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Top insurer forces employees to study Buddhist teachings

October 6, 2008

From WorldNetDaily
By Bob Unruh

A former Prudential Insurance manager is preparing legal action against the company, claiming she was fired after blowing the whistle on mandatory Eastern religious exercises that included chanting the Hindu mantra “om” in darkened rooms.

Prudential Insurance Co.’s southern California real estate division also required managers to read a Buddhist book, charges the Christian ex-employee, whose name has been withheld pending formal action.

The former manager’s lawyer, Richard Ackerman of Ackerman Cowles & Associates, has written a letter to Prudential demanding the company stop requiring participation in the religious practices and warning he has been retained to pursue claims of religious discrimination, “hostile environment” and harassment against his client that led to her termination.

Ackerman told Prudential California Realty, a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate, it must stop the “discriminatory practice of segregating Christians from other employees and forcing employees to adopt and practice Buddhist theology as an implied or express condition of their … employment.”

Ackerman told WND his client was instructed to go to a managers’ seminar and was given a book, “Buddha: 9 to 5,” to study beforehand.

The book, boasting it was “based on the Buddhist practice of the Eightfold Path,” provides “a hands-on set of tools to reawaken yourself, your employees, and your organization.”

“Using the Buddhist concepts of Intention, Mindfulness, and Right Action, you’ll be able to reap prosperity not just in profits but in stronger connections with your employees and your customers,” the book instructs.

It was written by Nancy Spears, who was described in the book as “a former marketing executive who embraced spiritual practice as a means of survival in the corporate workplace,” who now is on the board for the Shambhala Mountain Center in Aspen, Colo., where she lives.

Officials with Prudential California Realty did not return a WND message requesting a comment.

Ackerman told WND his client was in the management ranks for the organization and was required to attend a management conference that focused on the Buddhist book. He said managers also were required to be in 13-minute sessions in darkened rooms where everyone was instructed to sit in the lotus position with hands held overhead while the “om” chant was performed.

The “om” chant actually is more often associated with Hinduism, and an online information resource for the religion states, “The goal which all the Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at, and which men desire when they lead the life of continence … is om. … Whosoever knows this syllable obtains all that he desires. … Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of Brahma.”

At the seminar, after the lights were turned back on, those who “felt uncomfortable” with the stunt were required to stand and explain. The participation in the mysticism conflicted with the religous and moral principles of the law firm’s client, the wife of a local evangelical Christian pastor, Ackerman said.

“Basically what they did was made her life miserable [following her objections],” Ackerman said.

Ackerman’s letter to the real estate company cited its “2007 Fall Leadership Conference – ‘Rise Above’ Lake Arrowhead” event.

“The event was, by all accounts, a required part of employment,” Ackerman’s letter said. “Part of the event included an unexpected and rather shocking indoctrination into Buddhist theology and actual meditation/prayer practices.

“Both the speakers and the content of the conference required employee acceptance of anti-Christian theology, practices and beliefs,” Ackerman wrote. “While our office can conceptually understand the perceived need for acceptance, equality, and diversity, it is certainly unusual to require employees to engage in actual prayer/meditation exercises. Had employees been required to participate in Bible study, management-led compulsory prayer to the Holy Trinity, or other similar Christian practices, one can rest assured that complaints would be aplenty.”

He said the pastor’s wife and other workers who objected to the mandatory religious activity were “made to feel as though they were just not getting along with the intended program.”

“Aside from the prayer activity, the program participants were also bombarded with ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’ ideology,” Ackerman wrote. He explained to WND the ideology is a basic part of “New Age” religion.

“The uncomfortable employees were disregarded and treated as outsiders as a result of their discomfort with the infusion of religion and new age ‘spirituality’ into the workplace,” he continued.

“While it should have been apparent to anyone at the conference that mandating religious activity in a workplace is discriminatory, hostile, and inappropriate under California and federal law, the process went on anyway. In fact, the conduct toward my client was so shocking that she was caused to literally choke at the event and had to be rescued by a coworker,” Ackerman said.

“Following the conference, Prudential CEO Steve Rogers continued to cause management meetings to be opened with the Buddhist prayer rituals,” the letter said.

The manager’s ultimate termination was “on a false pretense” last month, the letter said.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. exprucal permalink
    October 23, 2008 12:30 am

    At least they had the sense to cancel the next Arrowhead Leadership this year which was going to take it to another level.

