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Spirituality in Management
Address given by Revered Master Shri Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari at Ritz Hotel on 2 February, 1990
Some years ago when I was first asked to speak on a subject like 'Spirituality in Corporate Management', somebody remarked that, "They are strange bedfellows, spirituality and corporate management."
I was inclined to agree. After Mr. Rajagopalan's introduction, I was reminded of my dual role in life - spiritual life from my corporate life, trying to behave like a manager in my office and like a spiritual person in the ashram.
I started life as a salesman. I didn't have to do much with management, but I had to slowly grow into my role, first as a salesman in the field, then as a salesman controlling other salesman from the office, as a sales manager, then slowly into corporate executive functions, to the extent that I was able to remain a human being and not just as a slave driver. I was able to be more and more successful in my job. I had more and more contented people working for me and, ipso facto, my boss was also happier with me. I think I owe my success to this, starting as a 150 Rupee salesman in a company and ending up as an Executive Director in the same group.
Managing several concerns in that group was not easy. Like a jumping frog, jumping from stone to stone, today the opportunities are so vast, you can start on 500 and end up on 5,000 in a couple of years. But in my days it was not so easy, and certainly not in one company. It was a small company when I started, substantially bigger when I left it and, being a privately owned corporate edifice, it had the advantages of personalised management, and to some extent, the advantages of modern business methods, which were not very palatable to my bosses, because they thought they would lose their hold on the companies. Private ownership is always suspicious of modern technology and modern techniques, because what they cannot personally control they believe is inimical to their interests.
So that was also one of our jobs. My colleagues and I had to satisfy the partners of my organisation that, like when you telephone somebody, you don't lose contact with him just because you don't see him. You are still able to speak to him. If you have a computer, you are certainly not handing over your management and your finances to other people. You are only handing over some part of the function to them. Enlightened management means management of various things with absolute subtlety, not with a heavy hand, but as if you don't exist. This is my personal knowledge that I have gathered over twenty-five to thirty years of experience. Like they say, ‘No Government is the best Government.’
Drawing an analogy from that statement, I have often found that no management is the best management. We tend at the higher levels of management—it was one disease I had to face and overcome—we tend to believe too much in our own importance. It is necessary to believe in ourselves, but not in our importance. This is a distinction that I would like to you to appreciate. Belief in oneself is not belief in one's importance, or belief in one's infallibility, or even belief in one's own necessity to run things. If nature teaches us things, if the shocks that we have experienced in our own Indian existence over the last fifty years indicate anything, it is that no human being is absolutely necessary to any situation—any situation. If the country can run without a prime minister, if states could be run without kings, and if the whole thing could be converted into a democracy and if people who have nothing to do with ruling a country could become rulers overnight, it is a system that works, and we have to use a system properly. It is very much like a human being has to learn to use his personal system, his body, his psyche, his soma and his intellectual functions. If you let any one of them run away, you suffer. The beauty of the system is that we have an absolutely impeccable system given to us, where you think of the human being as a corporate edifice, which he is, because the word corporate comes from the word 'corporeal'—corpus— a body.
So what is corporate management about? It is the management of a body, and if you draw the parallel with a human system, it has its own functions: it has its ingestive functions, it has its digestive functions and it has its excretory functions. Raw material going in, finished product coming out, waste products being thrown out, whether as an effluent or unnecessary waste, and we control all these functions: Finance Management, Capital Management, Men and Matters Management - these are all accessories, adventitious functions to the main purpose of existence. It is like a man who eats too much and cannot excrete, or like a man who is not eating enough and excreting all the time, not able to retain.
So if you are able to take a hint from nature's lessons, I think any intelligent man who has learnt to master himself and master his own functions independently and collectively as a totality, as a unity, is a good manager, whether he is in corporate life or not. I mean we are all in corporate life, for that matter, as long as we are in this body. The day we die we are no longer in corporate existence, either here or in the body. It is my humble suggestion that one who cannot manage himself is useless as a manager, even though he may be a chairman of a big corporation.
