The importance of Dharmic wisdom in finance

The importance of Dharmic wisdom in finance

The 5,000-year-old Indian philosophy and science of sustainable life, Dharma, never saw nature as ‘other’. Humans were understood as a ‘part’ of nature, belonging to a much larger ecosystem of living beings and the environment. Their role and purpose is to act as ‘trustees’ of the planet not extractors or exploiters of the wealth within society and nature.

Such a culture and vision would never lead to the Anthropocene, but instead a much more caring, humbling and nurturing approach to life. In this sense, the protection of society and the planet was endorsed long before humanity was under threat. Given its prescience and authenticity, we would be foolish to ignore Dharmic wisdom in such desperate times for Mother Earth.

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Fortunately, Dharmic values are widespread and vibrant in Indian business even today despite all the challenges of modernity. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam means the whole world is one family. When I visited the Waaree Group, one of India’s foremost solar energy businesses, I was surprised to find that all 23 members of the extended family live together under one roof in Mumbai. At the meeting two generations were present – intergenerational equity was being practiced and lived rather than formulated as a strategy. Its founder, Mr Hitesh Doshi, is a trustee of many prominent charitable institutions – here again, social responsibility is practiced as an instinctive act, ensuring leadership remains grounded and a servant of society, rather than its master.

One of India’s foremost boutique investment banks, Enam Securities, has a very clean and consistent ethical record. In contrast celebrated global banks like Goldman Sachs have paid billions in fines and Lehman Brothers went bust. Its founders, Vallabh Bhansali and Nemish Shah are humble and Nemish Shah is very media shy and rarely gives any interviews. They have always had a low staff turnover, because employees are respected and trusted, rather than exploited and forced to work all the hours without a sense of meaning or purpose.

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In our research, we found that they give a lot of emphasis to understanding the nature and limits of money, and ensuring that wealth flows to good causes rather than becoming possessed by it. They have made a significant donation to set up the unique liberal arts based Flame University in Pune. We rarely see this level of generosity or humility among investment bankers in the West. In my research interview, Mr Bhansali explained that ‘meditation gives a competitive advantage in finance’ and dare I say makes its practitioners both responsible and accountable at the same time.

Jiv Daya means compassion towards all living beings. This is expressed in the largely vegetarian diet of India and its long tradition of kindness towards all life – Ahimsa. Anyone visiting a grocery store in Mumbai or Delhi would be surprised by the vast variety of vegetarian foods and ingredients on sale, and this same variety can now be found in Indian stores in London or New York – in fact anywhere where there is an Indian diaspora. Alongside the foods, the recipes and variety of meals is equally vast, as deep as the tradition.

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There are thousands of companies, small and large, many selling globally, in this industry, feeding the whole world a diet of compassionate living. Many of the businesses are family-owned micro businesses, creating a vast shared and sustainable economy rather than a few multinational giants controlling the supply chain. This diet existed long before the climate crisis and has an authenticity and nutritional richness to it which the world has yet to fully understand. Food is foremost about life, relationships, and respect, and does not stop at taste or sensory indulgence.

Through its palate, the Dharmic cultures and communities of India are helping promote sustainability without preaching it.

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.

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