Thursday, July 05, 2007

Managing Contradictions

I have always found one particular story around the Bhagvad Gita very enchanting.

The Gita, which as our films have continously depicted in their courtroom oath-taking scenes, is THE holy Hindu book, in spite of the multiple alternatives available in the religion (unlike the Bible or the Koran which are the sole treatise of their respective faiths). In the Gita, the hero Arjuna, just before the biggest battle of his life, was overcome by a severe crisis of self-doubt, and then decided to take refuge in the argument of humanity (that his greed was overtaking familial love). To help him conquer his moh-led weakness (something which Arjun goes through a lot of times in the Mahabharat), Lord Krishna gave him a long discourse, the crux of which was to conquer your mind (dhyana), love and surrender all your actions to God (bhakti, nishkaam karma), and indulge in worldly activity, even if slightly flawed (it is an absolute shame that there is a tacit approval to the caste system, determined by birth, during this discourse). Broadly, the path was to become a more difficult Sankhyayogi (what Buddha became), or a more worldly Karmayogi (what Arjun, or in real life, Emperor Ashoka chose to be).

The interesting bit comes later in The Mahabharat, when the war has ended. Yudhisthira went through his own bouts of self-doubts (solved again by Krishna), and also took some lengthy piece of kingly advice from Bheeshma. Arjun, relaxing with Krishna, asked him to repeat the Gita, as he had forgotten it all. Now here is the hero, talking about a philosophy which was to influence the Gandhi-led Satyagraha for a non-violent Indian Independence movement (diametrically opposite to the call for just war that the Gita was supposed to be), and admittedly he does not remember it. Krishna, part amused part annoyed, told him he cannot repeat it as the planetary positions were not perfect like then, but instead narrated him a series of different tales, which are compiled in the Anu Gita (for all those literal interpreters of religious text, there cannot be a better example of openness and flexibility than this).

My take on the Gita, apart from the Karma perspective, has also been also towards the Yogi side. If you read Anant Pai's brilliant Amar Chitra Katha on the Gita, he depicts the Yogi brilliantly - a balanced person, not swinging between extremes (shades of Buddha's middle path?). Yoga literally means 'union with God', and we possibly need this divine union to manage the paradox life can be. For instance, I work for my company, to ensure organisational growth. But my personal growth (for the limited slots available at the top) can only happen if a colleague of mine does not do too well, or simply put, does not exceed my performance. It is something similar to VVS Laxman praying for Ganguly to fail so that he can get back into the team, and Ganguly hoping that Sachin fails so that the pressure passes on to him. Whatever happens, for Laxman to succeed, his team needs to suffer because of someone's failure.

This need for balance argument can be extended across. We need to develop economically, but not at the expense of the environment. We might turn vegetarians not to harm life, but still consume curd which is nothing but live culture.

Yoga shows me, or even Laxman the way. When given a chance, VVS has to simply go ahead and do his job to the best of his ability (his karma). But if he gets a lot of slow runs when the team is gunning for an early declaration, the spirit is wrong (yoga). It is the yoga which will ensure his and the worldly balance.

And as if to prove that my personal hypothesis on the need to find balance being the fundamental question of life is possibly right, Roger Martin has published an article in the June 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review, 'How successful leaders think'. I reproduce an extract (without any permission) below, figure out if it agrees to what Karma-yoga is all about.

In search of lessons to apply in our own careers, we often try to emulate what effective leaders do. Roger Martin says this focus is misplaced, because moves that work in one context may make little sense in another. A more productive, though more difficult, approach is to look at how such leaders think. After extensive interviews with more than 50 of them, the author discovered that most are integrative thinkers - that is, they can hold in their heads two opposing ideas at once and then come up with a new idea that contains element of each but is superior to both. Martin argues that this process of consideration and synthesis (rather than superior strategy or faultless execution) is the hallmark of exceptional businesses and the people who run them.

1 comment:

Utpal Sinha said...

hi Abhigyan....

Interesting read this one.... insightful and was some help to me when I am going thro bouts of self doubt myself these days....

How are things on your side?