Bhagavad Gita & Management
The Bhagavad Gita deals essentially with the spiritual foundation of human existence. It is a call of action to meet the obligations and duties of life; yet keeping in view the spiritual nature and grander purpose of the universe.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
The Bhagavad Gita is one of India’s greatest contributions to the world and to the Hindu community as a whole. The scenario of Bhagavad Gita is preached in the battlefield Kurukshetra by Lord Krishna to Arjuna as a counseling to do his duty while multitudes of men stood by waiting. The Bhagavad Gita has got all the management tactics to achieve the mental equilibrium and to overcome any crisis situation. There is no theory to be internalized and applied in this psychology. Ancient practices spontaneously induce what each person needs as the individual and universe coincide. The work proceeds through intellectual knowledge of the playing field (jnana yoga ), emotional devotion to the ideal (bhakti yoga ) and right action that include both feelings and knowledge (karma yoga ). It is with constant ongoing purification, we approach wisdom. The Bhagavad Gita is a message addressed to each and every human being to help him or her solve the problem of overcoming the present and progressing towards a bright future.
Management has become part and parcel of everyday life, be it at home, in the office or factory and in the Government. In all organizations, where a group of human beings assemble for a common purpose, management principles come into play through the management of resources, finance and planning, priorities, policies and practice. According to Merriam-Webster, management can be defined as
1. the act or art of managing: the conducting or supervising of something (as a business)
2. judicious use of means to accomplish an end
3. the collective body of those who manage or direct an enterprise.
From the above definition, we can see that management tasks are to make people capable of joint performance, to make their weaknesses irrelevant. This was mentioned by Peter Drucker. Management seeks to create harmony in working together where equilibrium in thoughts and actions, goals and achievement, plans and performance, products and markets. It resolves situations of scarcity, whether they are physical, technical or human fields, through maximum utilization with the minimum available processes to achieve the goal. Lack of management skills whether in an organization or as an individual causes confusion, disorder, wastage, delay and destruction.
Management Guidelines from the Bhagavad Gita
There is an important distinction between effectiveness and efficiency in managing. It can be said as:-
- Effectiveness is doing the right things
- Efficiency is doing things right
The general principles of effective management can be applied in every field, the differences being more in application than in principle. The Manager’s functions can be summed up as:-
- Forming a vision
- Planning the strategy to realize the vision
- Cultivating the art of leadership
- Establishing institutional excellence
- Developing human resources
- Building teams and teamwork
- Delegation, motivation, and communication
- Reviewing performance and taking corrective steps when called for
From the above, we can see that management is a process of aligning people and getting them committed to work for a common goal to the maximum social benefit which is in search for excellence.
The critical question in all managers’ minds is how to be effective in their job. To answer this question, one can turn to the Bhagavad Gita which repeatedly proclaims that “you must try to manage yourself”. The reason is that unless a manager reaches a level of excellence and effectiveness, he or she will be merely a face in the crowd.
Old Truths in New Context
The Bhagavad Gita enlightens us on all managerial techniques leading is towards harmonious and blissful state of affairs in place of the conflict, tensions and poor productivity, absence of motivation and so on, common in most Indian enterprises today.
The modern Western management concepts and vision, leadership, motivation, excellence in work, achieving goals, giving work meaning, decision making and planning, are all discussed in the Bhagavad Gita.
There is, however, one major difference. While Western management deals with problems at material, external and peripheral levels, the Bhagavad Gita tackles the issues at the grassroots level of human thinking. This is based on the fact that once the basic thinking of man is improved; it will automatically enhance the quality of his actions and their results.
The management philosophy emanating from the West is based on the lure of materialism and on a perennial thirst for profit, irrespective of the quality of the means adopted to achieve that goal. This phenomenon has its source in the abundant wealth of the West and so management by materialism has caught the fancy of all the countries the world over, India being no exception to this trend. India has been at the forefront in importing these ideas mainly because of its centuries old indoctrination by colonial rulers.
Source of the problem
The Western idea of management centers on making the worker and employer more efficient and productive. Companies offer workers more to work more, produce more, sell more and stick to the organization without looking for alternatives. The sole aim of extracting better and more work from the worker is to improve the bottom line of the enterprise. The worker has become a saleable commodity, which can be used, replaced and discarded at will.
