Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
What does this all mean for how we should make a decision? Or how we should resolve the crisis within when we don’t know what is the right thing to do? Again, this is applicable for both, the individual and the collective organisation.
An example will help us illustrate. Thermax Limited, a Pune-based engineering company identifies itself as an organisation committed to “conserving energy and preserving the environment.” It was established in 1966 in collaboration with a Belgian company Wanson, to commence business operations under the name of Wanson India Ltd., manufacturing small boilers at a unit in Dadar, Mumbai. The company was renamed Thermax Limited in 1980. Its founder-chairperson, Rohinton D. Aga was a visionary, dynamic and charismatic leader and contributed much to the company’s growth. In February 1996 due to a sudden massive heart attack he died and his wife Anu Aga took charge as the company’s chairperson three days later. But barely a year after her husband’s death and all within a fortnight of each other Anu’s mother-in-law and their family pet died. And as if that was not cruel enough, while driving back from Bangalore after fixing a customer’s faulty boiler to regain a lost order, her son Kurush met with a fatal accident.
While on personal front Anu was grieving the irreplaceable losses of her husband, son, mother-in-law and her pet, in her work life she discovered that the company’s business was on a downward trend and some major decisions were to be made to halt this negative trend and bring the company back on track. Things couldn’t have been any tougher for this business leader.
In order to cope with her tremendous personal grief and also to come to terms with the new set of responsibilities thrust upon her, Anu Aga sought to look for something that will help her regain her inner poise. She decided to go through ten-day intensive Vipassana, the Buddhist discipline of meditation. According to her “Vipassana helped me to come [to] terms with my husband’s death. It was there that I realized that I could never be my husband, and I have the option to take help from others.”
Gradually, Aga regained confidence in her abilities to run the business and took some real tough decisions, and the company was eventually able to make a turnaround. Then in 2004 she handed over the reins of the business to her daughter, Meher Pudumjee. According to the Forbes magazine, Anu Aga was amongst the eight richest Indian women, and in 2007 was part of 40 richest Indians by net worth.
Let us take another example where a business leader sought inner guidance prior to making any important decision. In our previous articles we have given several examples from the story of Aravind Eye Hospital and its visionary founder, Dr. V. We share one more instance from the book Infinite Vision: How Aravind became the World’s greatest business case for compassion by Mehta & Shenoy (2012).
“It is not unusual in Arvind’s history to see the brakes slammed on a project at an advanced stage by the same person who set the wheels in motion. Dr. V [the founder] was as beloved as he was notorious, for calling shots based solely on inner guidance and at certain times he was not to be reasoned with. “Sometimes when there is an important decision to be made, he will say, ‘Let me ask Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, says Natchair [sister of Dr. V]. “Then a couple [of days] later he comes with a very clear answer. But there are also times when, if you ask him about a particular step or changing some plan he will just look at you for a long while and not say anything…”
It is not difficult to guess that the reason for Dr. V’s silence could be that he wanted to think with a calm and silent mind before deciding on the course of an action or saying anything to his co-workers. When seen purely with a rational mind, such a ‘silent’ behaviour from a business leader might seem as not being fully transparent and rather vague and unreasonable. But when we begin to look at such behaviour from a subjective point of view, different explanations may emerge. Perhaps it is possible that the answers emerging from an inward turning are somewhat difficult to articulate and thus the best response is to stay silent lest the listener operating at a different level of consciousness should misunderstand or misinterpret. Or perhaps the subjective feeling of the leader is that the present time is not the right time to explain the deeper reasons behind a certain decision. Many such possibilities exist, and only the person making the decision in that moment knows which one is the ‘truest’ possibility based on the knowledge or insight obtained through his or her subjective in-search.
In the book Infinite Vision one also finds several dairy entries of Dr. V. that give a good idea about his deep reverence and faith for Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. One also finds entries reflecting his deep introspection and prayers. These were in a way, the ‘tools of his trade’ – the means he used to turn inwardly to seek answers, to know what he was meant to decide and how he was supposed to act in any particular situation. These subjective tools of Dr. V’s decision-making approach are not taught in standard business schools where the emphasis still remains on inculcating the value of a rational decision-making approach for business leaders and managers. But from times immemorial great leaders in all spheres of human activity have relied primarily on an ‘inner feeling’, some type of an intuitive or inspired knowledge to make the most critical decisions in their work. This is as true of scientists as it is of business leaders and pioneers.
