Managerial practices described in Hindu scriptures



Indian heritage goes back thousands of years. Although it is difficult to arrive at a firm figure it is a fair estimate to say that our scriptures go back to between 3000 and 5000 BC or thereabouts. A study of our ancient Indian scripture that includes the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana and Mahabharata besides Manusmriti and Arthashashtra reveals a veritable treasure trove. This treasure includes the finest guidelines into the way man is expected to behave towards his family, his society and his colleagues.

In today’s modern times the world moves guided by modern managerial precepts at every step. Irrespective of whether the subject concerns finances and banking or the corporate sector, the production industry or the military and agriculture or the vast engineering field or the health services, management is what guides them all. In recent times we have seen how poor managerial practices have brought about chaos all over the world. This essay is an attempt to delve into our rich heritage and try to find out likely solutions in the Vedic and other scriptures to problems that confront modern man in the discharge of his or her managerial functions.

Fields of Management

Knowingly or unknowingly we apply the basic principles of modern management at home every day and man has been doing it since time immemorial. However, today these principles have been formalized. Today whether you are at the factory or in the office and whether you are a government servant, a corporate executive or a self-employed entrepreneur, you will apply modern managerial principles in solving everyday problems. These problems can be sub-divided into time management, personnel management and materials management besides the management of machinery and finance as well as the prioritization of the manner in which we discharge various functions.

Failure of Modern Management

In the recent past we have witnessed the manner in which modern management has failed us. The sub-prime cases leading to serious turmoil not only in the American market but worldwide as well are a very recent occurrence. The cascading effect led to countries buckling down like nine pins. These included Greece and Spain besides other European countries. Several companies in the west filed for bankruptcy while layoffs were rampant.

Rising debts meant the inability of people to pay off housing loans and this in turn led to spiraling cases of failures of large companies such as Lehman Brothers and AIG as well as the Bank of America. It was obvious that there was an inherent weak streak in the modern principles of management and this was the reason for the inability of managers to first of all see the financial collapse coming and thereafter being unable to take corrective measures in time so that normalcy could be restored quickly.

Basis of Modern Management

The general principles of management can be applied to all organizations. This is true wherever the goal needs to be achieved as directed by the CEO or a Manager. This goal will be achieved with the help of workers placed under him. The CEO or the Manager must have certain qualities. These are:

·         Vision and the ability to plan the strategy to achieve this vision.

·         Leadership qualities

·         Building an effective organization.

·         Team Work

·         The Development of Human Resources

·         The basic building blocks of an efficient organization that are:

  •  Delegation of duty
  • Motivation of personnel
  • Communication both upwards and downwards

·         Frequent performance review and course correction where necessary.

It is obvious therefore that at the crux of modern management is the manager himself. It is he/she who will ultimately build a fine team of efficient, qualified and trained personnel. Having created this team the manager will thereafter work towards the goal for its successful fruition. Any failure of management is therefore owing to the failure of the manager. This is also borne out by our scriptures. The entire thrust should be to groom good managers. Once again we will see how managers need to groom themselves so that they are successful in guiding their teams to the successful achievement of the end result.

Grooming the Manager

A few lines from the Atharva Veda are pertinent.

“O King! Take care of the welfare and growth of all your people

Then you will grow as the sun grows

And shines at dawn and after its rise”

Here, the Chief Executive is compared with the sun. He should have no fear. He should be persistent in his efforts towards his assigned goal which is basically dedicated to the growth of all those that have been placed in his care.

In another example the Yajur Veda exhorts one to “continue to put in one’s best efforts for 100 years or whole lifetime with detachment from its results”.

Lord Krishna in Bhagvad Gita also enlightens us on managerial techniques to be followed in order to succeed in not only leading a good life but also in overcoming all conflicts and tensions and above all in achieving the task one has set out to achieve.

Attaining Self Growth

Peter Drucker, the modern day management guru, way back in 1974 stated that anyone in the chain has to ask himself who he was, what his strengths were and where he belonged as well as how he needed to work and what his contribution was to be. This basically concerns the task of managing oneself and goes back to the Bhagwad Gita where Lord Krishna says:

“The senses are said to be superior to the body,

The mind is superior to the senses and

Intellect is superior to the mind and

That which is superior to the intellect is He (Atman)”.

In order to understand one-self a manager will have to cultivate his thoughts. He will need to seek knowledge so that he is able to make decisions that are well informed.

Contrasting Paradigms

The contrasting paradigms in western and Indian philosophy are evident. The western precepts of management deal with all problems at the materialistic level. How must profit are we going to make? It is this ideology that was at the base of the subprime crisis. Bankers threw all their rules and regulations out of the window in their greed and the desire to make more profits.

The ideas in the Bhagvad Gita however tackle the issues at the grass root level. The drive is in enhancing the thought process of man so that his quality of action and hence the result will naturally be pure and good. The shloka from Bhagvad Gita is very significant:

“Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana

Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurma Tey Sangostva Akarkani” (2.47)

The above lines stress upon the concept of Karma and that “we have only the right to work, but not on the consequences of the fruits of that action.” This stress on working with an ideal as apart from working for results is far superior and perfectly suited for modern management.

