(This article was published on Sunday 15-5-16 as a guest column in a special supplement in Financial Chronicle)
Business has the potential to work for a purpose higher than profit. This higher imperative is latent in the Vedic term for wealth: “artha.” Artha refers to not just wealth but also meaning. To pursue artha means to pursue both wealth and meaning, that is, to pursue wealth in a meaningful way that creates value. Let’s explore this with a dietary metaphor.
We need food to live, but we don’t live to eat. Those who live to eat, eat excessively. Damaging their digestive system, they end up limiting their capacity to both eat and live.
Just as food is natural and necessary for our body, profit is natural and necessary for business. But when profit becomes business’ only motive, then ethical, relational and ecological concerns get sidelined, even suppressed. When employees feel exploited, performance drops. When consumers feel cheated, sales drop. When natural resources are depleted, operational costs skyrocket. Such fallouts make business impossible to sustain without further exploiting human and natural resources, thereby triggering a vicious cycle.
But the profit motive doesn’t have to become destructive — it can be counterbalanced if we simultaneously pursue the other dimension of artha: meaning. To find enduring meaning, we need to raise our consciousness. When our consciousness is low, we live for short-term pleasures and crave for money as a tool to those pleasures.
Some businesses try to counter the negativity associated with the mercenary motive by taking up corporate social responsibility (CSR). This is an important step forward, but by itself it doesn’t necessarily reflect a raised consciousness. As critics have pointed out, such initiatives can well be forms of green-washing — a window dressing to cover up or compensate for the harmful consequences of profiteering.
Conscious entrepreneurship is far different from any kind of window dressing. It is a fundamentally different way of looking at business – of learning to live for a higher purpose and to harmonize accordingly all our activities including our business. This higher consciousness comes best from an expanded and elevated self-conception.
The Bhagavad-gita (02.13) offers such a conception by explaining that our identity extends beyond our biology: we are at our core spiritual beings. Material assets and achievements alone can’t satisfy us — we need spiritual fulfillment, as parts of a cause bigger than ourselves.
The Gita (10.08) offers an inclusive vision of the Whole, the transcendent source of all consciousness and indeed all existence. This Whole is known in various ways and by different names in the world’s diverse traditions. The Gita refers to him as Krishna, the trans-cosmic Whole of whom all living beings, without any discrimination, are eternal parts (15.07).
The Whole pervades everything, and so can be accessed and served through diligent performance of our work in a mood of devotion. Work can thus be made into worship when infused with a higher consciousness. Every business needs to determine, from the perspective of a raised consciousness, how it can contribute to the whole.
For businesses that run for making tangible contributions, profit is a natural outcome, not the driving purpose. The driving purpose is the creation of value for all stakeholders: customers, employees, suppliers, stockholders, owners, society and ecology.
Most of all, value creation enriches the value creators, and in ways that money alone can’t. When we work only for profit, a gnawing sense of existential angst eats at us from within. We feel that something vital is missing in our life, even when we have scores of the things that most people feel are missing in their lives. We have riches, but not richness. What brings richness is the higher purpose. When we work for the purpose of playing our part within the whole, we are channeled as instruments by a power far greater and wiser than ourselves for producing both wealth and well-being. In such harmonious, holistic contribution, we find life’s deepest fulfillment.
A practical way to raise our consciousness is meditation. The essence of meditation is not sitting in a particular posture; it is redirecting the mind from changing material things to unchanging spiritual truths. The spiritual becomes easily accessible through transcendental sound, specifically the empowered sound vibrations known as mantras. Therefore, mantra meditation is integral to the self-development repertoire of conscious entrepreneurs. Meditation raises our consciousness from the fragmented perspective of a part to the integrated vision of the whole, thereby rejuvenating us with a sense of peace, purpose and power.
Businesses that strive to function at a higher consciousness will have a huge edge in the emerging economy and will act as catalysts for raising society’s consciousness. For such cutting-edge entrepreneurs, the Gita offers an inside-out approach to personal, professional and societal change — an approach that can be embraced by pursuing artha’s dual dimensions.[ business ] [ economy ] [ finances ]