“Innovation and intuition are common to both business and spirituality”. I first heard that when invited to speak at a global conference on Corporate Culture & Spirituality earlier this year. Organized by the Art of Living Foundation’s world renowned teacher of meditation and peace His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the conference was bringing together business professionals, political leaders and entrepreneurs to promote spirituality at workplace.
I was intrigued. Of course I believe that spirituality and human values are not distinct from the material aspects of life. They are not just complementary but absolutely integral if we must have a sustainably happy and peaceful life. But this was the first time I was confronted with understanding the link between two very opposite concepts (or at least I thought so). Can profits and peace co-exist? Should compassion be practiced while competing? Does serving others promote leadership? I was keen to learn.
I was also excited at the opportunity to perhaps meet with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of whom I had heard much. A global phenomenon in the spiritual realm advocating peace in the world through the Art of Living , He has a world-wide follower base of over 300 million and His spiritual organization engaged in social service in over 150 countries. His advocacy of spirituality is neither arcane nor abstract. Rooted in everyday pragmatism, He promotes inner harmony through meditation (“Kriya”) synchronizing body, mind and the reality around us towards a higher peace. He is as much revered in the business and political world as He is adored by millions of ardent spiritual seekers from common walks of life.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, spiritual Guru and founder of the Art of Living FOundation, in a meditation session. His practical spirituality has touched the lives of millions in over 150 countries and He is a much sought after advisor to several leaders globally. Sri Sri or Guru ji as he referred to fondly is an embodiment of peace and joy. He is an inspiration to businesses, governments and people of all faiths to find peace and purpose through meditation (Pic courtsey: Sri Sri University students).
To understand better, I went back to the roots of “innovation” and “intuition”.
The meaning of innovation – and its context in business – is perhaps more straightforward to comprehend. Innovation (Latin: innovatus) means to renew, to alter, to novate as in redefine and re-establish. Every business has examples of it, with innovation becoming the most important competitive differentiator. Does this have a place in ‘spirituality’?
Intuition, on the other hand, means direct perception of the truth independent of any reasoning. The ‘vision’ one has without any noise or prompting, to look within and find the answer. CEOs like JackWelch and Steve Jobs – the most successful and celebrated leaders in business in recent times – come to mind. Do such leadership styles have a ‘spiritual’ import?
The connection between the two, innovation and intuition, is the connection between the head and the heart. Yes, business and spirituality have intuition and innovation in common because both are about continuous renewal and perception of the truth. Renewal also means inner cleansing and unhindered perception of the truth that strengthens the strategy to achieve your goals.
And what is this ‘connection’ that ties the two? I received the answer from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Himself through His talks: meditation.
In the business world, we are fast realizing that reflection as a leadership tool is yet to be leveraged fully for development. The Art of Living teaches meditation for people from all walks of life (spiritual or business or political or just the common man) to live holistically.
The conference saw Sri Sri Ravi Shankar speaking in the inaugural session. I was awed by His simplicity and profound articulation of the concept in just so few words. He began by saying, “Business and Spirituality are like a pair of scissors and needle: one cuts and the other sews. But both must go hand in hand working together to create the fabric called society”.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says that business and spirituality are not separate but integral to the development of society. The key to the integration, however, is a stress-free body and mind (Pic courtesy: Sri Sri University students).
During the next two days, I had the blissful opportunity to hear more and understand deeper. Some samples from my learning:
“For a good manager, it is important to be in the present moment with patience and poise”. We all need time for reflection and meditation. That is how we tap the source of our strength that lies deep within us. This source is our intuition. Meditation helps us focus on the non-changing aspect of our consciousness which gives us courage and creativity. (“Management Mantras” by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar)
“There are seven levels to our existence: body, breath, mind, memory, intellect, ego and the Self. When we get to know a little about each of these layers, transformation begins”.
“The sign of true success is the ability to smile at all times. You are successful when you are compassionate, cultured and committed”. Management education should provide these values.