Thus, workers have been reduced to the state of a mercantile product. In such a state, it should come as no surprise that workers start using strikes, sit-ins, slowing down production, work-to-rule, etc to get maximum benefit for themselves from the organizations. Society at large is damaged. Thus, we reach a situation in which management and workers become separate and contradictory entities with conflicting interests. Western management philosophy may have created prosperity – for some people some of time at least – but it has failed in the aim of ensuring betterment of individual life and social welfare. It has remained by and large a soulless edifice and an oasis of plenty for a few in the midst of poor quality of life for many. Hence, there is an urgent need to re-examine prevailing management disciplines – their objectives, scope and content. Management should be redefined to underline the development of the worker as a person, as a human being, and not as a mere wage earner. With this changed perspective, management can become an instrument in the process of social and national development.
Now let us examine some of the modern management concepts in the light of the Bhagavad Gita which is a primer of management by values.
Utilization of available resources
The first lesson of management science is to choose wisely and utilize scarce resources optimally. Before the Mahabharata War, Duryodhana chose Lord Krishna’s large army for his help while Arjuna chose Lord Krishna’s wisdom for his support. This provides us with a clue as to the nature of the effective manager – the former chose numbers, the latter, wisdom.
Attitude towards work
There were three stone-cutters engaged in building a temple. A Human Resources Consultant asked them what they were doing. The responses of the three workers to the innocent question are stated below:-
- ‘I am a poor man. I have a family to maintain. I am making a living here.’ said the first stone cutter with a dejected look on his face.
- ‘Well. I work because I want to show that I am the best stone cutter in the country.’ said the second stone cutter with a look of pride on his face.
- ‘Oh, I want to build the most beautiful temple in the country.’ said the third stone cutter with a visionary gleam in his eyes.
The above responses show that although their jobs were identical, their perspectives were different. The Bhagavad Gita tells us to develop the visionary perspective in the work we do. It tells us to develop a sense of larger vision in our work for the common good.
A verse in the Bhagavad Gita advises “detachment” from the fruits or results of actions performed in the course of one’s duty. When one is dedicated at work means that one is “working for the sake of working, generating excellence for its own sake.” If we are always calculating the date of promotion or the rate of commission before putting in our efforts, then such work is not detached. It is not “generating excellence for its own sake” but working only for the extrinsic reward that may or may not result.
Working only with an eye to the anticipated benefits, means that the quality of performance of the current job or duty suffers – through mental agitation of anxiety for the future. In fact, the way the world works means that events do not always respond positively to our calculations and hence expected fruits may not always be forthcoming. So, the Bhagavad Gita tells us not to mortgage present commitment to an uncertain future. Some people may argue that not seeking the business result of works and action, makes one unaccountable. In fact, the Bhagavad Gita is full of advice on the theory of cause and effect, making the doer responsible for the consequences of his deeds. While advising detachment from the avarice of selfish gains in discharging one’s accepted duty, the Gita does not absolve anybody of the consequences arising from discharge of his or her responsibilities.
This, the best means of effective performance management is the work itself. Attaining this state of mind (called “nishkam karma”) is the right attitude to work because it prevents the ego, the mind, from dissipation of attention through speculation on future gains or losses.
Motivation – self and self-transcendence
It has been presumed that satisfying the lower order needs of workers – adequate food, clothing and shelter, etc are key factors in motivation. However, it is a common experience that the dissatisfaction of the clerk and of the Director is identical – only their scales and composition vary. It is believed that in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that once the lower needs are satisfied, the Director, for example, should have little problem in optimizing his contribution to the organization and society. But more often than not, it does not happen like that. On the contrary, a lowly paid school teacher may well demonstrate higher levels of self actualization despite poorer satisfaction of their lower order needs.
Rabindranath Tagore said that working for love is freedom in action. A concept which is described as “disinterested in work” in the Gita where Lord Krishna said
“He who shares the wealth generated only after serving the people, through work done as a sacrifice for them, is freed from all sins. On the contrary, those who earn wealth only for themselves, eat sins that lead to frustration and failure.”
Disinterested work finds expression in devotion, surrender and equipoise. The former two are psychological while the third is determination to keep the mind free of the dualistic (usually taken to mean “materialistic”) pulls of daily experiences. Detached involvement in work is the key to mental equanimity or the state of “nirwanda”. This attitude leads to a stage of where the worker begins to feel the presence of the Supreme Intelligence guiding the embodied individual intelligence. Such de-personified intelligence is best suited for those who sincerely believe in the supremacy of organizational goals as compared to narrow personal success and achievement.
