Economic downturn and lessons in value based living

Quite a lot has been written about the present economic downturn,its causes,consequences,the brighter side of it etc. Everyone is unanimous in the opinion that it is going to inflict tremendous pain to millions of people. The rich will see significant erosion of their riches while the poor will become poorer and eventually suffer the most due to loss of jobs,homes,poor health care or even insufficient food and so on.
In a crisis like this,the onus of making a smooth transition into a more viable future squarely lies with the rich and prosperous businessmen, industrialists and of course the governments. It will necessarily be a tight rope walk on the part of these men because on the one hand they have to keep their enterprises afloat (which will require tremendous cost reduction) and on the other hand ensure that the measures they take will inflict the least pain to the people who depend on them. This will require very innovative solutions and equally importantly a fundamental shift in our value system. Otherwise the transition is guaranteed to be extremely painful for everyone of us.

When we look for lessons in values in life, we will be invariably drawn into a study of our scriptures,which are the obvious sources of rich values. To illustrate this point I have taken a few ‘slokas’ from our scriptures as examples.

Let us first explore the meaning of a couple of Upanishadic Shanti Mantras.
One of the popular Shanti mantras is:

“Sahanavavatu Sahanau bhunaktu saha viryam karvaavahai tejasvi navadheeta mastu ma vidvishavahai, Om Shanti Shanti Shantih ”

It translates as: “Together may He protect us.Together may He possess us. Together may we make unto us strength and virility. May what we have studied be full of light and power to us. May we never hate”.

To eloborate,a teacher of the Upanishads,in those days would invariably begin his teachings with a Shanti Mantra like the one quoted above. This particular mantra invokes the blessings of the Almighty and the blessings are sought for all the human beings – not for a selective few chanting the mantra. And what are the blessings for? It is for learning and getting enlightened together. It is for strength and virility for all. It is for divine grace and protection for everyone of us and finally it is also for His blessings to all to follow the path of non-hatred (‘ma vidvishavahai)’). The intentions of the teacher can be at once seen to be noble as it prays and seeks the wellness of the entire humanity.
And isn’t it pretty much similar to our economists and statesmen talking about ‘inclusive growth’ which has the objective of distributing the benefits of economic progress even to the poorest of the poor?
Let us analyse another well known Shanti mantra ” Bhadram karne bhih—-“. This mantra is full of suggestions for us all ‘to hear ,see and utter only auspicious things’. This is an exhortation to one and all to put to use all our God given resources in a highly positive manner instead of wasting them on meaningless sqabbling and rumour-mongering.

These two mantras basically set the tone and the framework within which all our activities and actions have to be undertaken. These values are for all times and occasions and particularly relevant to the present global crisis.
The present day leaders have to ensure that their policies benefit all sections of the society. They should declare this intent in their policy statements.

More specifically,our sciptures also define and prescribe the criteria for right action. I wil quote a sloka from Bhagavadgita to illustrate the point. In Ch 3 Lord Krishna talks at length about ‘Yajna’,which may be translated as Sacrifice. Swami Chinmayananda gives a brilliant interpretation (to Sloka #12 of Chapter 3 of Bhagavadgita),which is relevant to the present day. The sloka is:
“Ishtaan bhogaan hi deva daasyante yajna bhaavitaah.tair dattan aparadayai bhyo Bhunkte stena evatah”.
Literal translation is: “The devas nourished by the sacrifice will give you the desired objects. Indeed those who enjoy objects given by ‘devas’ without ‘offering’ is verily a thief “.
The sloka is explained by Swamiji thus : A member of a society who consumes without producing is a liability to the nation and should be deemed a thief.
This outright condemnation of selfish people in such strong terms is indeed highly significant in the context of the present crisis. The mega corporations and the men behind those corporations responsible for causing the present global crisis deserve to be condemned in such strong terms.

Proceeding further with the ‘sloka’ under discussion,the words ‘Deva’ and ‘Yajna’ are given very special interpretation. ‘Yajna’ is defined as “any self sacrificing work undertaken in a spirit of self-dedication for the blessing of all”.
‘Deva’ or the presiding deity is nothing but the productive potential in a given field. The potential which lies dormant can be invoked only by dedicated and sincere efforts(‘yajna’).

Let us try to apply the concepts behind the words – ‘Deva’ and ‘Yajna’ – for the present situation. We need to examine what is a ‘selfless action’ or sacrifice (‘Yajna’)and what is the productive potential to be realised(referred to as ‘deva’ in the sloka) in today’s context. Some eloboration of this is attempted below:

We all know that more than 2000 billiion US dollars of stimulus package(that is the cumulative figure from across the nations of the world) is being doled out to save the global economy from depression. Now the question arises as to how best this money should be spent.
-Are we going to use it for bailing out undeserving companies who caused the damage in the first place?
-Are we going to use it for subsidising the same old projects responsible for green house gas emissions?
-Are we going to use it on projects related to Green technologies?
-Are we going to use it on Pro-poor policies and projects for rural areas(improving agricultural yields,teaching farmers in the developing world on drought resistant crops etc)?
-Are we going to use the money on much needed basic health care and education infrastructure development?

The revival or stimulus package has got the potential to bring about transformation in any of the above areas. Obviously the first two options are selfish and self serving resulting in huge waste of our resources.

Selfless attitude(or ‘Yajna’ or sacrifice) will require us to spend the stimulaus package on projects of benefit to the disadvantaged and handicapped sections of the population. The last 3 options are typical examples which not only benefit the poor but also can provide employment to millions of people rendered jobless due to the recession.

It looks like the Governments across the globe will have to play a pivotal role in channelising the money for constructive projects of common good. For the first time,perhaps,after
the collapse of the Communist nations,governments of the Capitalist nations are being called upon to play a role wherein they can dictate terms to the private companies on how the money should be spent in accordance with principles of basic morality and social justice.

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