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Finding Happiness as Chair: What the Buddha Said

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The Buddha set out a pathway of eight steps to bring life into balance and equilibrium, even for department chairs! 



The posting below gives an eight-point plan, based on the practice of Buddhism, for removing suffering and finding happiness as a department chair. It is by Randel Brown and Diana Linn who are both at Texas A&M International University. The article is from The Department Chair: A Resource for Academic Administrators, Spring 2014, Vol. 24, No. 4. For further information on how to subscribe, as well as pricing and discount information, please contact, Sandy Quade, Account Manager, John Wiley & Sons, Phone: (203) 643-8066 (, or see:


Rick Reis

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Finding Happiness as Chair: What the Buddha Said


Few would argue that one of the most complex jobs in higher education is that of the department chair. On the one hand, upper administrators often consider the chair position a necessary evil to control and direct both faculty and student actions and interests. They view the chair as primarily a faculty member who has one foot in administration and the other in the faculty ranks. Their perception of the role may change as their needs change. On the other hand, department faculty frequently consider the chair as a colleague who has succumbed to malevolent forces. For example, I once heard a faculty senate president, in an all-faculty presentation, refer to a newly appointed chair as someone who had "gone over to the dark side." In addition, students typically see the chair as their last hope for addressing a problem or their last stumbling block to getting what they want or need. The chair position becomes confused and complicated by the diverse views of those affected by a chair's actions and direction and by those whose actions affect the chair. Buddha had a few simple points of advice for individuals with complex occupations that may lead them to equilibrium: a life and job in balance.

More than 350 million people worldwide practice Buddhism in some form or another. If you consider Buddhism a religion, it would be the fourth largest religion in terms of numbers. Many, however, view Buddhism in its purist form as simply a philosophy without any attachment to deities or ritual practice. In this view, it presents a clear pathway to contentment in everyday life, including, we presume, the life of a department chair.

The Buddha began life some 2,500 years ago. He was born as a wealthy prince whose father protected him from seeing or experiencing any human suffering or discomfort. He eventually understood that everyone experiences difficulty and suffering of some sort. Sickness and death are the obvious, but he also realized that all humans suffer through disappointment in everyday life. The Buddha never suggested, however, that we do not experience happiness; rather, he indicated that happiness, like suffering, comes and goes beyond our control. The original Pali word for suffering was Dukkha, which translates as uneasiness, stress, imbalance, and other similar terms. The basic concept is that life, at times, will be out of balance. Department chairs can easily relate to a work life that is often imbalanced. Just like pulling a wagon with a flat wheel or driving over an unexpected pothole, life for a chair can be bumpy.

The Buddha set out four basic truths that describe life in general and more specifically the issues involved in making positive contributions when your position is a difficult one to balance. The four truths as they relate to the department chair are as follows:

  • The truth of suffering or imbalance (Dukkha): without doubt, the department chair position will cause feelings of discomfort or imbalance from time to time.
  • The cause of suffering or imbalance (Samudaya): The cause of our imbalance is our own attachment to the idea that things will work out: people will fulfill their


    obligations with promptness, deans and provosts will fully support efforts, students will always be satisfied with their classes and grades, and faculty will treat the chair with respect and admiration. we all know that the opposite takes place with some frequency.The truth that suffering can end (Nirodha): The Buddha assured department chairs and all other living creatures that life can be balanced, our wheels can run true and the potholes will be filled

  • The truth of the path to remove suffering (Ariya Atthagika Magga): The Buddha set out a pathway of eight steps to bring life into balance and equilibrium, even for department chair

Many chairs find themselves in the midst of suffering or imbalance after a complex day of completing tasks, advising students, and comforting department faculty. Often there is little energy left for family commitments after a fourteen-hour day of cajoling, negotiating, reassuring, calming, cheering, consoling, and sometimes upsetting your provost, dean, faculty, and several students. Surely, chairs are looking for a pathway for better survival skills in the workplace. They may even want to find a way to experience more satisfaction and happiness while working in a most difficult occupation. This discussion leads us to what the Buddha said about seeking happiness as chair. In a nutshell, Buddha laid out an eight-point plan for removing Dukkha and finding happiness as a department chair.


  • Right view (Samma-Ditthi): Right view or wisdom is the understanding that the chair position, and life in general, is filled with potential pitfalls and dissatisfaction, which can lead to imbalance in our entire lives. Right view or wisdom is simply seeing clearly that the potential for imbalance is always one step away
  • Right intention (Samma-Sankappa): Right intention means having the right view toward yourself and others. It is turning the focus away from the selfish notion that
  • everything must go as planned and toward a commitment to bring contentment and balance to your department faculty, staff, and students.
  • Right speech (Samma-Vaca): Right speech seems to carry the most weight in finding happiness as chair. it requires speech that is truthful, reliable, and worthy of confidence. Department chairs should never knowingly speak a lie or untruth either for their advantage or for the advantage of others. A simple way to practice right speech is to speak only what is true, only what is necessary, and only what is kind. To speak truth in kindness sometimes feels conflicted; however, if a student or faculty member is not measuring up, the kindest thing to do is to give them opportunities to improve by discussing the problem directly. It may be difficult for the listener, but it provides him or her with a pathway to happiness.
  • Right action (Samma-Kammanta): like right speech, right action centers on the concept that our actions should focus on others and not ourselves. Department chairs should focus their efforts on providing active support to faculty, allowing them to excel in their research, teaching, and service opportunities. A chair's right actions will support and protect both students and faculty.
  • Right livelihood (Samma-Ajiva): Right livelihood is choosing an occupation that has as its main goal to serve others. Department chairs have an easy route in that the job is centered primarily on improving the lives of faculty and students.
  • Right effort (Samma-Vayama): Right effort refers to giving full intensity toward clearing the mind of thoughts and energies that prevent us from completely serving others. For the chair, this means approaching the job with everything aligned toward creativity and healing.
  • Right mindfulness (Samma Sati): Right mindfulness refers to total concentration on what is happening in this moment. The Buddha taught that our efforts should focus on the present moment and not on the past or future. This, of course, does not mean that planning is a bad habit, but rather that we should attend to our immediate actions in order to achieve a successful outcome. In addition, our full attention belongs to the person who is with us now, whether an administrator, faculty member, student, or any other.
  • Right concentration (Samma-Damadhi): Right concentration refers to developing the practice of unwavering focus and calmness of mind. It is learning to focus the mind on one object or task, a process akin to meditation. This practice aids us in all the steps to achieving happiness as a department chair.


For the last 2,500 years, Buddha's Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path have provided a guide to finding happiness in the complexity of everyday life for millions across the world. Realizing the challenges of serving as department chair is the first step in doing the job well. This involves understanding that your life as chair will be filled with unexpected adventures, multifarious pathways, emergency undertakings, inventive contradictions, and exasperating individual interactions. Thus, it is imperative to find a passageway through the role's minefield. Buddha offers a simple pathway for finding happiness and contentment amid multiplicity.


Randel Brown is chair of the Department of Professional Programs, and Diana Linn is chair of the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, both at Texas A&M International University.,