Twenty ancient values for the modern manager
By D. Murali
Chennai: What accounts for the sudden downfall of otherwise successful organisations? Are there any insights from the scriptures in this regard?
In answer to these questions, Dr S. Kannan, a Chennai-based chartered accountant, and author of ‘Vedic Management’ (www.taxmann.com), finds it apt to cite the maxim ‘Vinasa kale viparita buddhih,’ which in Sanskrit means that when one is on the path of destruction, his mind gets perverted.
“This happens due to the negative vasanas (inherent impressions) of a person which suddenly manifest and show the true colours,” he explains during the course of a recent email interaction with Business Line.
“Kings like Ravana and Duryodhana, though highly learned, powerful and wealthy, faced destruction finally when they went against dharma (righteousness). The great king Harischandra suffered a lot but emerged finally victorious as he remained steadfast and upheld truth at all costs,” says Dr Kannan, making a reference to the epics.
He also quotes from the Vajasaneya Samhita that one shall not covet the wealth of others. “In the organisational context, it is the top leader who either makes or breaks the organisation. Hence a leader should master the art of proper self-management and abide by the moral and ethical values.”
Excerpts from the interview:
These days, we hear a lot about corporate governance. Is this a topic on which we can draw from ancient Indian wisdom?
There is a lot to learn from our ancient Indian wisdom, which would be of immense help in the modern times where there is a steep fall in the value system. To put it simply, the Vedas inspire us to speak the truth and follow the path of righteousness. (Satyam vada! Dharmam cara! - Taittiriya Upanishad i-11).
The path of truthfulness is said to be supreme (Tasmat satyam paramam vadanti - Mahanarayana Upanishad lxxviii-1). Truth is the foundation of the earth (Atharva Veda Samhita xiv-1-1). Truth alone wins (Satyameva jayate - Mundaka Upanishad iii-1-6). Do not swerve from truth. Do not swerve from righteousness - (Taittiriya Upanishad i-11). Truth is honey to all beings and all beings are honey to this truth (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad ii-5-12) .
In order to say that you follow corporate governance, you need to be truthful, transparent and righteous. For this purpose, your thought, speech and action have to be the same (Tasmat yatpurusho manasabhi gacchati! Tad vaca vadati! Tad karmana karoti! – Taittiriya Aranyaka i-90) . Business has to be done truthfully (Vajasaneya Samhita iii –50) .
Can you list a few values that can be imbibed from our traditional literature as guidance for corporates?
The Vedas, which represent the storehouse of our ancient value systems, talk about the following key values as very important: (a) Satyam – Truth; (b) Tapah – Austerity; (c) Damah - Sense control; (d) Samah - Tranquility of mind; (e) Dharmah – Righteousness; (f) Danam – Charity; (g) Daya – Mercy; and (h) Nyasah – Renunciation.
The Bhagavad Gita specifies twenty values in Chapter XIII (8 to 12), which are immensely relevant for any manager in the modern day corporate context as well. All these are declared as knowledge:
(a) Amanitvam - Humility.
(b) Adambhitvam - Pridelessness.
(c) Ahimsa - Non-violence.
(d) Kshanti - Tolerance.
(e) Arjavam - Simplicity.
(f) Acaryopasanam - Service to the teacher.
(g) Saucam - Cleanliness (internal and external).
(h) Sthairyam - Steadfastness.
(i) Atma vinigraha – Self-control.
(j) Vairagyam – Renunciation.
(k) Anahankara -Absence of ego.
(l) Janmamrityu jaravyadhi duhkha dosa anudarsanam - Reflection of the sufferings of life-death, old age-disease, and distress.
(m) Asakti - Non-attachment.
(n) Anabhisvanga putradaragrhadishu - Detachment towards son and wife.
(o) Nityam samacittatvam istanistopapattishu - Equanimity amidst pleasant and unpleasant happenings.
(p) Mayi ca ananyayogena bhaktih avyabhicarini - Constant and unalloyed devotion towards God.
(q) Vivikta desa sevitvam - Love for solitary life.
(r) Aratir janasamsadi - Detachment towards company of people.
(s) Adhyatmajnana nityatvam - Understanding the importance of self-realisation.
(t) Tattvajananartha darsanam - Philosophical search of the ultimate truth.
Did our rishis and munis favour only asceticism frowning upon development and growth, competition and excellence? Or is it just one of the many myths doing the rounds?
