Two Sundays ago, the PBS program, Religion and Ethics, decided to ask the question: “Why are Hinduism and Buddhism capturing the attention of business and management circles?”
So the answer to the PBS question? The usual hodgepodge: happiness is elusive, the material world is illusory, one must not be possessed by one’s possessions… Since the 80s proved to business people that greed is not necessarily good, satisfying, or even lucrative in the long run, people are searching for another peg to hang a slogan upon.
I have a reflexive gag reaction to anything that smells of Deepak Chopra and the “pot of gold at the end of the spiritual rainbow” school of thought. While Prof. Rao and Gautamji came across as sincere, thoughtful and genuine (at least in the 5 mins alloted to each), I wonder if, despite their best efforts to explode the If/Then model of happiness, their students listen selectively. After all, these are people willing to pay $1,000 over the cost of the class to listen to Prof. Rao. His website, Are You Ready to Succeed? opens with this passage:
Life is short. And uncertain. It is like a drop of water skittering around on a lotus leaf. You never know when it will drop off the edge and disappear. So each day is far too precious to waste. And each day that you are not radiantly alive and brimming with cheer is a day wasted.
Which, frankly, leaves me lost (lotus, skittering, radiant cheer -what?) and slightly thirsty.
But Prof. Rao has clearly affected and touched a lot of people, (his is, perhaps, the only business school course ever to have its own alumni association), and no doubt the class injects a much needed counterpoint to the general B-school syllabus.
As do Gautam Jain’s Vedanta teachings, which sound quite thought-provoking:
Vedanta, a â€œself-managementâ€ life strategy that reduces stress and emphasizes practical ways of approaching reality, centers around the fundamental concept that it is oneâ€™s relationship with the world that needs to be studied and understood. â€œOne person enjoys a cigarette, another detests it; one wants to divorce his wife, another is desperate to marry her. Therefore, it is oneâ€™s mind, and not the world, that produces joy or sorrow in life,â€ says Jain, who returned to the United States after 10 years of instruction in India. link
But…but…but…I live in NY, land of the beautifully blonded yogis who teach classes on aligning chakras and smugly eat all-raw vegan meals while delicately puffing on their cigarettes. I’m wary of how easily complex Eastern philosophies become reduced to status items bought in a spiritual center’s gift shop. How easily the search for a harmonious understanding of one’s desires, relation to other people, and responsibilities in the world becomes transmuted into seeing oneself as a being superior to those who have not been enlightened.
As one of Professor Rao’s former student’s said with much confidence on my TV:
[The class] made be a better person…a better husband, a better listener, a better teacher.
I know he simply meant that the class helped him, but I cringe at that word- “better.” A less rapacious, short-term bottom-line focused business model would be great, but I fear the dawn of new, more â€œspiritualâ€ business people who feel virtuous while claiming larger profit margins. But maybe I’m overreacting and these classes could really help the good folks at everyday places like Dunder-Mifflin.