Published in the February 2016 issue of Sraddha, Vol. 7 (3), pp. 128-146.
This paper is part of our ongoing research series, The Organisational Cycle. The series is based on our ongoing study of Sri Aurobindo’s social philosophy as presented in his work, The Human Cycle. It is an attempt to explore how some of the fundamental ideas presented in The Human Cycle helps us understand the evolutionary processes often seen in business and other organisations. For the previous essay in the series, published in August issue of the same journal, Sraddha, click HERE. The opening essay of the series was published in the February 2015 issue of Sraddha, Vol. 6 (3), pp. 96-112. To download that essay in full, please click here.
The Road Travelled So Far
“History is not just the evolution of technology; it is the evolution of thought. By understanding the reality of the people who came before us, we can see why we look at the world the way we do, and what our contribution is toward further progress. We can pinpoint where we come in, so to speak, in the longer development of Civilization, and that gives us a sense of where we are going…. to really understand where you are today, you must take yourself back to the year 1000 and then move forward through the entire millennium experientially, as though you actually lived through the whole period yourself in a single lifetime… The first thing you must understand is that the reality of this time is being defined by the powerful churchmen of the Christian church. Because of their position, these men hold great influence over the minds of the populace. But regardless of which class you’re in, or the particular work that you do, you soon realize that social position is secondary to the spiritual reality of life as defined by the churchmen.”
This is a passage from the novel “The Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield[i] (1993), a book celebrated for popularising various psychological and spiritual ideas rooted in Eastern thought. The novel captures the protagonist’s journey to Peru to explore and understand a series of nine spiritual insights mentioned in an ancient manuscript. The above passage appears in the context of the second insight summarising the evolution of the human race. Interestingly, the evolutionary stages described in the novel are quite similar to Sri Aurobindo’s psycho-social developmental stages as presented in The Human Cycle. The above passage describes the conventional stage. In a later passage we find this description of the coming of the age of reasoning:
“The Medieval world view, your world view, begins to fall apart in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. First, you notice certain improprieties on the part of the churchmen themselves: secretly violating their vows of chastity, for example, or taking gratuities to look the other way when governmental officials violate scriptural laws…These improprieties alarm you because these churchmen hold themselves to be the only connection between yourself and God…Suddenly you are in the midst of an outright rebellion… As you watch in disbelief, the rebellion succeeds… After all, you have grown accustomed to having an authority in your life to define reality, and without that external direction you feel confused and lost. If the churchmen description of reality and the reason for human existence is wrong, you ask, then what is right? What is the impact of this collapse on the people of that day? I suppose it was somewhat unsettling…by the 1600s, astronomers had proved beyond a doubt that the sun and stars did not revolve around the Earth as maintained by the church. Clearly the Earth was only one small planet orbiting a minor sun in a galaxy that contained billions of such stars… Mankind has lost its place at the centre of God’s universe. In the past, you might have said God was responsible, or the devil. But as the medieval world view breaks down, that certainty goes with it. All the things you took for granted now need new definition, especially the nature of God and your relationship to God.”
The above passage illustrates how the history of the West has witnessed an aggressive overthrow of old religious conventionalism ushering in a reign of critical reasoning which questions all the truths accepted so far by the human mind. Such a reign of reason which is largely destructive in nature, at least temporarily, is an imperative need for human progress especially when the dead conventions become a roadblock to further evolution. (Readers may recall the discussion on “creative destruction” in the previous article [ii] in this series). However, India did not go through such destructive revolutions. Sri Aurobindo explains,
“In India, since the great Buddhistic upheaval of the national thought and life, there has been a series of recurrent attempts to rediscover the truth of the soul and life and get behind the veil of stifling conventions; but these have been conducted by a wide and tolerant spiritual reason, a plastic soul-intuition and deep subjective seeking, insufficiently militant and destructive. Although productive of great internal and considerable external changes, they have never succeeded in getting rid of the predominant conventional order. The work of a dissolvent and destructive intellectual criticism, though not entirely absent from some of these movements, has never gone far enough; the constructive force, insufficiently aided by the destructive, has not been able to make a wide and free space for its new formation.”[iii]
According to Sri Aurobindo, it was primarily a result of the European influence and prevalent circumstances that the Indian mind began adapting to a greater reliance on critical reasoning to govern life and its many spheres of activity. This influence has become so strong that today those wanting to revive and reintroduce into newer forms the eternal spirit of the ancient Indian truths – be it in the field of social-political discourse or modernising/renewing an old cultural practice for the purpose of present age – feel compelled to justify their ideas using appropriate standards of reason.
