Volume 6 - Issue 03
MARCH - 2008
HARNESSING THE HEART - PART 4
…LIVING UP TO THE CHALLENGE OF CONSCIENCE IN DAILY LIFE
The Triumph of the ‘Self’
By Mr. Karthik Ramesh
“This college has not been established just to prepare you for earning degrees. The main purpose is to help you to cultivate self-knowledge and self confidence, so that each one of you can learn self-sacrifice and earn self-realization.”
These words of Bhagavan kept reverberating in my ears throughout my stay at the University, and more so when I left the portals to venture into the corporate “jungle”. And today I can say with confidence that Swami’s Teachings have served as a beacon light in the turbulent world outside.
Self-Confidence – The Sole Energizer of Life
Barely two months after I had been employed by a multi national company, I was on one of the toughest assignments of my life. I was selected to lead a team for a project kickoff and I was asked by my CEO to visit one of the most dangerous countries in the world. This nation was known for its kidnappings, crimes, political upheavals, piracy, labor-relations disruptions, etc., to mention a few security issues.
There was an urgent need for a delegation from our company to visit this African country for a period of two weeks - this immediately after a series of kidnappings of Indians. In fact, the security situation was so volatile, that the Indian Embassy in that country had issued a security advisory, warning any Indian against venturing into that territory. Very few in the company would have ventured for such an assignment, and my CEO later said that he was pleasantly surprised when I jumped at the opportunity presented to me. I did not have the slightest fear, thanks to the confidence in the “Self”.
As we landed after a tiring eight hour flight from Dubai, we were greeted by an airport lacking the most basic facilities and totally unfriendly airport personnel. As we moved to the Visa on Arrival Counter, some of the personnel demanded a bribe for the issue of the visa, and our passports were taken from us for nearly a week after that.
To have stayed in a country without a passport for a week was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of our ‘memorable’ experiences in that foreign land. Our trip from the airport to the hotel was made secure with two pilot vehicles accompanying us with armed guards – a pre-cursor for us on the volatile situation prevailing in the country. The hotel we checked in had recently been attacked by a gang, and one could sense a constant fear in the air.
During this time, we had to undergo the discomfort of checking in and out of multiple hotels, and during this time, I remembered the rigorous schedule we had in the hostel at the Sri Sathya Sai University which built my strength to bear such pressures in life. But, all through these unpleasant experiences, if I was able to maintain my cool and give more than my best to my work, it was solely because of how He had prepared me during my two year stay at the University. But the story does not end here.
Self-Satisfaction - Doing Things Right and Doing the Right Thing
Towards the end of this trip, the client, a global leader in consulting in the US and worldwide, hosted a lunch in appreciation of all our efforts for the successful project kickoff. Under the influence of Swami’s Teachings on non-violence, I never ate in any non-vegetarian restaurant, but unfortunately for me, the lunch was scheduled in a Chinese specialty restaurant serving non-vegetarian food.
Despite prompting from my manager and team, who were accustomed to taking non-vegetarian food, I was totally against even visiting the restaurant. As we awaited the Chief Partner of the consulting company to arrive for lunch, my team was pressuring me to give in to my apparently “adamant” behavior, as it might lead to customer dissatisfaction.
I believed that true satisfaction could come only through adherence to one’s conscience and belief in doing the right thing, rather than doing things right. As I stuck firmly to my resolve, I was desperately praying to Swami to bail me out of the situation without offending the client or my team.
To my relief, on her arrival, the Partner of the consulting company, was pleasantly surprised to learn of the concept of strict vegetarianism and the religious sentiments behind non-violence. The entire discussion then turned into the varieties of vegetarian food available, the goodness of health associated with it, and so on. To my great delight, she also commended me on my strong belief in what was the right thing to do. She, in fact, appreciated my resolve to abstain from non-vegetarian food and it helped to make a good impression demonstrating determination displayed in tough situations.
