Below is an article that first appeared in the September 26, 2006 issue of
( M. P. Bhattathiri as the author.

There appears to be many bridges between the “Bhagavad Gita” and the System
of Profound Knowledge.


“I know because I must know. It is my purpose.”

Management and the Bhagavad Gita Viewpoint: old resources, modern truths
by M. P. Bhattathiri

Editor’s note: The Bhagavad Gita is a guide for millions of people around
the world, particularly in India. Quality Digest is interested in anything
that can affect quality in business, and Bhattathiri’s use of the Bhagavad
Gita is unique in our experience.

One of the greatest contributions of India to the world is the Bhagavad
Gita, or Holy Gita—an ancient epic poem in Sanskrit whose title translates
to “The Song of the Divine One” and is considered by many to be one of the
first revelations from God.

The story is about Arjuna, who became depressed when he realized he had to
fight his relatives on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. To help Arjuna in his
moral dilemma, lord Krishna preached the Bhagavad Gita, which can be a
powerful catalyst for transformation. The story has all the management
tactics necessary to achieve mental equilibrium and to overcome any crisis
situation. In days of doubt, this divine poem will support all spiritual
searching. It will contribute to self-reflection and deepen one’s inner
process. With it, life can become dynamic, full and joyful, no matter the
circumstance. The Holy Gita is a practical psychology of transformation
because it offers people the tools to connect with their deepest, intangible
essence, teaching them to live with knowledge.

For all achievements, management’s task is to make people capable of joint
performance, to make their weaknesses irrelevant, as management guru Peter
Drucker says. 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, waste, delay, destruction and depression. Managing people, money
and materials in the best possible way, according to circumstances and
environment, is the most important and essential factor in an organization’s

Following are some thoughts inspired by some of the principles in the
Bhagavad Gita:

There is an important distinction between effectiveness and efficiency in
managing. 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. A
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
Delegating, motivating and communicating
Reviewing performance and taking corrective steps when necessary
Thus, management is a process of aligning people and getting them committed
to working for a common goal to the maximum social benefit. In other words,
it’s the search for excellence.

The critical question in many managers’ minds is how to be effective in
their job. The answer to this fundamental question is also found in the
Bhagavad Gita, which repeatedly proclaims that “you must try to manage
yourself.” 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
Although it was written thousands of years ago, the Bhagavad Gita enlightens
people on all managerial techniques, leading them away from conflicts,
tensions, poor productivity, absence of motivation, etc., and toward a
harmonious and blissful state.

The modern Western management concepts of vision, leadership, motivation,
excellence in work, goal achievement, meaningful work, decision making and
planning, are all discussed in the Bhagavad Gita. However, while Western
management too often deals with problems at the material, external and
peripheral levels, the Bhagavad Gita tackles the issues from the grass roots
level of human thinking. Once the basic thinking of humans is improved, it
will automatically enhance the quality of their actions.

Western management philosophy is based on 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 has been in the forefront in importing these
ideas, mainly because of its centuries-old indoctrination by colonial
rulers, which has inculcated in its population a feeling that anything from
the Western world is good and anything Indian is inferior.

Utilization of available resources
The first lesson of management science is to choose wisely and use 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.

Work commitment
A popular verse of the Gita advises detachment from the consequences or
results of actions performed in the course of one’s duty. Being dedicated to
work means “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, we aren’t detached.We’re working
only for the extrinsic reward that may or may not result.

Working with an eye only to the anticipated benefits means that the quality
of performance of the current job or duty suffers (through mental agitation
or anxiety for the future). Events don’t always respond positively to our
calculations, hence expected fruits may not always be forthcoming. The 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 Bhagavad Gita is full of
advice on the theory of cause and effect, saying that all people are
responsible for the consequences of their deeds. While advising detachment
from the avarice of selfish gains in discharging one’s accepted duty, the
Gita doesn’t absolve anybody of the consequences arising from discharge of
his or her responsibilities.

