Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, June 24, 2011

Tantra uses geometrical patterns to communicate wisdom. A dot, the most elemental geometrical pattern, like a woman’s bindi, represents potential. Lines swept horizontally, seen on Shiva’s forehead represent death and destruction. A vertical line stretched upwards, the tilak, as on Vishnu’s forehead, represents growth. At face value, the path of Shiva and the path of Vishnu seem to be the opposite of each other. Shiva, the hermit, favors renunciation. Vishnu, the king, favors growth. But before one jumps to this convenient conclusion, one must notice something peculiar about Vishnu’s sacred mark.

Vishnu’s tilak, stretching upwards, is located with a deep cup made of sandal paste. The tilak, in red paste, represents material growth, no doubt. But the cup of sandal paste anchors this growth with intellectual and emotional growth. And this can only happen when one is willing to ‘destroy’ fears that inhibit intellectual and emotional growth, fears that stir our animal instincts of survival, of territoriality, of domination and control, and prevent us from being human.

That the sacred marks of India, whether a dot or a horizontal line or a vertical line painted on the forehead is significant. It reminds us of the one organ that humans have that no other creature on earth possess, the neo-frontal cortex, located just behind the forehead, one that allows us to imagine. Imagination can amplify animal fears and make us worse than animals. When we behave like frightened animals, despite having the human advantage, then our behavior is deemed adharma. When we use our imagination to outgrow our fear, grow intellectually and emotionally to empathize and include others, it is dharma.

Modern management speaks of growth only in material terms. In other words, growth of Lakshmi alone. But traditional Indian wisdom is wary of this. With Lakshmi comes her sister, Alakshmi, the goddess of quarrels. To prevent this, Lakshmi must be accompanied by Saraswati, the goddess who makes us wise, and Durga, the goddess who can make us secure. Unless wealth is accompanied with wisdom and emotional security, society will, beneath the veneer of civilization, continue to be ravaged by the law of the jungle.

Sankirtan became a CEO after twenty years of struggle. And he knew that unless the balance sheet showed a positive trend in the next two years, he would be kicked out by the Board of Directors. He had to grow at any cost. It was a question of survival, and so he drove his people up the wall, with demands and late working hours and tight control of expenses. Everybody called him ruthless and ambitious and greedy. He achieved what he set out to achieve in three years, not two, but the directors figured out he was good for the business.

In the following year, based on trends and market forecasts, the directors demanded an 8% growth. This would demand further controls, further pressure, more late nights and ruthless reviews. This is where Sankirtan challenged the Board. “Maybe a slightly lower target, maybe 7%. Our survival is no longer at stake. We can use our resources to make life a little better for our team and our vendors. Give a better salary hike, better bonuses, be a little more flexible with processes and controls. We need to focus on quality of life.” The Board snarled, “Why can’t you give this with 8% growth? No compromises on target. No compromises on topline and bottom line. People will adapt.”

With this display of belligerence, Sankirtan realized his Board cared only for Lakshmi. No room for Saraswati and Durga here, he realized. Clearly, they did not care for him, only the money he brought in. These were not people who cared for the organization, only their pockets. So when he went home that night, he picked up the phone and spoke to the headhunter. He expressed his interest in the job offer that made him 60% more. The current job did not make him feel secure and happy any more.  His vertical line had just turned horizontal.