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 A Tribute to Swami Vivekananda: Leader Extraordinary

“On the seventh of August 1941, in the city of Calcutta, a man died. His mortal remains perished but he left behind a legacy… that no fire can ever consume…”

That was the baritone, sonorous voice of Satyajit Ray in his documentary titled ‘Rabindranath’ created as a tribute to Rabindranath (a project mandated on Ray, the genius in film making, arts and literature, commissioned by Ministry of Culture, Government of India) on the occasion of the birth centenary of the another genius, Rabindranath Tagore the Nobel laureate poet, musician, novelist, dramatist, artist and philosopher. The first scene of the documentary depicted the last and final journey of Tagore to the burning ghat (crematorium).

Ray’s portrayal of Tagore began with the scene finale. But where do we start in our odyssey with the volcanic monk of India whose 150th birth anniversary we celebrated…

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As a neighbour, an impartial observer and a well-wisher of Auroville for close to twenty five years, let me share a few impressions I have of this ‘City of Dawn.’

In 1997, I had just joined a company in Pondicherry and the need arose of a couple of computers. Orders were duly placed. A friend of the owner of the business, based in Auroville and a technocrat by profession, not only organized the hardware and the software but also brought in intranet, helping us to exchange notes via emails sent and received over our monitors. At the time, the term ‘internet’ was not known to me!

That was my first realization that Auroville was indeed a Centre of Excellence in various fields – IT, solar power, wind power etc.

Visitors to Auroville, especially those who live in matchbox kind of flats in our urban concrete jungles, get bowled over by its greenery and its open spaces.

Background

The visionary concept of Auroville is that of a universal township“where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.”

“Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.” 

“Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, a youth that never ages.” (Auroville Charter, 1968)

The Birth of Auroville

The township is a tangible manifestation of the spiritual collaboration between the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. After he passed away in 1950, it was the Mother who took on the task of bringing his idea of a “universal town” to fruition. Her guiding principles were Sri Aurobindo’s ideal of human unity, his emphasis on cultural collaboration and his vision of India as a spiritual leader of the world.

It is supposed to be a place which is like a crucible in a laboratory from where Homo sapiens of a higher consciousness would eventually emerge.

Born in 1878, Mother was over 90 when, on February 28, 1968, Auroville was inaugurated. She worked with architect Roger Anger to chalk out a blueprint for a city of 50,000 people. On the day of the inauguration, over 5,000 people from 124 countries, including India, had gathered.

To signify that the township belonged to none in particular but to humanity as a whole, these delegates also deposited a handful of their native soil into a marble-clad urn at the amphitheatre.

Government of India Steps In

The baby was born. But its growing challenges had just begun.

An enterprise like this one can almost only be built in difficult conditions. Without a maturity that arises from problems, on the level of those people who live the experience, it seems hard to conceive that the goal of Auroville and its message can be arrived at in a comprehensive manner…..What is important is not to build a city, it is to build a new humanity.

(Roger Anger, 1973)

In 1973, after the Mother’s death, a bitter conflict developed between the residents and the township’s ‘parent’ organisation, the Sri Aurobindo Society. The Society laid a claim to the land acquired by Auroville.

The matter went right up to the Supreme Court, which eventually decided in favour of Auroville.

Sensing a situation of continued tension between the sister organisations and to legally permit Auroville to own land, Government of India stepped in. In 1988, the Indian Parliament unanimously passed the Auroville Foundation Act to make the township a legal entity and safeguard its autonomy. Eventually, the Society transferred the land to Auroville.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mr. Kireet Joshi, a senior IAS officer, the township earned global recognition by UNESCO. In the Cold War era, it was considered a manifestation of India’s commitment to the cause of the Non Aligned Movement. Prominent persons like Mr. J R D Tata, Mr. Nani Palkhivala and HH the Dalai Lama have supported Auroville.

The Organisation

Auroville is managed by a three-tier structure.

  1. International Advisory Board
  2. Working Committee (comprising 9 members: 1 Secretary, 4 nominees of the Government of India, 4 nominees of Auroville)
  3. Resident Assembly (comprising all the residents of Auroville, the decisions of which need unanimous approval)

Interestingly, nothing in Auroville is owned by any person there. Every single asset in the township is owned by the Auroville Foundation, which, in turn, is under the Government of India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Achievements

Today, Auroville is home to over 3,200 people — architects, writers, artists, doctors, engineers, chefs, teachers, farmers, students etc — from over 60 countries, not to mention all regions of India. Thanks to its multi-faceted talent pool, the township has been a trail blazer in sustainable practices, environment-friendly operations, futuristic technologies, water resource management, alternate farming, to name a few. From ecology to economy and from education to entertainment, it offers a fulfilling life to its residents. Its expertise in different domains is sought by governments and other bodies from time to time.

Over the years, a massive forestation drive by residents and villagers has ensured a lush green campus, buildings which draw their energy needs primarily from the sun and houses which are not connected to power grid of Tamil Nadu but are solely dependent on wind/solar power.

Take the case of Buddha Garden which is a farm that experiments with sensor-based precision irrigation system — the first crop cycle saw an almost 80% drop in water consumption!

The Universe and its Centre

The layout of the township resembles that of a galaxy, with the magnificent Matri Mandir at its centre, considered the “soul of Auroville”. Over time, separate zones have evolved: for residences, for industrial units, for cultural events and for visitors.   

Matri Mandir is an elaborate gold-plated sphere that took 37 years to see the light of day. The structure comprises 1,415 large gold discs and is suspended above 12 “petals” or themed mini concentration rooms, each of which is flanked by a themed garden. The main hall for concentration, known as the Inner Chamber, is a pristine white in colour, whereas each of the “petals” has a distinct colour to it.

The approach to the Inner Chamber has three levels through which one ascends, much like a spiritual aspirant would evolve through the three states of Aspiration, Rejection and Surrender, eventually reaching a state of realisation.

The global structure rests on four directional pillars: Mahakali (North), Maheshwari (South), Mahalakshmi (East) and Mahasaraswati (West).  

Woods are Lovely….

