “family” and “church” for the worker to replace what elite society saw as failing institutions, however the training programs mellowed to the point of emphasizing “Total Quality Management” and “Lean” programs. And yet each new system brought with it its own jargon and bandwagon religious-like zeal.

“Kai” is said to mean “change”.

“Zen” is said to mean “good”.

And of course, who can argue with “process improvement” and improving worker skills? There are many common sense aspects of how an employer desires to increase productivity and quality and it is their right to do so. And yet, most managers are unaware that the latest fads are part of a much larger and older, even ancient, scheme to transform the world.

It is no coincidence that the word “Zen” has become so popular in western culture. Consider the definition of Zen from Ask.com:

“A school of Mahayana Buddhism that asserts that enlightenment can be attained through meditation, self-contemplation, and intuition rather than through faith and devotion and that is practiced mainly in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Also called Zen Buddhism.”

For decades there have been those who wanted to “Easternize the West” including Werner Erhard’s 1970s EST program and YMCA’s bringing Yoga and “breathing exercises” to every neighborhood.

The introduction to “The World Perspectives” Book Series in the 1950s declared that, “Man is in the process of developing a new consciousness…A fresh vision of reality” and goes on to refer to,  “…An intellectual and spiritual movement…Man has intervened in the evolutionary process…Our growing World Age”. Some of the books in the series were World Indivisible, Konrad Adenauer; The Transformation of Man, Lewis Mumford; The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm; Dynamics of Faith, Paul Tillich; Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist, Teitaro Suzuki; Hinduism: Its Meaning for the Liberation of the Spirit, Swami Nikhilananda; Physics and Philosophy, Werner Heisenberg; Man Unfolding, Jonas Salk

The 18th century saw mystical concepts promoted to far-reaching effect in the west. The “Hegelian Dialectic” is the process by which history is said to move onward and upward to perfection, the “Realization of Spirit”, according to the German philosopher, G.W.F Hegel (1770-1831). Hegelian philosophy was the basis for Marxism, Nazism, Fascism, and Western Progressive philosophy and social engineering.

Another early trend of “Easternizing the West” is found in Catholic Monasticism in the Middle Ages which produced a number of “mystics” who continue to influence religious movements of today.

“The meditation practices… of theses earliest [Catholic] monks bear strong similarity to those of their Hindu and Buddhist renunciate brethren several kingdoms to the East… the meditative techniques they adopted for finding their God suggest either a borrowing from the East or a spontaneous rediscovery.” (Julie Cameron, The Artist’s Way as quoted in A Time of Departing by Ray Yungren)

The traditions of monastic mysticism were further popularized in modern times by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881- 1955) and Thomas Merton (1915-1968).

Even as far back as the 1200s the Knights Templar brought back to Europe the mystical influence of the Sufis from their crusades to the Middle East.

The enthusiasm continuing into the 21st century of Corporate leaders for Eastern philosophy is seen in the following quote from an article in the  International Journal of Organisational Behaviour, Volume 6(1), 294-306, titled, “BRIDGING EAST AND WEST: TRANSFORMING MANAGEMENT FOR THE DIGITAL ECONOMY” by Karthyeni Purushothaman and Amrik S Sohal:

“The business and management fraternity continues to be interested in an array of ancient Eastern traditions. For example, the Japanese concepts and practices of Zen and Kaizen; the Chinese belief in Feng Shui and the positive and negative forces of Yin and Yang and Sun Tzu’s art of war in management; the Indian philosophy of karma and reincarnation and their practice of meditation and yoga; and various other eastern traditions originating from the Taoist, Buddhist and Muslim belief-systems. This paper attempts to broach the idea that organisations established and entrenched with Western-based value systems may benefit further by infusing Eastern ideologies into management theory and practice. It explores the idea that the digital age is an appropriate evolutionary phase in human history, to holistically synthesise modern management principles with the inspired perennial wisdom of the ages. The convergence of value systems of East and West may be the way forward.”

Now many non-Christians and too many professing Christians have seen Christianity as a “Western Religion”. And those who want to “Easternize the West” see Christianity as that which must be supplanted for the good of humankind. Of course Biblical Jesus Christianity is neither West nor East. It is the Creator of the Universe reaching out to those created in His image. What society actually has been conditioned to think of as Christianity is the worldly structure of Christendom which, indeed has aligned itself with the power structures of the west, for the most part.

Regardless of this misunderstanding about “Christianity” true followers of Jesus Christ ought to see what is being done globally to “unite mankind” and what is being promoted in their workplace in the name of “process improvement”.  Somehow we must be eager to be good employees without worshipping what management is trying to get us to worship.