| Is Sanskrit
relevant to contemporary society? The popular thinking is that there is
very little in Sanskrit that is of great relevance in today’s scheme of
things. We have been witnesses to great revolutions in the field of
science and technology, especially in the last 50 years. We are very
happy that these technological advancements have greatly improved the
standard of living in a developing country like ours. However, we’re
not sure if, in this process, the quality of life has improved as well.
We have so many problems confronting us on a day-to-day basis in
education, governance and the society at large. Few of our youngsters
and innovative enough to come up with extraordinary
performances in their chosen fields. There is a lacuna in leadership as
well. In this state of affairs, what can Sanskrit do? Its
scriptures and ancestral works of wisdom contain apparently dated ideas
that may interest the religious and philosophically minded, but how is
it relevant for solving the kind of problems we are facing today?
me to answer this question by showcasing the contemporary relevance and
usefulness of Sanskrit in the context of Management.
A context for contemporary relevance
First, we need
to clearly understand what is meant by ‘contemporary relevance’. To me
it appears that if a proposition, a concept or any entity is to be
defined as contemporary, it must :
1. Contain key
ideas that one can relate to current day living
Contain principles that one can practice to resolve existing problems.
is from this perspective that I propose to show you that Sanskrit is
indeed relevant in the modern day.
concept of Management is always relevant, and affects every person who
is part of any social system; it is not a specialized subject to be
used only by a handful of people. A householder, a teacher, a student,
a professional, NGOs and organizations have each to observe specific
principles of management if his/her efforts are to fructify. In
developing countries like India, most of the problems faced by the
country result from the bad management practices followed by our
is a rich repository of knowledge that could be gainfully exploited in
the area of classical science, including mathematics, astronomy, health
and so on. As a professor of management, I’ll be happy to leave an
impression at the end of the day that Sanskrit literature also provides
considerable scope for us to draw useful lessons for managing our
principles of management
have been teaching students of management for the last 15 years, and
based on this experience I can list down some of the most important
attributes that constitute good management:
¨ The ability
to think big, visualize and be
systematic approaches to problem
solving: this involves developing a spirit of inquiry, a sense
of keen observation and getting an empirical understanding of events
through classification, coding, generalization and verification of
¨ Acquiring an
attitude of learning as a way of
¨ Capacity to
manage conflicts that arise between
long-term and short-term goals
these skills invariably leads one to perform exceptionally well,
develop great insights about problems and solutions. In today’s
lecture, I would like to explore the wonderful expressions in our
ancient Sanskrit literature, which illustrate how our ancients were
guided by these principles of good management.
thinking creatively and thinking big
of the serious deficiencies that we have noticed amongst Indian
managers through our numerous interactions is that they are not
adequately creative. Where should we learn to nurture our creative
skills, to learn how to think big, to visualize? The average young
person in our country would not know that our ancestors were among the
most creative people on earth. How do I say that? Let me answer
the question by giving you some examples.
time immemorial, the
human race has been constantly engaged in trying to understand the
relationship between God, man and the universe. In our ancient
literature, there are not one, not two, but six schools of
philosophy that seek to elaborately address
this issue, each in its own way. These schools of philosophy are Nyaya,
Vaisesika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa.
aspects of Creation
(Brahma), Preservation (Vishnu) and Destruction (Siva) of the Universe
have also been imaginatively dealt with by our rishis and
ancestors in the form of eighteen Mahapuranas - six each
covering Brahma, Vishnu and Siva.
us consider the question
how to reach salvation:If you look at our
yogic Sciences, four alternative methods have been proposed - Karma
Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga. We were told that each
individual is unique and therefore requires unique methods of reaching
salvation. What greater evidence do we need to acknowledge that we, as
a society, believed in the value of imbibing an awareness of different
viewpoints, understanding Reality by approaching it in different ways,
expressing the idea differently for different sets of people? As
far as I know, the essence of Vedic thought and
Hinduism promotes diversity as a way of
life, which in turn is a good indicator of the powers of visualization
and creative thinking of a society - the very values that a good
practitioner of management requires today!
far, all I have said is intended to encourage you to think that,
perhaps, our ancestors cherished the values of creativity and
visualizing the big picture. There are more ways of understanding how
creativity was manifest in our culture, society and thinking. Take any
of our ancient works such as the Upanishads or the Gita.
