Indian Culture and Civilization
India is one of the oldest cultures and civilizations in the world. Development of the Indian culture and civilization seemed to have advanced concurrently on multiple fronts.
Economic fall and reemergence of India
On the economic front, India developed as one of the richest nations and at one time in the early 1500’s, India was one of the richest countries. India accounted for one-fourth of the world economy earning the title “Golden Bird or Golden Sparrow.” The riches of India attracted many invaders, intruders, and rulers who plundered India of its precious belongings. Among them, including the incomparable Peacock Throne, precious Kohinoor Diamond, precious stones from Taj Mahal and precious raw materials and natural resources. By the time, the British Raj was over, India was partitioned into two countries and a significant portion of the population of India was reduced to the gruesome images of children starving for food and beggars begging from the tourists from the same countries that had enriched themselves by robbing India of its resources and pride. Reemergence of India, as a world power, is in the making as articulated by the author, Alyssa Ayres, of Our Time Has Come, How India is Making its Place in the World.
One of my major insights about the progress of India is that people succeed if they have an inherent “Earning Mindset” rather than the “Blaming others” or the “Entitlement Mindset.” When India got independence from the British Raj, people of India got into the spirit of creating a brighter future for their children rather than blaming the British. To my knowledge, India has never sought compensation from the British for all the gems, gold and resources that the British took, nor have ordinary Indians blamed the current British population for the atrocities committed by their ancestors. Most Indians have respectful and friendly relationships with the British people.
Functional Structure of Society… Good Idea gone Bad!
In the early 1950’s, when I was growing up in a small village in India, I was horrified by the treatment of a class of people who were called the “Dalits”, “Mazhabi” or the “untouchables”. A dirt street separated these people from the rest of the village population. These people did all the dirty work of the village including cleaning the latrines, sorting through the garbage and providing manual labor for the farmers. Every year, the teenage children of the Dalits would participate in the gladiator-like games. The winners would be “hired” to do all the manual work for the landlords for a small amount of money. The children of Dalits were not allowed to mix or play with the other children. Only after my father, who was the school teacher of the only elementary school took a stand for the children, they were allowed to attend classes.
Quaker Oats Company
After finishing my PhD from the Ohio State University, I joined the Quaker Oats Company as a Scientist. For the first time, I saw how the company operations were organized: The company was organized to perform different functions such as Research and Development, Marketing, Sales, Finance, Public Relations, and General Management, etc. It seemed like a good idea. Every function was clear about their role, responsibilities and deliverables.
The Research and Development department was headed by a gentleman named Bob Nesheim who I thought was a brilliant scientist and an exceptional leader. The entire R&D organization loved and respected Bob. I was shocked when the company promoted a young 38-year old Marketing Brand Manager as the President over Dr. Nesheim. As I talked with many people in the company to understand why Bob was not selected to run the company, there was a unanimous response; “Only Marketing people are selected to run a consumer product Company.”
Early Indian Culture
After the initial shock, I looked at how the idea of functional focus rather than the talent focus can go wrong. Let’s look at my theory of the old caste system in India. I believe that a bright person during the early developmental stages of the Indian civilization came up with a very good idea of ensuring efficient functioning of the society. Major tasks of the Society were divided into 1. Teaching; 2. Protection; 3. Feeding; 4. Manual Labor and 5. Rest of the services.
The teachers were given the title of Brahmins; the protection was provided by the strong warriors who were called the Kshatriyas; farmers who were responsible for all the agriculture were called the Vaishyas, manual laborers were the Shudras, and those who cleaned up after everybody were called the Dalits. So far, this seems like a functional organization of a company with clear roles and responsibilities… doesn’t it?
Function turned to Division
For the Indian society the functional organizational structure became the dividing structure when one function claimed their work to be superior over the work of others. The Brahmins raised their children as the teachers and the poor Dalits perpetually became the service class. Over a period of several centuries, I believe that each caste got stuck in their defined role. Irrespective of the talent, the functional responsibilities slowly became the generational responsibility; a terrible execution of a good idea.
My takeaway is that even the best and powerful ideas and concepts can become harmful and even dangerously obstructive if we do not continue to remind ourselves of the original intent during execution of those concepts. It is great to see that the India has made a dramatic progress in the last seventy years by providing opportunities and jobs based on talent rather than the old caste system.
Spiritual Wealth of Indian Culture
India has over 1.2 billion people of different religions, beliefs and languages living in an area about 1/3rd the size of the United States. Majority of Indians are Hindus; a religion rich in heritage, spirituality, beliefs, wisdom and rituals. Hinduism originated in India thousands of years before the birth of Christ. I would describe Hinduism as a conglomeration of religious, philosophical and cultural ideas, beliefs and traditions rather than an organized religion.
Origin of Beliefs, Principles, and Rituals of Indian Culture
At the origin of these beliefs and ideas are the old writings and scriptures including the Vedas, Upnishads, Bhagvat Gita, Ramayana and Mahabharta. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand the basis behind some of the beliefs, principles, and rituals. It appears that early saints and sages of India sought to understand life, death, happiness, human sufferings, and inner peace, and developed personal insights and beliefs about human life. Some of the basic tenets of Hinduism define the goals of life as:
1. Dharma or Values, Ethics and Duties
2. Artha or Work and Prosperity
3. Kama or Passion and Desires; and
4. Moksha or Liberation from the cycle of life and death
Reincarnation and Nirvana
Hindus believe in reincarnation; that human beings are in a perpetual cycle of life and death. Liberation from this cycle is Nirvana when the soul of a person merges with the ultimate soul (Atman), the God himself. In order to achieve Nirvana, one must live a simple, holy life and not hurt any living being. Some segments of the religion such as Jainism would do everything to avoid hurting even insects by unknowingly stepping on or inhaling those during breathing.
Curiosity about the spiritual teachings and practices of India have attracted many westerners to India to seek paths of achieving inner peace. Well known people from the west such as Beatles and Steve Jobs sought insights and wisdom to guide them. Indian gurus and Ashrams in India and many other countries have prospered on the premise of offering relief from the pains, sufferings and stresses of life.
When I came to the US, my spirit of exploration and learning extended to understanding various religions and their teachings. I was elected to be the President of India Association in 1969 at the Ohio State University. I sought to build a platform that would strengthen the bond between the Indian Students and their host country, the US. I went to almost all the churches, temples, mosques and other religious institutions to enhance my knowledge and to share what I knew about India. Of the many insights I got from my experiences, one stands out… People are in the most peaceful and the happiest state of mind when they are working together to create something that helps others in need.
A great model of institutionalizing this insight in Indian culture exists in a little town, Beas, India. A religious organization called the Radhaswamis have built a self-sustaining town that is built on a basic premise. That every human being has a talent that can provide services for the well-being of the society. These services can be classified as “Tan Seva” or the physical work; “Man Seva” or the intellectual service as such as teaching others; and “Dhan Seva” or contribution of monetary assets. Serving others, and living a principled life of good values, is a path to inner peace and true happiness.
My father Kanshi Ram Arora seemed to know this intuitively and put this insight into practice to help transform the little village of Pandori Takhat Mal in India. How I used this insight… people working together to create something extraordinary are highly energized and happy… in my corporate career and in my personal life is a subject of my upcoming blog.