Time is perhaps the scarcest commodity in an' executive's life. He is forever short of time; there is much more to be done than time permits and a feeling of being perpetually behind time pervades. In Bihar School of Yoga the striking feature is that there is an abundance of time for doing all that needs to be done. There is a feeling that there is ample time for all the daily duties, and what is more important time for the finer aspects of life such as meditation and kirtan.
In business and industry there is a collection of people from different walks of life, with different backgrounds. They have come together in one place for one objective, viz. to earn a living. They come, they work the stipulated hours and are eager to return home at the end of the day. Besides work and earning, they have little in common. At first sight, in their saffron coloured robes, all sannyasins look alike. However, as you mingle with them, you realize that they too come from different walks of life and varied backgrounds. Thus there are doctors, engineers, teachers, lecturers, farmers, plumbers and so on. They have gravitated to the ashram from different parts of the globe. They are not paid, and they may not earn a living, but they make a life - and what is more, prepare for the next one. What has brought them together is a love and reverence for their guru. After a day's work they are not eager to leave, because they live in the ashram which is their home.
The executive starts for his office early, by his standards, at 8.30 a.m. If he is pressed for time, he browses through the daily paper or office papers as he commutes to the office. He works under pressure the whole day. The office hours invariably run longer than the official hours, and so he stays on in the office until late. Of course, in between there may be the business lunch which may stretch over two hours or more. The emphasis is more on discussing the objective to be achieved rather than on the meal. Alternatively, due to pressure of work, he manages with a two minute sandwich lunch at the desk or has no lunch at all. On some evenings he has to attend a business cocktail party. There he starts with a 'sun-downer' and before long he has had one too many. The ashram life starts at 4 a.m. or earlier for all sannyasins, who have cleaning duties allotted to them. The working day proceeds with clockwork precision with breaks for lunch and afternoon tea at fixed times. The food is sattwic, simple and spartan, and is eaten in natural surroundings, on lawns and under trees. Meals are undisturbed by blaring band music, though sometimes nature's birds do provide a melodious background.
Someone may gather the impression that life in an ashram is entirely dull and humdrum, however, ashram life also has its events and highlights. For excitement, receipt of a wagon load of coal is hard to beat. Moving twenty odd tons (three full lorry loads) of coal from outside the ashram to the coal bins inside is an operation that has to be seen to be believed. A veritable human conveyor of sannyasins ferries buckets of coal from outside the gate to the bins. The operation takes hours and stretches into the early morning, a real memorable late night for the ashram. The work is hard but spirits are high and with midnight snacks, the atmosphere is that of an unusual picnic. The bonus is the heavenly deep sleep you get the next night.
The executive's life would be incomplete without modern medicines, well equipped nursing homes and the ritual of regular medical checkups. The rich and abundant food he eats, the drinks he downs, and above all the manner in which he eats and drinks ensure that all the company facilities will not go unutilized. The lack of physical exertion and exercise in his high pressure daily routine aggravates the situation further. However, as time is the essence of executive life, the recovery has to be quick. So treatment is for symptoms rather than cause of disease, the objective being temporary relief rather than permanent cure. Thus diseases are suffered rather than eliminated until the ultimate day of reckoning comes, under the philosophy that these bridges will be crossed when we reach them.
In ashram life sickness and disease are rare, probably because of the simple food and living habits. The fact that people with diseases come to the ashram to get cured supports this observation. Treatments are simple, based on yoga therapy and aimed at long term cure both from physical and psychological standpoints. No quick panaceas are offered and the patient's active participation in the curing process is a novel feature.
