In Conversation with Prasad Kaipa
Prasad Kaipa, an advisor and coach for about 120 C-level executives in Global Fortune 500 companies, speaks with Amit Kapoor about the interconnectedness between spirituality and management.
“Aakash Tatvam, as they call it in spirituality is the infinite place that looks empty but everything comes out from there.”
“The concept/ idea that everything is happening within the protected tight boundary of an organization and everybody outside is an enemy is not going to be valid in the future.”
Could you tell us about the impact that our ancient scriptures have had on your thinking?
I grew up in a Brahmin family and at that time my father insisted that I should learn Sanskrit. Initially when I learnt Sanskrit I used it primarily for impressing people, but, deeper within me, I was very much driven by the western education and western focus. While I was doing my PhD I neglected the principles learnt from Upanishads & Bhagwad Gita. When I was a fellow with Apple I was asked to help design tools for learning tasks. I looked at it as learning, thinking, creativity, collaboration, and leadership. My role was to interview known experts. I realized that there was something in the way the teacher teaches which is not captured in the content of what they are teaching. What they say and what they do is in two different domains. I studied psychology, went and spent time to understand about how the brain works. An Israeli gentleman rebuked me for focusing on the outside but ignoring completely what comes from India. He stated that if I wanted to really learn about learning, I need to go back to Indian Scriptures. In 1988-89 period I went back to re-examine the Indian Vedanta from the perspective of knowledge, learning, transformation etc. In Taitriya Upanishad, it is mentioned that first there was a sound and I interpreted it, as first there was infinite possibility for us to be anything. In the western context/ scriptures, they talk that first there were words, there was sound, just like Aakasha, the whole idea of sky, as the infinite possibility that is unique to Indian Scriptures.
The Chinese people talk about four elements and not the sky law. Western people also talk about other elements, water, wind, fire, earth, but nobody acknowledges Aakash. The Aakash Tatvam, as they call it in spirituality is the infinite place that looks empty but everything comes out from there. The chant from Taitriya Upanishad says, “From there comes the disturbance and that disturbance and that infinite potential is what creates a certain amount of movement.” From there, comes the vision, clarity of thought. Water has got the feeling, in addition to the sound, movement, vision, it also has that some amount of taste. Then comes the Earth, which has got smell. That is why it is stated in the Upanishads- Amrutasya Uttraha; that human being is children of immortality; while evolution talks about us coming from various animals, the nearest progenitors for us are monkeys. But in Indian Scriptures you are children of immortality and you have the ability to be anything and everything. If we want to really ignite our full potential, we have to understand the concept call Aakash Tatvam, that means the possibility that we can be more than what we consciously know, what we logically rationally can measure.
What is your thinking on how brain research and Spirituality could go together?
What I have understood by deeply digging into brain research is that brain is parallel to what we are learning from Spirituality. For example, if the brain is stressed out at some level we have certain neurotransmitters that are coming out or you have certain things like cortisol and brain chemicals like oxytocin and adrenaline. Many of these chemicals have got harmful effects, but if we can reframe them, reinterpret them, and look at what is possible instead of what is stressful, then suddenly that same chemical that creates enormous stress in us, could be good for our health. Researchers who have been talking about variety of things are beginning to say that it is not what happens that matters, in the brain, but how you interpret what happens will determine whether you are going to learn from it, or going to be completely stressed out. So if you interpret something as stressful, it can have impact on coronary artery, but if you can believe that it is giving you good stuff you know increased heart rate, increased BP, all of this is good for you. If we find a way in which the emotional system is appropriately interpreting the signals/ information that come in, it becomes lot easier.
It is about Physics, Metaphysics, Scriptures, and all of this really coming together and defining the movement forward. How do you really see that future emerging?
