By Rajesh Mehta & Dr. Badri Narayanan Gopalakrishnan
We all adore Lord Krishna for His omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience, in addition to the sweet naughty nature as a divine Child and infinite affection for His devotees. Irrespective of one’s belief system, the stories of pastimes of His childhood are captivating for everyone. He is particularly recognized as the main inspiration to the whole Bhakti movement, which is all about complete surrender and unalloyed unconditional devotion to God. But for His instruction of the Holy Gita to Arjuna, we would have been deprived of learning about the most important virtues of life. Major texts like Shrimad Bhagavta, Bhagvat Gita & Adi Shankarachaya’s Bhaj Govindam guide His devotees in these difficult and unusual times. While his devotional, cultural and spiritual greatness are well-known, on this day of his birthday, it is important for us to reflect on the relevance of His life and activities for today’s context, in the business, management, finance and economy.
Let us first think about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); these are classified broadly into social, economic, environmental, political and health goals. A major social challenge in India even today is the discrimination along the caste system; Lord Krishna clearly mentions that the jati is based on one’s activities and not by birth. Himself being born in the cowherd community and then ruling kingdoms as a Kshatriya and articulating the deepest secrets of life in a philosophical way as a greatest Brahmin ever. Therefore, He is accepted by all communities equally, and has dispelled the myth of hierarchy in castes long before the modern-day anti-caste warriors were born. He also explicitly articulates that the Brahmana is one who sees the same soul in every living being beyond any differences among them. Here is a quote from Gita:
“He who sees the supreme Lord dwelling alike in all beings, the Imperishable in the things that perish, he sees indeed. For seeing the Lord as the same, everywhere present, he does not destroy the self by the self, and thus he goes to the highest goal.” (Gita 13.28)
Another social challenge is gender inequality, which was again attacked by him in different ways in different contexts, such as saving Draupadi, respecting and loving his biological and foster mothers equally. Also, we never worship him in isolation, but with Radha, Rukmini and Satyabama, which also shows the importance given to women even at that level. In fact, both the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya by Lord Chaitanya (East India) and Sri Sampradaya by Ramanujacharya (South India), give utmost importance to Radha and Lakshmi respectively, for a soul’s ability to get salvation, because only upon the recommendations from them, would the Lord provide it.
In terms of economic inequality, he has always advocated charity and helping the poor people. We can think of at least two examples; the beautiful concept of Akshayapatra vessel which can feed any number of people anytime, has inspired the globally renowned mid-day meal scheme for school-going poor kids, under the same name started partly by ISKCON, which is dedicated to Lord Krishna. Secondly, we can think of Sudama, the great friend of Krishna from his childhood, who was welcomed by Him wholeheartedly despite the huge economic and status difference between them, and miraculously also made him rich in a moment. Finally, His advocacy of focusing on our duties and being non-attached to results helps all of us to stay focused on doing good and helping others without greed. Furthermore, in these times of Covid pandemic, only generosity and selflessness of the society, which can only be found in people devoid of greed, can help the vulnerable sections of the population.
On both environmental and health goals, most researchers agree that a vegetarian diet is both better suited for health and less emissions-intensive. Lord Krishna clearly mentions in the Gita that he only accepts Patram (leaf), Pushpam (flower), Phalam (fruit) and Toyam (water), which is what He implicitly advocates for us to eat. Similarly, in another beautiful verse in Gita, He says that food-crops can flourish with the rains, which in turn, can happen only with Yagnya (sacrifices). There are many different interpretations of Yagna, and we can comfortably fit in the nature-conservation efforts advocated by scientists today, such as afforestation, sustainable practices in farming and manufacturing, circular economy, etc., under this umbrella.
The political aspects of SDGs mainly concern the strength of institutions, justice and peace. His focus on the greater good for everyone or Dharma was so high that He thought beyond the concept of Ahimsa, whenever necessary and after trying his best to avoid Himsa, even resulting in the grand Mahabharata war. Any reader of the epic would concur that Krishna left no stones unturned for negotiating with Kauravas to avoid the war and only when He realized it was inevitable, the war had to happen. This is quite similar to the concept of pareto-optimality, wherein everyone is better off and nobody is worse off due to a development. This is because even many of the losing Kauravas also attained swarga(heaven) or a better birth in their next life, while the Pandavas were definitely better off. His impeccable diplomacy, negotiating skills and steadfast focus on justice and peace in real spirit, are consistent with these political aspects of SDGs as well. Today’s global situation is quite similar to that of Mahabharata, with violence increasing in different parts of the world, and has to be countered using concerted efforts of all parties working for the greater good.
We often talk about one of the most desirable qualities of any business or policy leader as being easily approachable, down-to-earth and humble. Lord Krishna is worshipped by millions of people, not out of fear or respect, but out of love, because He has this quality of “Saulabhya”, which means he is easily approachable to anyone who reaches out to Him. There is a lot to learn in this regard for the modern leaders – in terms of soft leadership, leading by example and commanding rather than demanding respect. We also have terms like B2B, B2C, etc., but what Krishna advocates is S2S, which is Soul to Soul. If business or policy ideas are soul-touching and deeply spiritual thought about, they can be very successful, because they address not the outward material or temporary comforts, but what matters for the soul, which is the highest need at any point of time. Without addressing the soul in which Krishna Himself resides, we cannot solve any of the problems facing the world. This is what Lord Krishna says in one of the most widely regarded Slokas of Gita (18.66), to leave everything else and focus on Him; with this sloka, we conclude:
सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज |
अहं त्वां सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुच: ||
“Abandon all varieties of dharmas and simply surrender unto me alone. I shall liberate you from all sinful reactions; do not fear.”
(The authors Rajsh Mehta is a Leading International Consultant, Entrepreneur & Columnist. Dr Badri Narayanan Gopalakrishnan is a leading international economist and consultant. He is the Founder of Infinite Sum Modelling LLC, Seattle, Senior Economist at University of Washington Seattle, Non Residential Senior Fellow at ECIPE Brussels and CSEP (formerly Brookings India). Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)