Auroville presents to us an exemplary blend of India’s age old spiritual tenets on the one hand and futuristic thought in terms of sustainability and technology on the other.

The journey of evolution is surely not an easy one. Coordinating between various opinions and views is a mighty task. Recently, in respect of the implementation of the Master Plan, some differences have arisen between two groups of residents. There is no doubt that with compassion and a spirit of give and take, the same will get resolved amicably and Auroville will emerge stronger.

It is hoped that future developments would retain the township’s Unique Selling Proposition – greenery, low rise structures and open spaces.  

Mother has never said this journey is going to be easy. She would typically discourage enthusiastic newcomers to join in. Her recommendation was that once we have made up our mind to join, we should go to the very end.  

The journey of Auroville reminds me of the famous poem by Robert Frost where he says:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

(Inputs from Mr Sanjay Mohan are gratefully acknowledged)

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Defining Consciousness is akin to the case of seven blind men trying to describe an elephant. People have different perspectives. So, when it comes to saying what it really is, the descriptions are often as different as chalk and cheese.

The reason for a wide spectrum of ways in which we understand this concept is what one could label as the Yin and Yang factor. Many of us use our brains to explain what we understand it to be. Many others use our hearts to do so. Perhaps this concept is rather profound. It is beyond the sensory limitations of the human mind, which has an uncanny ability to divide and analyze things. This is what eventually leads to the phenomenon called Analysis Paralysis in management. Our hapless hearts are rooted in what Daniel Goleman refers to as Emotional Intelligence. A solely emotional perspective has its own limitations.

But the situation is not as challenging as it appears to be. The common denominator underlying the entire spectrum is that of the collective good. An integrated view of the concept is surely possible, provided we move on to the level of what Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall, in their book Spiritual Wealth: Wealth We Can Live By, allude to as Spiritual Intelligence.

However, before we move further, let us consider some of the perspectives which one normally comes across.

What is Consciousness?

The Five Maxims  

Ask Jeffrey Deckman, and he is apt to say that it is imperative for a Conscious Leader to play the following roles:

  1. Being a ‘healer’, who calms, comforts and connects those around him.
  2. Of being an ‘elder’, by practicing wisdom, empathy and patience.
  3. Acting as a ‘steward’, nurturing talent and creating conditions for growth just like a gardener would act.
  4. Doffing the hat of a ‘navigator’, envisioning challenges and opportunities, defining broad goals and guiding others.
  5. Being a ‘facilitator’, acting like the conductor of an orchestra, ensuring harmony, encouraging open discussions and aligning by voting and not by consensus.    

Of Gallant Knights

Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall speak of Knights, the leaders who choose to embark on a spiritual path. Having sensed something fundamentally sacred underlying human life, they embed this reality in their actions and in their life’s work.

In both life and work, the knight abides by five principles:

  • There is something sacred, some deeper, shared consciousness, unfolding in this universe and providing a baseline for every aspect of life.
  • Life and all its enterprises are interconnected.
  • All human endeavour, including business, is part of the larger and richer fabric of the whole universe.
  • The relationship of the healthy individual to the world is one of engagement and responsibility.
  • Service conveys deep sense of humility and gratitude.

A Triple Bottom Line Approach

Stephen Karbaron exhorts businesses to embrace an approach of profiting from a purpose driven, triple bottom line paradigm. To him, this is what defines a conscious business strategy approach. He emphasizes the need to be innovative, adaptable and prepared for change, whilst being aware of all stakeholder needs. He keeps sharing live examples of businesses which follow this approach.  

Of Philosopher Kings

Dr Roy Woodhead is of the opinion that the very words ‘conscious enterprise’ imply some sense of an ‘enlightened enterprise’. In one of his thought provoking articles, he says that Plato put forward the idea of ‘philosopher kings’ to lead us. They would not be allowed material gains but would be well looked after; their economic neutrality and lack of vested interests were seen as very important for effective government by the philosopher kings.

Ramayana, one of the revered Hindu scriptures, speaks of King Janaka, the foster father of Sita, the heroine of the epic story. He is said to be a ‘philosopher king’. He is revered as being an ideal example of non-attachment to material possessions. He not only administers his country but also invites sages and intellectuals to spiritual discourses in his assembly. His interactions with sages and seekers such as Ashtavakra and Sulabha are recorded in ancient texts and are illuminating treatises on spiritual principles.

In their book ‘Rajarshi Leadership’, authors S. K. Chakraborty and Debangshu Chakraborty espouse the cause of spiritual leadership. This is a concept which sums up a key lesson from India’s tryst with spirituality: that of first discovering the divinity within, and then to manifest it without. Such conscious leadership is blissful to oneself and to others.  

A Holistic View of Affairs

Jack Beauregard is of the opinion that it is about one connecting with the wholeness and the process of creation. A higher level of consciousness opens one’s life to one’s inner cores, thereby allowing the creativity of the universe to flow into one’s life. This enables one to find innovative solutions for solving the numerous challenges that one faces. He believes that a higher level of consciousness also creates a spiritual perspective. It allows one to view one’s life, other people, our work organizations, technology, the planet earth, and the universe from a sacred point of view.

Jack Beauregard opines that one can help create a new, harmonious world in which to live by taking responsibility for transforming one’s own consciousness. When enough people choose to develop, act, and do business from a balanced, wholistic paradigm, this will automatically have a positive influence on the consciousness of our planet. We can help co–evolve with the intelligent creative process of the universe. When a critical mass is reached, we will then create a positive alternative to the negative actions and beliefs of today’s world. 

Our species will evolve to its rightful inheritance when we realize that human consciousness is a smaller part of the larger consciousness of the universe, and our individual lives, and the human species in general, are small parts of the vast web of life and just one manifestation of the mystery of creation.

The Realm of Creativity 

Hindu and other scriptures speak of one reaching a state when one’s consciousness becomes one with that of the universe, often leading to an exalted phase of creativity. Our physical body then acts as an antenna, translating signals from the universe into something human beings would comprehend. When someone like Mozart composes music, he merely writes what he hears. When a humourist like P. G. Wodehouse creates his unique characters and weaves them into a dramatic plot, he acts more like a celestial author who enables lesser mortals like us to notice a humorous strain in all things around us. 

