The topic itself is very interesting to me. It’s very thought provoking, because I see in it, two different titles. You have ‘creating spiritual awareness in business’, and also ‘creating awareness in spiritual business’. And there is no conflict between the two titles. In reality, business itself is part and parcel of life and the religion. Actually, the term ‘religion’ itself is wrong in Hinduism..it’s more of a way of life – just as many of the speakers today have mentioned before me.
Business is actually an art…it is Kurukshetra. Kurukshetra is the battlefield of life, described in the Bhagavad Gita. Business today is a battlefield for anyone out there doing it. I assume most of you are people in business. The challenge in doing business is in being able to communicate and reach out to others. It’s a challenge that’s more mental than it is physical. And there are no formulas. The reality is we have to find our own formula. The formula lies within, not without.
If you want to do your business right, then it has to come from within you. Business in essence begins from spirituality. There are contradictions in the terms. For instance, I run a multinational corporation, and we have 23 offices around the world. It’s a pretty large company, and it is not defined in any way by geographical terms. We have 11 Directors on the Board, and between us, we have 7 passports. In the end, we choose to be a vegetarian company. Now, that would not be so strange if we were a company from India or a company with lots of Hindus. But reality is we are more alike, than we are different. The reality is, they find our value system very challenging, very different and they are attracted to it. It’s nothing for us to be ashamed of.
So I woke up, and those few days made a turning point in my life, when I went back to Arkansas. I went back to my prayer room and did a massive spring cleaning, and soon I had a small prayer alter that went to the centre of where I was living. And I started doing my prayers with a lot more fervent appreciation, because the Lord became a lot more real to me. It took me a trip to America to find Siva Brahma.
So He is universal. He is everywhere. And to draw that line, Gandhiji quotes the Bhagavad Gita so beautifully, when he said, “Even a blade of grass will not move without his will.” So if a blade of grass will not move without his will, then every person you meet everyday, everything you’re doing everyday, is part of the master plan. You are where you should be. In the words of a great sage from Sri Lanka, who says it in Tamil – ‘Yeppavoo Mudintha Karriyam,’ which translates to ‘it was finished long ago’. That means we are living it now. There are no mistakes.
So if this person you’re doing business with, is sitting in front of you, this person that you find terribly irritating, is in front of you, then he is there for a specific purpose. And that purpose is to improve who you are. Running away from him or her is not going to solve your problem. You go around the next corner and you’ll find another apparition, another avatar of this incredibly irritating specimen, reborn in your path. And until you learn your lesson, you’re going to be meeting that person wherever you go.
So the lessons are there, and they are challenging us. To imagine that all these are accidents and incidents, means, to not understand who we are, to not understand Sanatana Dharma, which is the true name for what we practice, in Sanskrit. In its simplest sense, dharma means duty. And in every sense, duty supercedes karma. Hence we do what we do. We are placed where we are because of karma, but what we do from there, depends on how we perform our dharma. In Tamil, there is a saying that with will power, we can overcome fate. My grandfather put it very simply: You can open your palm and read your fate, or you can close your palm and get to work.
So the concept is to understand that He is in everything around us, that there are no accidents, that there are no flaws in the master plan. If that’s the case, the business we’re doing is His gift to us. And us doing it right is our gift to Him. When we get up in the morning, there’s a glorious, powerful event that happens every single day..it never repeats itself twice in the same day and it’s there every day at the stroke of dawn, when most of us are under the blankets. It’s called sunrise. It’s the time of Brahma Muhurta..the time of creation. And it works a spectacular colour across the sky, in a canvas that lasts only for that moment. And in that colour and that canvas, there’s a message that says, “I give you yet another day”.
The day is His gift to us and what we do with it is our gift to Him. The path of dharma is essential to what we do. The fact that we do business is wonderful, because in business, we are foot soldiers in Kurukshetra. In business you have to recognise you are rewriting your own formula in your way. No one can teach that to you. If you look at some of the wealthiest people in the world, one thing comes to light. None of them works for somebody. And they are businessmen. And if you take the 10 wealthiest people in the world, you’ll find that about 6 or 7 of them never even finished college. Some of them, not even high school. Education is critically important to us Indians…it’s inculcated in us. The unfortunate thing is that the western system of education is academic..it’s a transfer of information at best, and you regurgitate it when you need it..it does not teach you wisdom. The thing is, if the 6 or 7 wealthiest people in the world didn’t get a degree in finance, or have a PhD, then what did they do differently? How many PhDs in finance will actually be able to make a million dollars? You have all these consultants who have impressive degrees behind them, who tell you how to do your business right, apparently. Yet none of them can go out there and make a million dollars. They are much safer working for somebody, collecting nine to five.
But I’m here to talk to you about something critically important in the art of business – the art of learning. Not the western art of learning, but the vedic art of learning. Here’s how it goes. The first stage is called Viveka – discrimination. What is discrimination in this sense of the word? It is an art of assessment…an art of analysis..an art of being able to tell what’s right from wrong..it’s a continuous process..it never stops. Which is why Ramakrishna Paramahamsan named his favourite disciple, Vivekanda. Because he was always in a quest. And Vivekanda lived his life very much to his name. The art of constantly questing is the first stage; deciding if that is what you want to do..if that’s what you’re going to do..if that is what you need to do..if that is what you do best.
The next stage is what is called Vichara and it is where you analyse, you research, you discuss. It’s not just academic because Vichara also means to debate, to question, to challenge, to enquire. And you do it to the best of your ability..you talk to anyone you know..relying on the fact that not even a blade of grass will not move in the wind without his will. And that everyone in your path has been placed there for a specific purpose. Find that purpose.
