Bhagavad Gita and Management
(By M.P. Bhattathiri, Retired Chief Technical Examiner to The Govt. of
Kerala. Contact: email@example.com
"Mind is very restless, forceful and strong, O Krishna, it is more difficult
to control the mind than to control the wind"
Arjuna to Sri Krishna.
The ancient Hindu philosophy of keeping mind and body for the wellbeing has
entered the managerial, medical and judicial domain of the world. Today it
has found its place as an alternative to the theory of modern management
and also as a means to bring back the right path of peace and prosperity
for the human beings. One of the greatest contributions of India to the world
is the Holy Bhagavad Gita, which is considered to be one of the first revelations
from God. The Holy BhagavadGita is the essence of Vedic Literature and a
complete guide to practical life. It provides “all that is needed to raise
the consciousness of man to the highest possible level", reveals the deep,
universal truths of life that speak to the needs and aspirations of everyone.
Mental health has become a major international public health concern now.
However, it is not a new phenomenon. Arjuna got mentally depressed when
he saw his relatives with whom he has to fight. To motivate him, the Holy
Bhagavad Gita was preached in the battlefield Kurukshetra by Lord Krishna
to Arjuna as a counseling to do his duty while multitudes of armed men stood
by waiting. It has got all the management tactics to achieve the mental equilibrium
and to overcome any crisis situation. The Bhagavad Gita can be experienced
as a powerful catalyst for transformation. "Bhagavad Gita" means the divine
song, song of the Spirit, or song of the Lord. The Holy Bhagavad Gita has
become a secret driving force behind the unfoldment of one's life. In the
days of doubt this divine book will support all spiritual search. This divine
book will contribute to self reflection, finer feeling and deepen one's inner
process. Then life in the world can become a real education—dynamic, full
and joyful—no matter what the circumstance. May the wisdom of loving consciousness
ever guide us on our journey. What makes the Holy Bhagavad Gita a practical
psychology of transformation is that it offers us the tools to connect with
our deepest intangible essence and we must learn to participate in the battle
of life with right knowledge.
The Holy Bhagavad Gita is the essence of the Vedas and Upanishads. It is
a universal scripture applicable to people of all temperaments and for all
times. It is a book with sublime thoughts and practical instructions on Yoga,
Devotion, Vedanta and Action. It is profound in thought and sublime in heights
of vision. It brings peace and solace to souls that are afflicted by the
three fires of mortal existence, namely, afflictions caused by one’s own
body (disease etc), those caused by beings around one (e.g. wild animals,
snakes etc.), and those caused by the gods (natural disasters, earth-quakes,
Mind can be one's friend or enemy. Mind is the cause for both bondage and
liberation. The word mind is derived from man to think and the word man derived
from manu (sanskrit word for man). Lord krishna says, "The Supreme Lord
is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings
of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material
There is no theory to be internalized and applied in this psychology. Ancient
practices spontaneously induce what each person needs as the individual and
the universal coincide. The work proceeds through intellectual knowledge
of the playing field (jnana yoga), emotional devotion to the ideal (bhakti
yoga) and right action that includes both feeling and knowledge (karma yoga).
With ongoing purification we approach wisdom. The Holy Bhagavad Gita is a
message addressed to each and every human individual to help him or her to
solve the vexing problem of overcoming the present and progressing towards
a bright future. Within its eighteen chapters is revealed a human drama.
This is the experience of everyone in this world, the drama of the ascent
of man from a state of utter dejection, sorrow and total breakdown and hopelessness
to a state of perfect understanding, clarity, renewed strength and triumph.
Management has become a part and parcel of everyday life, be it at home,
in the office or factory and in Government. In all organizations, where a
group of human beings assemble for a common purpose, management principles
come into play through the management of resources, finance and planning,
priorities, policies and practice. Management is a systematic way of carrying
out activities in any field of human effort.
Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their weaknesses
irrelevant, says the Management Guru Peter Drucker. It creates harmony in
working together - equilibrium in thoughts and actions, goals and achievements,
plans and performance, products and markets. It resolves situations of scarcity,
be they in the physical, technical or human fields, through maximum utilization
with the minimum available processes to achieve the goal. Lack of management
causes disorder, confusion, wastage, delay, destruction and even depression.
Managing men, money and materials in the best possible way, according to
circumstances and environment, is the most important and essential factor
for a successful management.
Management guidelines from the Holy Bhagavad Gita
There is an important distinction between effectiveness and efficiency in
· Effectiveness is doing the right things.
