Business Sutra |3.3| Ramayana and Mahabharata

Business Sutra |3| Business Ethics and Morals

In the first episode of the TV serial on CNBC 18, spread over three segments, Devdutt Pattanaik presented to us the most visible form of the business – the corporation : its meaning, its purpose and its action perspective.

In the second episode Devdutt Pattanaik discusses Leadership: Role of the leader, Context of the leader and Leadership in different business cycles.

The third episode relates to the Business Ethics and Morals. In the first part, a broad spectrum of business ethics and dilemmas of the leader has been covered. In the 2nd Part, a closer look at these issues has been taken up, in the perspective of relationship between owner and the organization. The present 3rd part deals the subject of The Right (Dharma) from two opposing points of view – the Ramayana way and the Mahabharata way.

Business Sutra |3.3| Ramayana and Mahabharata

The treatment of rules-based-principles-compliance (Ramayana-way) and principles-based-rules-compliance (Mahabharata-way) is fundamentally approached at very different levels in the Western world practices and in India’s mythological concepts.

The West seems to lay more emphasis on compliance as the goal of ethical and moral conduct, whereas Indian mythology approaches it as way of life. I have chosen three representative articles that effectively present the current Western thinking on the subject:

The shift from rules-based to principles-based companies : Lynda Gratton has been studying the behavior of corporations for more than three decades. But what she has observed in the past few years has surprised even her. Under the influence of megatrends such as globalization, hyper-connectivity and worldwide financial instability, the professor of management practice at the London Business School has witnessed the erosion of rules-based organizational models and the rise of companies driven by principles.

Principles-Based Regulation and Compliance: A Framework for Sustainable Integrity – To remain competitive and even to survive in this complex and uncertain environment, pioneer thinking and innovation must go beyond product lines and services. They must encompass active evolution and management of the corporate social value proposition. They must engage the engineering and design of compliance systems that grow organically. Essentially, they also must deliver incentives for cultures to take root that are defined by their integrity. In a dynamic risk environment, this all forges a foundation of adaptability and enterprise…. Increasingly, non-market aspects of business – social justice, environmental matters, income equality and the like – have become key components for long-term business success. At the same time, these considerations make business increasingly relational rather than purely transactional.

A 21st century model based on principles, not rules – The need for principles-based governance is fuelled by the pervasive public scrutiny of organisations, a trend that will only increase with advances in social media and technology. There are precious few remaining “dark corners” in which any organisation can operate. The manner in which government acts and business is transacted has been, and will be, transformed. Every organisation’s approach to governance, increasingly, will determine the organisation’s value.

So we quickly take up what Devdutt Pattanaik has to say in Segment 3 of the episode 3 – Ramayana and Mahabharat, as the Indian Mythology’s point of view.

We have discussed Dharma, we have discussed Dharma Sankat. Both the Mahabharata and the Ramayana talk of many different instances of what is the road to Dharma – the principle and what constitutes Dharma Sankat. We have a very interesting question from Ajay Piramal referring to both these great books and what he draws from that.

What are the learnings that we can get to apply in the modern world from the Mahabharata and also from the Ramayana. Sometimes on first reading it looks that there are several contradictions in to what is said in Mahabharat and what is said in Ramayana. Can you just explain that to us?

Ramayana and Mahabharat are both considered History (Itihaas). Itihaas is conventionally translated as history but what it actually means it is a tense agnostic term – which means so it was, so it is and so it will be. That means it is timeless. Second is the context of Ramayana and Mahabharata. They exist in two different contexts. So they cannot be seen as equals. That is the mistake the Western mind forces us to look at them that way.

West is obsessed with standardization, but our way is according to tastes – one is that of Dwapar Yug and the other is that of Treta Yug. Treta is the earlier, innocent, phase of the organization whereas Dwapar is the later, a little darker, phase in the life of the organization, which is slightly more corrupt.

Let us revisit the principal of Dharma again:

Now let’s do a simple 2 by 2 matrix to understand the Ramayana – Mahabharata:

You have rules on one side – the rules are followed or the rules are not followed. We have the principle (Dharma) on the other side – Principles are upheld or are not upheld.  Now look at the Ramayana – in Rama, Dharma is upheld and rules are upheld at the same time. Everything is about others, even, almost always,s at the cost of oneself. So it is misery in forest and misery in case of palace. His opposite is the great alpha male which somehow people seem to like today. That tells you about the times. He is Ravana. No Dharma no rules; no rules no Dharma. Your wife is my wife.  and I’m an animal. Even my son dies I will not let go of my little toy, my brothers die I will not let go of my little toy. That is Ravana.

Now look at the same thing – rules are broken, bent. Krishna always keeps bending the rules, breaking the rules but the principle is intact. It is always for the other. Now let us look at the most favorite character Duryodhana. He never breaks the rule but he’s constantly violating the principle – he is holding the letter of the law never the spirit of the law. Left side is the spirit, right side is the letter. The Top Left is the belief, whereas Bottom Right is the behavior.  He is Pretender.

Where does Yudhisthira fit in all of this?

Yudhisthira is someone struggling to be Rama, he moves from Ravana square to Rama square – this is the journey of Yudhisthira, with the help of Krishna. His honesty is about rules, not realizing it is all about rules as well as about principles. Mahabharat is the story of focus on the principle. When a woman is being disrobed, everybody discussing legal matters- is it okay or not okay to disrobe her. Bhishma and Drona watching a woman being disrobed and they are supposed to be very educated people and they are not doing anything this in the matter.

That brings me to a very interesting issue. You said that the Ramayana comes from an older age of more innocence whereas the Mahahabharat comes from a darker, newer, age.

Mahabharat represents a more matured organization, whereas Ramayana represents a very early phase organization, which has just tasted success. Everything is right – market is right. The principles have just been created. So it’s exciting and new, people are not smart enough to subvert it yet.

In the case of a mature organization, people have started forgetting the principles, now it is a slightly more rule focused organization.

The principles have been forgotten, rules have become more important. It has become bureaucratic. For a bureaucrat, letter of the law matters, not the spirit of law. Like any bureaucracy all the rules upheld but people still don’t have food. So the principle is forgotten the woman is disrobed but nobody is arrested.

People want Ram. So, the rules are created. But rules do not make Ram.

In our next session, we will take up the 4th episode – The Conflicts – in this Devdutt Pattanaik’s TV serial Business Sutra.

Note: The images used in this post are the irrevocable property of their respective creator. They have been taken up courtesy the internet, so as to illustrate the point under discussion.

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