I believe personally that what the Hindu religion calls the theory of samskaras, karma, is often responsible for where we are. It is a distinct facet of my Master's teaching that there are two existences in which we participate. The material existence is ruled largely by what we bring into it in the shape of our past destiny, which we have created for ourselves. This should explain, if you are able to think about it, why apparent nincompoops occupy top positions and geniuses occupy positions way down in the ladder of corporate life.
Of course, we are able to explain a genius occupying a low-down position, we say, "Poor fellow, his destiny is against him." But when it comes to ourselves, as chairman and managing directors and what have you, it is not so easy to be so humble and say, "I am here because of my past destiny, not because I am a great guy in management."
I think a pinch of humility is always good, not that we preach humility as a necessity, but because it always makes us cautious. If I know that I am where I am by the grace of God, and without it I would be where the other fellow is, and if I can attribute my success to what I have created for myself in the past, the scenario that I have created for my past, I would always be cautious about creating the future for myself in the present. This is the crux of the spiritual teaching of this great land, with its great, enormously great heritage of spiritual values: that the present is created by the past and the future shall be created in the present. Don't therefore bask in the glory of what you are. Know that there are better things to come, provided you have the guts, you have the ability, you have the humility to understand that you are yet somewhere only in the middle of the ladder, even though it may apparently be the end of the ladder upon which you are now situated.
So the whole focus of a successful life in any field of endeavour, whether as a kshatriya in the war field, whether as a Brahmin in the sphere of teaching and advisory capacities, whether as a vaishya in agriculture, whether as a sudra in service, borrowing the categorisation of our great Vedic texts, is management of the self, which is responsible for success in any of these fields. We have seen this again and again in the lives of the great saints of the past, great warriors of the past and great kings of the past. The great warriors were those who did penance, not those who brandished their weapons and went practising archery in the fields.
The great story of Ekalavya is a pointer to this, that when his guru refused him, he could make a statue of his guru and by worshipful obeisance and an attitude of humility, accepting that stone idol as a Master, he could become the master archer, of whom Drona had to be afraid that he would defeat Arjuna, so he took away his thumb.
So this is what worshipful attitude to your service, to your work, brings about. I am greatly appreciative of our two epics that are being shown on the television … as they have brought home to our households truths that we have long forgotten, which we could not afford to forget. The greatest emperor ever in India was supposed to be Raja Janaka not because he was a great emperor of a great territory but because he was a spiritual ruler. He was a Raja-rishi, a very rare phenomena - a king who was also a rishi. You will all recall that, when Dr. Radhakrishnan became the first President of India, they called him the 'Philosopher President', not without substance. Where the two meet is true greatness. Where there is isolation in one sphere there is something wanting. The whole idea of a spiritual education in which we are trying to participate, is to bring the two halves of existence together into one blended human being, who is balanced in all his functions, who has his spiritual approach to life, whose goals are essentially spiritual, whose corporate life is only an aim or a method to carry him through life. It is very much like we use a boat to cross a river. Of course, great emperors have had boats gilded with gold and silver and things like that. But if the wood in it had failed, they would have sunk.
So the spiritual education is what we call the ability to make your self into what you have to become: a balanced person. In our Sahaj Marg system, the tradition is not to become super human in any field … someone in whom all the faculties that nature has blessed us with are balanced, because it is in balance that perfection lies.
So, in management, when you have been able to master this need for balance in your personal life, the outgoing tendency with the in-going tendency, the need for anger with the need for humility, the need for arrogance, the need for pride with the need for humility again, assuming postures which we may have to assume in management functions, but not becoming involved in those things as if you yourself are that.
Remember the famous story attributed to Ramakrishna Paramahansa about a snake which became a Guru's disciple and which he saw after ten years. Children were throwing stones at it and poking it with sticks, and the snake was almost dead.