The Vedas contain a lot of mantras which focus on welfare, prosperity and wealth. In the Rig Veda, the very first mantra eulogises Agni the Fire God as the bestower of wealth (Hotaram ratna dhatamam - Rig Veda Samhita I-1-I) . There are verses to encourage and motivate us to maximise wealth so that we can take care of those dependent on us. (Annam bahu kurveta! Tad vratam! - Taittiriya Upanishad iii-9).
At the same time the Vedas guide us to earn wealth only through deeds of glory (Rig Veda Samhita vi-19-10). They advise us to take care of our wealth as well as welfare. (Bhutyai nappramaditavyam! Kusalanna pramaditavyam! - Taittiriya Upanishad i-11). One shall not blame wealth and that’s the vow (Annam na nindyat! Tad vratam! Taittiriya Upanishad iii-7). They encourage us not only to possess wealth but also enjoy the same (Annavan annado bhavati! Taittiriya Upanishad iii-7). The rich have to satisfy the poor (Rig Veda Samhita x-117-5).
The Vedas insist on proper distribution of wealth. Wealth earned by 100 hands has to be distributed to 1,000 hands (Atharva Veda Samhita iii-24-5) . They encourage us to give charity in plenty with utmost faith and humility (Sraddhaya deyam! Sriya deyam! Hriya deyam! Taittiriya Upanishad I-11). Thus the social obligations are also taken care of.
The Vedas also inspire us to innovate and improve upon (Rig Veda Samhita i-31-8), and also to succeed in trade (Atharva Veda Samhita iii-15) .
And, there’s more: Take care of quadrupeds in addition to bipeds (Atharva Veda Samhita vi-107-1 to 4) . Overcome all encounters (Rig Veda Samhita ii-40-5) . Be vigilant, closely united, happy and prosperous in the new environment (Rig Veda Samhita x-85-36) . Aspire to be the eldest, the best, the effulgent and the sovereign (Chandogya Upanishad v-2-6) . Importantly, the Vedas caution us to take care of the ecology and environment as well, in the process of development and growth.
On values, again, how are they best imparted: In schools or in organisations? Are there gaps in our education system that can be filled with learnings from traditional wisdom?
The values have to be followed in letter and spirit as a way of life. Mere preaching without actual practice makes no sense. In the Bhagavad Gita iii-21, it is said, “Whatever a great man does, others follow it.” (Yadyat acarati sreshtah tad tdeva itara janah. Sa tat pramanam kurute lokas tadanuvartate.)
In the traditional Gurukula system, the students lived together with the teacher and learned the values from the latter as a role model. The absence of appropriate living role-models to inspire the youth is a sad reflection of the contemporary reality. One shall emulate the best practices of others (Yan yasmakam sucaritani! Tani tvayopasyani – Taittiriya Upanishad i-11) .
It is always advisable to start value system based teaching from the early days of schooling. The scriptures contain a wealth of knowledge, which would definitely fill the gaps in our understanding of the moral and ethical values.
What are the time-tested truths about right approach to work?
Action has to be done whole-heartedly without attachment to its fruits. The result of an action has to be accepted by a learned person as the gift of God (Isvara prasadah). One has the right only to perform the duty but has no right over its results (Karmanyevadhikaras te ma phaleshu kadacana – Bhagavad Gita ii-47) .
There should be proper understanding of the concepts of karma (action), akarma (inaction) and vikarma (forbidden action). You have to see action in action and inaction in action. You attain perfection only through action. You have to perform action equi-poised (Yogasthah kuru karmani - Bhagavad Gita ii-48).
How do the Vedas describe and condemn untruth, such as what we saw in the recent disclosures about tainted accounts?
The Vedas condemn one who speak the untruth and impel him to speak the truth. Man can either become a demon or a God depending on his truthfulness. One who follows the path of untruth suffers in the end.
Here are a few quotes:
The deluded demons preach untruth (Maitrayana Brahmana Upanishad Vii-1-10) .
One who speaks the truth verily suffers; but in the end he prospers like Gods (Satapatha Brahmanam ix-5-1- 16).
One who speaks untruth becomes prosperous; but in the end he suffers like demons (Satapatha Brahmanam x-5-1-17) .
Guile closely follows those who are untruthful (Rig Veda Samhita vii-61-15) .