One of the big new mantras of business sustainability is purpose. However, this is discussed in a secular mechanistic way such that it becomes another formula rather than something deeper, packed with timeless meaning and, dare I say it, spiritual mission. Given the vast existential challenges we face, I ask simply - how else will we dig humanity out of this profound pain and eco-violence? We have no choice but to engage with our planet at a spiritual level.
One country which has long studied human purpose, given the finality of death, is India. Presently, I am in Ahmedabad, and the scale of spiritual activity today in this capital of Gujarat is unfathomable. The industriousness and entrepreneurship of the communities are even visible in the methods of organising and event management. The Swaminarayan Hindu Pramukshwami Shatabdi was held on a 600-acre plot and lasted a whole month, costing hundreds of millions. Today I am at the launch of 400 books by Jain Acharya Ratnasundersureshwarji at the 40-acre GMDC ground, which has been converted into a vast spiritual village with huge artistic sculptures everywhere.
For India, the purpose is to serve all living beings to the best of your ability. It stems from belief, penance, vision, self-discipline and focus. It has no comparison to the purpose espoused in the Harvard Business Review. Understand the limitations of materialistic science and strive to go beyond. Nature is beyond calculation.
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Enterprises should be designed to use profits to give back more, to serve with skill and determination, and to provide for the needs of all living beings. Business is a servant of the ecosystem and never its master. The purpose is elevated when leaders go deeper into their spirit and explore what lies beyond the finality of death. Sustainable leaders should never deny death and instead focus their energies on interdependence and inter-generational fairness and responsibility.
Please do come to India with open hearts and minds. See how in spite of everything, the sages keep propagating timeless wisdom whilst walking barefoot on the streets of big cities like Ahmedabad. Theirs is a life lived by example, NOT sermon. The respect for community and the need to reinforce and recharge is why they walk and engage with society. Rather than appeasing their followers, they challenge them to do more, give more and lift society to greater heights of compassion and seva (public service). I have been fortunate to witness all this first-hand. Welcome to India with a respectful spirit.
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Professor Atul K. Shah [@atulkshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.