The Candid Eye

November 26, 2009

Guru Speaks

When every breath of your body is focussed on creating wealth it takes an infinity to realise the expanse of the breath itself. Journeys across such an abstract expanse need a guide whose spiritual GPS is never offline. But then Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a man of God like no other. His powerful innovation of Sudarshan Kriya from the ancient system of Pranayam has calmed many a burdened mind.

Guruji Sri Sri Ravishankar

It is hard to combine the commanding heights of spirituality with the mundane lowlands of everyday practical living the way Sri Sri has managed to do. So when a club of extremely wealthy men of practical world needed to understand how to go beyond all the wealth, Sri Sri was the obvious choice.

We seemed to have hit the hot button because questions from men of Mammon flowed freely. To make sure the answers had depth, we picked four questions that seemed to be most fundamental and intricate. But that was till Sri Sri answered them; after that they were blindingly obvious.

Harsh Mariwala
Chairman & MD, Marico Industries

  • We are realising more and more that society has a significant stake and role to play in the growth of every individual and organisation. It then follows that some part of the wealth built by the individual or organisation owes its origin to society. In a steady state scenario, this issue may not be difficult to sort out — one could follow the Islamic Zakat approach and give a fixed percentage to charity or to society. But when it comes to estate planning or leaving behind a legacy through a will, there would arise a question, where your guidance and views will be enlightening. What proportion of a rich person’s wealth should one bequeath to society?”

A: The Dharmashastras advise a man to divide wealth in five portions:

  • One portion is used for spiritual and religious purposes.
  • One portion for charity and society.
  • One portion for the growth of the wealth.
  • One portion for oneself and one’s own comforts.
  • One portion for one’s family.

The most intelligent thing would be to undertake all the charitable works during one’s lifetime itself. However, when you write a will with the wealth that is left to you, definitely give a substantial portion for charitable work.

Venugopal Dhoot
Chairman & MD, Videocon

What is the best contribution one can make to a better society? Make billions, spend billions, or give away billions?

A: The best way is to do both: To make billions, spend a little less, save the rest and give away!
Twenty percent of your earnings should be earmarked for charity. However, charity should be self-sustainable. That is, it should create more wealth rather than perpetuating the cycle of poverty and dependence. In this sense, the best form of charity would be providing quality education for children and more importantly, building a good character in them.

In the 11th chapter of the Bhagawad Gita, Lord Krishna said, “Win the war with enemies and enjoy a prosperous empire.” How can a businessman be altruistic and yet follow this piece of advice? Is there a way to resolve this riddle?

Krishna’s advice was not for a recluse, but addressed to a prince. The Gita should not be dismissed as a text for people who are not in the world. In fact, the Gita is of no use for people who are retiring from the world. The entire Bhagavad Gita is focused on the prince who had to shoulder a huge responsibility, encounter complex situations and solve complicated human relations to make the country productive. Any business empire has to perform all these functions: They have to manage human resources; resolve conflicts.

One cannot be emotional and say: “I don’t want to compete with anybody. The world of business is always a struggle — a fight. Your weapons are speculation, bidding, negotiation, branding, marketing, pricing, innovation etc. These are the weapons for you to fight the business wars and you should fight it to your complete satisfaction. If it does not turn out to be viable, naturally you lose your fight. (Non-viability, heavy competition, lack of HR, labour problems)

You can’t do business with a charitable mindset. Charity and business should be kept separate altogether. However when it comes to enjoying the fruits of your business, you should have a charitable mind. You must keep aside a portion for charity.

Analjit Singh
Chairman & MD, Max India

If one has faith and believes God exists, how important is it to pray, meditate, etc.?

A: Prayer is asking God what you want for yourself or thanking Him for what you have received. Meditation is listening to God’s will. If you believe in God, then you will definitely want to connect and communicate with Him. The way to communicate with Him is through prayer
and meditation.

Rakesh Jhunjhunwala
Partner, RaRe Enterprises

“My principles in life are as follows:

  • All spirituality lies in our deeds and empathy towards others.
  • All deeds should be with practical integrity and means should be more important than the ends.
  • More than anything else in life, I work for a sense of achievement, which I judge and am not bothered about what others think.
  • I have far lesser wealth than people think, but far more than I need. Wealth also has a purpose in life.
  • I realise that all things in life including wealth, success and beauty are transient and temporary. Therefore I never take them for granted, nor am I overwhelmed or over-influenced by them.
  • The divine is the giver of all wealth, and along with the wealth, has cast upon us a responsibility that as far as possible must be used for a good purpose.

I would seek your divine views and thoughts on my beliefs and principles of life.