So Vichara is that step of questioning and analysing, and during that time you can be as cynical as you need to be. You don’t have to swallow everything you listen to. You challenge, you question, you absorb. After you go through Viveka and Vichara, only then will you be prepared for the 3rd stage, which is called Nethi. In Sanskrit, ne means no…thi means this. Together, it means ‘not this’. So when you practise whatever you practice, you have chosen the path you’re going to take.. the business you’re going to do..the path where you’re going to be the best that you can be….then it is at that level that you practice nethi ; a kind of a focus, so nothing can ever get in your path. All of you at one point will go through nethi. At least those of you in the last two or three generations. One example is puppy love..falling in love for the first time. Some person grabs your attention, and you’re totally dedicated beyond all things that you don’t see anyone else except that person. Total dedication..it only lasts for a while, but it is a small foretaste. Imagine…if you’re able to acquire that skill and put it to use. You need to fall in love with what you’re doing. You need to be totally in love with what you’re doing. If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a single day in your life. Think about it.
One percent of the world is made of the people who make the music we listen to, who draw the art we watch, who make the films we watch, who make the clothes we design, who draw the geographical boundaries we live by. These are the so-called movers and shakers, and we live according to their whim. One percent are the lions and the rest are the sheep…you’re not in control of your life. In business the first thing that you are stepping towards is financial freedom. The joke is that freedom is far more than financial. Finance actually shackles you down. Having more money is not a good thing. Making money is a lot easier than keeping it. Keeping money is a lot of hard work. When you fall in love with your work, and you tend to see Him in everything you do, and you dedicate the business you’re doing to Him, then it becomes nethi. Then there is no difference between spirituality and business..they both become one.
Finally, you come to Vairagya. Vairagya is a brilliant state of being. There’s no English terminology to describe it. In its simplest sense it can be called charisma..leadership. Every great person you know of, every person you can read about historically, who have emblazoned their names across the pages of history, have touched Vairagya. So when you go through Viveka, Vichara and Nethi, to hit Vairagya, then your business takes on a life of its own. And in Vairagya, everything that you’ve learned, you need to unlearn. The path that takes you to a million dollars is not the same path that takes you to 10 million.
Let me share with you a little story that explains Vairagya so beautifully. You all know Ravi Shankar…the great maestro Ravi Shankar. Ravi Shankar’s guru was someone known as Ustad Allauddin Khan, and he was one of the greatest maestros of all time. He was a master. His own master, on his death bed, called for Allauddin Khan and Allauddin Khan had to travel halfway across India back to his home village, to the foot of his master’s bed.
At his death bed, he waited for Allauddin to come and as he arrived at his master’s deathbed, his master said to him, “I waited for you. You have never given me Gurudakshina.” Gurudakshina is basically what you give in tribute to your guru. The reason was because Allauddin comes from a very poor family and he could not afford to attend classes. He used to sit at the edge of the fence and watch the rich kids learn the various instruments. Some of the kids would throw away or abandon these and he used to pick them and rework it. And somewhere along the way, Allauddin’s master heard him play some of these exercise pieces and he pulled that little boy into his class. And he became the great Allauddin Khan.
At that point, standing at his master’s deathbed, Allauddin was already 58 years of age. Listening to his master’s request, he says, “Whatever you want. I can get it for you. What do you want? Land? Jewellery? What do you need?” His master says, “The one thing I want, is your right hand.” Immediately Allauddin thought of the story from Mahabharata, where Ekalavya had to cut off his thumb. He asks, “Ok, do you want me to cut it off?” His master says, “No you can keep your hand. You just cannot use it to play, to strum any musical instrument”. Allauddin Khan was shocked. He went back and he was in a state of depression. He cut himself off from the world, he was in silence for months. He cut himself off from the world for a year. And he came back after one year and decided to have a concert. Remember, he can’t play with his right hand. The sitar, veena..are all dependent on his right hand. The audience was in silence, wondering what he would do. So he came up to the stage, picked up his favourite sarod, sat down, reversed it and began to play with his left hand.
At the age of 58, he became a grand master all over again..a legend. Till the day he died he played with his left hand. And the tribute his master had asked for was his greatest gift. But there was no limitations to the mind. The mind – the single most powerful asset given to every single one of us here today.
Going back to something I was discussing earlier on. It’s not that I don’t know any thevarams (devotional songs). It would be difficult for me to not know so, particularly with my upbringing. I grew up with thevarams ringing in my ears. But living in the West for 13 years does have an effect on you, especially since I was living in Arkansas which in America, is like living at the moon’s door. It was a little hard, because the nearest temple was a good eight and a half hour drive. That’s something you do once or twice a year, so I was beginning to slip a little bit. My traditions and the things that I hold dear to myself, were very hard to maintain.
Then one day I got a call from my parents who had come to Hawaii to meet Gurudev Satguru Siva Subramaniya Swami, and were so enchanted by what was going on there, that they called me, and kept calling me until I made some time and flew down to meet them. And I still remember when I arrived at the temple and went up to meet Swami – I knew he was not Indian by virtue of his body – I was expecting to see something like the Hare Krishna Swamis. And I walked up the stairs, and for a moment it was like seeing Agastyan…Agastya Munivar. It was like seeing a sage like Vyasa or Valmiki, or Vishwamitra. And it was so breathtaking to watch. And at that moment I felt proud to be who I am..proud to be Hindu. And it instantly made me feel ashamed at the same time. Because I had lived for a few days with a wonderful family who were part of this community, and woken up with them every morning and did Siva Pooja. They woke up every day for Siva Pooja and it was done with great passion and great reverence. After that, they got changed and went about their own work. But they took that hour every morning, to do this – something that we would find incredibly difficult to do. For them it was part and parcel of life, and it made me ashamed, because I had allowed myself to gravitate away from all this. I was probably more interested in Michael Jackson at the time, than Siva Brahma.