The Guru said, "What has happened to you? You are my chela, isn't it?"
The snake said, "Lord, you taught me ahimsa (non-violence). This is my destiny. Even children mock me today."
And the saint said, "Stupid fellow, I didn't ask you to lie down like this and be poked about. Why don't you hiss? You don't have to bite!"
So we have to stage-perform our functions ... The moment you are angry - any man here who has been negotiating with labour and unions knows this - the moment you are angry, you've lost the battle. You cannot afford to be angry, but of course, at a bargaining table you have to pretend to be annoyed, you have to pretend to be displeased, you have to stage a walk-out, you have to come back, shake hands, sign the agreements! What is that you are really doing? You are managing yourself, and a capable personnel manager is the one who has been able to manage himself, exactly playing the part that he has to play, giving in where he has to give in, holding back where he has to hold back, detached from the scene, as if he is a robot performing pre-calibrated functions. If he is involved and if he makes the mistake of thinking that he is doing the negotiations and he can walk away from a table with thirteen union leaders or thirty-five union leaders, he will no longer be the manager of personnel next year.
Same with finance management. If you think that the money you are handling for your corporation or for your bosses is yours, God help such a management. It is somebody's; it is on trust. Administer it as a trust, take wise decisions but don't be involved in the success or failure of it. You have only a right of decision. You have no right over the ultimate end of that decision. The karma yoga theory of the Bhagavad-Gita says very clearly: Karmanye vaadhikaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana [Translation: Do your duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action]. Every businessman knows this. Every man who has managed businesses knows this. Notwithstanding the latest fourth generation computers, any business decision can go wrong or, aping the Peter principle, anything that can possibly go wrong will go wrong. It is the way of nature.
There again, if you have to come to the decision with a prayerful attitude, with a humble attitude, that, "I can only do what I can, the rest is with you". It is not that we beg God to make ours a success; it is that things should be right. Success and failure are personalised equations, personalised values, self-centred. But, is what I am going to do, good as a general thing? Is the product that I am going to launch on the market tomorrow, good as a general thing for human beings to consume or to wear or to go fast, whatever it may be? Few corporations today have the ability to think this way. They don't even wish to think this way. In America you have these consumer protection organisations and the famous scandal about tyres some twenty years ago, when I was still a salesman. It is because corporations are only interested in making more money and more money and more money. They will take everybody else. But the moment you forget that the consumer is a human being, who is your friend and in whose position you may be, either before you joined the Board or after you retire from the Board - we have all seen cinemas where, unfortunately, the Marwari is shown always as the villain of the piece, who makes spurious drugs, and his own son succumbs to that drug when he is sick. This is retribution. This is nemesis.
It is all the more reason to think of human values when you work as big bosses in empires, corporate empires. It is very easy to sit at the top floor penthouse, air-conditioned and completely divorce yourself from the rest of humanity. It is an illusion, which is easily engendered, in corporate life. I say this to you with the conviction of experience, because I was almost trapped.
So we have to retain touch, like a human being where his head may wear a crown, but his feet must be on the earth. He may wear velvet and walk with a golden crown on his head, but his feet will still trod the dust of the roads. We have to keep contact with two elements, this and that: the human and the product. Are they good for each other? Am I doing right in doing this? Is it good for everybody, including myself? Bearing in mind that what is only good for me and not good for others will eventually break me, because nature does not permit individual goodness. If a saint is a saint only for himself and refuses to cast his light on humanity, he is a fraud. He is a betrayer of the principles of Divinity and he is destroyed. You cannot have a lamp that illuminates only one person. The light will shed, whether you like it or not, on everybody else in this room. You cannot have rain only on your field. Others may be prepared or not prepared to receive the blessing that rains down from Heaven. That is their fault. But nature provides everything for everybody and it is our business to harness nature's resources and make the results of that harnessing available to everybody.
