Volume 9 - Issue 08
August 2011
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Posted on: Aug 09, 2011


Radio Sai Study Circle – 5  (PART 02)



Part 01

- Read Other Episodes of Study Circle -

Quality Vs Quantity

GSS: Now, let us move to the second sub-theme which is about quality and quantity. Many times in life, we get so obsessed with numbers and think 'I have to achieve so many things' - 'I have to achieve this goal', 'I have to achieve these numbers', 'I have to produce so many items' and so on. And in that process, we just forsake quality. So how do we really strike this balance? Amey, what do you think of this?

AD: I am reminded once again of how much importance Swami attaches to quality. I was still in school when this happened. The University students had not scored as good marks as Bhagavan was expecting. And so He was quite disappointed. I still vividly remember Him coming out and standing right in the middle of the verandah in Prasanthi Nilayam and saying: "I don't want barrels of donkey milk; I want a teaspoon of cow's milk."

GSS: Yes, Swami would repeat that statement so often.

AD: And then He went on to say: "You are not able to respect one mother's love; the mother that sent you over here. How can you respect a thousand mothers' love?" That is the level of importance Swami accords to quality.

KMG: In fact Swami substantiates this with a story from the Mahabharata. He says: "A person who has discrimination will chose quality over quantity." And He gives this episode from the Mahabharata: Before the war starts Arjuna and Duryodhana approach Lord Krishna seeking help and support. Duryodhana comes first and sits next to Krishna's head. Arjuna comes later and takes his position at His feet.

Then the all-knowing Lord Krishna very mischievously opens His eyes and greets Arjuna first: "Oh, you have come. Tell me what do you want?" Immediately, Duryodhana roars from the other side and says: "Excuse me, I came here first." Lord Krishna then says: "Okay, then you tell me what you want."

Duryodhana says: "Obviously, both of us have come here to seek Your help for the great war that is to come." Lord Krishna asks: "What help do you want from Me?" He says: "Whatever help You can give." So Krishna says: "I will give you a choice. Either you choose Me, alone and unarmed, or  My entire Yadava army [which had some of the best warriors of the time]. Make your choice."

'Krishna Raya Baram': Drama staged by Bhagawan's students in the Sai Kulwant hall, January 2007.

And somehow Krishna made Duryodhana agree that the first choice should be given to Arjuna because he was the younger of the two. Duryodhana very reluctantly agreed but was worried that if Arjuna chose to take the Yadava army, then what would he do with an unarmed Krishna?

Arjuna, obviously the one with discrimination, said: "Lord, I want You and You alone." Duryodhana was more than happy. He took the thousands of great warriors of the Yadava clan, and we all know what the outcome of the war was. One Krishna made all the difference to the Pandava army, while in spite of the thousands of Yadava warriors, the Kauravas perished.

SG: In this context of quality versus quantity, I am reminded about an incident narrated by Mrs. Geetha Ram (a long standing devotee of Bhagawan), which occurred sometime in the 1970s. Swami had called her and a few other devotees for an interview. There was one particular lady in that group who was requesting Swami repeatedly to come to her hometown, even though Swami was apparently ignoring her.

Then finally Swami looked at her and said: "I have not only come to your town, but I have even come to your home." Then He asked: "How is the seva going on in your town?" She replied that it was going on well.

In those days Swami had directed devotees to keep aside a morsel of rice everyday while cooking at home. At the end of the month this rice was to be collected from every household and used for poor feeding (Narayana seva). In that context, Swami asked the lady: "Are you giving two rupees rice or five rupees rice?" She replied reluctantly: "Good rice, Swami."

Swami retorted: "For poor people, for narayana seva, you give two rupees rice and for family, you sue five rupees rice. The former is not clean and is full of stones. That is what you have been giving." Even then, the lady had the audacity to say: "No Swami." Then, Bhagawan got up from His chair and said: "You don't believe Me? Two years back, I came to your house as a beggar, and you gave Me rice which was saved for narayana seva. You brought it in a red cloth bundle. You still don't believe Me? Wait."

Swami went inside to the inner room and came out with a red bag and said: "Did you not give this to Me?" You can imagine the plight of the poor lady. The basic message which Swami was trying to convey was the importance of doing service with love; that quality is far more important than quantity. If you don't see Sai in the person you are serving, then it would be better not to do the service.