When Science Steps In

When humanity gropes for the source or the definition of Consciousness, our scientists do not disappoint.

Consider The Global Consciousness Project which is an international, multidisciplinary collaboration of scientists, engineers, artists, and others. Their goal is to examine subtle correlations that may reflect the presence and activity of consciousness in the world. Their researchers predict structure in what should be random data, associated with major global events. Their contention is that when millions of people share intentions and emotions, their data show meaningful departures from expectation. This is an area where science appears to establish the reality of a global consciousness.

A materialistic scientist would tell us that our brains consist of neurons made of atoms. These process our external experiences. At times, our neural processes lead us to recognize a higher meaning in things. According to them, our 40 Hz oscillations happen to be the neural basis for consciousness in the brain.

A Spiritual Insight

More than a century ago, this is how Sri Aurobindo, a highly revered spiritual master and a visionary from India, described his concept of Consciousnessthus:

Consciousness is a fundamental thing, the fundamental thing in existence; it is the energy, the motion, the movement of consciousness that creates the universe and all that is in it not only the macrocosm but the microcosm is nothing but consciousness arranging itself. For instance, when consciousness in its movement or rather a certain stress of movement forgets itself in the action it becomes an apparently unconscious energy; when it forgets itself in the form it becomes the electron, the atom, the material object. In reality it is still consciousness that works in the energy and determines the form and the evolution of form. When it wants to liberate itself, slowly, evolutionarily, out of Matter, but still in the form, it emerges as life, as animal, as man and it can go on evolving itself still farther out of its involution and become something more than mere man.

— Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, pp. 236-7.

Consciousness is usually identified with mind, but mental consciousness is only the human range which no more exhausts all the possible ranges of consciousness than human sight exhausts all the gradations of colour or human hearing all the gradations of sound — for there is much above or below that is to man invisible and inaudible. So there are ranges of consciousness above and below the human range, with which the normal human [consciousness] has no contact and they seem to it unconscious….

— Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p.233.

In a way, what he appears to be pointing out is that understanding Consciousness is akin to realizing the difference between a physical body which is alive and one which is dead. It is like the sole element which is missing from a dead body.

By providing us with a very wide canvas to understand the term Consciousness, Sri Aurobindo is also indicating that organizations which are conscious are most likely to have the following characteristics embedded in their culture:

  1. An attitude of humility and devotion which enables people to operate – individually as well as in teams – at a higher level of productivity;
  2. A flatter hierarchy which redefines the relationship between those who lead and those who are led; in other words, a Theory Y approach to human relations, a higher diversity of cross-departmental teams, a premium on gender diversity, and an optimum gap between the packages and perks of the highest and the lowest paid people;
  3. A harmonious engagement with diverse stakeholders.

(Notes:

  1. Inputs from Dr Ananda Reddy of the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research (SACAR), Pondicherry, India, are gratefully acknowledged. Illustrations courtesy www and Huta, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, India.

2. Inputs from Dominique Conterno and Esther Robles, co-founders of Consciousness Enterprises Network (https://www.consciousenterprises.net), are also gratefully acknowledged.)

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 A Tribute to Swami Vivekananda: Leader Extraordinary

 

“On the seventh of August 1941, in the city of Calcutta, a man died. His mortal remains perished but he left behind a legacy… that no fire can ever consume…”

That was the baritone, sonorous voice of Satyajit Ray in his documentary titled ‘Rabindranath’ created as a tribute to Rabindranath (a project mandated on Ray, the genius in film making, arts and literature, commissioned by Ministry of Culture, Government of India) on the occasion of the birth centenary of the another genius, Rabindranath Tagore the Nobel laureate poet, musician, novelist, dramatist, artist and philosopher. The first scene of the documentary depicted the last and final journey of Tagore to the burning ghat (crematorium).

Ray’s portrayal of Tagore began with the scene finale. But where do we start in our odyssey with the volcanic monk of India whose 150th birth anniversary we celebrated earlier in this decade?

“Let’s start from the very beginning/ a very good place to start…” (The Sound of Music)

Naren or rather Bile (Narendranath Datta) was storm or turbulence personified from childhood in the premises of the Datta household in North Calcutta. Never obedient to seniors, ever an enigma to peers (his local friends), he would relish his father’s hookas (smoking pipes) or throw away his mother’s clothes from the windows to the beggars on street even while he was locked up in a room for his erratic unmanageable behaviour.  But when the time of crisis came, his friends would run away at the sight of a snake. But he would remain seated, immersed in meditation while the snake rustled away leaving him in peace. Trained in the art of physical mastery, he would combat the white man for speaking ill of Indians. He showed the promise of a Life Exemplary and Leader Extraordinary!

“His pre-eminent characteristic was kingliness. Wherever he went he was the first.’ (Romain Rolland).

Narendranath was a born leader, never ‘made’ – only refined and directed by his great master Shri Ramakrishna.

A good leader accepts the situation at hand and tries to find a way out. But a great leader is ever in discomfort with the commonplace and the hackneyed reality. Naren began his quest for the beyond with burning questions on the existence of God and purpose of Life – only to be answered clear and direct by Sri Ramakrishna, who was to become his master though in appearance, upbringing and otherwise his direct antithesis. But this was not by any devout dedication but through a series of questioning he hurled upon his master. And then came the hour of consecration.

Ei jonmo ei shorir oi murkho bamun kine niyeche”. (This life, this body is consecrated to that old illiterate Brahmin!) – He wrote to a brother disciple later.

By the way, Narendranath was projected as the leader of tomorrow by his master – not by himself!

Naren shikshe debe” (Naren will teach the world) – was the prophecy of Shri Ramakrishna in the Master’s own writing.

A great leader emerges out of stormy crisis from various fronts – death of father, deprivation of mother from family property, futile search for a job. But he had the fortitude to stick to his master’s promise that he would never be plagued with basic sustenance. His primary preoccupation became an immersion into the self, deep in meditation. “Mon cholo nijo niketone…’ (O Mind! Return to thy own repose!). It was for his Master to turn him towards the world with the message of service, love, education to humanity. He was destined to be a leader –a banyan tree for one and many.