In the world of business management also Indians have been mostly aping the practices, models and approaches that were developed primarily in the West, based upon critical reasoning and the data and observations emerging from within the Western world. In this context, the passages from Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy become significant because they clearly demonstrate how the progression to an age of reason happened in the Western historical context.
The Road Ahead
In the previous article we discussed the abundant advantages as well as shortcomings of critical reasoning, as applied in the field of management via the Scientific Management revolution. We had also mentioned the emergence of Human Relations movement which tried to address some of the challenges thrown by the over-emphasis on application of scientific principles in the field of human resource management. Toward the end we posed a few questions some of which will form the basis for the discussion in the present and future articles in this series.
To begin with, we take up the question – What role does subjectivism play in the evolutionary path of an organisation if it wants to move closer to its deeper purpose of existence? In this regard, we extend the analysis presented in the previous article by showing how a clear recognition of Reason’s limitations helps an organisation and its leaders recognise the significance of a more inwardly guided decision-making approach.
By doing so, we also aim to highlight the importance of widening our view of the field of business management and organisational studies by going beyond what the West-centric approach has been primarily about, namely, the application of Reason to govern individual and collective behaviour in the context of an organisation. The East, and India in particular, has always emphasised a greater role of an inner knowing, a more subjective approach to knowing than what human reason and intellect are generally capable of acquiring. This paper through various examples hopes to bring out the fact that the expanding field of business management and organisational studies is in a way bringing together the strengths of the East and West for a greater harmony of ideas, approaches and practices that can help organisations further in their march to greater realisation and fulfilment of their purpose.
One key question which we will try to address in this paper is: Once the limitations of human reason to further the progress of an individual and a collective are recognised, what path does the evolutionary journey take to transcend those limits? The predominant tendency of Reason has been to look outside for data points on which theories may be developed, which in other words maybe described as the emergence of the Scientific Method. Tremendous progress in improving the lives of humanity can be attributed to the use of Science. It began first with its application in understanding the physical universe and gradually moving to areas that have more to do with human behaviour such as management, education, psychology and sociology.
Readers may recall the discussion in our previous article about the application of science in the sphere of human resource management, namely, Taylor’s Scientific Management principles for improving the production efficiency. The application had found incredible usage in industries such as food, manufacturing, healthcare, etc. We also noted that its major shortcoming was that it tended to regard human beings as automatons.
Another business management area where scientific approach still remains as the most dominant tool is that of decision making. We now present a few examples from this area to further the discussion. We zoom in on this aspect of an organisational context because it is this which can have the most critical impact on making the organisation move ahead in its advance toward self-fulfilment.
 It must be noted that even before this direct contact with the European civilisation India had developed great traditions of philosophic and intellectual approaches to seek knowledge of the inner and outer worlds, as reflected in the great advances made by Indian civilisation in fields such as medicine, surgery, astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, metallurgy, ship-building, engineering, architecture and all forms of arts. So it is not that India did not recognise the value of Reason and Intellect as ways of knowing. But due to various historical reasons, over a period of time the overall life-spirit among the masses had more or less become enslaved by the conventional social-cultural practices which often had the sanction of religion. But it was not the enlightened, dynamic religion (“religion enlightened by philosophy”, as Sri Aurobindo puts it), it was rather the old decaying forms of religion which led to the emergence of rigid conventions that had taken hold of the majority of Indian life. It may be said that the contact with the West in the form of European colonisation, made India confront with a foreign civilisation which was more dynamic, living and strongly materialistic and rationalistic in its approach which eventually helped to break this tamasic reliance on dead conventionalism.
 A couple of quick examples from recent socio-political discourse in India may be sufficient to establish this. In the debate on dietary preferences of Indians, advocates of a more plant-based diet were relying more on statistics and logical explanations to establish the environment-friendliness of vegetarianism rather than invoking a deeper consciousness-based subjective argument to champion the cause of vegetarianism. Similarly, the only way to effectively challenge the noisy ‘intolerance brigade’ was in the form of hard statistical data (http://www.newslaundry.com/2015/10/14/think-india-has-become-more-communal-under-modi-the-numbers-will-disappoint-you/), because despite the truth-value of a statement such as “but the majority of Hindus have always been tolerant, that is the very nature of Hinduism” argument will simply not fly in the face of an aggressive agenda-driven political noise.
TO BE CONTINUED…..
[i] James Redfield. 1993. The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure. Warner Books.
[ii] Suhas K. Mehra. 2015. The Organisational Cycle: The Age of Reasoning. Sraddha, Vol. 7 (1), pp. 134-157.
[iii] Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Vol 25, p 27.