Prof Debashis Chatterjee, director, IIM Kozhikode, studied the Bhagavad Gita for nine years before writing the recently published Timeless Leadership: 18 Leadership Sutras from The Bhagavad Gita. ‘Mastering the mind’, ‘integration of the self’ and ‘discovering the roots of consciousness’ are some of the sutras discussed in his book. In a wide-ranging interview with Pragya Singh, Chatterjee answers questions on the relevance of an ‘Indian’ way of doing business. Excerpts:
Describe the process prior to your writing on the Bhagavad Gita. Was the Gita an inspirational guide in your own writing, or have you interpreted it in an entirely new way?
I reached out to CEOs, gurus and many others who claimed to have had transcendental experiences through a study of the Gita. I met about 200 people. My research was deep, empirical and personal. I spent two years writing the book and nine years on applying the Gita to my own life. My aim was to rescue the Gita from the perception that it is some sacred kind of thing, only to be pulled out when someone dies. I mean, it is not a funereal object; it is a way to comprehend consciousness and the human mind, minus religious connotations. Unnecessarily, people have added dimensions to the Gita that do not exist; I wanted to clear that debris.
Does this matter to business leaders or entrepreneurs? Why should it?
A young professional may like to understand the extent to which his desires are his preoccupation, and how much they are taking away from his real occupation—the task at hand. Our emotional experiences cloud our minds all the time. I have tried to set out a way to observe those emotional reactions as a way to empower leaders.
Your book is selling in 40 countries. Why the interest from those who don’t practise, nor have interest in Hinduism or the Gita?
The interest in my book is not because people are reading the Gita or looking at it. They are only looking at the uncertainty in their own lives, the problems their country faces. We are all aware of what is happening around the world, the economic situation, and the global crisis. So, people are asking the question—what is a way out? For atheists or people from other religions, the book is not out of reach, in the same way that a purposeful life is not out of anyone’s reach.
For most modern people, work is inevitable—as your book points out too. However, the other step—work for the right purpose, seems out of reach in the modern economy. How should leadership tackle this?
The very purpose of my writing is to stress that a life of purpose does not require you to be a celebrity. ‘Ekla chalo’ (walk alone) is an idea we are already familiar with. In the same way, each person can read the book and adapt what resonates with him. You don’t have to read the Bhagavad Gita to understand it.
How are the management principles or sutras you lay out relevant to today’s problems—inequality and lack of opportunity? Will the book appeal to a wider audience of non-believers?
Have you noticed how reality shows are becoming popular around the world? That’s because this is what people want: a way to get in touch with the invisible machine called reality. My book is not about a country or geography, it is about reality. Hinduism is the organisational structure, the methodology; it doesn’t own the Gita any more than Newton owns gravity.
“Our emotional experiences always cloud our minds. I have tried to set out a way to observe emotional reactions as a way to empower leaders.” The West has developed many tools to understand reality. Newton’s discovery was of the rules of gravity, not gravity itself.
Other factors—science, technology, progress, economics—continue to do what they set out to achieve. But fate is deeper than that. Your commitment to the moment and what has to be done in it is critical to navigating the world. All I’m saying is, I am setting out to rescue the book from religion. Newton’s laws of gravity were always there, even though Newton discovered it. He or England does not own it. In the same way, the Gita does not belong to any religious organisation. Different religions will find the Gita in different ways.
Economic relations define interactions between people in society. Lack of success owes to lack of opportunity. Skyrocketing growth might be unequal. How do you get in tune with these ideas that most of us imbibe?
Economic value is ultimately directed by human values. There is also a psychological truth that my book explores, through the 18 sutras: what matters is not how much you have, but what makes you feel secure. So, I argue, companies must experiment with both aspects—growing big, as well as ensuring security. Because, if they only want to become bigger and bigger, they get to an Enron or Satyam-like situation. You also realise through reading the book that the world is a projection of your perceptions. And so, in time, wealth follows your vision. There is a lesson in this for business families. Why does the third generation of business tend to dwindle and fade? Because the successive generation tends to lose the larger vision. They forget what the notion of wealth is. Visa’s founder knew it to be trust and security—the rest is just paper money, currency notes, or a numerical billionaire.
The Gita, for instance, says women can’t understand philosophy, some texts argue that sudras must not read it.
Now, you don’t say that Picasso’s Guernica is blemished by presenting a view of destruction, or that Shakespeare’s entire body of work is deficient if some people now question if he actually wrote some of the things attributed to him. So, I try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. You have to see the substantive part of the text.
Finally, how is your book different from other management books?