· Efficiency is doing things right.
The general principles of effective management can be applied in every field,
the differences being more in application than in principle. The Manager's
functions can be summed up as:
· Forming a vision
· Planning the strategy to realize the vision.
· Cultivating the art of leadership.
· Establishing institutional excellence.
· Building an innovative organization.
· Developing human resources.
· Building teams and teamwork.
· Delegation, motivation, and communication.
· Reviewing performance and taking corrective steps when called for.
Thus, management is a process of aligning people and getting them committed
to work for a common goal to the maximum social benefit - in search of excellence.
The critical question in all managers’ minds is how to be effective in their
job. The answer to this fundamental question is found in the Holy Bhagavad
Gita, which repeatedly proclaims that “you must try to manage yourself.”
The reason is that unless a manager reaches a level of excellence and effectiveness,
he or she will be merely a face in the crowd.
Old truths in a New Context
The Holy Bhagavad Gita, written thousands of years ago, enlightens us on
all managerial techniques leading us towards a harmonious and blissful state
of affairs in place of the conflict, tensions, poor productivity, absence
of motivation and so on, common in most of Indian enterprises today – and
probably in enterprises in many other countries.
The modern (Western) management concepts of vision, leadership, motivation,
excellence in work, achieving goals, giving work meaning, decision making
and planning, are all discussed in the Holy Bhagavad Gita. There is one major
difference. While Western management thought too often deals with problems
at material, external and peripheral levels, the Holy Bhagavad Gita tackles
the issues from the grass roots level of human thinking. Once the basic thinking
of man is improved, it will automatically enhance the quality of his actions
and their results.
The management philosophy emanating from the West is based on the lure of
materialism and on a perennial thirst for profit, irrespective of the quality
of the means adopted to achieve that goal. This phenomenon has its source
in the abundant wealth of the West and so 'management by materialism' has
caught the fancy of all the countries the world over, India being no exception
to this trend. My country, India, has been in the forefront in importing
these ideas mainly because of its centuries old indoctrination by colonial
rulers, which has inculcated in us a feeling that anything Western is good
and anything Indian is inferior.
The result is that, while huge funds have been invested in building temples
of modem management education, no perceptible changes are visible in the
improvement of the general quality of life - although the standards of living
of a few has gone up. The same old struggles in almost all sectors of the
economy, criminalisation of institutions, social violence, exploitation and
other vices are seen deep in the body politic.
The Source of the Problem
The reasons for this sorry state of affairs are not far to seek. The Western
idea of management centers on making the worker (and the manager) more efficient
and more productive. Companies offer workers more to work more, produce more,
sell more and to stick to the organization without looking for alternatives.
The sole aim of extracting better and more work from the worker is to improve
the bottom-line of the enterprise. The worker has become a hirable commodity,
which can be used, replaced and discarded at will. Thus, workers have been
reduced to the state of a mercantile product.
In such a state, it should come as no surprise to us that workers start using
strikes, sit-ins, go-slows, work-to-rule etc. to get maximum benefit for
themselves from the organizations. Society-at-large is damaged. Thus we reach
a situation in which management and workers become separate and contradictory
entities with conflicting interests. There is no common goal or understanding.
This, predictably, leads to suspicion, friction, disillusion and mistrust,
with managers and workers at cross purposes. The absence of human values
and erosion of human touch in the organizational structure has resulted in
a crisis of confidence.
Western management philosophy may have created prosperity – for some people
some of the time at least - but it has failed in the aim of ensuring betterment
of individual life and social welfare. It has remained by and large a soulless
edifice and an oasis of plenty for a few in the midst of poor quality of
life for many.
Hence, there is an urgent need to re-examine prevailing management disciplines
- their objectives, scope and content. Management should be redefined to
underline the development of the worker as a person, as a human being, and
not as a mere wage-earner. With this changed perspective, management can
become an instrument in the process of social, and indeed national, development.
Now let us re-examine some of the modern management concepts in the light
of the Holy Bhagavad Gita, which is a primer of management-by-values.
Utilization of Available Resources
The first lesson of management science is to choose wisely and utilise scarce
resources optimally. 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
the nature of the effective manager - the former chose numbers, the latter,
wisdom, who ultimately is the winner.