One wit has defined an executive as one who delegates responsibility, apportions the blame, and appropriates the credit. However, more seriously, an executive is rated for not what he can do but what he can get done, by others. To fulfil his role the usual adjuncts provided include: a smart secretary, three telephones, electronic calculator, expense account, credit card, car, etc. To save time he of course travels by plane. A recent refinement is the Management Information System which uses the modern genie, the computer. Ashram life is a complete contrast. You do not get things done by others but learn to do them yourself, whether it be washing clothes, cleaning your plate and mug, or sweeping your room. Dignity of labour is raised to the high level of karma yoga. The senior most sannyasins would not hesitate to clean the toilets if required to do so. The most routine jobs, be it in the kitchen, printing press, office or garden, are done with a cheerfulness and dedication that is indeed rare.
One of the hallmarks of an executive's life is tension. With telephones ringing, telex and telegraphic messages, papers piling up, and problems pressing for solutions, tension build-up is natural. Rushed business visits are another feature of the executive's busy life. Airlines have made a novel contribution in building up tension by increasing the irregularity of their flights to a regularity that would command respect if delays were planned. Tranquility and peace are conspicuous by their absence, while lush and pressure are the order of the day.
Bihar School of Yoga enjoys a quiet and peaceful atmosphere that emanates from certain basic ashram rules. Thus there are no newspapers allowed and the use of transistors is barred. This removes the outside disturbances. It is amazing how one soon gets used to this and realizes that the daily dose of political news, sports roundup, and sensational coverage of accidents, murder and war are readily dispensable, and their absence does not make much difference. The ashram has its own style of cool, quiet efficiency - by which everything gets done well and in good time. There the rush and pressure are conspicuous by their absence.
Another major feature of the executive's life is conflict, which is constant and continuous. He has to endeavour to fulfil many conflicting loyalties, viz. to his superiors, subordinates, workers, shareholders and last but not least his family. This tight ropewalking is exceedingly difficult. Furthermore, there are the interdepartmental conflicts. Then there is the problem of staff versus labour and then staff and labour versus management. It is a rare happy case where these are absent, but then one can always count on bitter conflict with the competitor. Competition is the watchword, and life is constant struggle for survival and hopefully for success. The great advantage in ashram life is that the sannyasins do not have to fulfil conflicting loyalties; their only loyalty is to the guru. The ashram has hardly any conflicts, at least externally. However, internally, the struggle for control over the quicksilver mind is a constant and a continuous one. But that is hidden - the sannyasin wages this personal battle alone, though he is ever under the benign influence and guidance of the guru.
In executive life, motivation is a key word. How do you motivate people to do better, to put forth their best? The known motivators are money, status, job satisfaction. However, with growing trade union powers, the subject is getting more and more complex. Some of the motivators turn out to be self-defeating; for example, the higher the wages the greater the future demand and dissatisfaction.
In ashram life motivation is self-generated. A lot of work gets done with high efficiency and a minimum of external supervision or compulsion. One is reminded of an anecdote where the Second World War's famous leader General Eisenhower was to give a lecture on leadership. Instead of giving a long lecture the general simply took out a string and put it on the table. He tried to push it from one end but it hardly moved. Then he pulled it from the other end and the string moved smoothly. The general advised his officers, 'So gentlemen, your men must not be pushed but led.' Thus the inspiring leadership of the guru and the shining example set by the senior sannyasins may explain the remarkable self-motivation displayed by the sannyasins.
The executive has the job satisfaction of achieving targets and fulfilling deadlines, providing much needed employment, and creating national wealth. However, management by objective implies that achievement of one goal should lead to setting up of another higher target. On the other side, signing of one settlement and winning improved wages and working conditions by the union lays the seed for the next higher demand for the future. Thus the fulfilment of one objective creates another and bigger one. The cycle is complex, self-generating and endless, and so are the attendant problems, tensions and conflicts. In the ashram the achievements are mostly personal and internal. Each achievement brings mental peace, calmness and happiness, and provides inspiration for the next one. The greater the development of the sannyasin the more modest and humble he becomes.
If the ashram's ideals and practices, after appropriate modifications, could be applied to business-cum-industry, they might provide a possible solution to the present ills, problems and conflicts of the 'booming' business world.