This is, I suppose, the ultimate idea of socialism - not some political idea of socialism that everybody has a right to vote and things like that. He who does this, he who gathers to distribute, he who manufactures to supply, retaining for himself but only what his own meagre needs are, will eventually be the successful man. Not successful in that he has a Cadillac or a penthouse flat and a boat on the Caribbean, but as a successful man in himself, with an idea of success in his own heart, content with himself, at peace with himself. He can sleep peacefully without having to answer any questions from anybody, because his conscience is clear.
As far as management is concerned, if you look at the famous Upanishad where you have the ratha with the five horses and the two wheels and the Master of the chariot inside and the driver holding the five pairs of reins, there can be no management education beyond that. I don't know why we have to read Japanese books on management and Harvard books on management and buy series of them at twenty-four thousand rupees a set. I was also enamoured. I have several volumes, which I never read, to tell you frankly. The pride of possession, not of learning, not of using that knowledge, but just when people came and saw my library, with all the hardbound books in gilt and red covers, it was a very nice feeling. This Upanishad tells you that there is a chariot with five horses, there are five pairs of reins, the Master is the Soul seated therein, serene, calm, unconnected with anything else, the driver is your buddhi [intellect], the two wheels are the corporeal and incorporeal life, the road is the road of destiny. How to balance the five horses? How to make them not run away with you? How to keep a light and gentle hand on the reins and yet control the horses and make them perform, not only adequately but perfectly? How does the Master give instructions from within? This is the aspect with which we have lost touch. All the rest we have followed. We are masters of management. We know how to manage the horses, how to keep the chariot on the road, but we have forgotten the Master behind, who is the owner of that thing, the soul within.
Most of our travails of today, the troubles of today, the tribulations of today, the disease, the misery, the mental agony that we suffer is because we have lost touch with the inner owner of our self, the Lord of our self, the Master within, and therefore we are blind.
As my Master would put it, "Such a person is at the mercy of his karma, his samskaras." He may rise; he may fall. It is not his success or his failure. It is the success or failure of his samskaras. He who has been able, by the grace of the Master and by a great deal of sustained personal effort, to remove the samskaras altogether, can claim to be a free man who now has his destiny in his hands. He is now able to take decisions as he takes them; his own decisions, not decisions enforced upon us by a latent samskara within.
We are all robots, pretending to be alive and to be cheerful and happy and married and with children. It is a robotic existence. I mean if any of you would care to examine your own conscience deeply at night when you are not able to sleep, you will find the truth of this statement. When do the samskaras cease to influence us? That is when the past has no longer any hold upon me. I am now literally liberated and I am a free agent in the hands of Divinity. Now I can shape my destiny. Otherwise, even my destiny is a push from behind. It is like the blind forces of evolution. Nobody knows into what this stage is going to evolve. It is at the play, at the mercy of a push from behind, of what they call certain forces, which lead to mutations in between. All accidents of nature therefore take billions and billions of years for a stage to evolve into something else.
The human being has been endowed with intelligence and a will power to create his destiny for himself, to become what he must, if possible tomorrow. This is not a corporate career where, to rise from the salesman to the board should take thirty years. I mean few people do it, in any case.
So the crux of management, whether at the board room, or at the family home, or even of a holiday, is personal management - not personnel, but personal. He who is a master of himself is a master of everything else. Such a person can be anything that nature makes him do at its need. He can be a king when he has to be a king. He can be a rishi in the forest, which means he has to be a rishi in the forest. He can be a warrior on the field. The great ones of the past, Parasurama and Janaka, were everything at the same time. They were advisors, they were rishis, they were tapasvis [doing ascetic spiritual practices], they were kings, they were warriors, name it, they were that.
