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Vedic Foundations Of Indian Management Ancient Insights as Motive Force for Advancement

Updated: December 1, 2012 11:58 am

Throughout history ancient insights have been the motive force for advancement and forward march of mankind in many frontier areas of knowledge. Professor Albert Einstein described Buddhism as a source for scientific research. History stands testimony to the fact that renaissance of ideas from ancient Greece accompanied by reformation spurred modern science. Primarily driven by wealth of ancient Greek wisdom it heralded a new and exciting era marked by expansion of human mind and use of enormous power of science to set new bench marks of scientific discovery and material achievement. In the age of information technology the defining feature of which is widespread use of computers and lightening flow of information, the scientists have proclaimed unequivocally that the Sanskrit language, considered, as the mother of all languages of India, is the most computer friendly. Attempts are now being made to address many pressing and compelling challenges confronted by the world by recalling the ethical outlook of Ashoka, the Great, who ruled a vast Empire in third century BC based on tolerance, non-violence and respect for life. The book To Uphold the World: A Call for Ethics from the Ancient India authored by Bruce Reach of the USA constitutes a refreshing step to derive inspiration from bygone era for restoring values and morals for the sustenance of the technocratic modern civilization of the twenty first century. These represent some of the finest human endeavors to turn the search light to the hoary past to trace the pearls of wisdom for enriching life and society and restore its balance badly shaken by loss of basic values woven around enlightenment, spirituality, humanism, love, compassion.

The adoption of the theme Vedic Foundations of Indian Management is yet another exemplary approach to open up the mind for tracing the ancient insights for nourishment and sustenance of modern disciplines which are central to business, entrepreneurship, innovation, generation of wealth and innovation. While the latest mathematical models finding prominent place in the management syllabus have enriched the discipline, these , according to some studies, have been at the root of many crises plaguing the economies and societies across the world. The students who base their understanding on these mathematical models think that society and human behaviour would be governed by mathematical models as well. The financial crisis originating in the USA in 2008 has been attributed to the management professionals who while studying these models in some of the reputed business schools of the world were taught that multiplication of money remained the chief goal of business. Quest for salvaging the economies of the world from such a model of governance has engaged the attention of well intentioned people. It is lamented that ethics and social responsibility have been lost sight of in pursuit of greater profits and multiplication of business opportunities. The imbalance caused by following such an approach has gravely affected economies of many countries. The attempt to comprehensively understand the Vedic Foundations of Indian Management is a novel attempt to get the discipline of management rooted in the enduring and holistic values of Vedas and Vedanta which have been creatively interpreted to underline their contemporary significance. This is where yet again ancient insights are being invoked to provide wholesome basis and perspective to a discipline which attracts bright students from a wide variety of disciplines from across the world.

Swami Vivekananda, Vedas and Business

Towards the end of the twentieth century Swami Vivekananda one of the most cerebral saints and enchanting interpreters of the fundamentals of the Hinduism had famously proclaimed that India needed, among others, Vedantic brain to restore and reinvent her spiritual values and provide sanity and strength to her modern identity. It is refreshing to note he once told a disciple that if the spiritual leaders could not teach people, who are deprived and immersed in illiteracy and ill health, how to do business there would was no meaning of their mastery over Vedas and Vedanta. In other words he underlined the point that those who remained well versed in Vedas and Vedanta would be better placed in teaching people about the nuances of starting an enterprise and pursuing business practices. He linked business and Vedanta essentially to reach out to the poverty-stricken people and economically empower them for enhancing their ability to do some business, earn their livelihood and take care of their material requirements. In fact he had the sensitivity to understand that people of India due to their poverty and economic misery were in no position to pursue spirituality and, therefore, had to be taught by the saints to do business and fill their belly and later think of realising divinity. His ringing words that people of India in the end of twentieth century had to first worship what he called the “belly God” and then follow religion and spirituality underlined the importance of fulfilling basic necessities of life. In doing so he never separated materialism and spirituality. In thus combing knowledge of Vedas with knowledge of business he outlined an integrated approach which is at the heart of Vedic Foundations of Indian Management. It means that knowledge of Vedas would necessarily open up the avenues for many other pursuits of life which includes business, trade and commerce.

Mahatma Gandhi and Vedas

In studying the Vedas and understanding and internalising their moral universe one would actually give ethical depth to any dimension of life. In fact it was Mahatma Gandhi who had written in Young India that “The Vedas to me, are not the texts written on paper, but my very conscience and the Indweller. They tell me to observe Yama and Niyama (the cardinal and causal virtues) and trust every thing to Lord Krishna”. In giving primacy to conscience in life and business and following Yama and Niyama in every field we can, while remaining tuned to the material dimensions, will get anchored on much more fundamental values which are woven around infinite dimensions of the universe.

Jawaharlal Nehru and Vedantic Approach

The first Prime Minister of our country and the architect of modern India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru wrote an insightful piece outlining the challenges and opportunities offered by modern civilisation and referred to certain degree of mental exhaustion suffered by people in coping with stresses and strains of modern life. He then wrote that eventually the old Vedantic approach would provide the solace and hope to get out of the mounting crises and keep the mind open and expanded. The prescription offered by Pandit Nehru to go back to the Vedantic approach was very timely and educative.

