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Thứ Ba, tháng 11 28, 2006

No. 1262 (Minh Chau dich)

Monks with MBAs

In Shanghai's temples, monks are making use of skills gained in business schools to care for temporal needs along with the spiritual

Nestled in the heart of the bustling commercial district of Putuo, in Shanghai, the Jade Buddha Temple at first seems to take the casual visitor back to a more spiritual time. Founded in 1882, the temple houses several Buddha statues, including two jade ones originally brought from Burma by a Chinese monk more than a hundred years ago. Inside, incense wafts before bronze Buddhas where worshippers kneel in prayer.

But a closer look reveals that the temple's monks are focused on the temporal as well as the spiritual worlds. Flashy new Coca-Cola (KO) vending machines offer refreshment, and souvenir shops sell jade bracelets and lotus-shaped candles. Monks chat on mobile phones. And parked at the back of the large temple complex is a row of expensive vehicles, including two BMWs, a Lexus (TM), and a sporty yellow Porsche Targa.

They may don the traditional saffron robes worn by generations of monks, but the temple's caretakers have their feet solidly planted in the modern world. In fact, 18 monks and 6 lay Buddhists from the temple are newly minted MBAs, having graduated earlier this year from Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Antai College of Economics and Management. Inaugurated in September, 2005, Antai's half-year program in temple management features courses in religious philosophy, managing temple finances, and marketing religious products.

Pricey Seminars

The B-school grads are putting their newfound skills to good use. Already the temple boasts its own logo which is emblazoned on walls throughout the complex. Shops inside sell traditional Chinese paper cutouts of flowers and birds. And foreign tourists with a taste for revolutionary pop art can also pick up jazzy red cutouts with the image of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao posing together, priced at $12.

In addition, the temple has begun hosting a seminar series on Buddhism run by the head abbot. The cost can run as much $25,000 for a small group. Flyers advertise that the hefty price should be viewed as a "donation for enhancing one's achievements and morality."

Your Business is a Temple

With the first MBA class for monks deemed a success, the Jade Buddha temple now plans to have the remainder of its 280 monks enroll. "I'm not sure when my chance will be, but I am definitely going to get a degree," says one thirtysomething monk working at Jade Buddha's guest reception center.

Jade Buddha isn't the only temple sending its monks off to school. Plans are afoot to have monks from another 28 temples in Shanghai get their MBA degrees at Antai. "Many think that monks in the temple should just take care of the temple and have little contact with the outside world. But the reality is they must manage the temple and deal with money," says Wang Fanghua, dean of Antai College.

"They have found that a temple should be run like a business," he says. Where else but in hypercommercial Shanghai could capitalism and religion mix so well?

Roberts is BusinessWeek's Beijing bureau chief.