Lakshmi – Devdutt Pattanaik
When boards worship Lakshmi, bottomlines bottom out, says DEVDUTT PATTANAIK
Tantra uses geometrical patterns to communicate wisdom. A dot, the most elemental geometrical pattern, like a woman’s bindi, represents potential. Lines swept horizontally, seen on Shiva’s forehead represents death and destruction. A vertical line stretched upwards, the tilak, as on Vishnu’s forehead, represents growth. At face value, the path of Shiva and the path of Vishnu seem to be the opposite of each other. Shiva, the hermit, favours renunciation. Vishnu, the king, favours growth. But before one jumps to this convenient conclusion, one must notice something peculiar about Vishnu’s sacred mark.
Vishnu’s tilak, stretching upwards, is located with a deep cup made of sandal paste. The tilak, in red paste, represents material growth, no doubt. But the cup of sandal paste anchors this growth with intellectual and emotional growth. And this can only happen when one is willing to ‘destroy’ fears that inhibit intellectual and emotional growth, fears that stir our animal instincts of survival, of territoriality, of domination and control, and prevent us from being human.
That the sacred marks of India, whether a dot, or a horizontal line, or a vertical line is painted on the forehead – is significant. It reminds us of the one organ that humans have that no other creature on earth possesses, the neo-frontal cortex, located just behind the forehead, one that allows us to imagine. Imagination can amplify animal fears and make us worse than animals. When we behave like frightened animals, despite having the human advantage, then our behaviour is deemed adharma. When we use our imagination to outgrow our fear, grow intellectually and emotionally to empathise and include others, it is dharma.
Modern management speaks of growth only in material terms. In other words, growth of Lakshmi alone. But traditional Indian wisdom is wary of this. With Lakshmi, comes her sister, Alakshmi, the goddess of quarrels. To prevent this, Lakshmi must be accompanied by Saraswati, the goddess who makes us wise, and Durga, the goddess who can make us secure. Unless wealth is accompanied with wisdom and emotional security, society will, beneath the veneer of civilisation, continue to be ravaged by the law of the jungle.
Sankirtan became a CEO after 20 years of struggle. And he knew that unless the balance sheet showed a positive trend in the next two years, he would be kicked out by the board of directors. He had to grow at any cost. It was a question of survival, and so he drove his people up the wall, with demands and late working hours and tight control of expenses. Everybody called him ruthless and ambitious and greedy. He achieved what he set out to achieve in three years, not two, but the directors figured out he was good for the business.
In the following year, based on trends and market forecasts, the directors demanded an 8 per cent growth. This would demand further controls, further pressure, more late nights and ruthless reviews. This is where Sankirtan challenged the board. “Maybe,a slightly lower target or maybe 7 per cent. Our survival is no longer at stake. We can use our resources to make life a little better for our team and our vendors. Give a better salary hike, better bonuses, be a little more flexible with processes and controls. We need to focus on quality of life.” The board snarled, “Why can’t you give this with 8 per cent growth? No compromises on target. No compromises on topline and bottomline. People will adapt.
With this display of belligerence, Sankirtan realised his board cared only for Lakshmi. No room for Saraswati and Durga here, he realised. Clearly, they did not care for him, only the money he brought in. These were not people who cared for the organisation, only their pockets. So when he went home that night, he picked up the phone and spoke to the headhunter. He expressed his interest in the job offer that paid him 60 per cent less. The current job did not make him feel secure and happy any more. His vertical line had just turned horizontal.
The author is chief belief officer of Future Group, firstname.lastname@example.org