Published on 20th December, 2013, in The Economic Times.
Lakshmi is the most popular goddess in India, revered not just in Hinduism but also Jainism and Buddhism. Her images, found in almost every business establishment across India, show her as seated on a lotus, holding a pot in her hand. Grain and gold overflows from this pot. Bees, eager for nectar, hover around her. Two elephants, white as snow, raise their trunk and shower her with water. Her image evokes fertility, abundance and affluence.
Her name is rooted in the two words, laksh and lakshan. Laksh means target. Lakshan means indicator. She can be both target and indicator.
– For Indra, king of the devas, who resides in Swarga, she is target; he chases her.
– For Vishnu, who is preserver of the world, who resides in Vaikuntha, she is indicator; he seeks to attract her and her movement towards him indicates how successful he has been in making himself attractive.
In English, both Indra and Vishnu are described as Gods. But in Sanskrit, Indra is a deva and Vishnu is a bhagavan. There is a hierarchy between them. At best, Indra can be described as god, spelt without capitalization to indicate his lower status and Vishnu can be described as God, spelt with capitalization to indicate higher position. Though Indra is celebrated in the Vedas (composed 3000 years ago), in the Puranas (composed 2000 years ago) he is not as important.
There are no temples to Indra, but many to Vishnu. This may have something to do with Vishnu’s relationship with Lakshmi. Those who chase Lakshmi are not enshrined in Hindu temples. Shiva, who is indifferent to Lakshmi, is, and so is Vishnu, who works towards attracting her.
Indra’s name is derived from ‘indriya’, which means senses. He is a sensual god, who seeks Lakshmi for his own satisfaction. She is merely his target. Until she becomes indicator of his personal development, he will remain merely a deva, and never become a bhagavan. Thus, traditionally in India, economics was not separated from personal growth, or rather growth was seen not just in material terms but also in psychological terms.
Yes, people change when fortunes change: wealth makes people arrogant, or cynical and poverty makes people humble, or bitter. Such personal transformation is passive. Ancient sages known as rishis observed this change and did not care much for it. They were more interested in active personal transformation, transformation that could serve as a lever for wealth generation. For them such transformation had wide ranging impact in human society. It generated not just prosperity, but also happiness.
Everyone is born an Indra. We are ‘sensual’. We seek satisfaction of our body and mind. We yearn for Swarga, paradise, a place where all desires are satisfied with the least effort (high returns with low investment). We fear other others may seek a share of this Swarga and so are suspicious, like Indra, of other potential Indras. In other words, everyone else who seeks what we have. In other words, everyone! So Swarga is always under siege, surrounded by those who wish to erode our market share, and market size. We call them asuras, demons, but they are all potential Indras according to scriptures. They are the ones who keep planning attacks on our citadel with their grit determination, their plans and their resources. We hate them. We cannot enjoy our prosperity. We cling to Lakshmi desperately knowing very well that she does not care for us. She will serve the next winner with the same pleasures. Always faithful to the throne, not the king who sits on it.
Modern management thrives on the target culture. We call it management by objective. It is considered the key to success. No one is allowed to speak against it. It does not speak of consequences of such an approach. It does not speak of the toll of such an approach. This is typical of Western Management principles: an idea is seen as perfect, until it fails. Then the next idea is seen as perfect, until it fails. No idea is seen holistically. No one speaks of what happens when the focus is only on the top-line and the bottomline. It comes at a price, and sometimes it is ethics and values. But does the shareholder care?
The idea of making personal transformation as lever for business seems absurd when we think mechanistically: people are a set of skills who are remunerated for value given. This view does not see people as bundles of thoughts and emotions, as embodiments of varied insecurities that shapes their decision-making process. In the Indian approach to management, every individual is seen as starting out as a reactive devata who responds to crisis initially but has the potential to turn into a proactive yajaman who takes ownership, initiates activities that go about establishing new markets. In that transformation, Lakshmi transforms from target to indicator and Indra, the deva who is devata, transforms into Vishnu, the yajaman who is bhagavan.