The Gita - A Poorna Philosophy for Management


The  popular contemporary belief amongst political and business leaders  world-wide, that economic prosperity is a solution to most current  problems, has led to two crises.

First,  personal crisis: with individuals facing stress, poor physical,  mental, emotional and spiritual well-being,  low happiness quotient, insincerity and dishonesty in work and  relationship areas.

Second,  social crisis, with leaders, organizations and nations, facing  challenges of dictatorship, corruption, nepotism, terrorism,  exploitation of masses and destruction of environment.

The  above two crises, point to a deficit in ethics, personal and social  values. An imperative need for a complete and adequate guiding  philosophy is felt, leading to problem definition -

The  Problem:

Which  philosophy, if any, is complete and adequate in itself to be applied  in the areas of values and ethics to management, such that it can  transform the individual (manager) and reform the society  (organization), leading to economic prosperity?

Choice  of Philosophy - The Gita:
The  Gita was chosen to address the Problem, because –

First,  the Gita is ancient wisdomand  its’ philosophy is universal, since it covers everything -  individual (vyashti),  society (samashti),  nature (srishti)  and divinity (parameshti)  [1].

Second,  the authority of the Gita is undisputed in Indian Philosophy, as one  of the prasthana-traya of  Vedanta and samasta-vedartha-sarasangraha-bhutam (quintessence of the teaching of the Vedas).

Third,  the philosophy of the Gita is endorsed by management academicians and  practitioners -
Natesan  et al (2009) say, “The Gita’s essence of Yoga, Dharma, Dhyana, Samabhava,  Nishkama Karma,  and Tat-Twam-Asi provides the keys for influencing contemporary management thought and  global business practices’. [2]; Senge (1990), world-renowned  management guru says, “It is not surprising that many are renewing  serious study of ancient wisdom traditions of all sorts, including  timeless texts like the Bhagavad Gita”. [3]

Fourth,  the Gita as shown by Agarwal (1995) offers solutions to social,  political and spiritual problems of large scale and scope. [4]

Fifth,  the Gita has had such a tremendous influence and impact on mankind  that great leaders, scientists, philosophers and intellectuals have  looked upon it as a source of guidance. [5]

Values  and Ethics in the Gita:
The  Gita is interspersed with numerous personal values. The key social  value of lokasamgraha (social  well-being) is given in Chapter III - 20 to 26. Gupta (2006) has  identified personal values (or virtues) in the full text of the Gita,  as below[6] -

1. abhayam (fearlessness, X-4; XVI-1)
2. adambhitvam (sincerity, XIII-7)
3. ahimsa (non-violence, X-5; XVI-2, XVII-14)
4. adrohah (amity,  XVI-3)
5. acapalam (modesty, XVI-2)
6. advesa (non-hatred, XII-13)
7. akrodah (non-anger, XVI-2)
8. aloluptvam (freedom from greed, XVI-2)
9. amanitvam (humility, XVI-2)
10. apaisvnam (absence of fault finding, XVI-2)
11. arjavam (uprightness, simplicity, XVI-2, XVIII-42)
12. brahmacharya (abstinence, VIII-11, XVII-14)
13. damah (self-control, XVI-1, XVIII-42)
14. dana (charity, X-5, XVI-1, XVII-7, XVIII-5, 43)
15. ksama (forgiveness,  X-4, III-4, XVI-3)
16. ksantih (patience, XIII-7, XVIII-42)
17. karuna (compassion,  XII-13)
18. maitri (friendship, XII-13)
19. mardavam (gentleness, XVI-2)
20. samah,  samya (evenness, equanimity, balanced indifference, sameness, II-15, 38,  48; IV-22, V-3, 7, 18-21, VI-7, 9, 13, 29,30, 32; IX-29; 12:13, 14,  18-19; XIII-27-28; XVIII-54)
21. santih (peace,  XVI-2)
22. satyam (truthfulness, X-4, XVI-2)
23. saucam (purity, XVI-3, 7, XVII-14; XVIII-42)
24. sauryam (heroism, XVIII-43)
25. samkalpa (determination  or resolve, VI-2)
26. sraddha (reverence, piety, XVII-2, 3, VII-21)
27. tapah (penance, VII-9, X-5, XVI-1, XVII-5, 7, XIV-19, 28; XVIII-5, 42)
28. tejah (vigor,  XVIII-43)
29. titıksa (endurance,  II-14)
30. vairagyam (detachment, XIII-7, XVIII-52)
31. vinaya (humility, V-18)
32. vinigrahah (control,  restraint, XIII-7)

Application  of Values and Ethics in the Gita by the Individual (Manager):
An  individual or manager relies upon his personal values to guide him.  However, knowing values without knowing how to apply them in life makes them impractical.

