Self-Management

{Delivered at Larsen & Toubro Ltd, MMHIC Headquarters, Godrej Towers, Newtown, Kolkata on 25th August 2014}

 Om sthapakaya cha dharmasya sarva dharma svarupine

Avatara varishtaya ramakrishaya te namaha.

Many thanks to Mrs Minakshi Bhattacharya for introducing me to you all; Revered Swami Sarvapriyanandaji Maharaj & dear friends, I begin today’s session by offering my pranams to Rev Swamiji here. Let me explain to you the details of today’s programme. First of all, I will speak for about 15 to 20 minutes on ‘Self-Management’ from the monastic point of view. Then Rev Swami Sarvapriyanandaji will speak for about 30 to 45 minutes on ‘Self-Management’ from the corporate point of view.

I worked in a corporate house just like this some 15 years ago. Then, I joined the Ramakrishna Mission. Ramakrishna Mission too is a corporate entity. It is also an organization, just as yours is. Of course, many will object saying that while yours is a ‘For-profit’ organization, Ramakrishna Mission is a ‘Non-profit’ organization. Yet, both are organizations, having rules and procedures and personnel and dealing with services and money and other kindred aspects concomitant with being an organization. Similarly, problems you find in your organization will be found in Ramakrishna Mission too. In fact, when I first joined the Mission, I would very keenly observe for these matching points. And then, what I discovered in each case was a paradigm altering view-point. I shall explain one of them to you today.

I remember my days in the corporate world. I remember very well that my entire life was governed by a foreboding sense of fear, of a perpetual apprehension. ‘What’s going to happen to me? Will my boss be kind to me with my annual performance appraisal? I hope I get a good rating this time. Does my boss know that the vital idea for that particular project came from me? I hope I get confirmed in my post this year. I hope that goof-up I made on that particular site doesn’t weigh down upon my personal records’ and stuff like that. I found that more often than not, my attention was pegged on the ‘other’ man out there, say, my boss or my seniors. So much of energy gets frittered away on things outside of me, on people around me. My happiness, my peace of mind depended on what the ‘other’ man out there felt about me! Although I felt this was ridiculous, I slowly started learning the mechanics of leading life like that; some of my friends in the company didn’t approve of it. I thought perhaps remaining aloof as they did from this ridiculous social rigmarole would keep them happy. But it didn’t. They would drink their fears away! I reckoned that it was better to go through the foolish social rigmarole than to drown oneself in the haze of alcohol and frustrated soft middle age! Anyway, what I was trying to tell you was that fear governed my life. And it wasn’t just me. So with all my friends; and the worst part of it was – so was it with my boss! I feared him; and he feared the one above him; and he also feared me, for he had no clue what I would do behind his back! And thus it went on. You see, fear is terrible. It leads to very strange situations. A man was once walking along a road. He saw that two policemen were walking behind him, a little far away. He stole a look at both of them. He suddenly felt that their faces and their animated body language seemed to tell him that both of them were discussing about him and that they suspected him about something. A fear enveloped him and he bolted. As soon as the two policemen saw that the man before them was running, they gave chase. He came across a huge iron gate. He jumped over it and entered a graveyard. There was a freshly dug out grave. He jumped into it and hid there. But it wasn’t long before the law enforcement officers caught him there. They asked him why he was hiding there. When they asked him that question, he realized that he had acted in haste and that he was never a suspect in the first place. He gave an answer which I appreciate a lot. He said, “Officer, you have asked a simple question. But I assure you that I cannot give you an equally simple answer to that question. All I can safely tell you is this – I am here because of you both, and the both of you are here because of me!

Our actions are most of the times knee-jerk reactions when we act out of fear. You won’t even know what real work is until you start working in a fear-free environment.

