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Vedanta as Basis for Social Organization

Success of any organization depends on proper integration of five tenets on which it rests. These are:

1) Ideology,
2) Program,
3) Strategy,
4) Tactics, and
5) Field work.

There is a sort of hierarchy. At every level an attempt is usually made to recruit or select talented persons with specialized qualifications. Every level acts as the 'ideal' for lower level. Analysis of an organizational structure is possible by studying behavioral patterns and perceptions of the members as parts of the organization. Therefore, every person should strive to express his or her 'shreshttva' -excellence- in his or her work. As Lord Krishna says in the Gita (III. 21):

"As the competent person with the authority and qualification of knowledge behaves, so will the individuals or social group follow him/her; whatever is established as an ideal by that great person, the same is put in the practice by others." Moreover, it is also said that 'excellence in the chosen field of work is itself Yoga'. The concept of excellence encompasses multiple features.

As an example, let us consider persons involved in and responsible for chalking out the 'Principles or Ideology' for an organization. These persons are most talented, qualified and sensitive of the lot. Their perception and motivation are responsible for the birth of the organization. In case of social reformist organization, these persons are concerned about social welfare and justice.

Vedanta as an Ideological Base

Dispassion and selfless service are twin qualities that are expected of these persons at the helm of affair. Therefore, they should adopt such an ideology that incorporates these two virtues. Real compassion and concern for the weak and exploited springs from the knowledge of universality of soul. Morality and ethics derive their source from our true divine nature, the Atman. Trying to find any other source would be detrimental to the organization, for then the ideology will be based on a shaky foundation of lower truth.

Such philosophy is the core of Vedanta. Without going into details, suffice here will be to put forward broad teachings of Vedanta on which general consensus has been arrived. These features are:

a) Each soul is potentially divine,
b) The goal of human birth is to manifest this divinity in his or her life and activities,
c) Selfless work, worship, knowledge, and/or meditation and Yoga are the four ways to achieve this.

Social organizations concern themselves mostly with selfless work to achieve this end. Unfortunately, social activity becomes the goal, and the truth of divinity of soul is forgotten. We get involved only in eradication of evils and bringing more comforts to society. Higher purpose of social service as 'service of Divine' is lost sight of. Means become the goal! This contradiction in approach is responsible for topsy-turvy scenario in various governmental and non-governmental organizations. Corruption, apathy, wastage, alienation, and frustration are a few common problems we encounter in evolution of any organization.

However, it is not easy to incorporate vedantic values in such activities. For, unconsciously member/s might be using the organizational platform for such reasons as an antidote to anxiety or stress, enhancing self-esteem, or for gratification of ego. Vedantic insistence on service and sacrifice without expecting any returns is sure to run contrary to the hidden motives mentioned above. Therefore, conscious and deliberate efforts are required to understand the complexities of Yoga of Selfless Action, and to avoid initial clash of opinions about adopting vedantic principles.

Just as majority of people do not know much about physical sciences, but still the present day culture is known as 'scientific culture', much the same way, under the influence of a few scientists of spirituality, we can try to change the perception to 'spiritual culture' without everyone becoming Vedantist.

Practical Aspects

* It should be emphasized that the involved persons can visualize their unity with organizational set-up and the work they propose to undertake. Any idea of separateness between workers, the work, and the instrument of work (organization in this case) will yield partial and distorted result.

* Higher the person in organizational hierarchy, less privilege he or she should seek. He should equally cherish the idea of mixing with common people, visiting villages, and actively participating in ground level programs as much as he or she likes to attend meetings and conferences.

* Without sacrifice and selfless love no social work will be enduring. Corollary is that, when these virtues are embedded in the psyche of the organizers the outcome will be a true 'model' for others to follow. The task is difficult, but with sincere effort we are bound to succeed. Noble efforts are never completely wasted. However, one should be humble in success. Humility and modesty are desirable virtues.

Vedanta says that opportunity to serve the oppressed is for our own welfare and growth. In serving others, we serve ourselves. That is why Swami Vivekananda once said to the effect 'one who accepts help from you is greater than you: receiver is greater than the giver, for he has given you the chance you to give!'

Our duty is to work ceaselessly to eradicate evil. We need not concern ourselves with success or failure. Attachment to outcome may be counter-productive. Similarly, too much of emotional involvement makes us result-oriented and then organizational endeavour loses its effectiveness; for emotions and frustration go hand in hand.

Problems of Women

* Dowry, bride burning, female feticide, gender bias, and sexual harassment of working women are a few special problems related with fair sex. (These problems are mostly Indian.) Here I would say that organizations concerned with addressing these problems should be divided into two distinct groups dealing with:

1) Education and reformation of male members of the society, and
2) Education, rehabilitation and re-establishing dignity of women members of the society.

Male members should mostly concentrate on bringing about the positive change in psychology of male members, and female members may exclusively deal with the second part. In words of Swami Vivekananda, 'Our right of interference is limited to giving them (women) education. Women must be put in a position to solve their own problems in their own way. No one can or ought to do this for them. And our Indian women are capable of doing it as any in the world'.

* About true education for women, it should be seen as development of their dormant artistic faculties. Training them in sewing, knitting, and similar expertise, which most of them inherit as family tradition, should make them self-confident and self-reliant. This should help in empowering them with strong will power and self-esteem.

* Education does not mean the present system of mere book learning, but in addition should encompass positive thinking, job orientation, character building, strength of mind, and fearlessness. Servile helpless attitude should be replaced by spirit of valour and self-defence. Women should become aware of their dignity and capabilities even in adverse conditions by self-employment.

* Lastly, one should try to see the problem in broader perspective. Standing away from the work, the person should see the jigsaw puzzle of which his or her organization is but one focus. Humiliation, gender bias, AIDS, poverty, illiteracy, and crass materialistic mental make up, all these cast their ungainly shadow on social problems in general and on dowry and related atrocities on women in particular.
C S Shah