A popular verse of the Holy Bhagavad Gita advises “detachment” from the fruits
or results of actions performed in the course of one's duty. Being dedicated
work has to mean “working for the sake of work, generating excellence for
its own sake.” If we are always calculating the date of promotion or the
rate of commission before putting in our efforts, then such work is not detached.
It is not “generating excellence for its own sake” but working only for the
extrinsic reward that may (or may not) result.
Working only with an eye to the anticipated benefits, means that the quality
of performance of the current job or duty suffers - through mental agitation
of anxiety for the future. In fact, the way the world works means that events
do not always respond positively to our calculations and hence expected fruits
may not always be forthcoming. So, the Holy Bhagavad Gita tells us not to
mortgage present commitment to an uncertain future.
Some people might argue that not seeking the business result of work and
actions makes one unaccountable. In fact, the Holy Bhagavad Gita is full
of advice on the theory of cause and effect, making the doer responsible
for the consequences of his deeds. While advising detachment from the avarice
of selfish gains in discharging one's accepted duty, the Holy Bhagavad Gita
does not absolve anybody of the consequences arising from discharge of his
or her responsibilities.
Thus the best means of effective performance management is the work itself.
Attaining this state of mind (called “nishkama karma”) is the right attitude
to work because it prevents the ego, the mind, from dissipation of attention
through speculation on future gains or losses.
Motivation – Self and Self-transcendence
It has been presumed for many years that satisfying lower order needs of
workers - adequate food, clothing and shelter, etc. are key factors in motivation.
However, it is a common experience that the dissatisfaction of the clerk
and of the Director is identical - only their scales and composition vary.
It should be true that once the lower-order needs are more than satisfied,
the Director should have little problem in optimizing his contribution to
the organization and society. 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 schoolteacher, or a self-employed
artisan, may well demonstrate higher levels of self-actualization despite
poorer satisfaction of their lower-order needs.
This situation is explained by the theory of self-transcendence propounded
in the Holy Bhagavad Gita. Self-transcendence involves renouncing egoism,
putting others before oneself, emphasizing team work, dignity, co-operation,
harmony and trust – and, indeed potentially sacrificing lower needs for higher
goals, the opposite of Maslow.
“Work must be done with detachment.” It is the ego that spoils work and the
ego is the centerpiece of most theories of motivation. We need a theory of
inspiration, but not merely a theory of motivation.
The Great Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) says working for love
is freedom in action, a concept described as “disinterested work" in the
Holy Bhagavad Gita, where Sri Krishna says,
“He who shares the wealth generated only after serving the people, through
work done as a sacrifice for them, is freed from all sins. On the contrary
those who earn wealth only for themselves, eat sins that lead to frustration
Disinterested work finds expression in devotion, surrender and equipoise.
The former two are psychological while the third is determination to keep
the mind free of the dualistic (usually taken to mean "materialistic") pulls
of daily experiences. Detached involvement in work is the key to mental equanimity
or the state of “nirdwanda.” This attitude leads to a stage where the worker
begins to feel the presence of the Supreme Intelligence guiding the embodied
individual intelligence. Such de-personified intelligence is best suited
for those who sincerely believe in the supremacy of organizational goals
as compared to narrow personal success and achievement.
An effective work culture is about vigorous and arduous efforts in pursuit
of given or chosen tasks. Sri Krishna elaborates on two types of work culture
– “daivi sampat
” or divine work culture and “asuri sampat
or demonic work culture.
work culture - involves fearlessness, purity, self-control,
sacrifice, straightforwardness, self-denial, calmness, absence of fault-finding,
absence of greed, gentleness, modesty, absence of envy and pride.
· Demonic work culture - involves egoism, delusion, personal desires,
improper performance, work not oriented towards service.
Mere work ethic is not enough. The hardened criminal exhibits an excellent
work ethic. 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 technique of work, which is an indispensable
component of a work ethic. “Yogah” is defined in the Gita itself as “samatvam
yogah uchyate” meaning an unchanging equipoise of mind (detachment.) Tilak1
tells us that acting with an equable mind is Yoga2
By making the equable mind the bedrock of all actions, the Gita evolved the
goal of unification of work ethic with ethics in work, for without ethical
process no mind can attain equipoise. The Jagad Guru, Adi Sankara (born circa
800 AD), says that the skill necessary in the performance of one's duty is
that of maintaining an evenness of mind in face of success and failure. The
calm mind in the face of failure will lead to deeper introspection and see
clearly where the process went wrong so that corrective steps could be taken
to avoid shortcomings in future.