  2. exprucal permalink
    October 23, 2008 12:27 am

    Surprising that this story seems not to be getting much attention. Just like hsp70 the whole thing was really weird.

  3. hsp70 permalink
    October 20, 2008 11:00 pm

    I too was there. It is all true. And, it was extremely weird.

  4. Kevin churchill permalink
    October 12, 2008 5:43 pm

    Over the last 30 years the teachings of the buddha has begun to permanate the west.
    In observing this I find it distrubing that it is now a market for making money.I mean what else do we do with everything in the west,we turn it into entertainment and hold on to it so “I”am doing good or look at “ME” I am creating such good Karma!!”I”hope buddhism does not start to get a bad rap because of our idiot compassion!!!

  5. Kevin churchill permalink
    October 12, 2008 8:25 am

    Read some of Joseph Campbells works he explains alot about commom sense and gurus and so much more.

  6. October 11, 2008 11:42 am

    Unfortunately, I’ve experienced much the same thing as Matthew. I guess it’s just human nature to jockey for power in any kind of organization. In this case, it probably works out in peoples’ heads that the higher you get in the organization, the closer you get to the teacher, the more awakened you must be. This isn’t restricted to American Buddhist organizations but can be found, for instance, amongst middle-class Taiwanese housewives who join Buddhist groups like Dharma Drum and Tzu chi (it actually gets pretty cut-throat). You don’t need to subject yourself to that kind of nonsense to learn the Dhamma. And if a teacher is really worth his or her mettle, that kind of stuff won’t happen under his or her watch.

    But, back to the topic at hand, what made the situation described in the article even worse was that this wasn’t just any retreat–it was a (supposedly mandatory) series of Prudential employee training programs.

  7. October 11, 2008 6:46 am

    Having lived and worked at a Shambhala centre for eighteen months and been associated with the Sangha for nine years, this year I cut my ties to the Sangha completely.

    Shambhala is a very hierarchical church-school of Buddhism. The people who tend to gravitate towards the top often seemed to be Alpha-type personalities who would be drawn to power in any situation: church, work or school playground for example.

    I call these people “career Buddhists” as they accrete the Dhammic teachings into their ego and then seek rank within Buddhist organisations – which is of course the opposite of what Dhamma is about.

    Nancy Spears may or may not be one of these types of Buddhists – a quick look at her webpage does show all the external hallmarks – but of the many thousands of Shambhalians I have met she is not one of them so I have no personal experience on which to comment.

    I suspect that what has happened here is that Nancy Spears book and ideas have fallen into the hands of people with similar Alpha type personalities to these “career Buddhists” within the offending organisation.

    This would explain the force they tried to impose, their lack of true understanding and compassion and that they expunged rather than integrated the people struggling with this program.

    In other words the people running the program probably thought they were more “realised” or “awake” than they really are and, when challenged, were pissing their egotistic scent marks up the leg of anyone who dared question their spiritual authority – if you will excuse my analogy.

    I have seen this happen at Shambhala training programmes. It is not a pretty sight to see a bewildered student with a genuine question get shot down because the “teacher” does not really know the answer and is too acutely attached to their own shame and unaware of it to do anything but throw it back in the face of their student.

    It is typical in cult type activities to shoot down those who ask the awkward question.

    This seminar was clearly well intentioned and would have been better handled if the people running it actually had some genuine Dhammic insight – the comment from the poster above who attended the seminar convinces me they had none or little.

    In the Dhamma,

    Matthew

  8. October 10, 2008 7:51 pm

    lotus_in_the_hills: The woman is Nancy Spears. Click the link for her website. I’ve e-mailed her a few questions, we’ll see what the response is, if she responds.

  9. October 10, 2008 5:26 pm

    Forcing New Age-y ideas on employees under the guise of “stress management” exercises, togetherness or morale workshops or what have you, is entirely disagreeable, just as disagreeable as, say, having your boss organize a company-wide Christian prayer circle or an employee using the workplace as a venue for aggressive proselytizing.

    This kind of practice infringes on peoples’ liberties, and, what is particularly relevant for a Buddhist, it cheapens the religious traditions it is supposedly working off of. World religions are more than just a lame approach to maximizing the productivity of an alienated an demoralized employee.

