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The Bodhisattva Investor
Re-framing Angel Investment from a Buddhist Perspective
“A bodhisattva is a being who wants to relieve suffering wherever they find it.”
– Jack Kornfield
Although I was raised in the Bible Belt of the Southern United States, I grew up in a non-Christian household. My Grandmother, Peggy, at a very young age, began questioning the received orthodoxy of Christianity and decided that it didn’t make sene to her. She left it behind. Likewise, my Grandfather Latif, a Palestinian immigrant, stopped practicing Islam after he left the Middle East. He did this so that he could more easily adapt to a new country & culture–a classic immigrant survival tactic.
I suppose it was, at least in part, because of my families lack of religious moorings, and also because we experienced ourselves as perpetual outsiders, that I found it comfortable to slip into the strange world of American Convert Buddhism. Meditation and the promise of Enlightenment drew me in, but Buddhist philosophy and ritual ended up speaking to a very deep part of me.
While our latest start-up venture, Interbeing Inc, isn’t creating an explicitly Buddhist-based product–check out Meditatewith.ai to experience our public multiplayer meditation demo–I still bring a Buddhist-informed view to the work I’m doing. It’s with this in mind that I wanted to share a novel concept, related to the world of start-ups and investment, that I call the Bodhisattva Investor. This is, one could say, the Buddhist version of the Christian-inspired idea of the Angel Investor.
In both Christianity & Buddhism you see the expression of ideals related to what incredible beings are like. Jesus (the son of God), and the Buddha (the fully enlightened one), are the pinnacle figures in their respective traditions. Then you also have the slightly less bad-ass, but still pretty darn impressive, categories of both Angels, from the Monotheistic religious traditions, and Bodhisattvas, from the Buddhist tradition.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is said of Angels, those messengers of God, that “[f]rom its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.” Angels are those heavenly beings that watch out for us and who intercede, sometimes in miraculous ways, on behalf of God’s Will (“thy will be done.”).
If you think about how this ideal translates over to the field of investment, it fits perfectly with how many of us already think about angel investors. They are those people who step into a venture, usually at a very early stage, and through their own faith in the founders and their vision, they dedicate whatever forms of capital they can (financial, social, cultural, intellectual, etc.) to help make this vision a reality.
Although Christianity is on a sharp decline in the West, it’s still the dominant religion of America, so it makes sense that our business community would still use these metaphors and stories as primary archetypes. But as our culture becomes even more diverse, perhaps it’s time to start letting some other archetypes into the mix, one’s that speak to different aspects of what it means to support those ventures that matter most to us.
“The bodhisattva is not concerned with conversion; he respects others’ lifestyles, speaks their language, and allows them to evolve according to their nature rather than making them into a replica of himself.” – Chögyam Trungpa
It’s important to note that the Bodhisattva Ideal isn’t just for heavenly beings, it’s for anyone that makes a long-term commitment to the material & spiritual well-being of all beings. Bodhisattvas are driven, first and foremost, by a commitment to developing skillfulness, precisely so that they can be of the most possible benefit. And their altruism has a distinctly existential edge–the bodhisattva is interested in your awakening, in the quality of your presence. They’re interested in you understanding your true nature.
"When you have faith in something, it’s not faith, it’s belief. When you have faith in nothing, what is this no--thing? Emptiness, true nature. Your true nature is no--nature. Having faith in no-thing is trusting in your true nature." - Genpo Roshi
The Bodhisattva investor is interested in marshaling all the forms of capital, with all the skillfulness they can muster, on behalf of an intention to help all living beings realize that they are not limited by their small ideas. We can, each of us, live with great presence, connection, & compassion. The Bodhisattva investor gets fully behind those projects & ventures they feel have the best possible chance of realizing their deeper aims. And they do so–not as messengers of God–but as regular people driven by a heroic spiritual purpose.