Storm as in crises for him was lifetime companion – severe hardship n Baranagar Math in North Calcutta after the death of his Master, hunger and uncertainty during his parivrajaka (the wandering monk) life in India, anxiety about funds for the America trip, spending sleepless and shivering night in Chicago railway station, lampooned and maligned by his opposition religious groups in the West and even from his close quarters back home.

But the fire in him was never to extinguish.

Vivekananda stood for the principles of acceptance and assimilation of diverse opinions, values and cultures. A true global leader in thoughts, words  and action, he became a fiery inspiration to men and women from the East and West from myriads of background – businessmen like Rockefeller and Jamshetji Tata, European women like Margaret Noble (Sister Nivedita) and Emma Calve, scientists like Acharya J C Bose and many more. His style of communication was different for each according to the nature and character of individuals. His was an enlightened universal mind a century ahead of his times. But never did he lose his anchor in India.

“India was his daydream. India was his nightmare.” (Sister Nivedita)

And his thundering voice rose: “He Bharat bhuliona…” (O India! Forget not…). He never disowned the past and ever cherished the golden heritage of India. But he was ever stretching out his hand and heart of welcome to the West as well, to a future that is different and diverse yet mutually and globally enriching for one and all.

Je somonnvoy kore sei lok” (The one who can synthesize is truly a human) said his Master. Swamiji lived this message throughout life – a grand synthesis of the best from all parts of the world that he had visited during his brief life span.

Srinvantu Vishwe Amritasya Putrah’ (Listen! O Children of Immortality, world over!). This was the invocation of the rishis of the Upanishads. The voice of Swamiji in Chicago Parliament of Religions resonated; “Sisters and brothers of America…” He was a modern incarnation of the ancient rishis (sages and seers) in the attire of a monk.

Back home he chose ‘atmanomoksharatham jagat hitaya cha’ as the motto of the Ramakrishna Mission – (For the liberation of the self and the welfare of the world)  on the foundation of the philosophy and principle of action ‘Siva jnana jivaseva’ (To serve man is to serve God n Man) as he learnt from his Master.

His last life in Belur Math was like that of a child – playing with animals and enjoying the company of tribal people while giving lessons on Upanishads to brother monks. In fact his was a life of a child-like leader yearning for fresh air and new light and learning forever. He learnt from all possible sources including a low caste ‘bhangee’ (one from a low caste) with whom he had smoke and also a dancing girl who, in Rajasthan at the palace of Maharaja of Khetri, taught him the message of non-discrimination among humans.

Jabot bnachi tabot shikhi” (I learn as long as I live) – was the message of Shri Ramakrishna. Following this precious teaching from his Master Swamiji lived, loved, learnt and left a legacy that is lasting and growing even beyond a century! Ramakrishna Mission is sustaining and flourishing every day all over the world for the service of humanity at large – spiritual, social and educational.

His funeral pyre was lit on the bank of the Ganges on the fifth of July 1902. The body of the monk inferno Swami Vivekananda was stretched on pyre in his chosen place under the bilwabrikshwa (The Bengal Quince tree) in Belur Math. His mother Bhubaneshwari Devi was sitting and watching the rising flames from the body of his eldest son. A speck of his saffron robe flew in the wind to Sister Nivedita, the devout disciple of the monk. She collected and preserved that ‘memento’ for her inspiration to action in the days to come.

Thus was the mortal consummation of the Swami, the Prince among men –the volcanic monk who shook the world with the fiery message of the Upanishads under the spiritual umbrage of his ‘seraphic master’ Sri Ramakrishna and ignited the spirit of India towards freedom.

Netaji (Subhas Chandra Bose) accepted him as his fiery guru in mortal absentia. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, it was like “baptism with blood and fire”. Netaji described Swamiji as a leader extraordinary in the following words:

“Reckless in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, profound and versatile in his wisdom, boundless in his love, exuberant in his emotions, merciless in his attacks and yet as simple as a child, he was a rare personality in this world of ours.

If Swamiji had been alive today he would have been my guru.”

I have ransacked the history of leadership and management literature in my voyage through Human values and Indian Ethos in Management, Spirituality and Leadership for nearly three decades but never found such a detailed, succinct yet most powerful and accurate assessment in these seven leadership qualities of one genius of a world leader by another of no mean stature.

We began with a tribute to Tagore by Satyajit Ray. And here we find a tribute to Swami Vivekananda, the Great Master and Leader Extraordinary by none other than Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. They remain with us as fountainhead of boundless inspiration in a world ruled and dictated by leaders who at best belong to the class of mediocrity in academia and otherwise!

But the fire in the volcanic monk still remains alive and aflame in those who are willing and ready to be ignited.

Agne twam hridayam agachha’ – Oh Fire Eternal! Come and set our hearts ablaze!

Amar modhye je agun jwolchhe tomader modhye o sei agun jwole uthuk… Ei sodai Vivekanandar prarthana.”

(The fire that is burning within me may set all your hearts aflame! This will ever be the eternal prayer of Vivekannada.)

May we live up to his prayers!

It was high in the snowy Himalayas. Swamiji was on pilgrimage with a few chosen disciples. His intense meditation led him to a vision of the Mother Kali, the Black Goddess, the mighty Destroyer and Time Eternal, lurking behind the veil of life. During one evening in a state of high fever he wrote a famous poem that concludes thus:

“Who dare misery loves,

And hug the form of Death,

Dance in destruction’s dance,

To him the Mother comes.”

He said to her chosen disciple Nivedita (an Irish lady of noble origin): “Meditate on death. Only by the worship of The Terrible can The Terrible itself be overcome…There could be bliss in torture too…The Mother Herself is Brahman…The heart must be a cremation ground – pride, selfishness, desire, all burnt to ashes. Then and then alone, will the Mother come!”

Vivekananda exemplified an authentic synthesis of the East and the West, the past and the present, Science and Religion, contemplation and action, spiritual pursuit and service to humanity. He was the messenger of dynamism and hope to India and the world. Could it be that he was under a spell of so-called negative thinking when he wrote the above verse? Or did he want to convey a pertinent message in a different mood that might be useful for all in moments of turbulence and uncertainty?