That I was able to see through successfully the kickoff of the project, amidst a highly unpleasant and eventful trip, was solely due to the first lesson of self-confidence - the belief that the Self and the Indweller, was the sole energizer of life.
Truth Alone Triumphs
Following this tough assignment in Africa, I was sent on another special consulting assignment, this time to the Middle East, which incidentally involved extensive use of Knowledge Management, a subject that is taught in great detail at the Sri Sathya Sai University, in practice as well as theory. The situation demanded a lot of patience and empathy with the clients who were tough and uncompromising sheikhs. Working with a Government was especially difficult, given the high levels of bureaucracy, red-tapism and political complications.
I was inducted as a special IT consultant to the project, when there were quite a few challenges facing us and our partner who had bid for the project. The client had been very unreasonable and things were made increasingly difficult for a project manager from our partner company, who was given the goal of developing a “Knowledge Management System” for the Economic Department of the Government. Given that there were many other competing vendors bidding for the project, we had a month to prove our capabilities and expertise in the field of Knowledge Management by producing a comprehensive reporting system. By the way, this was a subject that Swami had referred to many times in His Discourses to the teachers and students of His University.
On getting into the details of the project, I realized though the assignment was on “Knowledge Management Systems”, the scope of work given to us was more on “Management Information Systems”. I was asked to come up with a comprehensive architecture of how the final system would work, including all the technical details and also develop a working prototype for the same. Basing on the learning I had gained while at the University, I realized that though the scope was more towards a reporting system, the real need was that of a comprehensive knowledge system. The reporting system would meet the short term requirements, but it would not address the long term need of the Government. I also realized that though using our head would ensure success, empathizing with the client and using our heart would give them greater benefits.
As I chalked out the entire knowledge roadmap for the Government with the team and conducted several stakeholder interviews across the departments to gather the client requirements, I was faced with tough situations wherein I really had to put into practice patience, empathy and treat the customer with Love. I developed the firm belief that if we could look beyond the normal practice of Customer Delight and Customer Satisfaction and treat our Customers as ‘Gods’ with Love rather than respect, the results were bound to be successful. And slowly, I developed a healthy rapport and garnered co-operation from all sections in the Government. This also enabled us by turning around a few of the non-cooperative staff who later fell in line with the project objectives and worked as a team.
During one of the discussions with a key stakeholder and top official in the Government, which would determine if the deal would be made or broken, we were faced with a peculiar situation with the client. During the discussion, the client started off on a totally tangential topic on the subject of Geographic Information Systems and made it a critical success factor for our project. Instantaneously my mind flashed back to the day when in 2006, Swami had personally blessed one of our visiting professors to take up this advanced course which was a very niche field in India and was a topic by itself. We never knew how or why the course was introduced, but some of us opted for it thinking it might be useful in future. And thanks to the knowledge imparted by Swami through the professors, I was able to manage a very tough Sheikh! I spoke confidently and the discussion was a success.
Now, continuing the “Knowledge Management” story, at the end of our one month evaluation, we found that there were many similar initiatives running in parallel in the various sections of the Government. But due to internal rivalry and the race to get recognized by the Ministry, there was no real knowledge sharing happening. So I highlighted this to my manager and the director of our partner company and said that the real need, as opposed to their want, is a “Knowledge Management System” through sharing of knowledge.
We were then faced with a choice of either simply wrapping up the contract by providing the customer what they wanted (a simple reporting system) or giving them what they actually needed – a comprehensive Knowledge Management System.
Given that this was our first consulting assignment in that part of the world, it would have been very easy simply to provide them with a reporting solution and walk away with the prized contract. But my heart and our team’s collective conscience prompted us to abide by Truth - even if it meant losing the contract to other bidders. Also most of the work we did was out-of-scope from the project perspective.
As we prepared the recommendations report, and made the final presentation to the top management in Government, we confidently explained to them the truth of the current scenario and how what they wanted was not in line with their actual needs.