“To follow ethics in business, we need to be free from stress”. He talks about “spiritualizing” politics and “socializing” corporate businesses (i.e., integrating business with social responsibility)
The discussion panels that followed comprised of a veritable who’s who list of leaders from the world of business. K.V.Kamath, Mohandas Pai, Harish Bhatt (Tata’s), Kishore Biyani, political leaders from EU and India, and a very nervous and under-qualified yours truly. I spoke, motivated by an inner urge to bring together the passion to excel and the human values needed for a holistic living. I found examples of professional excellence in spiritual discourses and lessons of practical spirituality in business scenarios. (An inspired member of the audience has graciously blogged the talk here!)
For me personally – and also as a professional – the two days spent with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the conference taught me 3 key lessons from His interactions. I will elaborate them here based on my feelings (heart) rather than analysis (head) alone!
1. Business is about balance
Passion and dispassion are not opposites but must go hand in hand together. We need to be passionate about our duty yet emotionally detached from the outcome (this is the quintessential message of The Bhagavad Gita too – a universal Scripture founded on God’s advice to a warrior fighting against his own brothers). Balance is also about walking the line consistently and with conviction between ethics and profit, between courage and compromise, between shareholders and society and between ruthless focus and compassion. When the balance is upset, business – as in life – becomes unsustainable, sometimes even dangerous.
2. Leadership is about serving
“Paroksha Priyahi vai devaha” – in Sanskrit this means the manager of the Universe is invisible and loves to serve without being seen. Leadership is not about control but about enabling. The best organizations are valued for their service not for their dominance. Similarly, both in work (business) and in life (spirituality) the goal of serving delivers sustainable results.
3. Living is about giving
In the ancient Indian Scriptures, more than 5000 years old, a chapter named Shikshavalli (essence of education) from Taitriyopanishad enumerates the principles of leading life through charity and compassion. In a convocation of sorts at the “graduating” ceremony, the Guru urges the student to practice giving in order to achieve balance in life.
Sraddhaya Dheyam, Asraddhaya Adheyam | Sriya Dheyam | Hriya Dheyam | Bhiya Dheyam | Samvidha Dheyam
In Sanskrit, it means “Give in full earnestness. Do not give without involvement and interest”. On how to give, the Guru says “Give in abundance (Sriya), give with humility (Hriya), give with a sense of awe and respect (Hriya) and finally, give with affection and compassion (Samvidha)”.
Every word of this and its import is applicable to the corporate world. If only we could integrate giving and sharing as much as we place value in growing and earning, a new economic reality may perhaps emerge to deliver the business world from the various crises we have managed to create out of our own hubris!
My audience with the Guru was short, intense and left an indelible impression of peace and serenity. The first thing that touched me deeply was his smile, an unconditional and all embracing smile. The conversation that followed was friendly and informal – just some simple words between two long lost friends; a Guru detached and loving and a wannabe disciple in awe and confusion. His simplicity – and accessibility – is astounding. A deep voice from within, long forgotten and long unused to a relationship without any agenda, spoke up on its own, “Guru ji, may I please offer you the traditional ‘paada namaskar’”? (Obeisance reciting the traditional prayer that surrenders the student’s Self to the Master’s feet). He accepted smilingly and at that moment everything between us – time, space and unfamiliarity – melted into a blissful feeling of a deep learning within.
Michael Fischman in his inspiring book on life with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Stumbling Into Infinity, identifies five things that happen in the presence of an enlightened master when you surrender to learn: knowledge flourishes, sorrow diminishes, joy wells up without any reason, abundance flows and talents manifest.
As I read this book in the serene silence of the Ashram in the outskirts of Bangalore, I could not help reflecting on my own inner voice urging me to go find that elusive balance amongst the various roles we play in this journey called ‘life’ and understand the common principles that tie all of them. Business is no different from spirituality, in its most practical manifestation. And working for a living need be no different from living for a higher purpose.
The science of living deals with the finite while the art of living pushes one to the infinite; our endless potential, boundless possibilities and limitless passion: The Art of…well, everything!
With the Faculty and the 1st batch of MBA students of Sri Sri University, Bubhaneshwar. I was blessed to be invited to deliver the Global Leadership Series lecture and had an inspiring experience interacting with future leaders undergoing a niche management education program.