Leaders of tomorrow in business or otherwise, when shall we learn from death and destruction of old orders that we need creative quantum breakthroughs in our leadership principles, roles and practices to shake the very foundation of our outdated models and worn out concepts, our tunnel vision and fossilized values, by keeping alive and aflame just one precious element within our hearts – the passion to transform and infuse new life in our organizations and the planet at large?

Millennia ago, Socrates exhorted us to think and look within ourselves: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”   Closer in time, the voice of Nietzsche sounded even more daring and adventurous: “If one is to live, one is to live dangerously.”

 

{Tribute to Swami Vivekananda, the Great Master and leader extraordinary on The Foundation Day (May 1st, 1897) of The Ramakrishna Mission, the first Indian international organization with headquarters in India (Belur Math, Howrah – Kolkata on the bank of the Ganges) but outreach all over the world with more than 200 centres and still thriving in glory for almost more than a century and a quarter dedicated to the service of suffering humanity. An entrepreneurial venture of timeless significance even in times of crisis as in the present, this institution remains and grows as the ever expanding  global vision of this great master as an inexhaustible source of energy and inspiration, firmly rooted in Indian culture, ethos and heritage but with appeal reaching all over the world. At a level of Philosophy in Practice (Practical Vedanta, a term coined by himself that he spread like wild fire in the West even within the short span of his life of less than forty years) he gave a new turn to the ideal of monkhood with simultaneous emphasis on pursuit of salvation of the self through evolution of Consciousness and welfare of humanity at large.The Ramakrishna Mission that embodies the ideals of globalization and sustainability propounded by its founder a century before the pioneers of management in the West could even conceive of these ideas and principles. Even at a functional level the structure of the main temple of Shri Ramakrishna in Belur Math represents a grand synthesis of the East and the West – of Christian, Islamic and ancient Indian architecture.]

(Sanjoy Mukherjee (58) is Faculty of the Sustainability, CSR and Ethics academic group at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Shillong. He is the Chairperson of the Institute’s Annual International Sustainability Conference (SUSCON) and also the Chairperson of Student Affairs, Placement and Public Relations.

His detailed profile can be accessed at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sanjoy-mukherjee-72b18823

Permission to publish this tribute here is gratefully acknowledged.)

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A place grows on us. It offers a comfort zone which we get used to. We might dislike the place for so many things. But when we are away for some time, the gravitational pull again comes into play. We start missing the place.

Lakshmi Lakshmi

Pondicherry is no exception to this general rule. While here, we might bemoan the lack of civic sense, the streets littered with garbage, the reckless driving on the roads and the absence of adequate parking space in the town area. But take us away for some time, and we start missing it somehow. We yearn to get back to the humidity and the heat of the place.

What is so hot and happening about this quaint little town, perched on the Bay of Bengal, you may well ask.

Consider the following.

A small group of close friends

This is what makes Pondicherry so very special…

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In fond remembrance of my wife, Usha Bhatia, whose second death anniversary falls today.

ashokbhatia

P G Wodehouse handed in his dinner pail on the 14th of February, 1975. While delving into any of his narratives, one is not likely to find a single character which comes under the clutches of one of the much-despised inevitable occurrences in life – Death (the other one being Taxation, which does get commented upon once in a while).

In the narratives dished out by him, Death figures only somewhere in the background. It does not depress. Nor does it make the spirits sag. Instead, it finds mention in a positive vein. It confers wealth, castles and titles upon the unsuspecting heirs and wards, paving their way for a smoother life, thereby spreading joy and sunshine all around.

The closest one gets to morbid thoughts is when a character is fed up with facing the harsh slings and arrows of Fate and contemplates an act of suicide, which, rather…

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ashokbhatia

After the 2008 economic meltdown, the management world has discovered that CEOs need to follow not only a Business Compass but also a Moral Compass to steer the enterprises they happen to head. Improving one’s Spiritual Quotient is now a sheer business necessity, and shall be more so in the decades to come.

It is here that Indian scriptures and sages provide a ready template for managers of all sizes and shapes. Let us consider a few facets of some of the pearls of Indian wisdom which find ready application in the realm of management.

Some pearls of Indian wisdom 

Ramayana

  • The entire narrative highlights the importance of values in our lives.Ramayana 1 Businesses which follow a policy of righteousness and conduct their operations in an ethical manner enjoy tremendous brand equity in the market. This rubs off on their products as well as on their employees.
  • Lord Rama decides to…

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P G Wodehouse handed in his dinner pail on the 14th of February, 1975. While delving into any of his narratives, one is not likely to find a single character which comes under the clutches of one of the much-despised inevitable occurrences in life – Death (the other one being Taxation, which does get commented upon once in a while).

In the narratives dished out by him, Death figures only somewhere in the background. It does not depress. Nor does it make the spirits sag. Instead, it finds mention in a positive vein. It confers wealth, castles and titles upon the unsuspecting heirs and wards, paving their way for a smoother life, thereby spreading joy and sunshine all around.

The closest one gets to morbid thoughts is when a character is fed up with facing the harsh slings and arrows of Fate and contemplates an act of suicide, which, rather understandably, never happens.

When husbands kick the bucket

Former husbands do find honourable mentions in some of his narratives. Hot Water scores on this front. So does Ring for Jeeves, where one runs into rich husbands of Mrs Spottsworth who have already kicked their respective buckets, leaving behind sackfuls of the green stuff.

Born Rosalinda Banks, of the Chilicothe, Ohio, Bankses, with no assets beyond a lovely face, a superb figure and a mild talent for vers libre, she had come to Greenwich Village to seek her fortune and had found it first crack out of the box. At a studio party in Macdougall Alley she had met and fascinated Clifton Bessemer, the Pulp Paper Magnate, and in almost no time at all had become his wife.

Widowed owing to Clifton Bessemer trying to drive his car one night through a truck instead of round it, and two years later meeting in Paris and marrying the millionaire sportsman and big game hunter, A. B. Spottsworth, she was almost immediately widowed again.

