Hinduism and Business; old patterns for new perspectives • Anna Pinilla - Atwal Financial

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This article is the first in a series to establish criteria for action when you want to start a business in India. The purpose is to provide business professionals with a basic understanding of Hinduism, and overview of the major beliefs of Hindus, and give practical and valuable information that will assist businesses and professionals in India.

Hinduism at Globalized Business; old patterns for new perspectives by Anna Pinilla

Doing business in a globalised environment like the current one often involves dealing with new cultural and religious conditions where professionals may find some insecurity. At some point, it is highly likely that global business professionals will find themselves transacting business at a Hindu domain. This is especially true for professionals who begin to work for Indian companies or try to open the market in India, Nepal, Mauritius, or in any of the other countries with a large number of Hindus. For these business professionals, it’s crucial to know about Hinduism, its history, beliefs, holidays, practices, and its influence on the business environment. In order to have the essentials to manage a good business at Indian scenarios, we could find some clues in Hinduism whose ethical principles drive good business management. Human relations and business in India are very often intertwined. Establishing a friendship in India often ends in business collaboration. On several of my trips to India, I often came across this proposal that opened new paths of entrepreneurship. Get ready; you will often come across this proposal: how Can we collaborate?

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam and has approximately 1.1 billion adherents worldwide (15% of the world’s population). Presently, India and Nepal are the two Hindu majority countries. Most Hindus are found in Asian countries. The countries with more than 5,000 Hindu residents and citizens include (in decreasing order) – India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia (especially in Bali, which is 84% Hindu), Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, United States, Myanmar, United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, Mauritius, and the Caribbean (West Indies).

Hinduism: A religion with many faces

Hinduism developed over several centuries from many sources, so it is natural that Hinduism has a variety of opinions, practices, and beliefs, some of which are contradictory. Then, what can be considered as Hinduism or Hindu religion? About the only real issue of being considered a belief system as Hindu is whether or not it recognises the Vedas as sacred. If it does, then it is Hindu; if not, then it is not Hindu. Hinduism is referred by many as Sanatana Dharma, “the eternal law” or the “eternal way” beyond human origins. Western scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no single founder (Sandip B., 2016, para. 3).

And now comes the next question: who is a Hindu? What does one have to believe to be a Hindu? Those are hard questions to answer since there are so many variations of the Hindu religion. Hinduism can be Monistic, where only one thing exists; this is also known as Sankara’s school.

Hinduism can be Pantheistic, where only one divine thing exists so that God is identical to the world; this is also known as Brahmanism. Hinduism can be Panentheistic, where the world is part of god. Finally, Hinduism can be Theistic, where there is only one god, distinct from creation; this is also known as Bhakti Hinduism. Hindus can be nihilistic, deistic, or atheistic. Contemporary Hinduism has a diverse range of beliefs and practices, sects and schools of philosophy, some of which may stand in their own right as religions themselves.

Hindus understand the complexity and contradictions of their faith and accept them as part of the ineffability of the universe and contradictions of life itself. Business professionals derive their own personal morals and ethical beliefs from various places and Hindu business professionals are no different. Ethical considerations are highly important in Hinduism. Among other considerations, this involves making a distinction between what “is” and what “ought to be.” What the Indian economist Chattopadhyay (2012) writes about India applies to Hinduism as a whole: Ethics as an institution of life has been recognised here from the very early age of the Vedas. It has been recognised as the most basic element in human life, but not in the sense of being a guide of the “good” society; it is inside every being of the universe. It is as simple as to consider that ethics have a divine origin and man has simply to adopt from here to the individual level. If each individual in a company is ethical, then the firm will exhibit ethical behaviour. “A man of character is ready to give up his life, but not the truth. He is prepared to die, but will not kill. He is willing to accept suffering, but not inflict it on others. He does not steal, nor takes bribes. He does not waste his time or that of others and goes on doing his duty fearlessly”.

In the Hindu tradition, religion and work are inextricably linked. Religion tends to have a great effect on the way individuals approach the workforce and on the work they choose to do. For Hindus, doing work that has divine and spiritual significance generated greater satisfaction and commitment in continuing to do said work. Helping others is seen as a way to serve God.

“The Global Economic Crime Survey 2016”, for instance, says 94 per cent of the Indian respondents stated that their organisation had a clear code of conduct, yet only 15 per cent indicated that their leaders walk the talk” (“Business and Ethics,” 2016, para. 1). Helping others occurs throughout all business on a regular basis. In the truest sense of customer service, business professionals engage in helping people through providing products and services to meet their needs. Serving the customer is equated with serving God.