In current reality we are interdependent. Anyone, even with a small start-up, with their small set of products, with a local focus, can become global very quickly because of opportunities like YouTube etc. It means there are no space boundaries, no size boundaries, no scale boundaries, no talent boundaries & no resource boundaries. In this interconnected global world, most teenagers don’t know how to work with you, most companies don’t know how to operate, because they traditionally look at competition the way in which they have been competing in the past without recognizing that the game of competition has become more of a cooptation. I think this cannot be discussed in the linear logical simplistic models of western management theories that have been developed till now. We need to begin to think about a completely different future which is going to be much more holistic & individualistic. So large companies are no longer relevant in the same way that they work. It is smaller companies coming together, people working as contractors and individual working for themselves, people becoming CEO’s of their own life. In the future you will not have the traditional work contracts, employee loyalty, and not have one company dominating, saying all the intellectual property is going to come from our research validities. The concept/ idea that everything is happening within the protected tight boundary of an organization and everybody outside is enemy is not going to be valid in future. So it is going to be about how do I collaborate with people inside, with people outside, how do I allocate resources to individual scientist or laboratories, universities and companies. We have an eco-system of multiple stake owners working together in some areas and competing in some other areas, requiring different mindset and that mindset is what sometimes the scriptures talk about.
The world is a changing place, it is much more fluid, relation oriented and process oriented. Every individual becomes valuable, every small group becomes meaningful and they can make a contribution. Many of our existing western management models have to rethink and for that, we have a lot of contribution that we can make.
Chapter 18 of Bhagwad Gita talks about categorizing people into different ways. They talk about one kind of people, they have tendency to go deep, become experts, they are risk covers, they have remarkable capability to be domain experts, they have difficulty to connect that arts and become entrepreneurs and to have a big picture perspective. Whereas, the other kinds of people, have, very good connected arts, they see the business opportunities, universe law opportunities, they are very integral in their thinking but they may not have as much a domain expertise to get things done by themselves. These are two kinds of smartness. One is Business Smartness, and the other is Functional Smartness. Bhagwad Gita says that you can be either here or there, they call it tamasic. Tamasic for me means, people who are capable of executing and producing results. People who are rajasic means, who are aggressive, who see opportunities, who run to seize the opportunities. They have good ego strength to create organizations and become entrepreneurs. My feeling is, moving from rajasic to tamasic and tamasic to rajasic doesn’t get us anywhere. But the perspective of wisdom comes when we become what in Bhagavad Gita calls Sthitaprajna. Sthitaprajna means, whose prajna is firmly established in a certain equanimity stage, so Bhagavad Gita says, ‘yogastha kuru karmani’ means ‘whatever business you do, whatever actions you take, take it from the yoga state of mind’. Yoga state of mind means, equanimity state of mind, balances both sides. In that equanimity you take into account what is good and advantageous on this side; what is good and advantageous on other side and you try to not necessarily compromise. You transit to your whole endeavor so that means, two kinds of wisdom and two kinds of smartness is great but when you integrate it and elevate it to a new level of wise leadership, then you become much more effective.
You are moving into a very interesting aspect of transformational leadership. How do you interpret it?
My focus is on transformational leadership. The way in which I’m looking at transformational leadership is like a caterpillar to a butterfly. One is transforming means changing my mindset, my attitude from what is the need for me to what is the need for others and recognizing, when I help other people to get what they want. When I help others, automatically I would get well being, wealth etc. Second is leadership. I believe opposite of leader is a victim. Leadership is like a privilege and it’s a responsibility. It is about leading oneself and others into a place of making a contribution, whereas victim means I sit and complain, about how nobody recognizes who I am and what I am doing. Transformational leadership is when a large number of leaders begin to focus on contributing to their organization, their community as a priority and recognizing their growth, their recognition will come by giving rather than what is a need for me kind of thing. This is where wisdom comes in. It is bringing a shift in perspective and helping their own unconscious, subconscious desires, as well as the contribution that they want to do. If I can bring that alignment, integrate head and heart; bringing purity in my three ways of being, that is integrity. When I am authentic to myself, then I bring integrity to my work, I become a role model. This is the essence of transformational leadership. We need to look how am I transforming myself and how am I transforming the context in which I am living so that the world becomes a better place to live in.