Bhagavad Gita and Management by M. P. Bhattathiry SignUp
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Bhagavad Gita and Management
by M. P. Bhattathiry Bookmark and Share
 

Introduction

Management has become a part and parcel in everyday life, be it at home, office, factory, Government, or in any other organization where a group of human beings assemble for a common purpose, management principles come into play through their various facets like management of time, resources, personnel, materials, machinery, finance, planning, priorities, policies and practice. 

Management is a systematic way of doing all activities in any field of human effort. It is about keeping oneself engaged in interactive relationship with other human beings in the course of performing one's duty. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their weaknesses irrelevant -so says the Management Guru Peter Drucker. 

It strikes harmony in working - equilibrium in thoughts and actions, goals and achievements, plans and performance, products and markets. It resolves situations of scarcities be they in the physical, technical or human fields through maximum utilization with the minimum available processes to achieve the goal 

The lack of management will cause disorder, confusion, wastage, delay, destruction and even depression. Managing men, money and material in the best possible way according to circumstances and environment is the most important and essential factor for a successful management. Managing men is supposed have the best tactics. Man is the first syllable in management which speaks volumes on the role and significance of man in a scheme of management practices. From the pre-historic days of aborigines to the present day of robots and computers the ideas of managing available resources have been in existence in some form or other. When the world has become a big global village now, management practices have become more complex and what was once considered a golden rule is now thought to be an anachronism. 

Management Guidelines from the Bhagavad Gita 

There is an important distinction between effectiveness and efficiency in managing.Effectiveness is doing the right things and Efficiency is doing things right. The general principles of effective management can be applied in every fields the differences being mainly in the application than in principles. Again, effective management is not limited in its application only to business or industrial enterprises but to all organizations where the aim is to reach a given goal through a Chief Executive or a Manager with the help of a group of workers. 

The Manager's functions can be briefly summed up as under :

  • Forming a vision and planning the strategy to realize such vision.
  • Cultivating the art of leadership.
  • Establishing the institutional excellence and building an innovative organization.
  • Developing human resources.
  • Team building and teamwork.
  • Delegation, motivation, and communication and 
    Reviewing performance and taking corrective steps whenever called for.

Thus Management is a process in search of excellence to align people and get them committed to work for a common goal to the maximum social benefit. 

The critical question in every Manager's mind is how to be effective in his job. The answer to this fundamental question is found in the Bhagavad Gita which repeatedly proclaims that 'you try to manage yourself'. The reason is that unless the Manager reaches a level of excellence and effectiveness that sets him apart from the others whom he is managing, he will be merely a face in the crowd and not an achiever. 

In this context the Bhagavad Gita expounded thousands of years ago by the Super Management Guru Bhagawan Sri Krishna enlightens us on all managerial techniques leading to a harmonious and blissful state of affairs as against conflicts, tensions, lowest efficiency and least productivity, absence of motivation and lack of work culture etc common to most of the Indian enterprises today. 

The modern management concepts like vision, leadership, motivation, excellence in work, achieving goals, meaning of work, attitude towards work, nature of individual, decision making, planning etc., are all discussed in the Bhagavad Gita with a sharp insight and finest analysis to drive through our confused grey matter making it highly eligible to become a part of the modem management syllabus. 

It may be noted that while Western design on management deals with the problems at superficial, material, external and peripheral levels, the ideas contained in the Bhagavad Gita tackle the issues from the grass roots level of human thinking because once the basic thinking of man is improved it will automatically enhance the quality of his actions and their results. 

The management thoughts emanating from the Western countries particularly the U.S.A. are based mostly on the lure for materialism and a perennial thirst for profit irrespective of the quality of the means adopted to achieve that goal. This phenomenon has its source in abundance in the West particularly the U.S.A. Management by materialism caught the fancy of all the countries the world over, India being no exception to this trend. 

