Gita The Text Forever

Justice S N Srivastava of the Allahabad High Court caused a flutter recently by asking the Bhagavad Gita to be declared the ‘Rashtriya Dharma Shastra’. The so-called secular camp was confounded. How could a religious book be made a national text? That too, a book of Hindus! ‘So-called’ secularist - because for them secularism means not equal respect to all religions and appreciation of all that from each religion which is good for humanity but for them secularism means denial of all that is Hindu. Those who otherwise say that let the law take its own course, refuse to accept the judgement or at best just ignored it. This atmosphere of rejecting or ignoring all that is Hindu has confused our youth too. Recently, in a mega-youth camp, some asked the question: ‘why should we go back to our scriptures when we want development to go ahead?’ Only those persons feel like this who do not know what Gita says or what the modern world needs and is looking for. We need to study our scriptures to know about the vision of our Rishis and also to guide the humanity.

Since the progress of nuclear physics, the world-view of the scientist and, therefore, of the modern man has changed from reductionist, mechanistic view to the interconnected, interrelated, interdependent reality of the existence. The universe is not the intelligent or scientific collection and combination of the various units unrelated to each other but it is interrelated and interdependent organic Whole capable of reorganizing and responding to the situations working on some laws. With this realization the search for relevant way of life, attitude towards environment, dynamics of management and progress started. This search is taking many to the study of Bhagavad Gita. Because Gita reflects and enumerates this integral view of life and also guides for leading such life. For example, an article ‘Karma Capitalism’ that appeared in ‘Business Week’ last year talks of this potentiality of Bhagavad Gita. It says, “And while it used to be hip in management circles to quote from the sixth century B.C. Chinese classic The Art of War, the trendy ancient Eastern text today is the more introspective Bhagavad Gita. Earlier this year, a manager at Sprint Nextel Corp. penned the inevitable how-to guide: Bhagavad Gita on Effective Leadership.

THE ANCIENT SPIRITUAL wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita seems at first like an odd choice for guiding today’s numbers-driven managers. Also known as Song of the Divine One, the work relates a conversation between the supreme deity Krishna and Arjuna, a warrior prince struggling with a moral crisis before a crucial battle. One key message is that enlightened leaders should master any impulses or emotions that cloud sound judgement. Good leaders are selfless, take initiative, and focus on their duty rather than obsessing over outcomes or financial gain. “The key point,” says Ram Charan, a coach to CEOs such as General Electric Co.’s Jeffrey R. Immelt, “is to put purpose before self. This is absolutely applicable to corporate leadership today.”

The seemingly ethereal world-view that’s reflected in Indian philosophy is surprisingly well attuned to the down-to-earth needs of companies trying to survive in an increasingly global, interconnected business ecosystem. While corporations used to do most of their manufacturing, product development, and administrative work in-house, the emphasis is now on using outsiders. Terms such as “extended enterprises” (companies that outsource many functions), “innovation networks” (collaborative research and development programs), and “co-creation” (designing goods and services with input from consumers) are the rage.

Indian-born thinkers didn’t invent all these concepts, but they’re playing a big role in pushing them much further. Prahalad, for example, has made a splash with books on how companies can co-create products with consumers and succeed by tailoring products and technologies to the poor. That idea has influenced companies from Nokia Corp. to Cargill. Harvard Business School associate professor Rakesh Khurana, who achieved acclaim with a treatise on how corporations have gone wrong chasing charismatic CEOs, is writing a book on how U.S. business schools have gotten away from their original social charters.

Vijay Govindarajan, a professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business whose books and consulting for the likes of Chevron and Deere & Co. have made him a sought-after innovation guru, links his theories directly to Hindu philosophy. He helps companies figure out how to stop reacting to the past and start creating their own futures through innovation. Govindarajan says his work is inspired by the concept of karma, which holds that future lives are partly determined by current actions. “Karma is a principle of action. Innovation is about creating change, not reacting to change,” he says.

There are also parallels between Indian philosophy and contemporary marketing theory, which has shifted away from manipulating consumers to collaborating with them. “Marketing has tended to use the language of conquest,” says Kellogg professor Mohanbir S. Sawhney, a Sikh who discusses the relevance of the Bhagavad Gita to business on his Website. Now the focus is on using customer input to dream up new products, Sawhney says, which “requires a symbiotic relationship with those around us.”
The Gita is relevant not because today the Western thinkers and corporate sectors realize its importance but because with way of life based on Gita we have seen that Bharat could be the most prosperous and peaceful nation on the earth for the longest period of time. Even with so many barbarous invasions it could retain its identity and is now again poised for take off. The world is only now realizing that this resilience of Bharat is due to the cultural ethos of our land which have been developed and nurtured by the sages over all periods. Gita gives in nutshell the nectar of this cultural ethos. The quotes from the West only serve the purpose to say that Gita is very relevant in today’s ‘developed’ world too. We should understand Gita and all our great literature in the present context and should know how to put it forward to modern youth so. For example even the Pandava heroes can be interpreted as different types of managers as done in an article in ‘Times of India’ on 4 November. The author Geetha Rao writes, ‘’The Mahabharata is not about good and evil - instead, it teaches you that life is grey. Defining the grey is not easy because it is deeply rooted to the context. So, negotiate the grey.’’ Spiritual discourse by a seer? No, words of wisdom for future global managers in an IIM-Bangalore classroom.

What has the Mahabharata got to do with IIMs? Lots. The great Indian epic can be used to compare each of the Pandavas to managers of today with their roles, strengths, weaknesses and consequences. The popular elective course – Spirituality for Global Managers - has management students looking at Krishna as the CEO; Yudhishtir who binds together values; Bhima (outcomes); Arjun (learning); Karna (legitimacy); Nakul (process) and Sahadev (purpose), says Ramnath Narayanaswamy, professor at IIM-B.

‘’The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are outstanding texts for all times and can be contemporized to any age. The Pandavas, Karna included, are each a great hero with a fatal flaw.’’ What is interesting is the way each of the Pandavas has been made relevant in the management context. Explains Narayanaswamy, ‘’Yudhishtir is the mentor whose strengths are his values and beliefs. He stands for propriety but is blinded by his code of honour. Similarly, Bhima is an ‘executor’ manager. For him, the outcome is supremely important, the bottomline matters - his weakness is he can be blinded by rage.’’ Nakul, says the IIM-B professor, is the enabler - the service hero of today. ‘’He’s driven by process, but there’s no active leadership. Sahadeva is the visionary, but he is like the manager who stands for thought and no action. Karna’s strength is personal loyalty, but it also brings about his doom. He’s like the manager of today who’d buy vegetables for his bosses,’’ he says. Arjun stands for flawless perfection. His strength is that he’s assailed by doubt, but willing to learn. ‘’Today’s young managers are Arjuns, in search of their own heroism - they want to discover their own meaning in life,’’ he says.

This is just an example of how our scriptures today are becoming effective tools for management. Though was the fruit of Hindu culture and was preserved, respected and followed by the Hindu society it is for the whole humanity in all walks of life. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The Gita is the universal mother. She turns away nobody. When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Gita. I find a verse here and a verse there, and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies”.

The Gita shows any human being how to establish equanimity in internal life and in dealings with the world. It helps one to explore the purpose and meaning of life. It guides us to give our best, accept the result in humility and reflect on our actions to know how we can do better. Thus it is a text forever. The Gita is befitting to be called a national text because it helps our nation in its ordained mission of spiritual advancement of humanity.

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