Sunday, 10 October 2010

'Profit vs Prophet' - Harmander Singh

When I was contacted, I was told that the aim of the seminar is to explore whether making money and making a difference are opposed?

My immediate thought and reaction to the question was that they are NOT opposed as long as the making of money is by honest means and if it is NOT the sole purpose of making money and the making of difference is just an accidental by-product. The fuller answer is that they can be complimentary.

I also said to myself, it is why I personally have achieved neither.

Looking at the topic in Sikh terms, I believe that being rich and being a Sikh are not mutually exclusive. One can be rich and still be a good Sikh. The Sikh Gurus bestowed upon the Sikhs the concept of "Miri-Piri" and "Raj Jog" which is princely living according to Gurmat (Gurus teaching/thinking) and therefore attuned to the Almighty.

I felt I needed to back my thoughts up with some Scriptural excerpts in case someone says I am making it up – and luckily I found loads but will just give you three that were suggested to me by Tarlochan Singh - a Sikh friend on the internet.

As the malady of egoism is annulled, by grace of the Master, shalt thou practice sovereign yoga (Rajyoga)]
(5th Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Granth Sahib, 211)

God's devotees, even though householders, in contemplations of the essence of enlightenment to worldly pleasures remain indifferent.
(3rd Guru, Guru Amar Das, Guru Granth Sahib, 599)

Sayeth Nanak: By contact with the Master is the true device of living perfected. In a life of smiling playfulness, enjoyment of wear and food, Is attained liberation.
(5th Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Granth Sahib, 522.)

(English translations by Gurbachan Singh Talib)

Miri-Piri is the balance between Spiritual and Temporal living and denoted by the two crossed swords in the Sikh symbol the Khanda.

All Sikhs are encouraged to be householders – this does not mean property developers or Peter Rachmans. Being rich is not a pre-requisite to being a Sikh. The point I made was that it is okay to be rich as long as you live according to the principles of Gurmat and not indulge in un-Sikh businesses or those businesses which force you to a life that is anything but "honest living."  Here, the three basic principles of Sikhi always apply.  These are: Naam Japna, Kirat Karni and Vand ke Shakna.

Where, Naam Japna is to remember God lovingly during all waking moments.

Kirat Karni means making an honest living that is according to Gurmat living. I doubt if selling alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, and being in the adult entertainment business is according to Gurmat at all because these kinds of activities promote what Gurmat strictly forbids. In Britain and Europe, Sikhs own a large number of businesses that sell alcohol and and tobacco. Many of them are stinking rich and some claim to make a difference too.

A bank robber or a thief too cannot claim to do "kirat karni" simply because they use both their hands in doing those illegal and dishonest deeds. I am deliberately making the distinction between dishonest and illegal for tax avoidance and tax evasion fall into a good analogy but, to the poor person who cannot afford well versed accountants, both are dishonest.

Vand Ke Shakna is to share with others, especially the needy and vulnerable. As there is no Welfare State equivalent worth mentioning in certain parts of the world and certainly not in the times gone by, Sikhs donate (Daswandh or Darshan Pehta) whatever they can from their earnings to the Gurdwara – which is more than just a place for congregational worship.  It provides a centre where support of all kinds can be sought either directly or signposted.  This can make a difference for some.

I just make both ends meet and take out Daswandh, but I have never been rich in my entire life. Life has always been a struggle. Regardless, I always feel blessed by the Guru.

Conversely, if a Sikh cannot even make ends meet, he/she cannot take out Daswand and help the needy or contribute to a wider Panthic cause. I know it is not always possible, but a Sikh should strive to be in a position where he/she can help others.

How can this be practised one may ask? I can offer you a story my late father used to tell me which may strike a chord with some rich corporate bankers around the corner.

There was once a rich businessman who came across a holy man (funny how it is always men), and asked for a blessing to make him even richer so he could do some good later on in life although whatever his business was selling was already making a difference to people’s lives anyway.

The holy man thought for a moment and then asked the rich business man what the secret of his success was that made him as rich as he was already?

‘Oh that is easy’ the rich businessman replied, ‘I wheel and deal extensively, stay on top of my business sector, am good with words and people in that I can guess what the buyer wants to hear and I just tell him (yes a man again) exactly that. He buys the product or service and I make a profit – it matters not whether it is the best product I have, or even the right one and will not be what he needs’ the rich businessman continued and ended by saying ‘I obviously do not tell him if he can buy it cheaper elsewhere’.

The holy man paused for a while and then asked the rich business man if people liked him, trusted him and if that mattered to him?

‘Of course, everyone likes to be liked and trusted, but in business one has to cheat, lie and be ruthless to get ahead’ replied the rich businessman. ‘these are the rules of the game and inherent in any business manual written by authorities on the subject in my profession – it is what guarantees a return on investment’ he added.

The holy man took a deep breath, looked the business man straight in the eye and said‘ I will do you a deal that will make you richer both in terms of money and in spirit, what is more, people will also like you and trust you too – my business manual demands a return too and clearly there will have to be an agreement between both of us before I share the technique from my business manual – it happens to be written by a higher authority in my profession and also guarantees a return which is longer lasting’.

‘Sounds great’ said the rich businessman ‘what is the catch or fee for the secret in your profession’s manual?’ he asked.

The holy man continued looking at the highly excited rich businessman and said ‘There is no catch or fee, but you need to follow the instructions religiously (sic) and perhaps make a voluntary donation to a worthy cause from the additional profits you will be making after a short while’.

‘Just tell me the secret and I will give generously’ said the rich businessman, rubbing his hands expectantly.

After shaking hands on the deal, the holy man asked the rich businessman to make a note of each occasion he lied or cheated a customer daily and aim to reduce the total by one or more if he could every day until it reached zero – he must also return each month to give the holy man an update on the progress made.  The rich businessman explained his industry relied on cheating and lying but he had given his word and shaken hands on it so will come back at the end of each month to report back as agreed.

At the end of the first month, the rich businessman came and reported that at first he found it really hard, having to turn away business hurt him but as the weeks passed, it got easier and he had recovered the lost business by the end of the month.

At the end of the second month, the trend of increased business continued as word got around about this ‘honest’ businessman. As he had decreased the number of lies and cheating at a faster pace his business also grew, he had to increase the number of staff he employed to keep up. He had also taken up matters with his suppliers to give him more reliable and quality goods of his own accord. Business and profits were booming beyond all expectations.  He wanted to make a large donation to the holy man or a charity of the holy man’s choosing – but the holy man declined and suggested that the very rich businessman give the donations to causes of his own choosing.

By the end of the third month, the now very rich businessman had stopped lying and cheating altogether, he was wealthier beyond expectations and even more surprisingly, people openly said they liked him – this in turn affected his close friends and even competitors – who all wanted to practice the new technique of not lying and cheating in order to get richer. They soon began following his example and made a real change to society with generous donations to the vulnerable and needy.

The moral of the story is that you do not have to forgo making money in order to make a difference – while using performance monitoring and bonuses for higher achievements – something in their original business manuals.

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