Considering the philosophical credit of Hinduism, it can be said to be based on four pillars called the Purusha or the four purposes of life: Dharma (way of life), Artha (wealth and prosperity), Kama (desire) and Moksha (liberation). Dharma and artha must be balanced and managed in such a way that allows the individual to live at his best expression with no restrictions at all but always virtuously. For this purpose, it is given the main guidelines recorded as Yamas and Niyamas, ancient scriptural injunctions for all aspects of human thought and behaviour. These Vedic restraints and observances are built into the character of the person from a very early age to be followed like commandments.

The five Yamas are truthfulness, not to steal, non-violence, sexual moderation and non-possession and the five Niyamas are surrendering to god, satisfaction, purity, austerity and self-knowledge of Hinduism. Further, the teachings of Vedas, Smrti especially Manusmrti and Artha Sastra, the two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata (Bhagavad Gita) and other religious literature have played an important part in the development of the society in a multidimensional way. These ethical reflections have also been ssimilated and integrated into the business world with a lot of variations. In this brief article, I will focus mainly on two texts: Bhagavad Gita and Arthasastra.

The Bible of the good businessman

The Bhagavad Gita, which captures the essence of Hindu teaching and philosophy, is influential in Hindu business practice. This text provides important guidelines for influencing contemporary management thought and global business practices. Often referred to as “the Gita”, is a 700 verse Hindu scripture that is part of the epic Mahabharata.

The Gita is set in a narrative framework of a dialogue between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Krishna. At the start of the war) between Pandavas and Kauravas, Arjuna is filled with moral dilemma and despair about the violence and death the war will cause in the battle against his own kingdom. As the basic teaching, Krishna counsels Arjuna to “fulfil his Kshatriya (warrior) duty to uphold the Dharma” through selfless action. Dharma focuses on finding a higher calling or mission in life and a calling to fulfil one’s purpose or duty. Karma consists of developing a detached involvement by doing one’s duty objectively without worrying about the consequences. The Gita also considers that the person and the person’s job should be aligned.

No single person can do all jobs. Business managers must discern the skills and abilities of each worker and assign that worker to a job the worker can handle. Workers so assigned must work with a good attitude. Managers and workers must practice the seven duties of “forgiveness, self-control, non-stealing, steadiness, truthfulness, wisdom, and learning”.

Another basic teaching given by Krishna is based on the Vedic Mahavakya (great saying) “tat tvam asi”, as the recognition of the interconnectedness of nature, the human, and the spiritual. It encourages managers to look at the big picture, to have a holistic view as guidance to realize that there can be no simultaneous winners and losers. When managers change their outlook, success is enhanced.

The Arthasastra: The end does not justify the means

Many of the traditional principles about business and government were set at least 20 centuries ago and were extended and preserved over the years. One early writer with much influence to this day was the politician and economist Kautilya, who wrote about 300 BCE the Arthashastra. Scholars state that the Arthashastra was influential in Asian history. Its ideas helped create one of the largest empires in South Asia. Kautilya’s patron, Chandragupta Maurya, consolidated an empire which was inherited by his son Bindusara and then his grandson Ashoka. With the progressive secularization of society, and with the governance-related innovations contemplated by the Arthasastra, India was “prepared for the reception of the great moral transformation ushered in by Ashoka”, and the spread of Buddhist, Hindu and other ideas across South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia.

The book bases the art of governance on the two pillars of Nyaya (justice) and dharma (ethics) and explained at that time what is now propounded as the organisational justice theory and the study of ethics. This treatise, which is about statecraft, economic policy and military strategy laid down many principles that influence today’s business and political practices. Kautilya thought there should be a strong government with a strong leader, and that the leader should increase the wealth of the state and his own power. Part of the manner in which that can be accomplished is for the leader to master the four sciences: state leadership, economics, the Vedas and philosophy. This philosophy about state leadership moves over into corporate leadership, promoting strong leadership at the top of an organisation. He also promoted the idea of international trade. His concept involved the idea of comparative advantage, anticipating Smith by 2000 years. Arthashastra believed that imports were as important as exports.

Among Arthashastra’s other principles included monopolies were to be discouraged; prices and profits were to be kept fair; there should be a tax system which would have reasonable rates, should be inexpensive regarding administration, and does not negatively impact economic growth, and there should be high taxation on luxury goods. Another principle maintained is that labourers should be given fair wages depending on their skills and productivity This stress on behaviour, totally opposite to the Machiavellian thought (the end justifies the means) undoubtedly has strong implications for modern organisations and their functioning.

Hinduism provides a rich framework within which the dimensions of business and business ethics find their own footing. This is where religion provides the guidelines for organisational behaviour and is able to minimise the impact of the collateral effects of the globalisation. In this point, Hinduism can be defended from many of globalisation’s adverse effects for its open-minded theology and its ability for absorption.

Recommended bibliography: Chattopadhyay, C.(2012). Indian philosophy and business ethics: A review. Advances in Management and Applied Economics, 2(3), 111-123

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