Contemplating Corporate Culture

An interview with Mirabai Bush on bringing contemplation into the inner sanctum of American power, from Harvard University to Monsanto.Helen Tworkov

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© Bart Everly 2001Mirabai Bush is the director of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. Based in Massachusetts, its mission is to bring contemplative practice into mainstream institutional life. Corporations, media organizations, law schools, and universities have sponsored programs directed by the Center.

Prior to co-founding the Center in 1996, Bush was the director of the Guatemala Project and the Compassionate Action Project for Seva Foundation. A Buddhist practitioner for the past thirty years, she is also co-author, with Ram Dass, of Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service.

This interview was conducted in New York City by Helen Tworkov in March 2001.

What was the initial motivation behind the Center for Contemplative Mind?

The Center began as a conversation about the relationship between contemplative practices and social change, and the relationship between individual and social transformation. The decision to go forward grew from those discussions. But we had been talking about institutes for health and healing, and for death and dying, organizations that already resonated with contemplative values.

How did you begin?

As it turned out, the very first retreat we did was in ’97 with the chemical company Monsanto. Bob Shapiro had recently become its CEO and was looking at new ways of knowing, new avenues toward creativity. He was interested in meditation. He approached Charlie Halpern, a friend from Harvard and a founding member of Contemplative Mind.

How did you feel about Monsanto?

Monsanto was a big challenge for me personally, because I had spent the previous ten years working in sustainable agriculture with Mayan people in Guatemala. At that point Monsanto wasn’t involved in biotechnology, but their main product was Round-Up, the largest-selling herbicide in the world. It had been used extensively in Guatemala, where the heart of my work was the recovery of land that had been destroyed by chemicals. I believed that Round-Up had contributed to destroying the land, to the hunger and poverty that the Mayan people were living in. So I knew a lot about Monsanto.

Why did you decide to go forward with them?

I was persuaded to work with Monsanto because so many people work inside corporations . . .

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