Sunday, June 15, 2014

Reading Guide: 1A. Pattanaik. Business Sutra.

Be sure to check out the Business Sutra Overview for more information! The ideas that Devdutt Pattanaik (DP) presents here in the Introduction are important for the book overall, but there are not a lot of stories for retelling, so make sure you read Part B this week to look for stories you might want to retell. As you take notes for this section, just look for ideas that can help you understand the purpose of telling (and retelling) ancient myths — and remember: the Greek word mythos meant exactly that: a mythos was a story.

I have focused on providing information about Indian terminology, along with links to Wikipedia articles and other online resources:


Sanskrit Terms:
rishis - holy men
ananta - un-ending, infinite
sukshma - subtle; it is also a form of yoga


Connecting Belief to Business

The idea of "subjective truth" is central in all of DP's writings: "Belief is subjective truth, my truth and your truth, the lens through which we make sense of the world."

Sanskrit Terms:
satyam: what is true (compare also Gandhi's satyagraha)
shivam: what is good (as in the name of the god, Shiva)
sundaram: what is beautiful (as in the Ramayana's Sundara Kanda)
shanti: what is peace (as in the Shanti Mantra)

Sanskrit Term:
sutra: string, thread - also refers to a book which is composed of short sayings which are like threads you can use to weave a philosophy

DP compares the goal-oriented assumptions of Western business practice as being related to Greek quest for Elysium, and Biblical quest for Promised Land.

Belief, Myth, and Mythology

DP contrasts believers who think their belief is objective truth with the subjective truth of mythology: "For the believer, his belief is objective truth; he therefore rejects the notion of myth, and shuns the subject of mythology."

Like DP, I embrace myths and mythology in a positive sense, and also the crucial role of imagination for human existence: "every human being inhabits his own customized personalized subjective version of reality that no one else has access to. [...] This brings about the awareness of the self (my view versus the view of others), and the need for language, creativity and reason (to communicate my view and convince others of my view)."

Decoding Culture

STORY: The priest and the pot of gold.
(this is really the only story in the Introduction, but after this Introduction, the book will feature many stories drawn from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and also stories about the gods and goddesses of India)

DP now contrasts Western quest for objective truth with a different Indian perspective: "Ancient Indian sages would have been wary of it for they looked upon the quest for the objective and absolute as the root cause of intolerance and violence."

DP's comments about the "era of remixes" definitely applies to this class where you will read a lot of remix stories: "Ravan could be worshipped and Ram reviled." [note the Hindi versions of the names Ravan=Ravana and Ram=Rama]

Connecting Mythology and Management

DP refers to the era of the Licence Raj in Indian business; you can read about that at Wikipedia: Licence Raj: "the elaborate system of licences, regulations and accompanying red tape that were required to set up and run businesses in India between 1947 and 1990."

Did you notice the allusion to the Middle Eastern story of Aladdin and the lamp? "The more I explored mythology, the more I left like Aladdin in a cave of undiscovered treasures."

DP refers in passing to Jungian archetypes (which he sees as Western, not universal); you can find out more about Jungian archetypes at Wikipedia.

DP declares his affinity for symbolic and psychological readings over historical and sociological readings: "I realized how mythology tends to be read literally, causing it to be seen through a sociological and historical lens (did Ram exist?) when, in fact, its greatest value comes when it is read symbolically and seen in psychological terms (what aspect of our personality does Ram represent?)."

And so this is how he characterizes mythology: "Mythology is, after all, the map of the human mind."

That idea is the foundation for the whole book: "Since the most popular mode of expression in India was the mythic, I chose to glean business wisdom from the grand jigsaw puzzle of stories, symbols and rituals that originated and thrived in the Indian subcontinent, especially in the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh faiths."

Check Wikipedia for all four of these religious traditions which will be represented in this book's stories: Hindu — Jain — Buddhist — Sikh

Sanskrit Terms:
"Mythologies of Indian origin value the nirguna (intangible and immeasurable) over the saguna (tangible and measurable), in other words the subjective over the objective."

Becoming Chief Belief Officer - Design of the Book

DP explains that a sutra is a "string" (see above) which relates both to the design and goal of the book: "There is no standard answer. There is no correct answer. The point is to keep expanding the mind to accommodate more views and string them into a single whole."

Another great expression of the goal of this book: "It celebrates my truth and your truth, and the human capability to expand the mind, thanks to imagination."

Sanskrit Terms:
Dharma: this is a central term in both Hinduism and Buddhism; it can be translated in many ways into English: truth, law, duty, justice
yajaman: this can be translated as "leader" but it is related to the Sanskrit word yaj (sacrifice), about which DP will have much to say later

Term from Indian cooking:
ghee: clarified butter

I love this statement about "connecting the dots" — if you think about how people tell and retell interconnected stories, you will see that storytelling is a very similar process: "A book by its very nature creates the delusion of linearity, but the subject being presented is itself not linear. Think of Business Sutra as a rangoli or kolam, patterns created by joining a grid of dots, drawn for centuries every morning. [...] Every idea in this book is a dot that the reader can join to create a pattern. Every pattern is beautiful so long as it includes all the dots. And no pattern is perfect. Every pattern is usually an incomplete section of a larger pattern known to someone else."

You can read more about rangoli, kolam, and alpana at Wikipedia.

Here is the concluding paragraph of the chapter, which ends with a saying that DP often cites: "Ideas presented can always change, or be further elaborated, or explained differently, by different people in different times and different places faced with different challenges. For now, every time you disagree, and wish to argue, and are driven by the belief that there must be one truth and only one truth, find peace by reminding yourself: Within infinite myths lies an eternal truth; who sees it all? Varuna has but a thousand eyes; Indra, a hundred; you and I, only two."

Sanskrit Terms:
Sahasraksha: thousand-eyed
Shataksha: hundred-eyed
Varuna: god of the sea
Indra: king of the gods

(Varuna, god of the sea: V&A Museum)

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