In  this context, Swami Vivekananda says, “We hear ‘Be good,’ ‘Do  not steal,’ ‘Do not tell a lie,’ but nobody tells the child how  he can help doing them. Talking will not help him…Only when we  teach him to control his mind do we really help him”. [7]

Sharma  (1995) says, “In the Gita, the focus is on the decision maker’s  mental state during the moments of decision-making. This can be  contrasted with management, which focuses more on decision-making  rather than the mental state of decision maker.” [8]

‘Control  of mind’ points to Yoga; defined as –
1. Samatvam  yoga uchayate (The Gita) - ‘Equanimity is Yoga.’
2. Mana  prashamana upayah (Sage Vashistha) - ‘Yoga is a way to calm down the mind.’
3. Tam  yogamiti manyante sthiram indriyadharanam (Kathopanishad) - ‘Yoga is calming down the mind.’
With  eighteen chapters the Gita offers an individual, eighteen types of  yoga, to control the state of his mind for meaningful application of  personal values, thereby transforming him into an able sthitaprajnaor  responsible rajarsi leader.

Application  of Values and Ethics in the Gita by the Society (Organization):
The  key social value in the Gita is lokasamgraha -
Lokasamgraham  eva pi, Sampasyam kartum arhasi (III-20)
Keeping  in view the protection of people, perform action. Agarwal (1993) says  on lokasamgraha[9]  –

“The  concept of dharma has two distinct aspects, namely individual or particular, and social  or universal. Arjuna’s confusion is about his dharma (XI-7). This is the individual aspect of dharma.  The social or universal aspect of dharma, is lokasamgraha or people’s welfare, when Krishna argues that the purpose of avatara (incarnation) is to protect dharma.” (IV-8)

Chakraborty  (1998) points the manager towards the concept of yajnarth-karma from the Gita to achieve the dual goals of svadharma with lokasamgraha[10]. Hence, by applying the Gita, an individual (manager) can transform  himself through yoga and personal values, and reform the society  (organization) through lokasamgraha,  to bring economic prosperity. This leads to a solution of the Problem  as stated below –

The  Solution:
Conform  (to the Gita) >>> Transform (the Individual/Manager) >>>  Reform (the Society/Organization)

Testing  the Philosophy the Gita:
For  the Gita to qualify as an applied philosophy for management, which is poorna or complete and adequate in itself, it has to pass the following  tests -

1.  The Perennial Philosophy Test
Huxley  (1944) says “The Gita is one of the most clear and comprehensive  summaries of perennial philosophy ever revealed”. [11] The Gita  passes all the three tests of perennial philosophy, as enumerated  below [12]:
a.  It is closely aligned with the post-modern method of deconstruction,  and addresses the manager’s need to continually question her or his  assessments.
b.  Consistent reports of practitioners from all parts of the world are  so numerous and so closely aligned that they serve as testimony to  such reports being not merely a subjective experience.
c. It not only points to an abstract ‘philosophy of unity’ but  suggests that the kinds of perception it brings can radically alter  the quality of our experience in everyday life.

2.  The Completeness Test
‘Completeness’  is defined as ‘the state of being complete and entire; having  everything that is needed.’ The scale and scope of the Gita’s  philosophy is unparalleled – its’ impact is universal – it can influence, transform and reform, individual (vyashti),  society (samashti),  creation (srishti)  and Creator (parameshti).  Swami Chinmayanada (1999) says - “The Gita is complete because it  offers a solution to all problems of humanity – at least this is  the repeated claim of all scholars.” [13]

3.  The Adequacy Test
The  Gita meets the five Criteria of Adequacy of a hypothesis as stated  below –
a. Testability -  A hypothesis is scientific only if it is testable and must predict  something more then what is predicted by the background theory alone.  The Gita passes this test for e.g. yoga can lead to better  decision-making by the manager.
b. Fruitfulness - Successfully predicts new phenomena and opens new lines of  research. Makes the most successful novel predictions. The Gita shows  how the concept of lokasamgraha can be used innovatively to solve the problem of economic prosperity.
c. Scope -  The amount of diverse phenomena explained and predicted by the  hypothesis. The gunas theory in the Gita covers the full diversity of use-cases and  application of values, virtues and applied ethics for an individual  or manager.
d. Simplicity-  The simpler a theory the more it unifies and systematizes knowledge,  the less likely it is to be false as there are fewer ways for it to  go wrong. The beauty of the Gita is its’ simplicity of application,  which is known by countless examples.
e. Conservatism -  Hypothesis is best if it fits with established beliefs. The Gita is a  perennial philosophy in the history of mankind which adapted with the  beliefs of the time whenever applied.

4.  The Practicality Test
Scholars,  academicians, practitioners and business leaders endorse the view  that the Gita is a practical philosophy. Kane (1998) says “Managers  can look at the Gita, not as an abstract theory that can be tested in  a laboratory, but as a way of life that can only be ultimately tested  by being lived.” [14] Sharma (1999) has summarized the application  of the Gita to management, classifying it in four approaches, viz.  (1) Empirical Testing Approach (2) Corporate Shlokas (3) Revisioning  the Gita (4) New Age Management Models. [15] Further, there are many  case studies of Indian and multinational companies who have adopted  and applied the philosophy of the Gita.

The  Gita is a poorna philosophy for management.