Then I joined Ramakrishna Mission and what a breath of fresh air it was! Don’t we have appraisals here? Yes we do. But then, we are free to remain as we wish, true to our own selves. Your suckering up to your immediate superior doesn’t affect your appraisal in any way. Here I found that one could truly remain true to himself and in that sort of environment alone does work become a joy. I used to feel surprised that work was stressful before. Now, work is a joy. I don’t need any further ‘entertainment’ after work for refreshing myself. The work I do is in itself quite refreshing to me. I don’t need to take vacations. In fact, ever since I joined Ramakrishna Mission, till date, I haven’t gone on a vacation. And I still feel fresh, rejuvenated. Don’t we have deadlines here? We manage huge institutions. Naturally, crises occur; deadlines have to be met; personnel problems arise; legal battles have to be fought; very similar to what you all face. But, the centering in our own self that is possible in Ramakrishna Mission makes it possible to experience a ‘flow’ in the job we do.

After a few years in the Mission, I analyzed where the difference was. I was able to pin it down to the view I had about myself. In a company like yours, I have value based on what my boss perceives about me. In this organization, my value is based on what I intrinsically am. Others’ perception doesn’t matter and doesn’t evaluate me. Suppose I were a manager in your company and I were to be made an Asst manager! Imagine the stigma that would attach to me! I would seriously consider resigning from my job. Not so in this Mission. Today I may be a Principal in a huge School or College. Tomorrow I may be manning a books show-room, selling books. My value hasn’t changed one single bit here. I am not evaluated by the post I hold now. I remain a monk, whether I am in the School at its helm or in a poultry-farm rearing chicken for our students hostel.

Then I analyzed how this change in my view about myself had come about in me, since my joining the Ramakrishna Mission. I was able to zone it down to one single practice that I was asked to perform every day. I was routinely allotted duties in the Ashrama I stayed in. I was asked to perform my allotted duties sincerely, in an ‘unattached’ fashion. Ah! The catch is there; most of us work sincerely even in an organization like yours. But then ‘unattached’ work – well, that is difficult. What exactly is this ‘unattached’ work? Let me tell you a story.

There was once a king whose close friend was a monk. This king, as you all can understand, had a very stressful job.  Indeed, what job can indeed be more stressful than that of an all-powerful, absolute monarch?  So, one day he went to meet his friend the monk in the forest and told him, ‘I am fed up with running this kingdom. I have decided to renounce it all and go somewhere and live a low-key, peaceful life.’ The monk commented, ‘Is that so? Well, let me see…you must certainly have made provisions for your successor?’ The king had made no such arrangement. His own son was but a small boy. But he was planning to choose someone from his large kingdom so that he could hand over its reins and be free. However, since he was a conscientious king, who took his kingship very seriously, there was a nagging fear that he might not get the right kind of successor who would care for his immense kingdom just the way he had done all these  years. The monk understood all this. He volunteered, ‘Say, why don’t you gift your kingdom to me?’ The king was overjoyed. Where could he get a better successor than his closest friend?! So, he gave away his kingdom to the monk. There was a visible relief on the king’s face now. The monk asked him, ‘Where will you go now? What is your next plan?’ The king said, ‘Well, I will now go to my palace, take some money, go to a neighboring kingdom. I know many trades. I will earn my livelihood there.’ The monk stopped him, ‘Hey, wait. Did you say ‘my palace’ just now? Remember that the palace, along with everything in the kingdom is now mine!’ The king was indeed taken aback. Yes, what the monk said was indeed true. Without another word, he turned and was about to go away when the monk stopped him and said, ‘Say, my friend, you said you are ready to go elsewhere and do some job and earn your living. What do you say if I offer you a job right here?’ This was indeed acceptable and he agreed. Then the monk said, ‘Well, you see, I have just come upon this huge kingdom. I am a monk. I live according the voice in my soul. I need a trust-worthy man to look after this beautiful kingdom on my behalf.  You have sufficient experience in running kingdoms. Say, I will fix a certain amount as salary for you.  Why don’t you run this kingdom on my behalf?’ The king readily agreed. Thus he went back to his palace and went about managing his kingdom exactly the same way as it was before. A month later, the monk came to meet the king in the palace. He asked the king, ‘How are you? Are you facing any problems now?’ The king now replied, ‘I am doing fine. Problems, yes, of course there are; but I and my team of ministers keep solving them on your behalf.’

That is how you do ‘unattached’ work. I was taught to offer all the work I do to the Lord. Thus I would do a whole lot of work in the course of the day, and then I would offer all that to the Lord and I was a free man once again. How do you offer ‘work’ to the Lord? Flowers and stuff we can offer. How does one offer an intangible thing like ‘work’ to the Lord? Well, you may have noticed that I began today’s programme with a prayer. I am now delivering my speech. I will finish it by uttering another prayer and go my way with the peace of mind that I did all this as a loving offering to my Lord.

I do not claim that I am an expert in all this, or that I am a perfected man. But this much is true; I have practiced these things, just as I have explained to you now. And I have reaped enormous benefits for myself. So much so that I am able to compare myself to my own condition before I joined Ramakrishna Mission with my condition thereafter. Sometimes I have felt, if I had been taught this wonderful practice even while I was working in the other organization, perhaps I wouldn’t have felt the need to leave it and join Ramakrishna Mission. For, is it not possible to work as I have delineated just now, in your company, for instance? Perhaps it is possible. I don’t know. But then, there is one thing. If I had not joined Ramakrishna Mission, perhaps I wouldn’t have picked up this mode of working at all! It wasn’t easy for me in Ramakrishna Mission either, picking up this mode of working ‘unattachedly’. Again and again, I would forget. That would invariably lead to inter-personal problems. Again and again I would pick myself up and go about it. Over the years, it became sort of a habit.

Later on, I read Swami Vivekananda’s books and came to know that he had envisaged such a revolution among the masses; you know – a revolution in their thinking, in their mode of working. According to Swami Vivekananda, it wasn’t enough that his monks alone work like this. He wanted that everyone in India should work like this – unattached; well, at least the majority should work like that. That is what he envisaged.

How are the masses to work ‘unattachedly’? Which form of God are they going to offer their work to? Well, they will offer their work to whichever form of God appeals to them. Also, one can work unattachedly even when one doesn’t believe in God. How? The organization itself will be his highest ideal. There will have to be an apotheosis of the organization. Recall for instance India’s freedom struggle. Most of the great men of that period considered our nation as their highest ideal, apotheosizing it to a Goddess, and every act of theirs was an offering to Her. Similarly, for those of us who do not or cannot believe in what we cannot see, then we will have to metamorphose our conception of the organization for which we work into the highest ideal and then consider our work as an offering to that metamorphosed version of our company. Why offer again, some may ask. Duty isn’t enough. Offering is required. There is a small difference. Duty is a compulsion. Offering is voluntary. I remember a friend telling me once. He had just returned from Japan. This was in the early 2000s. He said that his Japanese friend’s shift started from 8am and ended at 5pm. But every day he found his friend arrives at the factory at 7am and leave at 6pm. He checked to see if he claimed any OT benefits. No, he didn’t. He asked him. The Japanese friend told him that the two hours were for his country and the 8 hours were for his company. I was stunned when I heard this. No wonder a country no bigger than West Bengal is today the 3rd largest economy in the world.

I don’t know the basis of their thinking. But here, in our country, we have a strong philosophy that backs such an outlook. So, I am very optimistic that in the years to come, we will see innumerable people take to this mode of working; a mode of working which is actually a spiritual practice; a mode of working which yields worldly fruits as well as confers spiritual benefits on the worker.

I leave you all with these ideas. I shall meet you all again. Thank you for patiently hearing me. Now, I too will sit peacefully over there and listen to Rev Swami Sarvapriyanandaji. I must inform you all that Rev Swamiji is one of the most sought after speakers today in Ramakrishna Mission. I too look forward to an intellectual treat from him today.

Om shantih, shantih, shantihi. Harihi Om, Sri Ramakrishnarpanam astu.

******************

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Author: Swami Vedatitananda

Monk of the Ramakrishna Order

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