    If this is indeed what happened under Steve Rodgers (note, the article misspells his name), and exprucal would be able to tell us better than anyone, I find it completely reprehensible. What I find equally reprehensible, though, is that the WorldNetDaily has seized upon this story to push its ultra right-wing myth of “American Christianity under attack by evil secular pagans!” Saints preserve us!

    Exprucal, do you know which sect of Buddhism Steve Rodgers and co. were drawing their prayers, meditation sessions, etc. from? If you could provide more info about that, I’d be interested to know :)

  10. Kevin churchill permalink
    October 9, 2008 8:03 pm

    You do not force people to under go such actions!!!Religion is a very sacred decsion for one to make in there lives,you do not make people feel like they don”t have a choice.Many companies and groupes are trying to use mindfullness as a way to be in the now.Jon Kabat-Zinn has a great program used all over the world for mindfullness,but it comes down to the individual to make that choice.You can find great Knowledge in Christianity if that is your path.I would be pissed if this would have happened to me.I an a very open person but do not force me do something I feel goes against my princibles.

  11. exprucal permalink
    October 8, 2008 11:15 pm

    Very well said, thank you for the opportunity to further explain myself!

  12. October 8, 2008 11:10 pm

    I apologize as well, I guess I took the comment out of context.

    I understand where you are coming from, it’s the approach I take with my children. I try to be as open as possible with religion to them. My daughter for one used to ask me to take her to a kids Dharma class, eventually she stopped asking and I didn’t push it. For the past few weeks she has gone to a Methodist church with one of her friends. I never questioned her and told her it is her choice and right to seek out whatever fits. That should be the route everyone should take, with your children, friends, family or at your job, Noone should feel pressured into anything, it’s a choice the individual needs to make.

    Thanks for your comments everyone!

  13. exprucal permalink
    October 8, 2008 11:04 pm

    Sorry, let me expand my comments. The “new age” religion comment was another speaker at the same conference that studies “The Secret” and NLP. I in no way meant to say that the Buddhist religion is “new age” as this comment was directed towards that speaker.

    The book is actually good, again I just don’t think it should be required reading in Corporate America – it should be an individual choice.

  14. October 8, 2008 10:58 pm

    Great, thank you for reposting this comment!

    I totally agree with you on this one, but like Daba said at the end of the comment, it’s not a very Buddhist thing to do. Obviously the people running these programs are not as knowledgeable as the put themselves off as. The author of the supposed book is reputable within her lineage, at least that’s what I’ve found after googling her name.

    As you say “We are in America and we each deserve our own beliefs”, in nearly the same breath, you mock the core beliefs of those that actually follow the Buddhist religion. It is not “New Age”, that implies that it is a recent happening and couldn’t be further from the truth. Buddhism has been around for 2,500 or so years, doesn’t seem very “New Age”. Maybe alot of the “yuppies” who cling to trends and follow blindly those around them may fall under that cloud of “New Age” but in all fairness, Buddhism is not “New Age”.

  15. exprucal permalink
    October 8, 2008 10:49 pm

    I know that this is true as I was in the room when it happened. We are in America and we each deserve our own beliefs. We should not be subjected to forced beliefs by any employer. I don’t think that Home Services, Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, or Prudential Real Estate would think this is acceptable. The management and employees of Prudential California Realty have been subjected to all types of “new age” religion and are fearful who will be the next one terminated. Just wait for the next upcoming Arrowhead retreat!

  16. October 8, 2008 10:36 pm

    There was a recent comment that was to be moderated, I accidentally hit delete thinking I was hitting the approve button. Whoever that was, could you please try again and I will make sure your comment comes across? I had a comment to make about it anyway so please try again.

  17. Daba permalink
    October 7, 2008 5:13 am

    Well, I’m almost tempted to say that I get some self-satisfaction from their squirming uncomfortably in a “Buddhist” (in this case, chill out, think team work, and make money) environment. Buddhists in the U.S. are doing this all the time in Christian environments. You like how that feels? But that wouldn’t show much Christian charity on my part, would it! All-in-all the separation of governing and business from religion has to be a good thing.

    “The uncomfortable employees were disregarded and treated as outsiders.”

    Doesn’t sound very Buddhist, really. They’re supposed to regard, not disregard.

  18. October 6, 2008 8:52 pm

    Considering where this was published, I question how reliable this article is. I’ve been trying to dig up more details, so stay tuned.

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