BP: The quality of intention is so important. Actually at this point I cannot help but recall that famous incident related to the construction of the Super Specialty Hospital. A small boy who was at that time studying in Swami's school, in probably the 8th or the 9th class, heard about the construction of the Hospital and had this intense desire to contribute in some small way. So he started saving his pocket money by doing little things like washing his own clothes and so on.

He did this for a few days and was able to save 100 rupees. Then he came to darshan with that money and offered a letter to Swami in which he said: "Swami, so many devotees give You so much. I do not have anything to offer You materially. Now, all I have is this 100 rupee note. You are constructing this 100 crore hospital, Swami, please will You be gracious enough to accept this? Even if one brick can be brought with this money, I will be so happy."

Swami was much moved. Immediately after reading this letter, He rushed out of the interview room holding this piece of paper in His hand and asked for the boy. He then read that letter again and again. For the next one hour, He kept talking about this boy and lauding his devotion and the sincerity of love that he had in his heart for Swami. And He even said: "This hundred rupees is more valuable to Me than the huge donations that I have received from others." I don't think there can be a better example than this for quality of love.

AD: It was the quality of intention that mattered to Swami.

GSS: Above all it was the impact factor. The impact that this one hundred rupee note had made is similar to the case of Antonio’s violins. They are auctioned for millions of dollars because of the type of music that this violin can produce, which is not possible with other run-of-the-mill violins. And that's where the number is not so important.

It takes men of quality to bring in change.

Take for example, Anna Hazare - a social activist and a Gandhian - who has been in the news recently. There has been this strong feeling against corruption in our country. Yet, nobody could do much. It has been going on right from the time we got independence and has now reached a climax. Today, we have seen one person who was able to stand up tall against this malady that the Lokpal Bill or the Bill against Corruption is actually on the move.

We also have stalwarts such as Nelson Mandela, who was able to bring such a revolution in Africa or Martin Luther King who was responsible for the abolition of slavery. All these are examples to show that it is really not huge numbers or mass production that matters; one individual or a small number is enough to make a huge difference.

BP: Let’s look at the example of Swami Vivekananda and his phenomenal contribution. In fact he was the one who started the Ramakrishna Mission. Today this Mission is widely acclaimed as a massive social and spiritual movement and a large part of the credit goes to the band of monks under the inspiring leadership of Swami Vivekananda.

There's one quote of Swami Vivekananda which is pertinent here. He said: "A few whole-hearted, sincere and energetic men and women can do more in a year than a mob in a century."

GSS: Yes, and in fact Bishu, I have heard Swami saying the same thing. "If I have 10 good students, it is enough; I will change the whole world." Now of course, Swami Himself is an example to show how one person, with the inner strength and the power of dharma, can literally create a revolution in the whole world.

Can't Quantity and Quality Coexist

But this brings me to the other side of the coin. Does it mean then that you can never achieve perfection or excellence with large numbers? Because today, all business organisations talk of mass productions, huge volumes, achieving targets. Are they then trying to say: "Hey, listen buddy, you cannot get quality with large numbers."

SG: Yes, it's almost like saying that Antonio cannot produce more than one violin per year.

GSS: And, if he had done that, it would not have been an offering to God.

BP: The question is why was he so obsessed with quality?

GSS: Yes, there is a gap here in the argument. Let’s look into that. Are we then saying that quality and excellence do not go hand in hand with large numbers?

AD: From what we have seen of Bhagavan and His work, He has been able to bring the two together. For example, Swami announced on 23 November 1990 that a huge hospital would take shape in one year from then. Most people in the world, including the architect of the Super Specialty Hospital, just wrote this off saying that for such a thing to take place in a developed country it would take about seven years and Swami was talking about months!

What ultimately came out was a palatial building that we see today. Swami did not compromise by saying: "Okay, we talked about quality, so let's make a small little hospital." In fact He was able to match every promise that He made.

That's one example. The second is the beautiful and magnificent Chaitanya Jyothi museum that most of us have seen. An interesting fact about its making is that the construction of this mammoth structure was to happen in seven months and that too on a huge hill.

So here was a very daunting task – it had to have a quality structure but it had to be colossal. How did they manage that? The answer is - innovation. The point that I am trying to make here is that if you want to match quality with quantity, there is a way and I think it is through innovation. What they were able to achieve was that unlike other conventional constructions that happen vertically - from the foundation to the top, Chaitanya Jyothi was constructed in a parallel sequence. So even as they were blasting the rocks on one end, the construction of the other end had already begun. This required precision, no doubt, but quality was never compromised at any juncture.