One thing that is strikingly different is our
ability to provide unique mechanisms of knowledge representation. Let
me give you some examples:
verse in the
Mundaka Upanishad and a similar passage in Laghunyasa too,
loosely translated say that the presiding deity of the pair of ears is
space and the presiding deity of the pair of eyes is the Sun or Agni.
at face value, or literally, such a description of the sense organs in
terms of their presiding deities may sound nonsensical; but consider
them from the following, different perspective and you will be amazed
by the element of creativity that has given rise to such unique
for a moment that there is no sun to light the world (of course there
was no electricity in those ages). It would be pitch dark everywhere.
Of what use is the power of vision in such a situation? Similarly,
sound waves cannot travel from one place to another in a vacuum. Ether
is the medium in which it travels. Therefore, the description of sense
organs in terms of their presiding deities imaginatively communicates
some idea about their functioning and the enabling mechanisms required.
The curious can find umpteen examples of such creative thinking in the
Sanskrit literature of our ancestors
have the greatest possible
creative narration in the two Ithihasas - Ramayana and
besides a rich legacy of mythological stories outside the purview of
these narratives. What better expression
of creativity can there be than that expressed in these great works of
for the issue of thinking big, which is another important attribute of
management, why is it important that managers should think big? Ability
to think big brings along with it an intense desire to achieve the
dream and motivates a person to carry forward his vision along with his
peers in achieving such a goal. This is true not only for a manager but
for any visionary. Unfortunately, we do not find many of today’s
youngsters exhibiting this attribute.
there anything to learn from our past as far as thinking big is
concerned? The first thing that comes to my mind is the lesson on how
to think big that is provided by chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita,
wherein there is a beautiful description of the Viswaroopa
Darshanam of Lord Krishna. The radiance of
Lord Krishna, in this stanza, is equated to the
light emerging from a thousand sunrises at the same
timelessness that this ability to think big confers on the thinker was
affirmed when Robert Oppenheimer, who exploded the first atom bomb
quoted these very lines from the Gita to his team, saying that
the light that emerged as a
result of the explosion reminded him of the thousand rising Suns
described in the verse. How many Indians would have related some of
their unprecedented experiences in life to such timeless expressions
found in many of our ancient Scriptures and
Vedantic texts? Why is it that we never think about the work done
by our ancestors? Perhaps, one reason for this is that we are not even
aware of what we have in our Sanskrit scriptures!
ancestors, emphasizing the need to think big, went to the extent of
equating the ability to think big with immortality, as this verse, in
little there lies no happiness
vast alone is bliss;
Immortal is the vast
is the little.
ancestors’ ability to think big is probably best represented in their
approach to mathematics and the number system in particular. In the
second chapter of
Lilavati of Bhaskaracharya, there is a description of numbers from
100 to 1017. Our ancestors even felt the
need for much larger numbers than this. I am given to understand that
there are terms for numbers up to 10140 in Sanskrit!
Bhagavatam (also called Bhagavata Maha Purana),
a work that comes under religious literature, Canto 3, Chapter 11,
gives a beautiful description of the concept of time ranging from 10-6
seconds to 1017 years!
are many more examples that I can quote as evidence of our ancestors’
ability to think
big. Let me show you another example from our scriptures before I take
up the next attribute for good management. The second column shows the
number of human years (365 days) attributed by our ancients to each of
the time periods in the first column:
Number of years
1 Cycle of 4 Yugas
Day time of
100 Years of
One half of Brahma's
merely increasing our awareness of these great works, we will
definitely be inspired to think creatively. Going a step further and
learning the language, reading the immortal works of our ancestors, and
understanding their beauty, will breed in us a desire and an attitude
to think big.
A systematic approach
a management researcher I find that the requirements for developing
superior principles of management are qualities that our ancestors have
always believed in - developing knowledge through inquiry, keen
observation, systematic classification, coding and empirical
generalization of observed phenomena.
happens when you have a systematic approach to developing knowledge?
