Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
Regular visitors to Matriwords are familiar with our ongoing research and study that explores Sri Aurobindo’s social philosophy to understand the deeper psychological foundations of some of the emerging theories and practices in the field of Business Management Studies. The three academic essays written as a result of this study, under the title “The Organisational Cycle” have been published over the last year and a half in a print journal Sraddha, a quarterly journal published by Sri Aurobindo Centre for Research in Social Sciences, Kolkata. These essays have also been subsequently presented in 12 different posts here on Matriwords.
In the early part of this year our studies took on a new direction when we started exploring the idea of the Organisational Soul, again using Sri Aurobindo’s thought as our foundation. This resulted in two essays, the first of which was published in the August 2016 issue of Sraddha. We are happy to serialize that essay for our Matriwords readers.
Let us begin with a brief look at an institution which was established with a very specific objective to facilitate the seeking of soul both on the level of the individual and the collective. Sri Aurobindo Ashram serves as an excellent example to demonstrate that the idea of soul-seeking is not a utopian concept but can rather be a living ideal to pursue and a concrete purpose of existence for some organisations. It is important to mention that many other examples of such intentional communities and spiritually-inclined institutions may be found all across the world.
“[The Mother] started working along two complementary lines with a dual purpose – individual and collective – in view. In order to understand what this dual purpose meant in actual practice, we have to remember that one of the cardinal points of Sri Aurobindo’s teaching is that there are more than one overhead planes of spiritual consciousness above the ordinarily functioning mental, and it is possible through yogic sadhana to bring these superconscient planes down to illumine and heighten our everyday life; and that, in the depths of our being, there is a will much stronger and purer than our surface human will, and this deeper force of action can be brought to the forefront to direct our daily activities. It is in the light of these truths of occult psychology that the Mother sought to give a new orientation to the life and form of the fledgling Ashram.
“This was the individual aspect of Sadhana, what every inmate of the Ashram was expected to put into progressive practice for his own march towards spiritual perfection. But there was at the same time a collective aspect to it. Thus the second line along which the Mother worked was to make the collectivity as real and living as the individual aspect.”[i]
The above passage presents an ideal for any organisation trying to discover its soul both at the individual and collective level. At the core of this ideal is a belief both in the existence of source of true knowledge beyond the mind, and in the possibility of developing appropriate faculties to access that knowledge and utilize it to transform all spheres of human activity, including business and commerce. Furthermore, each individual carries within the will for self-growth and perfection, which must be consciously and progressively pursued. If, however, this self-growth is not pursued consciously, then too the individual will continue to progress in a half-conscious or unconscious manner and through a path of several detours and iterations. These individual paths of self-development have a direct impact on the collective pursuit of an institution’s or organisation’s own self-finding and growth.
Most business organisations are nowhere near the ideal of conscious human development as sought by Sri Aurobindo Ashram and its members. Nevertheless, there are deep insights to be gained when we begin by setting an ideal in front of our quest.
“The primal law and purpose of the individual life is to seek its own self-development. Consciously or half-consciously or with an obscure unconscious groping it strives always and rightly strives at self-formulation, — to find itself, to discover within itself the law and power of its own being and to fulfill it.” [ii]
The importance of self-development has been emphasized by several modern day thinkers in business studies. To take one example, American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn recalls the advice given to him by his mentor, “Jim, if you want to be wealthy and happy, learn this lesson well: Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job…. Since that time I’ve been working on my own personal development. And I must admit that this has been the most challenging assignment of all. This business of personal development lasts a lifetime.” He adds, “A very rich man once said, – if you took all the money in the world and divided it equally among everybody, it would soon be back in the same pockets it was before.…It’s hard to keep that which has not been obtained through personal development.”[iii]
Similarly, Peter Drucker, considered as the father of modern management, has emphasised the importance of self-development in several of his writings. For example, in one of his highly popular books “Managing Oneself,” he wrote, “We will have to learn to develop ourselves. We will have to place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution. And we will have to stay mentally alert and engaged during a 50-year working life, which means knowing how and when to change the work we do.”[iv]
Roth, Drucker and others have emphasized the need for personal self-development as a prerequisite for continuous growth in one’s professional as well as other spheres of life. But for a greater conscious personal fulfilment it is important to look deeper within to understand the reasons for the self-development.
In our previous article, “The Organisational Cycle – From Reason to Subjectivity”[v] we had briefly discussed the different parts of our being – physical, vital, and mental. To briefly recount, “…physical would refer to the body itself. Vital would refer to the energy or flows in the body, whether of blood, nerves, impulses, passage and digestion of foods, and flow of air, among other vital flows. Mental would refer to the intelligence embedded in the body by which each subsystem integrates holistically with the body system.” On an organisational level [vi], these parts will correspond as follows:
The Architecture of a Business
|Building Block||Physical||Tangible assets such as land||Tangible networks such as transportation||Fixed world, processes, approach|
|Vital||Tangible energy such as cash||Flows of energy such as financial assets and customer experience||Variable world; assertion through financial means|
|Mental||Intangible assets such as goodwill||Flow facilitating creation of intangible assets||Idea driven and higher fluidity|
Source: Pravir Malik. 2015. The Fractal Organisation: Creating Enterprises of Tomorrow. p. 59.