Our country has been in the forefront in importing those ideas mainly because of its centuries old indoctrination by the colonial rulers which inculcated in us a feeling that anything Western is always good and anything Indian is always inferior. Hence our management schools have sprung up on the foundations of materialistic approach wherein no place of importance was given to a holistic view. 

The result is while huge funds have been invested in building these temples of modem management education, no perceptible changes are visible in the improvement of the quality of life although the standard of living of a few has gone up. The same old struggles in almost all sectors of the economy, criminalization of institutions, more and more social violence, exploitation and such other vices have gone deep in the body politic. 

The reasons for this sorry state of affairs are not far to seek. The western idea of management has placed utmost reliance on the worker (which includes Managers also) -to make him more efficient, to increase his productivity. They pay him more so that he may work more, produce more, sell more and will stick to the organization without looking for alternatives. The sole aim of extracting better and more work from him is for improving the bottom-line of the enterprise. Worker has become a hireable commodity, which can be used, replaced and discarded at will. 

The workers have also seen through the game plan of their paymasters who have reduced them to the state of a mercantile product. They changed their attitude to work and started adopting such measures as uncalled for strikes, Gheraos, sit-ins,dharnas, go-slows, work-to-rule etc to get maximum benefit for themselves from the organizations without caring the least for the adverse impact that such coercive methods will cause to the society at large. 

Thus we have reached a situation where management and workers have become separate and contradictory entities wherein their approaches are different and interests are conflicting. There is no common goal or understanding which predictably leads to constant suspicion, friction, disillusions and mistrust because of working at cross purposes. The absence of human values and erosion of human touch in the organizational structure resulted in a permanent crisis of confidence. 

The western management thoughts although acquired prosperity to some for some time has absolutely failed in their aim to ensure betterment of individual life and social welfare. It has remained by and large a soulless management edifice and an oasis of plenty for a chosen few in the midst of poor quality of life to many. Hence there is an urgent need to have a re-look at the prevalent management discipline on its objectives, scope and content. 

It should be redefined so as to underline the development of the worker as a man, as a human being with all his positive and negative characteristics and not as a mere wage-earner. In this changed perspective, management ceases to be a career-agent but becomes an instrument in the process of national development in all its segments. 

Bhagavad Gita And Managerial Effectiveness 

Now let us re-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 in the management science is to choose wisely and utilise optimally the scarce resources if one has to succeed in his venture. During the curtain raiser before the Mahabharata War Duryodhana chose Sri Krishna's large army for his help while Arjuna selected Sri Krishna's wisdom for his support. This episode gives us a clue as to who is an Effective Manager.

Attitude Towards Work 

Three stone-cutters were engaged in erecting a temple. As usual a H.R.D. Consultant asked them what they were doing. The response of the three workers to this innocent-looking question is illuminating.

'I am a poor man. I have to maintain my family. I am making a living here,' said the first stone-cutter with a dejected face. 
'Well, I work because I want to show that I am the best stone-cutter in the country,' said the second one with a sense of pride.
'Oh, I want to build the most beautiful temple in the country,' said the third one with a visionary gleam.

Their jobs were identical but their perspectives were different. What Gita tells us is to develop the visionary perspective in the work we do. It tells us to develop a sense of larger vision in one's work for the common good. 

Work Commitment 

The popular verse 2.47 of the Gita cited above advises non-attachment to the fruits or results of actions performed in the course of one's duty. Dedicated work has to mean 'work for the sake of work'. If we are always calculating the date of promotion for putting in our efforts, then such work cannot be commitment-oriented causing excellence in the results but it will be promotion-oriented resulting in inevitable disappointments. By tilting the performance towards the anticipated benefits, the quality of performance of the present duty suffers on account of the mental agitations caused by the anxieties of the future. Another reason for non-attachment to results is the fact that workings of the world are not designed to positively respond to our calculations and hence expected fruits may not always be forthcoming . 

So, the Gita tells us not to mortgage the present commitment to an uncertain future. If we are not able to measure up to this height, then surely the fault lies with us and not with the teaching. 

