5 practical ways to apply the wisdom of Vedanta to workplace situations

Your office can be the perfect place to start applying the principles of Vedanta and establish some sanity in a work of chaos

woman executive meditating

Advaita Vedanta is well known for its teachings which address, at a fundamental level, our longing for freedom from inadequacy and incompleteness. Through a sophisticated methodology, it makes me see how I am not this wanting individual I mistake myself to be but a limitless and whole being.

What is less known is that Vedanta also deals with how I can grow as an individual to prepare myself for this knowledge. Let us discover some of its rich insights, imageries and practices which are directly relevant to our daily lives, in particular at workplace.

1. I am part of an interconnected and interdependent Whole

Imagery: The web of Indra
Over the palace of Indra—the king of the Vedic deities—hangs a web which brings together infinite number of jewels in all directions[i]. The jewels stand for the multitude of events, things and beings that include atoms, mountains, cells, living beings, organisations, societies and planets. The strands of the web are the physical, biological, ecological, physiological, psychological laws as well as principles of karma [actions and results] and dharma [ethical values] that govern the interaction among jewels[ii]. The tapestry of strands and the jewels form an immense, complex, dynamic grand Order.

In the midst of this vast “ecological” system, I am aware that I influence others and am influenced by them. I am not anymore an insignificant being lost in the immensity of the universe but an active participant and co-creator. My actions count and I mobilise my unique talents and skills, perform every action as my “offering” or contribution to the Whole[iii].

At work: How do you see your work? Are you just producing or selling goods or services, while waiting for the next holiday to come? Or are you engaged in fulfilling some larger needs of society? When I contribute actively and meaningfully to the whole, I am in turn nourished[iv], by fulfilling my essential needs for autonomy, self esteem, achievement and mastery, and belonging to something larger than myself.

2. My choice is with reference to action

Insight: Responsible actions
In this web of interconnectedness and interdependence, I make prudent use of my faculty of choice and ensure that I identify and work hard upon known variables such as time, efforts, resources, etc., needed to accomplish what I want to accomplish[v].

In addition, I align my actions with the order of dharma, the ethical values that govern my interactions with others[vi].

At work: As situations unfold and call for action, can you distinguish between what is within your sphere of choice, your domain of influence and what is not? Are you overburdening yourself by trying to change what cannot be changed? Or falling into inaction by underestimating your sphere of influence? Are you manipulating, debasing or harming others to get ahead?

3. I can be composed towards unfavourable results

Insight: I have no choice over the results
If I were controlling the results of my actions, I would always get the outcome I want. The reality is that outcomes are taken care of by laws of cause and effect, in which my actions are only one of the variables which determine the outcome, in addition to many hidden variables within the immense web of Indra.

When things do not happen my way, I understand that the results are governed by the order of karma, integrating in a dynamic way my present actions and those of people around me, with my past actions and those of others, to produce an outcome.

I am therefore able to receive results of actions with an attitude of samatvam, graceful acceptance, or relative composure, when things do not happen my way[vii].

At work: When things are not working your way, are you caught in anger, regret, blame, judgment, etc.? Or are you relatively free from reaction and lucid to make decisions in a deliberate manner?

Are you capable of welcoming success with humility and gratitude? Do you realise how many other people and factors have contributed to that success?

4. I can engage in the world harmoniously

Insight: The model of three gunas [sattva, rajas, tamas]
There are three ways of being engaged in action. An obsessive or rajasic doer is impelled by a strong desire for the result both before and after the result unfolds, is arrogant and deals with lots of exertion[viii]. A disengaged or tamasic doer is lazy, indifferent and shows neither interest nor care towards both the action and the result of action, before and after the result unfolds[ix]. A harmonious or sattvic doer is in harmony with dharma, is free from strong demand towards the result, endowed with resolve and enthusiasm and relatively composed in success and non-success[x].

At work: Are you engaged at work in a sattvic, rajasic or tamasic way? How does it serve or limit you in your work? What steps can you take to become predominantly sattvic?

5. I remain anchored in midst of activity

Imagery:  Actor and roles
The actor knows intimately that he is much more than the roles he plays. The roles depend upon him while he is free from the roles he plays. Also while he is involved fully in each and every role, he is not affected by what is happening to the roles[xi].

Meditation helps us familiarise us with ourselves, a conscious being that is free from the multiple roles one plays. With practice, I am anchored, in touch with a deeper self, from where I can operate in the midst of action.

At work: Are you over-identified with one role at the expense of others? Are the challenges of your role at work spilling over the other roles at home?

When things overwhelm you, take a pause at work to re-anchor to your deeper self through your body or breathing and by bringing to mind the previous four facts. This will help you remain free while engaged in activities.

Notes

[i] Atharva Veda 8.8.6 , 8.8.8

[ii] Living intelligently, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, AVRPT, Chennai, 2006

[iii] A person is bound by karma if it is not done as yajna [as an offering to the Whole]. For this reason, Kaunteya ! […] perform action for the sake of that [yajna]. Bhagavad Gita 3,9

[iv] Propitiate the deities with this [yajna]. May those deities propitiate you. Propitiating one another, you shall gain the highest good. Bhagavad Gita 3,11

[v] Your choice is with reference to action only but definitely never with reference to its results. Do not [think yourself to] be the author [or the cause] of the results of action. Let your attachment not be to inaction. Bhagavad Gita 2,47

[vi] [Karma] Yoga is care and discrimination in interpreting the propriety of actions. Bhagavad Gita 2,50

[vii] Anchored in this [clear and firm] understanding of [karma] yoga, Dhananjaya [Arjuna]! perform actions, abandoning attachment [to notion ‘I am the author of results of action’] and [because of this understanding] remaining the same to success and failure. This evenness of mind is called yoga. Bhagavad Gita 2,48

[viii] But that karma which is done by one who has a [pronounced] desire for the result or again with arrogance [and] a lot of exertion is called rajasic. Bhagavad Gita 18,24
The one who has a predominance of raga and a strong desire for the result of action, who is greedy, whose nature is to hurt [another or oneself], who is not clean [physically, mentally] and who is subject to elation and depression is called a rajasic doer. Bhagavad Gita 18,27

[ix] That action, which undertaken out of delusion, without regard to its consequence, loss, injury [to oneself and others], and one’s own capacity is called tamasic. Bhagavad Gita 18,25
The one who is disturbed, immature, irreverent, deceptive, abusive, lazy, given to sadness, and procrastinating, is called a tamasic doer. Bhagavad Gita 18,28

[x] That action, which is in keeping with dharma, which is done without attachment [to the notion that ‘I did this’], without being impelled by likes and dislikes, by a person without a [binding] desire for result, is called sattvic. Bhagavad Gita 18,23
The one who is free from demand [towards the result], who is not claiming ‘I [did this]’, who is endowed with resolve and enthusiasm and is [relatively] unperturbed in success and non-success, is called a sattvic doer. Bhagavad Gita 18,26

[xi] Action and Reaction, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, AVRPT, Chennai, 2007


A version of this article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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