SG: In fact time and again Swami teaches us students about this by creating these pressure situations. For instance, there was a very important dignitary who visited Prashanthi Nilayam. And Swami wanted His students to put up a full-fledged drama for 45 minutes for his benefit. Normally to stage a play of this duration requires nearly 4-5 days or atleast a week’s time of preparation but on this instance, we just had three days.

The circumstances therefore forced us to innovate; we started thinking differently. The usual routine would be to think of the story, write down the cast, the script, send that to the music group, to the props group, and the costume group. Eventually, a programme would build and we would put in hours of practice.

And of course, all this would succeed only because of Swami's Grace. But this time, we had to work against a steep deadline. And lo and behold, Swami gave us a new way of doing things. It so happened that as the story was thought about, the script was written, simultaneously the characters were cast – it was amazing how all of them were there together in one room - the music guys, the costume guys, the set guys and so on.

Swami came and watched us rehearse and I must confess, it was still a half-baked attempt at that time, but the kind of inspiration that He offered through His personal presence motivated us even more. And, as with everything that Swami blesses, the play was a grand success on the day of our performance.

GSS: I also recall Giridhar that you were initially supposed to put it up in the Sai Kulwant Hall and just the night before, Bhagavan gave instructions that it should be performed in the college auditorium which is much smaller and where the dimensions are totally different. I am wondering how on earth did you manage with the sets?

Drama staged by Bhagawan's students in the university auditorium, 3 December 2009.

SG: This again proves that quantity need not be compromised with quality.

AD: If we look at quality versus quantity and try to strike a balance between both, we have to understand one thing very clearly. Are we striving for perfection or are we striving for excellence?

GSS: Are the two different, Amey?

AD: Yes. I feel they both are different. Striving for perfection has the attitude that 'I am better than everyone' because nobody is perfect, while striving for excellence is working towards improving your own standards.

GSS: In other words, as if to prove to yourself that ‘I am better than myself’.

AD: Yes, and above all we have to realize that today, time has become a very critical resource. And with the increase in globalization, the customer has only become more and more impatient. So it is becoming very challenging to strike a right balance between quality and quantity.

Excellence today is the combination of the quality of the product and the timeliness of its delivery. If you look at our hostel too, it is run by the students, for the students; it’s a unique system. All the maintenance aspects of the hostel such as the electrical appliances, plumbing, carpentry, cooking food for the sick boys are all done by the boys.

These activities are categorized into what we call ‘self-reliant departments’. If we look at it from a micro level, each student has a sense of doing something unique and special, which has a direct or indirect impact on the mini-community of over 450 students. And if you look at it from a macro perspective, like the grama seva and the sports meet that we annually host, these give us avenues to perform adventurous, team-based, and disciplined selfless activities that build leadership qualities and self-confidence in the individuals.

The point I am trying to make is that our education system here is based on a unique innovative model of developing self-confidence and self-reliance in the students.

BP: So we are trying to do many things at the same time. There is quantity and at the same time quality. We are doing so much in so little time. I am certain nowhere else will you find a student's schedule packed with so many activities.

SG: One key point one of my seniors made was: "When you have so many things to do in your schedule, you have no choice but to concentrate on what you are doing." Because you cannot take your sweet time to do one thing elaborately.

BP: Basically you are required to move on from one job to another as quickly as possible.

GSS: Great! What is now clear is the premise that excellence can be achieved even with quantity. Here I would like to share the concept of Six Sigma. It originated with Motorola and means one must achieve less than 3.6 defects per million opportunities; its all about striving for excellence along with quantity.

Look at the dabbawalas of Mumbai for example. They deliver food in tiffin carriers to thousands of people in Mumbai. But they have reached levels that are far beyond even Six Sigma; a reason why so many organisations have done a case study of the dabbawalas.

Therefore the point is, it is possible to achieve excellence and strive for perfection and one need not necessarily do it at the cost of numbers. And this is where I would like to touch upon the aspect of process focus and product focus. As they say, you really cannot play a good game of tennis and win if your eye on the scoreboard all the time. You need to have a really good process, invest all your time and effort in designing this process and try to make it as perfect as possible. Then the product is already there for you.

Look at the way God creates human beings. Just like the process when the child stays in the womb for nine months and brings forth a unique product at the end. I think our whole focus should be on the process more than the outcome because the quality of the end product is already built into it through the process.

AD: This means you concentrate on the quality of the process, rather than the quality of the product.


Part 01


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