The principle of reducing our attachment to personal gains from the work
done is the Gita’s prescription for attaining equanimity. It has been held
that this principle leads to lack of incentive for effort, striking at the
very root of work ethic. To the contrary, concentration on the task for its
own sake leads to the achievement of excellence – and indeed to the true
mental happiness of the worker. Thus, while commonplace theories of motivation
may be said to lead us to the bondage or extrinsic rewards, the Gita’s principle
leads us to the intrinsic rewards of mental, and indeed moral, satisfaction.
The Holy Bhagavad Gita further explains the theory of “detachment” from the
extrinsic rewards of work in saying:
· 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, the cause of the
modem managers' companions of diabetes, high blood pressure and ulcers.
Assimilation of the ideas of the Gita leads us to the wider spectrum of “lokasamgraha”
(general welfare) but there is also another dimension to the work ethic -
if the “karmayoga” (service) is blended with “bhaktiyoga” (devotion), then
the work itself becomes worship, a “sevayoga" (service for its own sake.)
Along with bhakti yoga as a means of liberation, the Holy Bhagavad Gita espouses
the doctrine of nishkamya karma or pure action untainted by hankering after
the fruits resulting from that action. Modern scientists have now understood
the intuitive wisdom of that action in a new light.
Scientists at the US National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, found
that laboratory monkeys that started out as procrastinators, became efficient
workers after they received brain injections that suppressed a gene linked
to their ability to anticipate a reward. The scientists reported that the
work ethic of rhesus macaques wasn't all that different from that of many
people: "If the reward is not immediate, you procrastinate", Dr Richmond
told LA Times.
Manager's Mental Health
Sound mental health is the very goal of any human activity - more so management.
Sound mental health is that state of mind which can maintain a calm, positive
poise, or regain it when unsettled, in the midst of all 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 businesses are speed and competition. There
is a distinct danger that these forces cause erosion of the moral fiber,
that in seeking the end, one permits oneself immoral means - tax evasion,
illegitimate financial holdings, being “economical with the truth”, deliberate
oversight in the audit, too-clever financial reporting and so on. This phenomenon
may be called as “Yayati Syndrome”.
In the book, the Mahabharata, we come across a king by the name of Yayati
who, in order to revel in the endless enjoyment of flesh exchanged his old
age with the youth of his obliging youngest son for a thousand years. However,
he found the pursuit of sensual enjoyments ultimately unsatisfying and came
back to his son pleading him to take back his youth. This “yayati syndrome”
shows the conflict between externally directed acquisitions (extrinsic motivation)
and inner value and conscience (intrinsic motivation.)
Practice what You Preach
“Whatever the excellent and best ones do, the commoners follow,” says Sri
Krishna in the Gita. The visionary leader must be a missionary, extremely
practical, intensively dynamic and capable of translating dreams into reality.
This dynamism and strength of a true leader flows from an inspired and spontaneous
motivation to help others. "I am the strength of those who are devoid of
personal 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 Holy Bhagavad Gita.
The despondency of Arjuna in the first chapter of the Holy Bhagavad Gita
is typically human. Sri Krishna, by sheer power of his inspiring words, changes
Arjuna's mind from a state of inertia to one of righteous action, from the
state of what the French philosophers call “anomie” or even alienation, to
a state of self-confidence in the ultimate victory of “dharma
When Arjuna got over his despondency and stood ready to fight, Sri Krishna
reminded him of the purpose of his new-found spirit of intense action - not
for his own benefit, not for satisfying his own greed and desire, but for
the good of many, with faith in the ultimate victory of ethics over unethical
actions and of truth over untruth.
Sri Krishna's advice with regard to temporary failures 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.
My purport is not to suggest discarding of the Western model of efficiency,
dynamism and striving for excellence but to tune these ideals to India's
holistic attitude of “lokasangraha” - for the welfare of many, for the good
of many. There is indeed a moral dimension to business life. What we do in
business is no different, in this regard, to what we do in our personal lives.
The means do not justify the ends. Pursuit of results for their own sake
is ultimately self-defeating.
1) Bal Gangadhar Tilak, 1856-1920, hailed by the people of India as "Lokmanya,"
probably the most learned among the country's political leaders.
2) Yoga has two different meanings - a general meaning and a technical meaning.
The general meaning is the joining together or union of any two or more things.
The technical meaning is “a state of stability and peace and the means or
practices which lead to that state." In the Holy Bhagavad Gita, yoga is used
with both meanings depending on the context.