An effective work culture is about vigorous and arduous efforts in pursuit of given or chosen tasks. Lord Krishna elaborates on two types of work culture which is known as “daivi sampat” (divine work culture) and “asuri sampat” (demonic work culture).
“Daivi work culture” is a work culture which involves fearlessness, purity, self-control, sacrifice, straightforwardness, self-denial, calmness, absence of fault finding, absence of greed, gentleness, modesty, absence of envy and pride.
“Asuri work culture” involves egoism, delusion, personal desires, improper performance, work not oriented towards service just to name a few.
The principle of reducing our attachment to personal gains from the work done is the Bhagavad Gita’s prescription for attaining equanimity. It has been held that this principle leads to lack of incentive for effort, striking at the very root of work ethics. To the contrary, concentration on the task for its own sake leads to the achievement of excellence – and indeed to the true mental happiness of the worker. Thus, while commonplace theories of motivation may be said to lead us to the bondage or extrinsic rewards, the Gita’s principle leads us to the intrinsic rewards of mental and moral satisfaction.
The Bhagavad Gita explains that the theory of “detachment” from the extrinsic rewards of work in saying:-
- If the result of sincere effort is a success, the credit should not be appropriated by the doer.
- If the result of sincere effort is a failure, the blame does not accrue to the doer.
The former attitude mollifies arrogance and conceit while the latter attitude prevents excessive despondency, de-motivation and self-pity. Assimilation of the ideas of the Gita leads us to the wider spectrum of “lokasamgraha” (general welfare) but there is also another dimension to the work ethics – if the “karmayoga” (service) is combined with “bhaktiyoga” (devotion), then the work itself becomes worship, a “sevayoga” (service for its own sake). This could be taken to mean that doing something because it is worthwhile, to serve others and to make the world a better place.
Manager’s mental health
The manager’s mental health is the goal of any human activity especially management. Sound mental health is that state of mind which can maintain a calm, positive poise or regain it when unsettled, in the midst of all external vagaries of work life and social existence. Internal constancy and peace are the pre-requisites for a healthy stress free mind. Some of the impediments to sound mental health are:-
- Greed – for power, position, prestige and money
- Envy – regarding other’s achievements, success, rewards
- Egoism – about one’s own accomplishments
- Suspicion, anger and frustration
- Anguish through comparisons
The driving forces in today’s business are speed and competition. There is a distinct danger that these forces cause erosion of the moral fiber, that in seeking the end, one permits oneself immoral means – tax evasion, illegitimate financial holdings, being “economical with the truth”, deliberate oversight in the audit, too clever financial reporting and so on. This phenomenon is known as “yayati syndrome”.
In the Mahabharata, we come across a king by the name of Yayati, who in order to revel in the endless enjoyment of flesh exchanged his old age with youth of his obliging youngest son for a thousand years. However, he found the pursuit of sensual enjoyments ultimately unsatisfying and came back to his son pleading him to take back his youth. This “yayati syndrome” shows the conflict between externally directed acquisitions (extrinsic motivation) and inner value and conscience (intrinsic motivation).
Management needs those who practice what they preach
“Whatever excellent and best ones do, the commoners follow” , said Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. The visionary leader must be a missionary, extremely practical, intensively dynamic and capable of translating dreams into reality. This dynamism and strength of a true leader flows from an inspired and spontaneous motivation to help others. “I am the strength of those who are devoid of personal desires and attachment. O Arjuna, I am the legitimate desire in those, who are not opposed to righteousness” says Lord Krishna in the 10th Chapter of the Gita.
The despondency of Arjuna in the first chapter of the Gita is typically human, Lord Krishna, by the sheer power of his inspiring words, changes Arjuna’s mind from a state of inertia to one of righteous action, from the state of “anomie” or alienation, to a state of self-confidence in the ultimate victory of “dharma” (ethical action).
When Arjuna was ready to fight, Lord Krishna reminded him of the purpose of his new found spirit which was not for his own benefit, not to satisfy his own greed and desire, but for the good of many, with faith in the ultimate victory of ethics over unethical actions and of truth over untruth.
Lord Krishna’s advice with regards to the many temporary failures is, “no doer of good ever ends in misery”. Every action would produce results. Good action produces good results while evil action begets evil. Therefore, always act well and be rewarded. All gloomy clouds will vanish and light will fill the heart, mind and soul.