My drawing out of the 18 Sutras is very different from the half-truths and temporal forms that many other management books emphasise.
Any literary/religious work assumes significance when it is read, appreciated, accepted by the people. But the arrogance of Debashis Chatterjee—who is after all just selling his opinion and making good for himself, claiming that he is “setting out to rescue the Gita from religion”—is too much.
Ajay Savithri, Hyderabad
The Gita is said to be without author for good reason. Let no group appropriate the wisdom it contains. Texts from the Vedantic tradition must always remain open to interpretation by individuals.
The Gita should be rescued from Hinduism just as Rumi should be rescued from Islam and Kierkegaard from Christianity. Religions are about worship, rituals, mythology, acceptance. Philosophy and wisdom are a separate heritage, and our common one.
The Gita has to be taken in its totality. You can’t cherry-pick points, twist them and claim for yourself the authorship of a great management book.
Bharat Paul, San Francisco
Before Chatterjee, there have been umpteen others who have harped about the management ‘worthiness’ of the ideas in the Gita.
V.N.K. Murti, Pattambi
Has this Debashis what’s-his-name passed out of an IIM? Or is he one of those rubbish PhD guys who passes off as faculty at these places?
After several persistent readings, the fact that the Gita is a text that can be interpreted variously continues to fox me. I’ve stopped trying to understand it. I prefer to remain in blissful ignorance.
R.V. Subramanian, Gurgaon
The Bhagvad Gita is appealing in its psychological effect on one’s mind rather than its philosophy.
B.V.G. Rao, Warangal
The interpreting and reinterpreting of ancient classics only indicates the value of universal truths.
M.L. Gupta, Delhi
The author has been studying the Gita for just nine years. People in the scientific community have been at it for more than half a century with even greats like Einstein trying to decipher it.
Gandhar, New Jersey
The Gita is not about religion at all, it’s about spirituality.
Vikk Nayyar, Delhi
In modern Hinduism, you can find philosophies and paths that are virtually indistinguishable from Buddhism, just with their own ‘flavour’ or aesthetics. The Gita was new technology, written after Buddhism, that was like a rewriting of Hinduism using the advancements of Buddhism. Of course, the Buddha came out of Hindu culture himself.
Shyamal Barua, Calcutta
Yoga,is 1 of the 6 astika philosophical schools in what is called Hinduism.
Sadly most people don't understand that Hinduism is not a religion.
This is primarily true for the Hindus
>>>Theory of Everything (from beginning to end) explaining clockwork-like Universe
That is it! Universe is not clockwork like. About knowability of nature, it turns out that for example, position and momentum cannot be simultaneously determined accurately. And it is not mere experimental limitation. Feynman's illustration of double slit experiments are superb and can be understood by beginning college students. These gedanken experiments were originally due to L.I.Schiff.
The times have changed. And science is no longer a hobby of the God-believersI
And now, it cannot continue to be a slave to the God-believers, having to prove and explain to them everything it says.
>> the nature of reality that emerges from Physics is close to mysticism. But then any theory of everything, of Universe and its beginning and its end, is bound to be that!
What was shocking and discomforting to most westerners (and physicists in particular) was not the "explain-all" or "mystic" aspect of it but rather outright illogical nature of reality at a microscopic level. The 2-slit experiment elaborated in Feynman's book "Six easy pieces" describes this absurdity pretty well.
It is not just that nature is unknowable at Hiesenberg's limiting uncertainty but nature mischievously seem to be playing game with us. If you don't look, it produces interference pattern of the wave nature and if you try to look, it turns into pure particles coming through one slit or another.
This is far from Theory of Everything (from beginning to end) explaining clockwork-like Universe. That would have been quite comforting to the western mind but nature seems to have a mind of her own and is not particularly inclined to divulge that, forever.
Wigner changed his viewpoint regarding consciousness later on. Well there are several interpretations of Quantum mechanics, some where consciousness plays no role (Many world interpretation) and at the other extreme, John Wheeler's theory that in some sense Universe with its past comes into being only with conscious observers. The last word is not said, as the fundamental problem in Physics, for nearly a century, that of unifying Quantum Mechanics, and gravitation (or requiring general covariance in QM) is unsolved though enormous work has been done and is being done. I do not know what you say about translation and dictionary, but the definitive Physics book has not been written yet. Unless by Vedanta you mean something which has not yet taken shape, comparison with Physics is vacuous.
But with or without consciousness, the nature of reality that emerges from Physics is close to mysticism. But then any theory of everything, of Universe and its beginning and its end, is bound to be that!
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT