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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Recreating Arjuna’s Crisis in the World of Business

My contribution to restoring Dharma in the world of business...

I am often asked what inspired me to write my book, The Yogic Manager, and what my greatest challenge was in writing it. As the book’s subtitle states, The Yogic Manager is a business novel inspired by the Mahabharata. Most Indians are familiar with the story of this great mythological epic. I have been fascinated by it ever since I was a child growing up in Chennai reading Amar Chitra Katha comics.

My book was inspired in content and in format by the Mahabharata. When I studied this text, in its original verse for verse Sanskrit-English translation, it became clear to me that the entire epic revolves around one central event. The epic is the story of two sets of cousins, the Pandavas and Kauravas, who fight for the throne of the Bharata dynasty. The event takes place when both armies have been assembled on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and are waiting for the start of the war. At that moment, Prince Arjuna, the most powerful warrior on the battlefield has a moral crisis. He is about to fight people he cares deeply about - his relatives, friends and his guru, Dronacharya. His is not a crisis rooted in hate, jealousy, anger, greed or any other base emotion. His is a crisis rooted in duty, ethics, love and conscience. His charioteer is Lord Krishna. He stops and tells Lord Krishna that he cannot fight the war.

Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna then have a conversation. This conversation is the Bhagavad Gita, a literary gem that is the most holy book for the practitioners of Sanatana Dharma, often referred to as Hinduism in modern times. The conversation is about duty, self-realization and a variety of subjects based on the philosophical schools of Yoga, Vedanta and Sankhya. These are three of the six orthodox schools in the tradition of Sanatana Dharma. The Gita gives detailed explanations on Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action), Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge) and Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Devotion). The Gita’s first chapter is called Arjuna Vishada (Arjuna’s Crisis).

Arjuna should be the last person on the battlefield to have a crisis. He is the most powerful warrior who participates in the war, given that Lord Krishna participates only as his charioteer and does not take up any weapons. In addition, those familiar with the epic will know that he has a rare talent - unwavering mental focus. After the Pandava and Kaurava princes had completed their education, their teacher, Dronacharya gave them a test. He made them aim at an artificial bird on top of a tree and asked each prince what he saw. One after another, the princes answered that they saw the tree, their teacher, their fellow pupils and the bird. Finally, Dronacharya asked Arjuna what he saw. He answered that he saw only the head of the bird. Dronacharya instructed Arjuna to shoot and it was a perfect shot. There are numerous other instances in the epic, such as during Draupadi's Swayamvara, where Arjuna demonstrates mental focus and skill. But on the battlefield, during the first few chapters of the Gita, he can no longer control his mind. Hence, he must receive the teachings of the Gita to solve his crisis.

My greatest challenge in writing The Yogic Manager was to recreate Prince Arjuna's crisis and his state of mind from a psychological perspective, and to set his crisis in the modern world of business. The war of Kurukshetra has been recreated on a corporate battlefield, set in a consulting firm called Characterra Consulting. The protagonist, Arjun Atmanand, faces a moral crisis when his conscience clashes with the instructions of his boss and Characterra founder, Raja Sahamkar. Arjun, like Arjuna of the Mahabharata, is a brilliant corporate warrior. He is intelligent, a mathematical genius and has the ability to focus and execute on challenging tasks. Having a crisis and losing mental focus is not in line with his character. To help him with his crisis, Arjun receives advice from Yogi, a being with supernatural powers. Arjun learns Yoga and Vedanta from Yogi, which he later uses to create a new style of management, called Yogic Management.

The Mahabharata was authored by the great sage, Maharishi Ved Vyasa. After reading the epic I can only describe him as a supremely intelligent genius. Thousands of years before management gurus started talking about vision and mission statements, Maharishi Vyasa made the following statement in the Mahabharata, in the very first section of its first of eighteen books. He makes a reference to the four purposes/values (Purusharthas) of life, Dharma (righteousness, duty), artha (wealth), kama (pleasure) and moksha (self-realization).

“As the sun dispels the darkness, so does the Mahabharata by its discourses on Dharma, artha, kama and moksha, dispel the ignorance of men.
As the full-moon by its mild light expands the buds of the lotus, so this Purana (story, epic), by exposing the light of the Sruti (scriptures) has expanded the human Intellect. By the lamp of history, which destroys the darkness of ignorance, the whole mansion of nature is properly and completely illuminated.”
- Mahabharata, 1.1

In order to write The Yogic Manager, in addition to the Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita, I researched Sanskrit scriptures, including the major Upanishads and Yoga Sutras. The scriptures are deep and rather difficult to absorb. Studying them is like looking at the sun. You can only do so for a fraction of a second and then must look away. But the same light, when reflected in the moon, can be looked at for hours. Like the epic, my book reflects the light of the scriptures in the form of fiction, as a business novel. The story is the medium by which I explain a variety of ideas, including the frameworks and principles of Yogic Management.

Recreating ancient texts in a modern setting is a challenge, but one that must be done, especially if the setting is the world of business. The last few years have been plagued by global economic crises, rooted in greed, excess and unethical behavior. The balance between the four purposes/values of life has been broken. This balance must be restored and Dharma (righteousness, duty) needs to be treated as greater than Artha (wealth). The Yogic Manager took me four and a half years to research and write. It is my contribution to restoring Dharma in the world of business. 

~ Avinash Sharma

The Yogic Manager is now available for pre-order across all major online bookstores.

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