Thus, the best means of effective performance management is simply the work
itself. Attaining this state of mind, called nishkama karma, is the right
attitude for work because it prevents the ego from dissipating attention by
speculating on future gains or losses. The mind can be one’s friend or
enemy, the cause of both bondage and liberation.

Motivation and self-transcendence
It’s been presumed for many years that satisfying basic needs of
workers—adequate food, clothing and shelter, etc.—are key factors in
motivation. However, it’s a common experience that the dissatisfaction of
clerks and of directors is identical—only the levels of dissatisfaction and
composition vary. It should be true that once the basic needs are more than
satisfied, directors should have little problem in optimizing their
contribution to the organization and society. But more often than not, it
doesn’t happen that way. On the contrary, a lowly paid schoolteacher or a
self-employed artisan may demonstrate higher levels of self-actualization
despite poorer satisfaction of their basic needs.

This situation is explained by the theory of self-transcendence propounded
in the Gita. Self-transcendence involves renouncing egoism, putting others
before oneself, and emphasizing teamwork, dignity, cooperation, harmony and
trust; potentially sacrificing basic needs for higher goals.

The ego spoils work and the ego’s the centerpiece of most theories of
motivation. People don’t need a theory of motivation, but a theory of

Work culture
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:

Daivi work culture involves fearlessness, purity, self-control, sacrifice,
straightforwardness, self-denial, calmness, absence of fault-finding,
absence of greed, gentleness, modesty, and absence of envy and pride.
Asuri work culture involves egoism, delusion, personal desires, improper
performance, and work not oriented towards service.
A mere work ethic isn’t enough. A hardened criminal may exhibit an excellent
work ethic. What is needed is a work ethic conditioned by ethics in work.

It’s in this light that the suggestion, 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 as an
unchanging equipoise of mind—detachment. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a leader of
the Indian Independence Movement and a social reformer, said that acting
with an equable mind is yoga.

Work results
The 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 shouldn’t be
appropriated by the doer alone.
If the result of sincere effort is a failure, then the entire blame doesn’t
accrue to the doer.
The former attitude reduces arrogance and conceit, while the latter prevents
excessive despondency, demotivation and self-pity. Thus, both these
dispositions safeguard the doer against psychological vulnerability, the
cause of the modern managers’ sicknesses such as diabetes, high blood
pressure and ulcers.

Assimilating the ideas of the Gita can lead people to the wider spectrum of
lokasamgraha (general welfare), but there’s 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 Gita espouses the
doctrine of nishkamya karma (pure action) untainted by hankering after the
fruits resulting from that action. Modern scientists now understand the
intuitive wisdom of that action in a new light.

Scientists at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda,
Maryland, have 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 those monkeys wasn’t
all that different from that of many people: “If the reward is not
immediate, you procrastinate,” an investigator told The Los Angeles Times.

Manager’s mental health
Sound mental health is the goal of any human activity. Sound mental health
is that state of mind that 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 prerequisites 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 and 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’s
a distinct danger that these forces cause erosion of moral fiber, that in
seeking a goal, people encourage immoral means (i.e., tax evasion,
illegitimate financial holdings, hiding the truth, deliberate oversight in
an audit, etc.) This unethical behavior is what I call the Yayati syndrome.

In the book The Mahabharata, there’s a king by the name of Yayati who
exchanges his old age with the youth of his obliging youngest son for a
thousand years to revel in the endless enjoyment of flesh. 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).

The despondency of Arjuna in the first chapter of the 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 (alienation), to a state of
self-confidence in the ultimate victory of dharma (ethical action).

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, which
wasn’t for his own benefit, nor 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.

With regard to temporary failure, Sri Krishna says, “No doer of good ever
ends in misery.” Every action produces results. Good action produces good
results, and evil begets nothing but evil. Therefore, if you always act well
you’ll be rewarded.

My purpose isn’t to discard 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, than what we do in our personal lives. The
means don’t justify the ends. Pursuit of results for their own sake is
ultimately self-defeating.

About the author
M.P. Bhattathiri is a retired chief technical examiner to the government of
the state of Kerala, India.