One immediate benefit that we will get is to develop better
understanding of seemingly complex ideas. We will also be in a position
to classify things better and use the classification framework to
explain a variety of observed phenomena. I see evidences of these in
several of the ancient works.
our ancient Scriptures we find that our ancestors have not been wanting
at all when it comes to the spirit of inquiry. Get hold of a copy of
the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita, albeit in
translation, and count for yourself how many questions were asked
during the discourses therein. In Prashnopanishad
(prashna+upanishad), for instance, Pippalada and six
disciples discuss some of the toughest ideas about life, Nature, God
and the universe with their teacher. The entire discussion is in a
question-and-answer mode. It is this unflagging spirit of inquiry that
enabled our ancestors to develop superior knowledge, unique knowledge
representation systems, diversified and alternative theories and the
perfect language called Sanskrit.
other important requirement is an ability to keenly observe events,
systematically develop classification methodologies, empirically
generalize observed phenomena and build theories based on the insights
there is no better evidence of our ancestors’ ability to develop
systematic knowledge than what you see in Canto 3, chapter 11 of Bhagavata
Maha Purana. We already saw that in this very chapter of the Purana,
the concept of time has been described vividly. Also contained in this
chapter is a precise methodology for the measurement of a unit of time,
a pot of copper weighing six palas, which can hold one prastha
of water and pierce the bottom of the pot using a gold needle
weighing four mahsas and four angulas long. If you
leave the pot floating on the water surface, the time taken by such a
pot to be fully submerged as it gets filled with water through the
pierced hole is equivalent to one nadhika.
is near star Rohini. Mars is approaching
Anuradha from Jyestha. There is a planet near Citra (Udyoga
is staying near Rohini (Bhishma parvan)
- A white planet resides, having crossed Citra (Bhishma
you see the scientific rigour in this definition of a unit of
many of you know that there are references in the Rig Veda that
give the velocity of light as accurately as what we know today?
the third chapter of Prashnopanishad, the guru defines vyana.
vyana? We’ll find out presently. Now, just consider
is the heart; the ultimate spirit sits here; there
are a hundred and one nadis emerging out of it; out of each one
of these nadis you get a hundred more; and from each one of
them, seventy two thousand.
you multiply all that (1x101x100x72,000), you realize that this is the
nervous system that they were talking about, for, using modern gadgets,
it has been found that there are 72,72,00,000 (seventy two crore
seventy two lakh) nadis in the nervous system of homo sapiens.
did they make such observations? That is not the question I’m trying to
answer. That there was some systematic way of looking at things, a
spirit of scientific inquiry, a way of documenting all that - that is
what I am trying to show you.
example of our ancestors’ ability to systematically develop knowledge
is clear from the stark contrast between the modern, evolving
definition of health and our ancestral approach.. Let me contrast our
ancestors’ definitions with that of WHO.
1940, the World Health Organization described health as the "state of
complete physical, emotional, and social well-being, not merely the
absence of disease or infirmity". This widely accepted definition was
expanded only in the 1970s and 1980s to include other components such
as intellectual, environmental, and spiritual health.
contrast to this definition, our ancient definitions were much
more holistic. They
the need for
including issues much more than mere physical aspects.
clearly states that
being healthy means having a healthy soul, mind and sensory organs
thinking and action). Similarly,
Charaka emphasizes that the appropriate definition of being healthy
means “being one’s own self”.
robust definitions can only be the outcome of a spirit of inquiry and a
systematic approach to observation and knowledge creation.
as a way of life
saw so many examples of creating superior knowledge that led our
ancestors to develop frameworks to understand complex ideas in life,
develop deeper insights into observed phenomena and lay down several
governing principles in science, mathematics and astronomy. How do you
think this was possible? What infrastructure do we need to develop
these skills? We find answers to this question by understanding the
concept of learning as our ancestors practiced.
teach a very interesting concept called creating a learning
organization, because it is the “in thing” for business organizations.
Being in the institute of management, I am supposed to impart new
ideas in management to my students. But I always begin with the
following millenium-old couplet of our ancestors, which beautifully
summarises the concept of learning as we are beginning to appreciate
padamadatte padam sishyah svamedhaya
From the teacher, a quarter is learnt; a quarter, the student learns
through reflection; another quarter, he learns from discussions with
peers; the rest he learns only with time.
sabrahmacharibhyah padam kalakramena ca.
there is enormous emphasis on self-reflection and thinking. If people
refuse to think, internalize and reflect on the ideas they have
acquired, then 25% learning is gone. In the last 10 years, in business
schools and corporate entities, there is a premium on what
called ‘small group activities’, on ‘team effort’ – and the
potential opportunities for learning during such exercises.