We present one more example to show how a subjective ‘feeling’ helped another Indian business tycoon in 19th century arrive at an important decision. Sometime in the middle of July 1893, Swami Vivekananda and Jamshedji Tata travelled together on a ship named SS Empress which was on its way to Vancouver. Swami Vivekananda was on his way to attend the World Parliament of Religions to be held in Chicago, and Jamshedji Tata was on a business trip to the USA. A few years later Tata wrote a letter (on November 23, 1898) to Swami Vivekananda recalling one of the discussions they had on the ship. The letter reads:
“Dear Swami Vivekananda, I trust you remember me as a fellow-traveller on your voyage from Japan to Chicago. I very much recall at this moment your views on the growth of the ascetic spirit in India, and the duty, not of destroying, but of diverting it into useful channels. I recall these ideas in connection with my scheme of the Research Institute of Science for India, of which you have doubtless heard or read. It seems to me that no better use can be made of the ascetic spirit than the establishment of monasteries or residential halls for men dominated by this spirit, where they should live with ordinary decency, and devote their lives to the cultivation of sciences – natural and humanistic. I am of opinion that if such a crusade in favour of an asceticism of this kind were undertaken by a competent leader, it would greatly help asceticism, science, and the good name of our common country: and I know not who would make a more fitting general of such a campaign than Vivekananda…”.
What strikes us the most in this letter is Jamshedji Tata’s belief that Swami Vivekananda would make a perfect leader for an institution dedicated to Science. A more ‘rationality’ or ‘reason’ led business tycoon wanting to invest his money in a scientific research institute would look for a world-renowned scientist to head such an organisation. But it takes an inwardly-open heart and mind like that of Jamshedji Tata to invite Swami Vivekananda, a mahayogi, an ascetic and a spiritual master to take up the task of leading a scientific research institution. From where does his belief come? Surely, the conversation he had with Swamiji aboard the ship would have had some impact. But again, what he got from that conversation is worth serious reflection. It is likely that he was able to subjectively grasp the deep similarity between the true spirit of Science and the true essence of spiritual seeking and asceticism. This wasn’t just limited to an intellectual belief for him, this became part of his inner knowledge to such an extent that he was willing to put his money behind a science institution headed by a spiritual master and an ascetic. This was most definitely a decision he took using a deeper subjective knowledge than a reason-led model.
The sad part of the story is that due to the British reluctance and the hurdles created by the bureaucracy the institute could not be established until 1909. Swami Vivekananda had left his body in 1902, while Jamshedji Tata passed away in 1904.
All the examples shared above help us appreciate the role of subjectivity, an inward-turning that becomes the basis for making critical decisions for an organisation. This subjective phase for an organisation’s evolution is essential for it to fully recognise that a collective, “like the individual, has a body, an organic life, a moral and aesthetic temperament, a developing mind and a soul behind all these signs and powers for the sake of which they exist. One may say even that, like the individual, it essentially is a soul rather than has one; it is a group-soul that, once having attained to a separate distinctness, must become more and more self-conscious and ﬁnd itself more and more fully as it develops its corporate action and mentality and its organic self-expressive life.” In this subjective process of becoming self-conscious and working toward self-fulfilment – individually or collectively – one recognises and experiences errors, pitfalls and wrong turns. An organisation must, therefore, duly prepare to guard itself from the potential dangers on the path which have to do with misrecognising the vital-self as the true-self of the collective.
 Anu Aga: A House by the River. 2009. http://forbesindia.com/column/zen-garden/anu-aga-a-house-by-the-river/2362/1#ixzz3snG5LCB6.
Shweta Punj. 2013. Why I Failed: Lessons from Leaders, pp. 27-29.
 Pavithra Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy. 2012. Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion. p 155
 Tarun Goswami. Swami Vivekananda, Jamshedji Tata and the Indian Institute of Science. http://vivekanandaarchive.org/admin/article_image/_file_f2ce429ab0ca42092cc72bd7ebc54b1211edf092.pdf
 Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 25, p. 35