It was a confusion of ideas between him and one of the lions he was hunting in Kenya that had caused A. B. Spottsworth to make the obituary column. He thought the lion was dead, and the lion thought it wasn’t. The result being that when he placed his foot on the animal’s neck preparatory to being photographed by Captain Biggar, the White Hunter accompanying the expedition, a rather unpleasant brawl had ensued, and owing to Captain Biggar having to drop the camera and spend several vital moments looking about for his rifle, his bullet, though unerring, had come too late to be of practical assistance. There was nothing to be done but pick up the pieces and transfer the millionaire sportsman’s vast fortune to his widow, adding it to the sixteen million or so which she had inherited from Clifton Bessemer.”

When the cup that cheers causes death

In Summer Lightning, Galahad is seen advising his niece about the dangers of drinking tea (instead of whisky) and recalling the death of poor old Buffy Struggles.

“’You be careful,’ urged the Hon. Galahad, who was fond of his niece and did not like to see her falling into bad habits. ‘You be very careful how you fool about with that stuff. Did I ever tell you about poor Buffy Struggles back in ‘ninety-three? Some misguided person lured poor old Buffy into one of those temperance lectures illustrated with coloured slides, and he called on me the next day ashen, poor old chap – ashen.

“Gally,” he said. “What would you say the procedure was when a fellow wants to buy tea? How would a fellow set about it?”

“Tea?” I said. “What do you want tea for?”

“To drink,” said Buffy. “Pull yourself together, dear boy,” I said.

“You’re talking wildly. You can’t drink tea. Have a brandy-and-soda.”

“No more alcohol for me,” said Buffy. “Look what it does to the common earthworm.”

“But you’re not a common earthworm,” I said, putting my finger on the flaw in his argument right away.

“I dashed soon shall be if I go on drinking alcohol,” said Buffy.

Well, I begged him with tears in my eyes not to do anything rash, but I couldn’t move him. He ordered in ten pounds of the much and was dead inside the year.’

‘Good heavens! Really?’

The Hon. Galahad nodded impressively. ‘Dead as a door-nail. Got run over by a hansom cab, poor dear old chap, as he was crossing Piccadilly. You’ll find the story in my book.’”

Tea lovers would surely get offended by the sentiments expressed herein above. But Plum had a knack of making even Death amusing.

Being mentioned in passing

Elsewhere, one finds Clarence and Gally having a conversation of this nature:
“I wish I could consult Wolff-Lehmann”
“Why can’t you?”
“He’s dead.”

In Adventures of Sally, the main protagonist writes to Ginger:

“If Gerald had died and I had lost him that way, I know quite well I shouldn’t be feeling as I do now. I should have been broken-hearted, but it wouldn’t have been the same. It’s my pride that is hurt.”

In Something Fresh, we find Ashe Marson suffering from a writer’s block. He looks blankly for half an hour in front of a sheet of paper bearing the words: “The Adventure of the Wand of Death,” and tries to decide what a wand of death might be. Joan Valentine walks in and demystifies it thus:

“Why, of course; it’s the sacred ebony stick stolen from the Indian temple, which is supposed to bring death to whoever possesses it. The hero gets hold of it, and the priests dog him and send him threatening messages.
What else could it be?”

When Uncles call it a day

Many of us successfully take off the negative emotions associated  with death by using such clichés as “kicked the bucket,” and “cashed in his chips.” In a common Wodehouse usage, an uncle generally “hands in his dinner pail.”

“I’m taking my spade and bucket and going home” is a pout spoken by a child playing at the seashore who feels he or she is no longer wanted. Instead, like in Fixing it for Freddie, he uses the term “buckets and spades.”

When suicidal tendencies evaporate

In the short story Sea of Troubles, we get to meet Mr Meggs who happens to be a martyr to indigestion. Leading a sedentary life for over twenty years, and given to the pleasures of the table, he has no hope for the future.

After much thought, he has decided to commit suicide. The knife, the pistol and the rope do not charm him. Nor do the options of either drowning or jumping from a height. The idea of consuming poison alone appeals to him.

He has encashed his assets and decided to gift the same to six of his well-deserving pals. He has prepared letters enclosing cheques to all the six. He has even thought of his Miss Pellinger, his secretary, and gifts a sum of five hundred pounds to her by way of a parting gift. After handing over the letters to her, asking her to post the same, he hands over the money. Emotionally moved, he even plants a kiss.

But Miss Pillenger is a wary spinster of austere views, uncertain age, and a deep-rooted suspicion of men. She is always ready to swing her clenched fist on any male who might cross the limits of civil behaviour.

She takes the gesture amiss and runs off from the house, startling and shocking Mr Meggs who just cannot comprehend her act of perceived insult. So much so that he scratches the idea of gifting any of his money to some similarly ungrateful friends of his.

He starts chasing his secretary so as to be able to stop her from posting the six letters he has entrusted to her. The latter, thinking he is following him for some amorous reason, creates a scene on the street. A huffing and puffing Mr Meggs, red in the face with the exertion, explains his conduct to a rozzer who has descended on the scene and retrieves the letters.

Back home, he suddenly realizes that the infernal pain in his stomach has ebbed away. He finds hope in brisk walks and decides to cancel his suicide mission.

The Making of Mac’s is another story which also appears in The Man with Two Left Feet.

Katie is in love with Andy who is ambivalent towards her. She aspires to be a first-rate dancer but damages her ankle at one of the rehearsals. This crushes her ambition. Life turns hopeless.

This is how she expresses herself:

Darling Uncle Bill, 

Don’t be too sorry when you read this. It is nobody’s fault, but I am just tired of everything, and I want to end it all. You have been such a dear to me always that I want you to be good to me now. I should not like Andy to know the truth, so I want you to make it seem as if it had happened naturally.

You will do this for me, won’t you? It will be quite easy. By the time you get this, it will be one, and it will all be over, and you can just come up and open the window and let the gas out and then everyone will think I just died naturally. It will be quite easy. I am leaving the door unlocked so that you can get in. I am in the room just above yours. I took it yesterday, so as to be near you.

Good-bye, Uncle Bill.

You will do it for me, won’t you? I don’t want Andy to know what it really was.”