Interestingly, the sloka says that collective discussion of
the subject matter results in 25% learning. Further, it was after
considerable research during the 1990s that management researchers
concluded that learning is a continuous process. On the other hand, our
ancestors reached the same conclusion 1000 years ago. They proclaimed
that 25% of a person’s learning will occur in the course of life.
am using this couplet in my learning organizations’ lectures simply
because I stumbled on it accidentally. If we systematically delve into
our literature with specific focus, what treasures may we end up
to resolve conflicts between short term and long term issues
we take up this question, let me take a minute or two to introduce to
you the concept of ‘going concern’. What it literally means is that
when we judge the performance of a company, typically at the end of
every year, we make an important assumption that the company is not
going to be wound up; it intends to ‘go on’ existing. This is precisely
why we prepare a profit and loss account and a balance sheet to judge
the performance of a company.
modern concept of a ‘going concern’ finds an easy parallel in the Hindu
idea of reincarnation, which tells us that at the end of this life we
carry along a net ‘profit’ or ‘loss’ to one more incarnation and so the
journey goes on until we are released from the cycle of rebirths. The
challenging part, however, is the ability to manage life during this
sojourn and finding a way to end the cycle of rebirths. This is a
classical problem of resolving short-term and long-term conflicts.
our ancient literature, there are numerous discussions on how
we should handle this conflict. Understanding the methodologies
propounded by these deliberations and reflecting on the basis on which
these arguments are founded would go a long way in shaping our ability to apply the same ideas to conflict
resolution in the context of managing short-term versus long-term
do we identify good leaders - what are the traits that distinguish them
is a question that bothers many of us in management.
Gita.says, “Leaders need to practice
preach; otherwise they lose their credibility.”
is a well known and easily understood dimension of a good leader. Let
us look at another sloka in the Gita, which brings out
concept of leadership.
this sloka, Krishna says that he is likely to be a good
leader who is
not swayed by flattery nor affected by dissent and loses not his
composure even when abused or attacked.He
says emotional stability is the greatest requirement for a good leader.
days, we ask managers aspiring to be leaders to keep their nerves under
all circumstances - ‘If you do something great, don’t lose your
balance. Even if you have lost everything, don’t lose your balance.’
‘Don’t see whether a person belongs to the opposition group or your
group. Look at the whole discussion objectively,’ we advise.
Krishna was not saying anything different.
we have covered sufficient ground on the issue of relevance of Sanskrit
to contemporary society, in the context of management. As a professor
of management, it was both a convenience and a conscious choice for me
to opt for this topic. But, if we take up alternative topics such as
relevance of Sanskrit to contemporary society in the context of public
administration, science, mathematics, or astronomy we would probably
find that Sanskrit has a lot to contribute to these areas of knowledge
more issue seems to strongly suggest the need for Sanskrit in today’s
world. Winning Intellectual property rights (IPR) battles, which are
increasingly governing world trade, requires an ability to establish
the chronology of events leading to the process or product or knowledge
for which the IPR is being claimed. To provide evidence of our
country’s prior knowledge of unique processes and products we need to
know Sanskrit, for, in that language lies buried all our erstwhile
knowledge. Relevance of Sanskrit, therefore, assumes particular
significance for Indians in this day and age. But the existing
infrastructure for imparting Sanskrit education is far from what is
required to gainfully benefit from our ancient wisdom.
are we going to solve this problem? Little can be expected from the
government and the political class; neither can something miraculous
happen to enable a critical mass to learn Sanskrit adequately so as to
help our country reap the benefits that could be mined from the wealth
of Sanskrit literature. To me, it appears that there are two options
for dealing with the critical issue of preserving the language for the
future of our nation:
- Students who are in a position
to make a conscious choice to study Sanskrit at the school and the college levels must do so. By doing
this, they prepare themselves for greater, more meaningful and targeted
efforts of putting
the language to day-to-day use in the future.
who have sorted out the major concern of earning a
can take up learning Sanskrit, so as to bring into the limelight
interesting ideas and ancient wisdom pertaining to their profession,
which subsequently can be inducted into the mainstream.
several of us make a conscious effort to participate in this process,
gradually the government, the policymakers and the public will see the
relevance of the language and a day will come when learning Sanskrit
and putting the learning to use will become as attractive as doing that
with the foreign language called English.