1. Sai Baba, Satya, “The Primordial Force,” Radio Sai Listener’s  Journal, Sept. 2008, Vol.6, Issue 9.
2. Natesan, Chinna N., Keefe, Michael J., and Darling, John,  “Enhancement of Global Business Practices: Lessons from the Hindu  Bhagavad Gita,” European Business Review, 2009, Vol. 21, No.2.
3. Senge, P.M., T”he Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the  Learning Organization,” 1990, Doubleday, New York.
4. Agarwal, Satya P., “The Social Message of the Gita: Symbolized as  Lokasamgraha,” Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.
6. Gupta, Bina, “Bhagavad Gita as Duty and Virtue Ethics,” Journal  of Religious Ethics, 2006, 34.2: 373-395.
7. Complete  Works of Swami Vivekananda, 8 vols., Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1973,  171, 1.
8. Sharma, Subhash, “Corporate Gita: Lessons for Management,  Administration and Leadership,” Journal of Human Values, 1995, 5,  103.
9. Agarwal, Satya P., “The Social Role of the Gita – How & Why,”  Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1993, 275.
10. Chakraborty, S.K., “Ethical Vision of Management,” Management  Tips From The Gita, Chinmaya Mission, 1998.
11. Huxley, Aldous, Introduction of the book, “Bhagavad Gita: The Song  of God,” as translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher  Isherwood, 1944.
12. Smith, Charles, “Working from Inside Out,” Management and  Leadership through the Lens of the Perennial Wisdom Tradition,  Journal of Management Development, Vol. 26, No. 5, 2007.
13. Chinmayananda Swami, “The Geeta – A Scheme of Life,” The Art Of  Man Making, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1999.
14. Kane, Robert, “Dimensions of Value and the Aims of Social Inquiry,”  The American Behavioral Scientist, Jan. 1998, 41, 4.
15. Sharma, Subhash, “Corporate Gita: Lessons for Management,  Administration and Leadership,” Journal of Human Values, 1999, 5:  103.

First  presented and published -
World  Philosophy Congress, Athens, Greece, August 2013

Followed  by - Click here to view

The  Gita: On Startups, SMEs & Entrepreneurs

As  an entrepreneur I get to interact with many founders of startups and  thus am closely associated with the startup ecosystem. The most  frequently asked question which these founders have is, "So,  what problem are you trying to solve?” Most founders are able to  answer this question by articulating a technology enabled, innovative  solution which addresses the chosen problem.

In  my experience however I am yet to meet a founder who has the clarity  of purpose about why he or she is attempting to solve that problem in  the first place. I believe that most startups are created because  they are a good vehicle for an entrepreneur to create wealth in a  reasonably short period of time compared to conventional businesses. If we ask  an SME entrepreneur why he is running his enterprise, the answer  might be - "to earn an honorable livelihood." The reasons  to run a startup or an SME are both noble, but not inspirational  enough.

The  Gita says that sole and core purpose of an organization is  'lokasamgraha' or social well-being. Startup and SME entrepreneurs  should make 'positive social impact' their business goal, even whilst  running their businesses profitably. The inspiration that an  entrepreneur can draw from positive social impact can be both - a  perpetual source of inner energy and a guiding compass for him.  Entrepreneurs must identify real problems faced by people, and  attempt to solve them, with the singular success metric being the number of lives positively impacted. Other important  goals like 'protection of the environment' are subsumed in the  concept of 'lokasamgraha' or social well-being.

Instead  of chasing profits alone or doing the bare minimum for the society  under mandated CSR duties, entrepreneurs should make 'lokasamgraha'  their core strategy - profits will follow as a corollary. In  the words of Darden school of management professor and Conscious  Capitalism, Inc trustee Ed Freeman, “We need red blood cells to  live (the same way a business needs profits to live), but the purpose  of life is more than to make red blood cells (the same way  the purpose of business is more than simply to generate profits).” While making money is essential for the vitality and  sustainability of a business, it is not the only or even the most  important reason for a business to exist. Conscious businesses focus  on their purpose beyond profit.

The  Gita provides the core guiding philosophy for all Entrepreneurs, and shows us that the purpose of our existence  is to work for social well-being through excellence in action, while  performing duties that are natural to us –

"Strive  for Yoga which is excellence in action, through commerce  which is natural to you, for sake of educating people; you should  perform your work for social well-being."

yogah  karmasu kausalam (The Gita 2.50)  Strive for Yoga which is excellence in action
vanijyam  vaisya-karma svabhava-jam (The Gita  18.44) Through commerce which is natural to you
loka-sangraham  evapi, sampasyan kartum arhasi (The  Gita 3.20) For sake of educating people, you should perform your work
cikirsur loka-sangraham (The Gita 3.25) for social well-being

First  Published Click here to view

About  Author

Dr  Milind R Agarwal is an entrepreneur & teacher. Education - B.E.-  Electronics & Comm. (Mangalore Univ.), MBA -Logistics (Michigan  State Univ., USA), Ph.D.- Philosophy (Mumbai Univ.) Doctoral thesis  on "Srimad Bhagavad Gita: Search & Application of Values to  Management." Occupation: Founder & CEO, Marketune -  Intelligent Distribution Platform for SMEs. Also teaches -  entrepreneurship, logistics, and philosophy.

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