Be In-Sync with Organizational Goal and Vision

Bhagwad Gita therefore teaches us that all managers must focus on their work and be in-sync with the vision and mission of the organization. Once all workers and managers are in-sync, excellence is bound to be the result. The other important lesson we glean from the scripture is the concept of Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas, the three gunas of Prakriti, Mother Nature, that is one of the two manifestations of Brahman, the greater self while Purusha or one’s consciousness is the other manifestation.

Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas

While Sattwa represents knowledge and wisdom besides ethical and moral conduct, Rajas stands for passion, action and perseverance. Tamas, on the other hand stands for inactivity, ignorance and recklessness. For an organization to do well, it is important for it to have a proper balance among these three gunas. If there is lack of Sattwa in an organization, it means that this organization will tend to adopt practices that are corrupt and unethical. If an organization lacks in Rajas, the organization will not be innovative and will not be able to nurture talents. Both these organizations will tend to encourage Tamas and hence will be regressive. Unethical practices, excess of ambition and bitter competition where no holds are barred are all due to degradation of Sattwic or Rajas guna and the rise of Tamasic tendencies and will invariably result in the collapse of the organization.

The Bhagwad Gita says:

Sattva sanjayate gyanam rajasolobha eva cha

Pramada mohau tamaso bhavato gyanam eva cha (14.17)

This means that from Sattwa comes knowledge, from Rajas comes greed and from Tamas come ignorance, illusion and inactivity.  

Pull in the Same Direction

In the western style of management the drive is to extract maximum from the organization whether it is from the CEO or from the worker in the chain. Everyone can be hired and fired for the cause of productivity. Here productivity is synonymous with profits. This makes workers as just another resource. The workers on finding that they were being exploited reacted in the form of protests, strikes and bandhs. Their attitude hardened when they started looking at the problem from their angle alone. Little did they realize that their actions would lower productivity and ultimately may endanger their job security. The correct approach by both the management and the workers is to keep the vision as the objective and work towards the common goal. Here, the answer is to have a balance among Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. Besides, the leader must maintain the karmic approach and not be concerned about the fruits of his actions.

Best Managerial Practices

One can also look closely at the scriptures for the philosophy of management that was being practiced by our ancestors. When Duryodhana chose Lord Krishna’s army and Arjuna selected the Lord’s wisdom we appreciate the need to select the right resources. Arjuna was evidently the better manager.

Enough has been said already about the verse 2.47 of the Bhagwad Gita that dwells on the need to be unattached to the fruits of your labor. The Gita also talks on the cause and effect theory. However, detachment does not absolve one of his responsibilities. Above all, performing nishkarma karma is definitely the right attitude to one’s work as it dissociates the mind from unnecessary stresses as well as the need of speculating on either gains or losses.

An important aspect in the Gita relates to the advice to perform all actions while being in communion with divinity. This means that one must move away from all the needs of I and me. All activities must be in pursuit of excellence in praise of the divine. One can find clear enunciation of this in Isopanishad’s first mantra. This says that “whatever exists in the Universe is enveloped by God”.

The Lord’s advice is relevant:

“Tasmat sarveshu kaaleshu mamanusmarah yuddha cha”

Therefore, under all circumstances, remember Me and then fight”. Here, the fight means the performance of one’s duties.

Lord Krishna’s words in the third chapter of Bhagwad Gita are also significant “He who shares the wealth generated only after serving the people, through work done as a sacrifice for them, is freed from all the sins. On the contrary those who earn wealth only for themselves, eat sins that lead to frustration and failure”. He also says in the 10th Chapter of the Gita “I am the strength of those who are devoid of personal desire and attachment. O Arjuna, I am the legitimate desire in those, who are not opposed to righteousness”

An important aspect that has been brought out by Adi Sankara is in relation to the performance of one’s duty. He says that calm and equipoise must be maintained during both success and failure. When he is calm during failure he will be able to introspect and will be able to find the reason for the failure and thereafter can take corrective measures.


Modern management theories are observed everywhere. However, it is evident that these theories are not without holes and inaccuracies. (Alprazolam) Above all there have been several cases in the recent past where excellent managers have failed. This failure is possibly because of a lack of respect for ethical values. Hindu scriptures are rich in offering guidance to man who is the CEO as well as the worker. Reverting to our ancient scriptures and seeking guidance is the right approach in our endeavor to be responsible managers.

1.   Bhagavad Gita and Management by M P Bhattathiry
2.   Modern Management Through Ancient Indian Wisdom: Towards a More Sustainable Paradigm (Anindo Bhattacharjee Lecturer, School of Management Sciences, Varanasi)
3.   Contribution of Hinduism to Modern Day Management (
4.   Business excellence enshrined in Vedic (Hindu) philosophy