A: What you have mentioned are some moral and ethical values. Spirituality is recognising that you are a part of the universal spirit and that there is no ‘Other’. Spirituality is recognising the truth that a Divine Power is managing the creation and your own life. No doubt integrity, charity, compassion etc. are all virtues which are essential by-products of spirituality. How calm and dynamic you are at the same time, how compassionate and shrewd you are at the same time indicates the depths of your spirituality.

November 22, 2009

How much wealth is enough?

The rich in India are richer, but what’s the purpose of having all that wealth? Forbes India brought together G.V. Krishna Reddy, an extremely wealthy man of the practical world, and spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to find an answer to that elemental question.

Subroto Bagchi: I have a personal question. When I was a little boy, my mother said that you have Lakshmi and you have Saraswati, two very pretty women, extremely jealous and she said that if I follow Lakshmi, then Saraswati will shun me and if I follow Saraswati, probably Laksmhi will follow at a distance.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Today, there has been a truce.

Subroto Bagchi: Thank you so much, that was really really wonderful, and I wish my mother was here to listen to that point.


H.H. Sri Sri Ravishankar at Forbes India function

The Goddess of Wealth might have made her truce with the Goddess of Learning. But Lakshmi is also the Goddess of Generosity and it seems her devotees have yet to fully learn that lesson.

As the Forbes India rich list shows, the number of Indian billionaires has gone up. Their wealth increased even as the recession took a toll on the economies of the richest countries. However, in a country where slums exist in the shadow of opulent high rises, the rich in India keep their purse strings tight.

This seemed to be the opportune moment to question the purpose of wealth. How much is enough? How does it feel to be rich in a land of poor? Can wisdom offer some solace?

To find answers to these questions, Forbes India brought two very different personalities on a single platform — G.V. Krishna Reddy (worth $1.07 billion), one of the rich men on the list and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a spiritual guru.

“One, a worshipper of wealth and the other, in charge of salvation,” as Subroto Bagchi, Mindtree’s co-founder, Forbes India columnist and moderator of the discussion put it.

The differences were evident even as they arrived. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar walked in wearing a flowing white robe, smiling his trademark smile, followed by long-haired, Art of Living volunteers. Reddy, several inches taller than the guru, came in business formals, followed by similarly dressed colleagues.

Following the discussion were the business elite in Bangalore — Bijou Kurien of Reliance Retail; Ashok Misra of Intellectual Ventures; Suresh C. Senapaty of Wipro; Swati Ramanathan of Janaagraha; K.K. Narayanan of Meta-Helix; and Krishnakumar N. of Mindtree.

Reddy narrated his rags-to-riches story. As a teenager, he said he was naughty and never interested in studies. But once he decided to do well in studies, he topped the class in a year. “My parents could not believe that for five years,” he said. Later, when he wanted to build a five star hotel in Hyderabad, he was laughed at. When it turned out to be a success, he was praised. His recipe was simple — discipline and hard work.

Balance was Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s theme.

“There are different kinds of richness, some are rich in wisdom, some are rich in life, some are rich in both, some are rich in their enthusiasm and some are rich in their art and imagination, and some are rich in their bank balance,” said the guru.

“If wealth leads to discomfort, the purpose is defeated,” he said. The rich have expanded their business horizons into various philanthropic modules but a few have “yet to implement CSR [corporate social responsibility]”.


Forbes India event

“What is it to be a rich man in a poor country?” asked Bagchi.

Reddy said he did not feel rich. As a company, GVK does its bit for the society. It runs schools and hospitals. It is in the process of building houses for slum dwellers next to the Mumbai airport. And it runs the 108-Ambulance emergency ambulance service.

But, this and many such efforts have hardly addressed the basic issue of human suffering. Does it mean that spirituality with its promise of wisdom, love, compassion and salvation; and business with its own secular promises have failed?

“I won’t say they have both failed. They both need more exposure and more growth and more co-ordinated growth,” said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The discussions struck a chord with the audience.

“We can’t afford to be capitalistic like in the past, in a country like India where there is such a visible difference between rich and poor. Certainly if we don’t have conscious capitalism, I don’t think we’ll prosper,” said Bijou Kurien, President and CEO – Lifestyle, Reliance Retail.

Hans-Martin Schempp, an economist, echoed Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. “Richness really comes from giving. Like the law of agriculture, till you give away the seed then only will you see a harvest.”

However, the bigger issues of poverty, suffering and inequality are yet to be resolved.

“It’s not a question or answer that’ll get answered in a lifetime. It is a millennial issue. In four million years neither poverty nor [the] spiritual depression has been solved in the world. So our job is to keep trying,” Bagchi said later.

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