Swami Abula Parthasarathy teachess the 10,000-year-old philosophy of Vedanta to manage business as well as life.
Guru gives business as well as life lessons
Wall Street's corporate elite had a collective premonition in the years leading up to the global financial meltdown that led many to seek spiritual advice from Indian gurus.
Swami Abula Parthasarathy, the octogenarian founder of India's Vedanta Academy in the verdant hills south-east of Mumbai, found himself on a whirlwind speaking tour of the US, with invitations to lead seminars at Lehman Brothers, Microsoft and Ford and to address New York's exclusive "21" club and New Jersey's Young Presidents Club, the venues du jour for youthful chief executives.
The swami, affectionately addressed as "Swamiji" by his full-time students, was also invited by the Kellogg and Wharton schools of business to instruct MBA students on the use of the 10,000 year-old philosophy of Vedanta to manage life-balance, self-confidence and stress.
Suddenly the Gordon Gekko mantra of "Greed is good" was out of style among the formative "Masters of the Universe". Instead, in a movement soon labelled "karma capitalism", those rising stars of western capitalism began heeding eastern philosophers who taught the opposite.
"You should never engage in action only for the desire of rewards," Lord Krishna told his disciples, as recounted in the Bhagavad Gita, the ancient Hindu scripture from which Swami Parthasarathy takes his inspiration.
His latest message to the corporate world is that most people are not thinking for themselves. Instead, they follow animal herd instinct, the lithe 84-year-old expounds during an interview in his well-appointed room at Abu Dhabi's opulent Emirates Palace Hotel.
He pulls out a five-year-old newspaper clipping of an event in Turkey that described how a sheep slipped off a cliff edge and tumbled to its death, prompting the entire herd of about 1,500 animals to follow it into oblivion.
"That is the herd mentality; that is how people today are behaving. The result is disastrous," he says.
He has a point. In September 2008, Lehman Brothers fell off a cliff. The rest is history.
Wall Street's fall from grace did not hurt the swami's livelihood. He is as much in demand as ever as an inspirational speaker at elite business gatherings. He has also recently published his 10th book, Governing Business Relationships.
The book has already attained best-seller status in the US, the fourth volume the swami has authored to do so. It will be launched in Abu Dhabi today. The book's premise is simple: people must exercise their intellects to manage their relationships, and not succumb to emotional urges that cause disorder, conflict and stress.
"The intellect should lead the mind," the swami states. "People resist the concept, so I explain it in language they understand. People run after instant pleasure, but this is not what will help them.
"Whatever is pleasurable in the beginning is detrimental in the end; whatever is unpalatable in the beginning is pleasurable in the end."
He uses exercise as an example. Starting an exercise programme is usually "uncomfortable" but yields dividends later. The Swami, who has a passion for cricket, continues to out-bat and out-run amateur players half his age. His daily exercise regimen comprises a 3km jog supplemented by yoga for strength.
He rises at 4am daily to write for two hours. But after 6am, he says, the quality of his output falls off.
"Please don't ask me why, because nobody knows why it is so, but whatever satva you have surfaces between 4am and 6am," he elaborates.
Satva is one of three states of mind that, according to Vedanta, contribute to individual personality. It is a state of poise, serenity and maturity that leads to contemplative objectivity.
Rajas, which dominates the daylight hours, is a state of "frenzied activity with a lot of mental agitation" that causes people to rush and worry.
Tamas, which surfaces after dark, manifests itself as lethargy, indolence, inertia and sleep, resulting in recklessness and heedlessness. Greed and lust are additional manifestations.
While it may be tamas that underlies the drive to accumulate material wealth, and rajas that fuels it, only satva furnishes the means to succeed through increased personal productivity.
The lifestyles of the highly motivated western businessmen who seek his advice encourage only rajas and tamas, while suppressing satva, says Swami Parthasarathy. He even suggests the world would be a better place if everybody rose well before dawn, for instance heeding the Muslim pre-dawn call to prayer.
Abu Dhabi's leaders, the Swami says, are receptive to his message.
Swami Parthasarathy was born into a prosperous business family but does not consider himself a management expert.
"I left my roaring shipping business, my Rolls-Royce and my family," he says. "Since then I have not tried to earn anything. But how many people stay in a hotel such as this? I don't even know who is paying. It's certainly not me. Everything is taken care of.
"Money is the easiest thing to make when you have intellect."