Some people argue that being unattached to the consequences of one's action would make one un-accountable as accountability is a much touted word these days with the vigilance department sitting on our shoulders. However, we have to understand that the entire second chapter has arisen as a sequel to the temporarily lost sense of accountability on the part of Arjuna in the first chapter of the Gita in performing hisswadharma

Bhagavad Gita is full of advice on the theory of cause and effect, making the doer responsible for the consequences of his deeds. The Gita, while advising detachment from the avarice of selfish gains by discharging one's accepted duty, does not absolve anybody of the consequences arising from discharge of his responsibilities. 

This verse is a brilliant guide to the operating Manager for psychological energy conservation and a preventive method against stress and burn-outs in the work situations. Learning managerial stress prevention methods is quite costly now days and if only we understand the Gita we get the required cure free of cost. 

Thus the best means for effective work performance is to become the work itself. Attaining this state of nishkama karma is the right attitude to work because it prevents the ego, the mind from dissipation through speculation on future gains or losses. 

It has been presumed for long that satisfying lower needs of a worker like adequate food, clothing and shelter, recognition, appreciation, status, personality development etc are the key factors in the motivational theory of personnel management. 

It is the common experience that the spirit of grievances from the clerk to the Director is identical and only their scales and composition vary. It should have been that once the lower-order needs are more than satisfied, the Director should have no problem in optimizing his contribution to the organization. But more often than not, it does not happen like that; the eagle soars high but keeps its eyes firmly fixed on the dead animal below. On the contrary a lowly paid school teacher, a self-employed artisan, ordinary artistes demonstrate higher levels of self- realization despite poor satisfaction of their lower- order needs. 

This situation is explained by the theory of Self-transcendence or Self-realization propounded in the Gita. Self-transcendence is overcoming insuperable obstacles in one's path. It involves renouncing egoism, putting others before oneself, team work, dignity, sharing, co-operation, harmony, trust, sacrificing lower needs for higher goals, seeing others in you and yourself in others etc. The portrait of a self-realizing person is that he is a man who aims at his own position and underrates everything else. On the other hand the Self-transcenders are the visionaries and innovators. Their resolute efforts enable them to achieve the apparently impossible. They overcome all barriers to reach their goal. 

The work must be done with detachment.' This is because it is the Ego which spoils the work. If this is not the backbone of the Theory of Motivation which the modern scholars talk about what else is it? I would say that this is not merely a theory of Motivation but it is a theory of Inspiration. 

The Gita further advises to perform action with loving attention to the Divine which implies redirection of the empirical self away from its egocentric needs, desires, and passions for creating suitable conditions to perform actions in pursuit of excellence. Tagore says working for love is freedom in action which is described as disinterested work in the Gita. It is on the basis of the holistic vision that Indians have developed the work-ethos of life. They found that all work irrespective of its nature have to be directed towards a single purpose that is the manifestation of essential divinity in man by working for the good of all beings -lokasangraha. This vision was presented to us in the very first mantra of lsopanishad which says that whatever exists in the Universe is enveloped by God. How shall we enjoy this life then, if all are one? The answer it provides is enjoy and strengthen life by sacrificing your selfishness by not coveting other's wealth. The same motivation is given by Sri Krishna in the Third Chapter of Gita when He says that 'He who shares the wealth generated only after serving the people, through work done as a sacrifice for them, is freed from all the sins. On the contrary those who earn wealth only for themselves, eat sins that lead to frustration and failure.' 

The disinterested work finds expression in devotion, surrender and equipoise. The former two are psychological while the third is the strong-willed determination to keep the mind free of and above the dualistic pulls of daily experiences. Detached involvement in work is the key to mental equanimity or the state of nirdwanda. This attitude leads to a stage where the worker begins to feel the presence of the Supreme Intelligence guiding the empirical 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. 