Today we only produce narrow specialists, whether it is in corporate management or in our hospitals, or in any field that you see. Narrow specialisation with no knowledge of accessory functions, adventitious functions, and we have a mutual admiration society which we call our management institutions and management associations where we congratulate each other, pin needles on each other, Rotaries, Lions Clubs. We are indulging in this game of self-deception too long. Forgive me for saying this, but this is the disease of today. Whether in India, whether in Europe, whether in America, and the higher we rise in the material existence, the greater this self-deception that everything is nice with me, because I have a car and a nice wife and beautiful kids in the best schools. You ask a man, "Why are you happy?"
He says, "Well, I have every reason to be."
A really happy man is one who says, "I don't know," because that is natural.
"Why are you wise?"
If you say, "Because I have a Harvard degree in Business Management," it is a dependant. "Well, because my Master made me so. My God made me so. Nature created me to be wise."
If you ask Vedavyasa how he became wise, he wouldn't have been able to answer you. He had no degrees to show. Valmiki had no degrees to show. Ganesha, when he was asked to be the scribe, had no degree. He was not even a human being. Forget the fact that they are supposed to be gods. These puranic stories only show us that anything can be made to perform if there is a right Master willing to infuse the right spirit into that instrument. I mean a pen in the hand of a man with poor handwriting will only produce a poorly written page of a letter. In the hands of a calligraphist it would produce a beautiful calligraphic piece of work. What is a pen? It is only an instrument.
So … the first necessity is to accept that we need training. Master, God, these are all terms. If God can be a servant, we call him a servant. In many stories He has come as a servant of humanity; He has come as a protector of humanity; He has come as the destroyer of humanity; He has come as the preserver of humanity. We see the three great functions in Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara. But there is the creative function which is superior to them in the original act of creation, when the original power descended and everything came into existence without any planning, without any thought behind it. These people are only sustaining that creation, like we managers are only managing something somebody created for us. Somebody established a company, we are recruited and we manage it. To the extent that we should identify ourselves with that purpose it is good; to the extent that we identify that purpose as our own, it is tragic and it can be disastrous.
I am employed to fulfil the purposes of a corporation. Good! But its purpose, if it becomes my purpose, there is a subtle exchange, which can be as disastrous as in the transference between a psychoanalyst and his patient. This is a potent menace to every corporate manager and to which most of us succumb at some time or the other.
It is my company, it is my purpose, and one day we are thrown out by the neck and we go wailing around, "I made that company mine, I did so much for it, I brought it up like my own baby."
Who asked you to? See, a warrior fights on the field, but it is not his war. This lesson we must learn from the Mahabharata. Thousands of people put in the front line at the whims and fancies of the two factions. No soldier ever fights his own war. He fights for somebody else. He is a mercenary. Every man is a mercenary who works for somebody else. And every manager, every chairman of any corporation, even the giant corporation like Ford Motors or General Motors, is a mercenary because he is still concerned with his stock options, with his holiday options, with his insurance options. He who works for himself is the free man, the liberated man, because he works on himself, for himself, by himself, to make up himself that idealistic thing which we call the Purusha.
So, this is a broad idea of spiritual life in corporate management in both the senses that this corpus and this corpus are identical for me. This is the field. This is myself as the player in the field. If you think of the famous chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, The Kshetra and the Kshetrajna, each of us, by the destiny that we have created by our thoughts and actions of the past, has created a field for ourselves into which we descend. It is not an accident. In this field, if we play our part correctly, detached from it, with the idea of evolving out of it into something else, we are successful in the spiritual sense, in the real sense. Otherwise, we may be successful warriors on the field, perhaps dead, perhaps with a Victoria Cross, as in the old days.
So ladies and gentleman, sisters and brothers, I have only to say in conclusion that we have created the field in the immense wisdom of the soul between the lives, the past and the present. It is the only field in which we have to evolve. Whether it be religion, whether it be the way in which you are born, whether it is language, whether it is the custom, society, what have you. In that field we have to learn to evolve out of that. And he who evolves out of that field into successive higher fields and keeps moving, not attached to any field whatsoever, is the really liberated, ultimately personalised, humanised, divinised individual. Thank you.