Uncle Bill butts in at the last minute, consoles her, and rushes off to show the letter to Andy. Moved by the letter, Andy does not lose time and rushes to meet her. The affair ends on a positive note.

Slaying Death with his pen

Fans of P G Wodehouse are well aware that his world has different kind of challenges: Obdurate girl friends whose ambitions to either enforce dietary controls upon the parties of the other part, or uplift and refine their intellect, need to be kept on a tight leash; sartorial choices which unwilling masters bow to after having been saved from an impending disaster by their man servants; management of aunts who, when one’s Guardian Angels are busy elsewhere, are not gentlemen; tackling of stingy uncles who refuse to part with the green stuff for loftier goals in life; pigs which decide to register a protest by deciding to go in for unplanned dietary regimen; the art and science of pinching umbrellas and policemen’s helmets, and the like.

Death is on the other side of the spectrum and finds no place in his narratives, except when rich husbands or uncles decide to kick the bucket and leave a pile of money or real estate for their spouses or heirs. The D word, even if it makes a brief appearance, merely indicates a celebration of life.

A spiritual import

Incidentally, by treating Death as a celebration of life, Plum adds a deeper spiritual layer to his narratives.

In his epic poem Savitri, Sri Aurobindo, the renowned Indian seer, presents the end of a person’s life as a transformative event, a passage or a door through which one passes towards a greater life. Essentially, the poem recounts the saga of human victory over ignorance and conquest of death.

Thus, on the racing tracks of Life, Death is but a pit stop. One gives up one’s creaking old jalopy. In exchange, one gets a shimmering new vehicle. One then zooms off to a newer horizon, the engine firing on all six cylinders. With each pit stop, one evolves further.

All works of Wodehouse carry his trademark bright humour and sparkling wit. But hidden beneath the layers of his uplifting narratives are several gems of wisdom – material as well as spiritual.

He continues to live amongst us through his works. In his hands, even Death meets its own death.

(Inputs from the following fans of P G Wodehouse are gratefully acknowledged:

John Dawson, Lars Walker, Louise Culmer, Lucy Smink, Midge Coates, Murray Harper, Narayan Arvind, Pranava Singhal, Satish Pande, Subrata Sarkar and Sughosh Vardarajan.)

 

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Pondicherry has a unique charm for people of different hues, sizes, shapes, ethnicity and faiths. Some drive down with the singular purpose of unwinding and experiencing a spirit-ed upliftment of sorts. But many others pop up over a weekend, merely to soak in its spiritual ambience. Some hang around a wee bit longer, so as to be able to experience its spiritual vibrations. Many others keep coming back and even decide to settle in the city or its surroundings.

Spirituality and religion form an integral part of the allure of Pondicherry. Other than many spiritual hotspots and historic temples which it can justifiably boast of, the place is a spring-board of sorts for many places which would please a spiritual seeker as well as a religious devotee.

Of Spiritual Enlightenment

Besides meditating at either the Shri Aurobindo Ashram or the Matri Mandir, one can experience a heady spiritual upliftment merely by sitting quietly at a secluded place on the beach; being in communion with Mother Nature, aptly represented by the greenish blue waters of the Bay of Bengal.

Seeing the relentless rolling in of waves, deeply inhaling the salty air, pouring out one’s heart to the endless sea, watching the sun or the moon rise, following the movements of seagulls flying by – all these help one to attain a state of inner calm. Batteries get charged up. One can get back to one’s materialistic pursuits with a renewed vigour.

A dynamic awakening

But spiritual awakening comes about not only by adopting a static practice like meditation. It also has a dynamic dimension, which manifests itself through the mundane experiences of life.

Consider the unique experience of driving on the Pondicherry roads. It teaches one the virtues of Humility and Courage. When a millennial on his racing bike overtakes one from the left, one’s Receptivity improves. Bovines squatting on the roads quietly assert their democratic rights over whatever little road space is on offer, thereby teaching one the value of Equality. When a bus driver who believes he is driving an auto rickshaw instead suddenly honks from the side, a sense of Generosity coupled with the fear of life and limb helps one to offer him a right of way. The auto driver who delves unduly deep into the pockets of a lay visitor to Pondicherry also imparts a valuable instruction in Generosity.

Finding a parking space on the main thoroughfares needs loads of Perseverance. Upon a hapless pedestrian avoiding being run over by a speeding car, a sense of Gratitude towards the Divine descends. Sincerity of purpose is required while crossing a narrow road where two wheelers use a two-way as a four-way lane. When a traffic cop endowed with a stiff-upper-lip takes a lenient view of one’s inadvertent adventures on the road, vibrations of Goodness can be felt. When one has battled through the streets and reached one’s abode safely, a sense of Peace prevails.

Overall, one makes Spiritual Progress. One’s level of Aspiration goes up a notch higher. One learns the true meaning of Surrender to the Divine.

Even if one misses meditating at the twelve petals of Matri Mandir, each representing the qualities mentioned above, there is no cause for worry. Driving on local roads can also be an enlightening experience.

For Religious Succour

Ardent devotees of Lord Shiva treat Pondicherry as a part of the southern ‘Pancha-bhoota’ circuit, comprising Kalahasti (Air), Kancheepuram (Earth), Tiruvannamalai (Fire), Chidambaram (Ether/Space) and Trichy (Water). As an architectural marvel, the Big Temple at Thanjavur is not too far off. Overnight trains can transport one to Madurai, Rameshwaram and Kanyakumari in a jiffy.

 

Those who revere Lord Vishnu just need to head to the famous Ranganathaswamy temple at Trichy and experience its strong vibrations. Kumbakonam offers a heady concoction of many deities who are eager to bestow their grace on any of their believers who choose to get benefited. Some who wish to specifically appease Lord Shani head to the famous temple at Karaikal.

The dargah at Nagore offers solace to those seeking upliftment of a Sufi kind. The church at Velankanni is not too far off.

Irrespective of the faith one professes, Pondicherry and its vicinity offer a wide spectrum of uplifting options.

With the Union Government recently pitching in for burnishing this facet of Pondicherry in the years ahead, blissful days are surely ahead.