Work culture means vigorous and arduous effort in pursuit of a given or chosen task. When Bhagawan Sri Krishna rebukes Arjuna in the strongest words for his unmanliness and imbecility in recoiling from his righteous duty it is nothing but a clarion call for the highest work culture. Poor work culture is the result of tamo gunaovertaking one's mindset. Bhagawan's stinging rebuke is to bring out the temporarily dormant rajo guna in Arjuna. In Chapter 16 of the Gita Sri Krishna elaborates on two types of Work Ethic viz. daivi sampat or divine work culture and asuri sampat or demonic work culture. 

Daivi work culture - means 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 - means egoism, delusion, desire-centric, improper performance, work which is not oriented towards service. It is to be noted that mere work ethic is not enough in as much as a hardened criminal has also a very good work culture. What is needed is a work ethic conditioned by ethics in work. 

It is in this light that the counsel 'yogah karmasu kausalam' should be understood.Kausalam means skill or method or technique of work which is an indispensable component of work ethic. Yogah is defined in the Gita itself as 'samatvam yogah uchyate' meaning unchanging equipoise of mind. Tilak tells us that performing actions with the special device of an equable mind is Yoga. By making the equable mind as the bed-rock of all actions Gita evolved the goal of unification of work ethic with ethics in work, for without ethical process no mind can attain equipoise. Adi Sankara says that the skill in performance of one's duty consists in maintaining the evenness of mind in success and failure because the calm mind in failure will lead him to deeper introspection and see clearly where the process went wrong so that corrective steps could be taken to avoid such shortcomings in future. 

The principle of reducing our attachment to personal gains from the work done or controlling the aversion to personal losses enunciated in Ch.2 Verse 47 of the Gita is the foolproof prescription for attaining equanimity. The common apprehension about this principle that it will lead to lack of incentive for effort and work, striking at the very root of work ethic, is not valid because the advice is to be judged as relevant to man's overriding quest for true mental happiness. Thus while the common place theories on motivation lead us to bondage, the Gita theory takes us to freedom and real happiness. 

Work Results 

The Gita further explains the theory of non- attachment to the results of work in Ch.18 Verses 13-15 the import of which is as under: 

If the result of sincere effort is a success, the entire credit should not be appropriated by the doer alone. If the result of sincere effort is a failure, then too the entire blame does not accrue to the doer. 

The former attitude mollifies arrogance and conceit while the latter prevents excessive despondency, de-motivation and self-pity. Thus both these dispositions safeguard the doer against psychological vulnerability which is the cause for the Modem Managers' companions like Diabetes, High B.P. Ulcers etc. 

Assimilation of the ideas behind 2.47 and 18.13-15 of the Gita leads us to the wider spectrum of lokasamgraha or general welfare. 

There is also another dimension in the work ethic. If the karmayoga is blended withbhaktiyoga then the work itself becomes worship, a seva yoga

Manager's Mental Health 

The ideas mentioned above have a close bearing on the end-state of a manager which is his mental health. Sound mental health is the very goal of any human activity more so management. An expert describes sound mental health as that state of mind which can maintain a calm, positive poise or regain it when unsettled in the midst of all the 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 others' achievements, success, rewards.
  • Egotism - about one's own accomplishments.
  • Suspicion, anger and frustration.
  • Anguish through comparisons.

The driving forces in today's rat-race are speed and greed as well as ambition and competition. The natural fallout from these forces is erosion of one's ethics-moral fiber which supersedes the value system as a means in the entrepreneurial path like tax evasion, undercutting, spreading canards against the competitors, entrepreneurial spying, instigating industrial strife in the business rivals' establishments etc. Although these practices are taken as normal business hazards for achieving progress, they always end up as a pursuit of mirage -the more the needs the more the disappointments. This phenomenon may be called as yayati-syndrome. 

In Mahabharata we come across a king called Yayati who, in order to revel in the endless enjoyment of flesh exchanged his old age with the youth of his obliging youngest son for a mythical thousand years. However, he lost himself in the pursuit of sensual enjoyments and felt penitent. He came back to his son pleading to take back his youth. This yayati syndrome shows the conflict between externally directed acquisitions, motivations and inner reasoning, emotions and conscience. 