 As institutions of higher education involved in the development of current and future managers we declare our willingness to progress in the implementation, within our institution, of the following Principles, starting with those that are more relevant to our capacities and mission. We will report on progress to all our stakeholders and exchange effective practices related to these principles with other academic institutions:

PURPOSE: We will develop the capabilities of students to be future generators of sustainable value for business and society at large and to work for an inclusive and sustainable global economy.

VALUES: We will incorporate into our academic activities and curricula the values of global social responsibility as portrayed in international initiatives such as the United Nations Global Compact.

METHOD: We will create educational frameworks, materials, processes and environments that enable effective learning experiences for responsible leadership.

RESEARCH: We will engage in conceptual and empirical research that advances our understanding about the role, dynamics, and impact of corporations in the creation of sustainable social, environmental and economic value.

PARTNERSHIP: We will interact with managers of business corporations to extend our knowledge of their challenges in meeting social and environmental responsibilities and to explore jointly effective approaches to meeting these challenges.

DIALOGUE: We will facilitate and support dialog and debate among educators, students, business, government, consumers, media, civil society organisations and other interested groups and stakeholders on critical issues related to global social responsibility and sustainability.

We understand that our own organisational practices should serve as example of the values and attitudes we convey to our students.

Without referring to the Vedic foundation the Principles do uphold the values central to the Vedas. Swami Vivekananda had said that “None can be Vedantisists and at the same time admit of privilege to any one, either mental, physical, or spiritual; absolutely no privilege for any one…The idea that one man is born superior to another has no meaning in the Vedanta; that between two nations one is superior and the other is inferior has no meaning whatsoever.”

Swami Vivekananda and Vedanta

Vedic foundation constitutes an approach which gives meaning, depth and content to the existence of life beyond material domain. It would be educative to note that Swami Vivekananada delivered a remarkable lecture in England on the theme “Vedanta as a Factor in Civilisation”. He very cogently drove home the point that the approach centering around Vedas and Vedanta turns the mind inwards to explore and understand the absolute. In doing so he argued that the human mind reach out to the root to which all forms of existence owe their origin. The exploration of the inner world has been badly neglected by our tuning to the outer world which is essentially materialistic in orientation. Modern day research affirm that life with too much of materialistic orientation suffers from life style disease and imbalance of inner life. That is why tuning to inner life is so essential to go beyond materialistic dimensions which are central to management education. By restoring the Vedic Foundations we restore the inner life which is the essence and root of our existence.

In the modern period of twenty first century ethical values have been rapidly declining. The financial crisis of 2008 is a by product of culture of greed and absence of accountability which essentially means ethical deficit. In understanding the Vedic foundations we understand that ethics is the foundation and any attack on that foundation is an attack on ethics. Yet again let us refer to Swami Vivekananda who wrote that in ancient India the Vedanta Philosophers discovered the basis of ethics by saying that each individual soul is a part and parcel of the universal Soul which is infinite and, therefore, by injuring others the individual injures himself or herself. In understanding the basic unity of the individual with the rest of the universe a cosmic consciousness is underlined which binds us all together. The Vedic foundation enables us to develop that cosmic consciousness which is a fundamental prerequisite for going beyond self and self centred approach. The very idea of corporate social responsibility which is now underlined to make business socially relevant is rooted in the notion that every activity has a wider scope and it is important to go beyond narrow frame to realise its significance at a larger plane. By reading Vedas and Vedanta we go to the basis of ethics which means to realise the fact that we are part of larger whole and by confining our activity to our narrow self we compromise on ethics. This means that if we generate wealth and use it for ourselves we become selfish as the generation of wealth is part of wider social and cosmic activity and, therefore, riches and wealth have to be used for a wider cause beyond self.

There is a persistent interpretation emanating from scholars which teach us that the human civilisation is progressing to higher level of consciousness. Swami Vivekananda in his lecture on Vedanta as Factor in Civilisation which has been referred to earlier had stated that soul instead of passing from error to truth actually passed from truth to truth. In this onward march of the soul from lower truth to higher truth there is inevitable journey to realise universal consciousness. Every activity of life be it the commerce or management must factor this principle that we are marching from truth to truth. This positive approach will yield positive results and restore ethics and morals to provide meaning and substance to modern day life.

The Principles of Responsible Management Education(PRME) devised by some of the multinational enterprises in association with the UN now talk about ethics and sustainability to make the business activity more aligned to the practices which can be harmonious with environment and biodiversity.

Vedanta aginst inequality and privilege

The unacceptable levels of inequality among different sections of society and the attendant privileges associated with it has generated social tension and led to violence and bloodshed. The answer to such problem lies in measures one of which flows from Vedanta and which proclaims destruction of privileges based on wealth or any other factor. The ringing words of Swamiji is worth quoting here. He said, “The practical side of Vedanta morality is necessary as much today as it ever was, more necessary, perhaps, than it ever was, for all this privilege claiming has become tremendously intensified with the extension of knowledge…. Tremendous power is being acquired by the manufacture of machines and other appliances, and privilege is claimed today as it never has been claimed in the history of the world. That is why the Vedanta wants to preach against it, to break down this tyrannising over the soul of men”.

In the USA 99 per cent vs I per cent movement was launched to protest against the inequality of income and the privileges arising out of it. The crying necessity is to put an end to inequality. The Vedic and Vedantic approach is the right way which if followed will put a check on the “tyrannising over the soul of men”.

By Satya Narayana Sahu

(The author is Joint-Secretary, Rajya Sabha Secretariat)




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