Brand Pondicherry

Brand Pondicherry has many attributes. A cosmopolitan culture. Metro-like facilities in a small-town framework. Warm people. Excellent education. Great medical support. A thriving hospitality and services sector. Yoga. Ease of meeting public officials. And like the proverbial icing on the cake, spiritual enlightenment and religious succour.

Take your pick and experience the myriad colours of the rainbow called Pondicherry!

(A crisper version of this article can be found at http://www.pondylive.com/pondicherry-for-spiritual-upliftment-2)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/pondicherry-a-certain-sense-of-gallic-glory-gone-by

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/pondicherry-the-little-indie-french-town

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/04/04/the-element-of-wisdom-in-management-a-seminar-at-pondicherry

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/the-travails-of-a-non-resident-pondicherryite

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/movies-with-a-puducherry-connection)

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When it comes to achieving the heights of Corporate Excellence, the element of Wisdom plays a crucial role. Look at any organization which enjoys a strong brand equity and one is apt to discover the wiser ways in which it conducts its operations. Its initiatives lead to a sustainable growth of the business, giving back to society in ways which are imaginative as well as pragmatic. The common thread running through all such initiatives is that of the element of Wisdom, one of the four pillars of Integral Management, the three other pillars being Perfection, Harmony and Strength/Power.

Sri Aurobindo Center for Advanced Research (SACAR) recently organized a one day seminar on the topic of ‘The Element of Wisdom in Management’. The event was a part of a series of seminars organized by SACAR over the past two years as a part of its endeavour to explore the relevance of some key spiritual tenets to the realm of management.

Wisdom in Organizations

A talk by yours truly covered the diverse ways in which Wisdom manifests itself in strategic as well as in tactical decision-making by organizations. It quoted real life examples of business houses using Wisdom in such managerial functions as Marketing, Finance, HR, and the like. Business houses like Tatas, Nestle India, HCL, Infosys and Wipro were covered.

Wisdom in managing People and Production

Mr. K. Nagaraja Kumar, Head-Marketing, L&T Corporate Technical, Chennai, explained the elements of Wisdom which can come in handy to managers responsible for handling people and production. With the help of light-hearted illustrations, he conveyed some profound messages to the participants. He presented a case study wherein a detailed road map was used to turn around the fortunes of an ailing manufacturing unit by engaging meaningfully with relevant stakeholders.

Balancing Intelligence and Intuition

Dr. Narendra Joshi, Principal, Agnel Technical College, Mumbai, highlighted the necessity of balancing intelligence and intuition in the realm of Product Life Cycle Management. He cited the examples of companies like Sony, Xerox, Matsushita and Nestle which introduced innovative products which were much ahead of their times. Analytical tools like Teboul’s model, Kano’s model and the Fritz approach were quoted by him. So was the necessity for a quiet mind for reaping the benefits of one’s intuitive powers.

The Age of the Spiritual Manager

Dr Ananda Reddy, Director, SACAR, spoke of the fact that Wisdom is far above and beyond the realm of the thinking mind. It is about understanding and effectively using the underlying algorithms which open up the vast vistas of miraculous knowledge and infinite possibilities for managements to decide long-term business strategies and frame policies which ensure profitable as well as sustainable operations. He shared his perception that the age of the Spiritual Manager is already upon us and management professionals would do well to equip themselves with spiritual tools to succeed in their career and life objectives.

The Wisdom of Human Values

Prof G P Rao, a doyen in the field of management education, spoke of SPANDAN, a NGO founded by him, which espouses the Wisdom of running business enterprises based on human values and ethics.

Empirical evidence of Integral Management

Prof Kisholoy Gupta, Acharya Institute of Business Management, Bangalore, presented the empirical results of an insightful study done by him to gauge the perception and reality of the Four Pillars of Integral Management – Perfection, Harmony, Strength and Wisdom – by practicing HR seniors in the Indian industry. The results showed that there is already some awareness of the constituents of Integral Management, though the nomenclature arouses a curiosity and a desire amongst management practitioners to understand and adopt this new paradigm in their day-to-day working.

Wisdom at the personal level

What does Wisdom mean to a practicing manager? Mr Ganesh Babu, Founder & CEO, Winning Minds Solutions, Puducherry, came up with a heart-warming presentation on the dimensions and utility of Wisdom in the mundane life of a working manager. The talk explored different dimensions of Wisdom in all spheres of one’s life – professional, social as well as personal.

Leaders with equanimity

Dr. Debabrata Sahani, Surgeon, Optholmologist, Bhuvaneshwar, touched upon the importance of an inner connection for business leaders. Wise are those who enjoy a tranquility and calmness within themselves. Their decision-making is based on balanced, well-considered and holistic view of the facts of the case. They do not manage crises in business with knee-jerk reactions. They deal with people according to their nature and with occurrences in the business environment according to their force and the truth or hard reality they represent. Impartial they are. Detached they are. Compassionate they happen to be, but never at the cost of their innate wisdom and truth.

Wisdom for an Indian citizenMr Hariharan Subramaniam, Director, Indian Institute of Governance, Chennai, touched upon the Wisdom of not only connecting to one’s inner self, but also the need for an Indian to contribute towards restoration of the old glory of her country. India has a special role to play in the comity of nations and the need of the hour is to train value-based politicians and administrators who would steer the country in the decades to come. He spoke of the vision of kick-starting his dream project, the Indian Institute of Governance, which would serve this purpose. His opinion was that one’s wisdom was directly proportional to one’s inner growth.

The seminar was well attended by practicing managers, management academicians and research scholars. Its conduct marked another milestone in SACAR’s efforts to propagate the concept of Integral Management, the Four Pillars of which happen to be Perfection, Harmony, Power and Wisdom.

The Age of the Spiritual Manager is already upon us. The time has come for management professionals to consider and adopt Integral Management – an Indian paradigm to understand and refine our managerial processes.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/an-inner-approach-to-leadership-and-management-note-on-a-seminar

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/managerial-perfection-notes-from-a-seminar-at-pondicherry-india

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/harmony-in-management-a-seminar-at-pondicherry-india

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/power-in-management-a-seminar-at-puducherry-india)

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