Gita tells us how to get out of this universal phenomenon by prescribing the following capsules:

  • Cultivate sound philosophy of life.
  • Identify with inner core of self-sufficiency.
  • Get out of the habitual mindset towards the pairs of opposites.
  • Strive for excellence through work is worship.
  • Build up an internal integrated reference point to face contrary impulses, and emotions.
  • Pursue ethico-moral rectitude.

Cultivating this understanding by a manager would lead him to emancipation from falsifying ego-conscious state of confusion and distortion, to a state of pure and free mind i.e. universal, supreme consciousness wherefrom he can prove his effectiveness in discharging whatever duties that have fallen to his domain. 

Bhagawan's advice is relevant here :

"tasmaat sarveshu kaaleshu mamanusmarah yuddha cha" 
'Therefore under all circumstances remember Me and then fight' (Fight means perform your duties) 

Management Needs those Who Practice what they Preach 

Whatever the excellent and best ones do, the commoners follow, so says Sri Krishna in the Gita. This is the leadership quality prescribed in the Gita. The visionary leader must also 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 desire and attachment. O Arjuna, I am the legitimate desire in those, who are not opposed to righteousness" says Sri Krishna in the 10th Chapter of the Gita. 

The Ultimate Message of Gita for Managers 

The despondent position of Arjuna in the first chapter of the Gita is a typical human situation which may come in the life of all men of action some time or other. Sri Krishna by sheer power of his inspiring words raised the level of Arjuna's mind from the state of inertia to the state of righteous action, from the state of faithlessness to the state of faith and self-confidence in the ultimate victory of Dharma (ethical action). They are the powerful words of courage of strength, of self confidence, of faith in one's own infinite power, of the glory, of valor in the life of active people and of the need for intense calmness in the midst of intense action. 

When Arjuna got over his despondency and stood ready to fight, Sri Krishna gave him the gospel for using his spirit of intense action not for his own benefit, not for satisfying his own greed and desire, but for using his action for the good of many, with faith in the ultimate victory of ethics over unethical actions and truth over untruth. Arjuna responds by emphatically declaring that all his delusions were removed and that he is ready to do what is expected of him in the given situation. 

Sri Krishna's advice with regard to temporary failures in actions is 'No doer of good ever ends in misery'. Every action should produce results: good action produces good results and evil begets nothing but evil. Therefore always act well and be rewarded.

And finally the Gita's consoling message for all men of action is : He who follows My ideal in all walks of life without losing faith in the ideal or never deviating from it, I provide him with all that he needs (Yoga) and protect what he has already got (Kshema). 

In conclusion the purport of this essay is not to suggest discarding of the Western model of efficiency, dynamism and striving for excellence but to make these ideals tuned to the India's holistic attitude of lokasangraha -for the welfare of many, for the good of many. The idea is that these management skills should be India-centric and not America-centric. Swami Vivekananda says a combination of both these approaches will certainly create future leaders of India who will be far superior to any that have ever been in the world.

1-Feb-2004
More by :  M. P. Bhattathiry
 
Views: 6381
Article Comment this is simply the best

more of such matters from the learned scholars are significant for redressing the present human life.

the present confusions of mind prevalent in younger generations can b removed by implementing the study of religious scriptures in schools and colleges apart from only technical education.
Rajinder kapil Research Scholar on Indology
11/16/2014
Article Comment This is excellent ..Some years back a book was published.Unfortunately could not retrieve it. The cshlokas of Bhagwad Gita was translated to management thoughts. I would love to have that book again if you have it.
Regards,
Sachit
Sachit Gupta
07/18/2011
Article Comment This is excellent. I have been looking for related articles on management lessons from the Gita and found one such here. Would love to have more... Thanks.
Uma
05/24/2011
 
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