We stressed on how, apart from IT based systems, through an environment of “sharing” knowledge, Knowledge Management could truly be developed. We also suggested use of Open Source Software that could lead to cost cuts and other benefits.
At the same time, we also made it clear that we would only develop and provide a system along these lines as it was the most appropriate solution that would provide them with tangible benefits in the long run. We told them we did not mind losing the contract to other vendors who would probably provide them with a reporting system and left the decision to the Ministry.
The client was highly appreciative of our transparent method of execution and commended our sincere efforts to bring about a radical change across the Government through our actions. They acknowledged being awakened to the reality of the situation and complimented us for having taken extra steps and efforts to ensure that we addressed their real need.
Though we initially did not hear from them post our final presentation, we were sure that our adherence to Truth would see us through. And sure enough, in about two months, the client approached us again, requesting that we take the project ahead for them. It was Truth that triumphed. We were satisfied to the brim, thanks to the confidence we had in our inner selves. From Self-Satisfaction, we move on to Self-Sacrifice.
Self-Sacrifice – Leave Everything to Him
During my second trip to the same African country, a few more lessons that I learnt at the Lotus Feet were put to practice. I tried to understand, through my conversations with the local workers and laborers, what was driving the youth of this country to take to vandalism, crime and hooliganism. I learnt that though it was an oil-rich country, there was a huge divide between the rich and the poor, due to asymmetry in the wealth earned through the distribution of profits. Hence, on the one hand, one could see excellent development in certain parts of the country, while there was a stark contrast visible in the basic living conditions of the people on the street, who were mostly disease ridden, poor and barely managing to survive. This had instigated corruption at all levels of the Government.
Less Luggage, More Comfort
During my return trip, at the International Airport, I was in for a big surprise. I saw no automatic luggage/security scanners there. A serpentine queue of men and women was lined up at the checking counter to get their baggage manually rummaged by a handful of security personnel.
To my utter dismay, I also noticed certain people bypassing the main line by paying a few hundreds or thousands in local currency, and directly proceeding to the check-in counter. I ignored repeated requests of the security personnel to “oblige” them in a “friendly” way, and save time for the waiting passengers. The level of aircraft safety was seriously questionable given that anyone could carry in anything for a few thousand currency notes.
Ignoring the requests, I moved on confidently to the check-in counter and in a non-controversial, suggestive manner apprised them of the security situation. The check-in staff of the leading airline I was about to travel by just shrugged it off, saying it was a pretty “normal” affair in this part of the world. Not only that, they shockingly demanded from me five hundred US dollars in return for a boarding pass citing “excess baggage” as the reason.
She even handed over a memo and confiscated my boarding pass saying till I paid up, I would not be allowed to board the aircraft. I was really in a dilemma as I had to make it to Dubai the following morning, and my conscience would not give in to paying bribes to the airport personnel.
Also, there was increasing pressure from a queue of waiting and impatient passengers behind me to move on, while the check-in staff in front of me was making it extremely difficult by demanding a bribe. In such a situation, I prayed to Swami to show me some light through His Teachings and separated myself from the queue moving my luggage to a corner. As I opened my luggage, I traced the reason for an excess for baggage to a number of instant cook vegetarian food packets that I was carrying along with me, since I was strict vegetarian. Also I had purchased gifts and artifacts for friends and family, and normally this level of excess baggage was not a serious concern for most airline companies.
As if an answer to my prayer, a short red African porter wearing a red dress walked up to me, and said “Indian, Indian”. Thinking of him as another corrupt airport staff, I continued to ignore him till he bellowed to me a reminder of Swami’s Teaching “Less Luggage, More Comfort”. It was an instantaneous wake-up call that in life as well as travel, less luggage led to more comfort. The porter told me that this was a major worry for most passengers and that the corrupt airline staff would not let me board my flight unless I paid them handsomely.
It was almost as if Swami was giving me a key message to offload my burden - the food packets and gifts - and I decided to offload most of my baggage. I understood that this was His way of making me give away all my shopping items, presents I purchased, to the poor airport personnel. I called the security body guards who had accompanied my car to the airport and did what we do in most Sai Centres – “Narayana Seva” in an African context!
