U. Mahesh Prabhu

Investor | Author | Media, Management & Political Consultant

Vedic approach to stress and crisis management

The following column by U. Mahesh Prabhu was first published by BW Businessworld and Vedic Management Institute. 

The mind is an important element in any situation. It is certain to have consequences; one way or the other. According to various Vedic scriptures, it has been established that a healthy mind leads to a healthy body; conversely, an unhealthy mind can lead to an unhealthy body. However, there can seldom be a healthy body without a healthy mind. The power of the mind is, therefore, magnanimous. If the mind is in a state of good health, it can move on undeterred after every troubling situation. A good mind is a product of good thoughts. Good thoughts are that which are free of selfishness and greed.

Hope and fear are nothing but figments of human imagination. When we fear, we affect our mind in a negative way; when we hope, we seek for viable alternatives. The Vedic thought, however, professes a golden middle path – a state of perfect equilibrium where you are neither worried nor fearful. You are neither happy nor unhappy. Many may wonder, what’s the use of a mind that’s neither joyful nor sorrowful? As a matter of fact, an indifferent mind, in many ways, leads a fruitful life and is in a state of perpetual bliss. Because it knows the eternal truth, that in life neither happiness nor sorrow is forever; it shuns both. It concentrates on work. It seeks to do good things not just for oneself or one’s family, but for the whole world. Yet, it’s detached from the fruits of its action. When the fruit is good, it may be happy but when otherwise, it isn’t bothered much. This uproots all scope for stress or crisis.

An indifferent mind is bereft of passion; yet it has a vision. It’s never afflicted with pains. Since it’s without sadness and happiness, it’s never in stress or distress, let alone crisis. It looks at the whole world as if it is a show on television, like a detached spectator. It’s neither bothered with tragic scenes nor happy endings.

Since it is bereft of stress and any positive or negative emotion, such a mind is well suited to handle crises, not just at an individual’s level, but at an institutional level as well. It looks at the situation objectively. It assesses objectives, but never clings on to sentiments, negative or positive, since it hasn’t one.

When stuck in a crisis, people often look for readymade solutions, or some kind of a magic wand. They look for leadership without knowledge of leadership qualities. Many organisations have perished with leaders bereft of hope and those organisations with hopeful leaders have only averted the situation for a while. But an objective mind has the ability to find a lasting way out of a crisis. According to the Bhagavad Gita, “One who is unattached to the fruits of his work and who works as he is obligate is the true yogi, not he who lights no fire and performs no duty.”

Karma yoga, propounded in various Vedic texts including Bhagavad Gita, offers a significant wisdom on handling stress and crises within individuals as well as institutions. The word karma is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘kri’ which means to do; all actions is karma. Technically, this word also means ‘the effects of actions’. It sometimes means the effects, of which our past actions were the causes.

Good and evil have an equal share in moulding character and, in some instances, misery is a greater teacher than happiness. A study of the great personalities the world has produced will reveal that misery taught more than happiness; it is often poverty that taught more than wealth; it is often criticism and insults that have brought out the inner fire, more than praise.

With all our feelings and actions – tears, smiles, joys, grief, weeping, laughter, curses, blessings, praise, faults, if we can respond to them calmly, the result is what we are. All these blows taken together are called karma – work, action.

Every mental and physical blow that is given to the soul, by which as it were, fire is stuck from it, and by which its own power and knowledge are discovered, is karma; this word being used in its widest sense. Thus, we are all doing karma all the time. I am talking to you: that is karma. You are listening: karma. We walk: karma. Everything we do, physical or mental, is karma and it leaves its mark on us.

If you really want to judge the character of a man, look not at his great performances. Every fool may become a hero at one time or another. Watch a man do his most common actions; those are indeed the things which will relate his real character. Great occasions rouse even the lowest of human beings to some kind of greatness, but he alone is the really great man whose character is great always, the same wherever he is.

According to the philosophy of karma, all the actions that we see in the world, all the movements in human society, all the works that we have around us, are simply the display of thought, the manifestation of the will of man. Machines or instruments, cities, ships or men of war, all these are simply the manifestation of the will of man; and this will is caused by character and character is manufactured by karma. As is karma, so is the will. All the men of mighty will the world has produced have been tremendous workers – gigantic souls with wills powerful enough to overturn worlds; wills that were moulded by persistent work through the ages.

Also, says the philosophy of karma, everything is determined by karma, or work. Nothing is achieved unless earned; this is an eternal law. A man may struggle all his life for riches; he may cheat thousands, but he finds at last that the rich often fail to solve a problem with wealth.

We may go on accumulating things for our physical enjoyment, but only what we earn is really ours. A fool may buy all the books in the world, and they will be in his library, but he will be able to read only those that he deserves to; and this is produced by karma. Our karma determines what we deserve and what we can assimilate. We are responsible for what we are; and whatever we wish ourselves to be; we have the power to make ourselves.

If what we are now has been the result of our own past actions, it certainly follows that whatever we wish to be in future can be produced by our present actions; so we have to know how to act.

Karma yoga refers to work by understanding it with cleverness; by knowing how to work, one can obtain the best results. You must remember that all work is simply to bring out the power of the mind which is already there. The power is inside every man, so is knowledge; the different works are like blows to bring them out, to cause these giants to awaken.

Work for work’s sake. There are some who are really the salt of the earth in every country and who work for work’s sake; who do not care for name, or fame, or even to go to heaven. They work because they think that it is good enough. There are others who do good to the poor and help mankind because they believe in doing good and love good. Actions driven by the motive of fame seldom yield good results; they come to us when we are old and almost done with life. If a man works without any selfish motive in view, does he not gain anything? According to karma yoga, “he gains the highest”. Unselfishness is more rewarding than selfishness, only people lack patience to practice it.

Even the lowest forms of work are not despised in karma yoga. Only men who know no better, work for selfish ends, for name and fame; karma yogis relish the true reward of eternal bliss since they appreciate the fact that “to work we have the right, but not the fruits thereof.” They leave the fruits alone and seldom care for results. If they wish to help a man, they never think of the man’s attitude towards them. If they want to do a great or good work, they do not think of the results; they simply do it.

Can a man who is used to the turmoil of life live at ease if he moves to a quiet place? Definitely not! On the contrary, he suffers and may even lose his mind. The ideal man is he who in the midst of the greatest silence and solitude finds the most intense activity, and in the midst of this activity, finds the silence and solitude of the desert. He has learnt the secret of restraint, he has controlled himself. He goes through the streets of a big city with all its traffic, and his mind is as calm as if he were in a cave where not a sound can reach him. This is the ideal of karma yoga; and if you have attained that, you have really learnt the secret to overcome stress as well as crises.

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