About a dozen years ago, I heard that Mr. Ramesh S. Balsekar was coming to Mill Valley, where I lived, and would be holding a few satsangs – meetings for the purpose of inquiring into truth – with students and other interested people. This was great news, as Mr. Balsekar had been the translator of Nisargadatta Maharaj, a well-known mystic who lived in Bombay and who had influenced many seekers with his unforgiving style of inquiry. In addition to that, Mr. Balsekar had been an executive with the Bank of India. I thought he would be a perfect person with whom to speak about mysticism and its application to the business world.
I attended one of his satsangs, which was held in a private home in Tiburon. The next day, I went back to the same house to meet with Mr. Balsekar privately. He was very polite and gracious as he escorted me to a small patio. We sat on chairs separated by a round table with a glass top.
In the course of our conversation, I spoke about a book idea that was in my mind at that time, a book about meditation and self-inquiry for business leaders. He listened intently, and then asked, “So you want to write a book about meditation and self-inquiry and self-knowledge for the businessman. Is that correct?
“Yes, that is correct.”
“Why?” His tone was direct and matter-of-fact.
I confess that I had not asked myself that question. I just assumed that everyone, businesspeople included, wanted to know the truth about themselves and about the world. I asked Balsekar how his own interest in self-inquiry and pursuit of inner knowing influenced his career as an executive with the Bank of India.
“Not at all,” he said. It was only after his retirement that he began to get serious about self-inquiry.
He continued with a series of questions, “Why should businesspeople read this book? How will it help them in their business? A businessman is not interested in truth. A businessman is interested in profit. Is your book going to help him make a profit?”
His questions were good business questions: Who is your market? What need does your product fill? How will you position and sell it? Mr. Balsekar seemed to be reminding me that the first and main questions of a businessperson are related to how to make money.
After our conversation, I reflected. Of course, business leaders would wonder at the practicality of spiritual inquiry and discovery. Would a deeper and clearer understanding of the human spirit, the nature of mind, and the power of consciousness really have contact points with the day-to-day demands of running a business? Is the subtle realm of spiritual insight useful and relevant in a business context?
I took Mr. Balsekar’s questions to heart. I love questions. I respect questions, particularly those which disturb one’s status quo. The first word I ever spoke was why. That predisposition towards inquiry has remained with me to this day. The kinds of questions one asks are very powerful, very defining. They will take us in one direction or another. They will create our path in life. The questions I asked earlier in life, Who am I? and What is real?, pulled me out into deep waters. They were siren songs to great adventures and near disasters. My questions propelled me to run with the bulls in Pamplona, to roam in Finnish Lapland, to prowl the cafes of Paris and jazz clubs of Frankfurt, to wander in the deserts of Israel, to seek visions in the hashish dens of Afghanistan, and finally to learn about meditation and the wonders of the inner life in an ashram in India.
Who am I? This is one kind of question. This kind of question leads inward to silence, dissolution, and experiences that cannot be truly described.
How will I make money? is another kind of question. This kind of question leads to other questions of the same genus: Do I have a business and marketing plan? Do I have sufficient capitalization? Do I have a capable management team? This line of questioning leads to answers, to decisions, to commitment, to actions, to results.
My reply to Mr. Balsekar is that a businessperson should be interested in truth because first things come first.
First things come first. Are we businesspeople, or are we first human beings? Are we a Democrat or Republican, or are we first a human being? Are we Chinese or Tibetan, or are we first a human being. Are we white or black or red, or are we first a human being? Are we male or female, or are we first a human being? Are we Jews or Catholics, Hindus or Moslems, or are we first a human being? Are we fat or thin, rich or poor, or are we first a human being?
First things first. We are first human beings. Human being is the context from which we must evaluate the roles we play in life.
A few years ago, I accompanied an executive team to the Green Gulch Zen Center in Mill Valley, California for a three-day retreat. Our agenda was to review corporate goals, renew commitments, and strengthen relationships. Well after the first day’s session, somewhere around 1:30 a.m., one of the division vice-presidents and I began speaking about his recent vacation.
The others had gone to sleep. He and I were sitting on a futon, his face barely visible in the light of the fire’s last embers. He told me how one morning he had roused his wife and three sons and how they went together, before the sun was up, to sit on the rim of the Grand Canyon. They sat together holding hands in silence, their feet dangling in the abyss, watching the sun come up. He tried to say more about that moment but he couldn’t.
Instead, his breathing elongated and his eyes narrowed, as though he were seeing into an indescribable distance. I could feel the presence within him and surround him. He spread giant wings and yet remained seated and still.
After many silent moments, he said, simply, I love my family more than anything. I want to live in that love.
Have you ever sat with your feet dangling in the cosmic abyss and been consumed by a presence, a force, an encompassing state of being? Here, in the early morning as the sun comes upon the water-crafted canyons, we are able to see without stop, across boundaries into the distance that cannot be spoken. Something is revealed here, some form of wordless knowing that transcends ambiguity and relativity. The word my client used to represent this experience was love. We all want to live in the love, because it is in this living that we find our wholeness and our totality. In this revelation of our unity with all things, we find a clarity of conscience which becomes the context for our human being.
A businessperson, Mr. Balsekar, should be interested in meditation and self-inquiry and self-knowledge because these pursuits unfold the truest expression of our human being: love. We must remember the once known, the twice known, but frequently forgotten essential context of human being: I want to live in that love.
Within this context, the first question will not be about how to make money. If this is the first question, something is wrong. Our business activities must exist within the context of our heart’s great longing to know its own deep source. Without this as our context, we can only misquote the nature of reality and pervert the truth of who we are, and thus wander through life as soulless ghosts whose only appetite is money. So we must ask the question “What is a human being?” To answer this question will give depth and dimension, value and significance, meaning and purpose to being in business.
As we open embrace the power and presence of love, we forge a new alliance with life and with work. Instead of meeting in conference rooms and airless cubicles, we will meet together every day on the rims of ancient canyons to celebrate that which comes first, before all else.
For personal reflection
Do you feel that the primary purpose of business is to make money, or do you feel that business should exist as a means to serve something else? Can we live a truthful life at work if our business activity is disconnected from our inner spiritual life and understanding?
Excerpted from ‘Igniting the Soul at Work – A Mandate for Mystics’ by Robert Rabbin.
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