When we speak of self-development or working on ourselves, we need to look deep inside to determine which part of our being is being fulfilled through this self-development process. For example, Rohn’s words quoted earlier – “Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job,” – may suggest that perhaps working on oneself is a higher goal to pursue than working at one’s assigned job. But a closer reading can help us understand that the assumption here is that generally one’s job is not the means of a meaningful self-development, and for that one has to look elsewhere. As long as one’s job is viewed only as a means to meet lower level physical needs (e.g. salary and other tangible rewards), there may not be much room for a deeper self-development which by itself could be a greater motivator for an employee. Additionally, there seems to be an assumption that all self-development happens in a very conscious manner with full awareness.
A brief personal example is in order at this point. After studying and working at prestigious institutions and organisations in the US, we (the authors) decided to return to India and settle down at Pondicherry. We quit satisfying jobs that had contributed much to our self-development in the realms of physical, vital and mental growth and progress. As long as one tries to understand everything with mind, one can never be completely certain about the root cause of a certain choice one makes in life. That’s why looking back at our decision to move to Pondicherry we may say that it was perhaps taken half-consciously or it was led by an obscure unconscious movement within.
We were quite aware and conscious of the fact that the kinds of professional careers we had experienced in the USA would not and could not be replicated in Pondicherry, not even to a much smaller degree, and that we would have to search for something else, something that would help us satisfy both our physical need of financial sustenance and a mental need for intellectual growth. And yet somehow there was a subtle feeling, a kind of an assurance even, that some opportunity that is meant to help us go on with our path of self-development, perhaps in some new direction, will find us. Little did we know at the time that one day we would be co-writing articles in the field of business studies or management, something that is a drastic departure from our past professional lives and fields of study. In retrospect, we can say that unconsciously or half-consciously all the years prior to our move to Pondicherry were, in a way, events and opportunities geared toward a continuous self-discovery which were perhaps preparing us for a new self-formulation. Similarly, our present experiences are preparation and means for self-development toward what lies ahead in future. This is practically true for all, individuals and groups alike.
Self-development is a life-long process but what happens to the accumulated experience, knowledge and wisdom after one dies? It’s interesting to read an excerpt from “Steve Jobs,” authored by Walter Issaacson, based upon more than forty interviews with Jobs over a two-year period. At the very end of this book we find a seriously ill Jobs sitting in his garden reflecting about his imminent death and talking about his experiences in India and his views on spirituality. He says,
“For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye. I like to think that something survives after you die. It’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.”[vii]
This introspective passage by Jobs reminds one of Sri Aurobindo’s words about an individual being more than an “ephemeral physical creature, a form of mind and body that aggregates and dissolves.” He speaks of an individual as “a being, a living power of the eternal Truth, a self-manifesting spirit.” [viii] Both Jobs and Sri Aurobindo are speaking of a continuous self-manifesting journey of the inmost being over lifetimes, and each life becoming a means to grow and develop through various experiences and opportunities.
Similarly, a self-manifesting spirit also guides the collective progress of mankind. Jobs (and many other great innovators before him) have credited the contributions of others for enabling their own contributions. In his words,
“I think that most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by others before us. I didn’t invent language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow… We try to use the talents we have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to the flow.”[ix]
Peter Senge speaks about this relationship between individual and collective progress using a deeply Indian metaphor of tree and seed:
“It’s common to say that trees come from seeds. But how could a tiny seed create a huge tree? Seeds do not contain the resources needed to grow a tree. These must come from the medium or environment within which the tree grows. But the seed does provide something that is crucial: a place where the whole of the tree starts to form. As resources such as water and nutrients are drawn in, the seed organizes the process that generates growth. In a sense, the seed is a gateway through which the future possibility of the living tree emerges.”[x]
Individuals are the tiny seeds, in order to grow and eventually contribute to the ecology they first need the nutrient and resources from the collective, like the air, water, soil, tree, animals, microscopic beings who were there before the seed. This forms a symbiotic relationship between the individual and the collective, a part and the whole. Contributions made by individuals become part of the collective knowledge and future innovators use the prior knowledge for their own creative ideas, and thus develops a continuous chain for the collective progress of the mankind.
A vast majority of the modern day advances in almost all spheres of human activity happen within the context of a collective organisation, though the creativity and innovation may be largely led by an individual (or a small group). Some of the earliest examples of multinational organisations may include the Church at Vatican, and later the imperialistic European countries which were able to proliferate across national boundaries.
Presently, numerous multinational organisations have emerged including commercial businesses as well as non-commercial, religious, scientific, cultural, and social organisations. Further due to the advent of Internet several on-line organisations have also emerged for whom national boundaries are not a hindrance. These organisations have tremendous influence on individuals’ lives, on the ways people live, think, eat, work, communicate, etc. Therefore, it is important to closely understand the dynamic relationship between an individual’s pursuit of self-development and the possible ways in which an organisation or a collective may impact the process.
[i] Jugal Kishore Mukherjee. 1997. Sri Aurobindo Ashram: Its role, responsibilities and future destiny. P 4.
[ii] Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Vol. 25. p 35
[iii] Jim Rohn. 7 Strategies for Wealth & Happiness: Power Ideas from America’s Foremost Business Philosopher. iBooks.
[iv] Peter Drucker. 1999. Harvard Business Review, March 1999.
[v] Suhas K. Mehra & Beloo Mehra. 2016. The Organisational Cycle – From Reason to Subjectivity. Sraddha, Vol. 7 (3), pp. 128-146.
[vi] Pravir Malik. 2015. The Fractal Organisation: Creating Enterprises of Tomorrow. Sage, p. 18.
[vii] Walter Isaacson. 20015. Steve Jobs. Little, Brown Book Group.
[viii] Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Vol 25. p 35
[ix] Walter Issaacson. 2011. Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster. E-book. p 1064.
[x] Peter M. Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers. 2005. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Prelude.