While distributing my stuff, I also realized, many of these poor staff had not eaten food for some time now and they were more than pleased and touched at my gesture. I also fondly recalled the Grama Seva we conduct by giving food to all and ensured that while giving away the food packets and gifts I had, there was the same intensity of love expressed as Swami had taught us during the Grama Seva. I distributed everything extra and felt lighter and happier in having acted as a volunteer in an unexpected but mini ‘Narayana Seva’. But what happened next was amazing.
Moved by this gesture, the porter who had initially approached me, went up to the check-in staff, had a long heated discussion with them and finally, ensured that I got my boarding pass from them without paying any bribes.
I felt it was really Swami’s own way of testing my resolve to stick to Truth, while imparting an important lesson in “Less Luggage and More Comfort”. Only after we sacrifice, can we realize the “Self”. And this is how that realization dawned on me.
Self Realization – The Self Triumphs Come What May
On my second trip to the African country, which I had truly begun to consider as a “God-forsaken” land, I had some unexpected and interesting experiences which proved my perception as being totally incorrect.Fortunately in this trip, I was also accompanied by one of my classmates from the Sri Sathya Sai University, who had joined my company.
On reaching Africa, we decided to spend at least one weekend visiting the local Sai Centre and after searching for the Centre addresses on the Internet, we found the address of one and decided to visit it.
We set out on a bumpy road that resembled the good old Wild West kind of dust roads to the place of our “discovery”. It was a distance of 4-5 kms from our hotel suite on the Highway and as we drove across the terrain with our security guard in the front seat of the cab who was himself grumbling about the bad road, poor weather and the sorry state of law and order, we wondered if we had taken the right decision, and that too on a lonely Sunday afternoon.
Moreover, before we left, we had told our concerned team mates in our hotel not to worry about us as we were off to "see our alumni" (read Sai devotees!). It was not that we did not want to discuss Swami with them, but we did not want to be dissuaded from making this much awaited visit to a Sai Center, and Sunday was the only free day we had. We were also confident that He would take full care of our onward and return journey from the Center.
Before we left, we had promised our colleagues that “our alumni” would also drop us back, and as we said this, both of us prayed to Swami that He should arrange a safe trip to the suite from the Center as it would be late night when we returned, and it was our first ever trip outside in that difficult country.
We arrived at the Sai Center to find a beautifully decorated altar with a life size statue set of Lord Krishna and Rukmini with Guru Nanakji's pictures on both sides and Swami's photo at the centre. We were then asked to speak about our experiences and for the next half hour we recalled our beautiful experiences with Swami during our MBA days. But imagine this! After our talk, we were suddenly approached by a couple of our Sathya Sai alumni brothers in the Center (Ravy and Mahesh from Puttaparthi and Brindavan)!
It was definitely His doing; it was He who prompted those words when we said we are off to see “our alumni”. And we spent the rest of the evening with them talking about Swami. And what is more, the alumni brothers were also kind enough to ensure that we were safely dropped back to our hotel later in the night. As Swami says, you take one step towards Me and I will take a hundred towards you...
I remembered an interview when Swami had said to me - "Today you are physically near, tomorrow you may be physically far"... I did not realize far would mean as far as this African Nation! At that moment, all of us around Swami had scrambled and begged to Swami to remain dear to Him forever, and He so sweetly consented - "Yes, you will all be dear to Me forever." Perhaps this visit was just a reminder of that promise.
When we have confidence in Him, He never ever fails us. And through these little instances of His Presence and Grace, He strengthens our inner self to such an extent that we become as fearless and as loving as Him. From Self-Confidence, holding His Hand, we easily reach the state of Self-Realization. But everything starts with faith.
Illustrations: Ms. Lyn Kriegler Elliott, New Zealand
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Vol 6 Issue 03 - MARCH 2008
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