Theosophy in Business

By Paul Rooke

What is a theosophist? I would say it is someone actively seeking to live by the ideals of theosophy and the objectives of the Theosophical Society, which embody, among other things, a respect for the brotherhood of man and a sense of altruism. Business is the process of satisfying our material wants and needs through the medium of the marketplace. Just as theosophy has its ideology, so do all businesses. At worst, these are driven by maximizing their self-interest, usually at minimum expense to themselves and at maximum expense to others and the environment. At best, businesses will follow the law and minimize the social costs of their operations insofar as they must, while acting in the best interests of their stakeholders. How can those in business live by altruistic principles when they are expected to pursue a largely selfish agenda in life? How do we achieve a resolution of these apparently polarized objectives?

Business is conducted in a marketplace, a melting pot of all kinds of people -- this is the eternal fascination of it. Because it is so broad and varied in its composition, there is a place for everyone. We see quite quickly that people and groups possess different degrees of spirituality. For example, humanitarian organizations might be at one end of the spectrum and organized crime at the other. These groups can interact with each other across tolerable limits. In the middle range where most of us operate, there is plenty of opportunity to define spiritually compatible relationships which work for all involved. Mutual attraction takes place through vibrational attraction or repulsion. We radiate what we are, often without realizing it, and a harmony emerges among ourselves and others of a similar vibrational wavelength. If we remain true to ourselves, we will tend to attract into our lives people and circumstances compatible with our theosophical principles. We can then build our lives around these people and the opportunities they provide for us in a mutually beneficial way. Taking this view of life, we begin to see business life as a spiritual system rather than simply as a mechanism for allocating scarce resources among competing wants.

If we see the world from the aspect of spiritual consciousness, rather than looking at it in purely material terms, it is possible to conduct a business enjoyably and successfully using theosophical principles. What are some of these principles that have worked for me in business? The first one that I have found useful is karma, which tells us that for every thought we think and every action we take there will be a corresponding reaction, whether for good or ill. Understanding karma, we are reminded that the experiences attracted into our lives have been caused by our past and present experiences. We have only ourselves to thank for good fortune, or to blame for misfortune; we cannot blame external circumstances for what befalls us. Of course, willpower also has a role in the scheme of events. Sometimes we can change things, especially if we are seeking harmony. At other times we are powerless to stop negative outcomes. However, karma assures us that none will be asked to bear any burden that he cannot carry. Life may be awkward or uncomfortable in times of hardship, but I have found the lessons to be necessary, fairly administered, and ultimately beneficial.

An understanding of karma has also led to an appreciation of the importance of my thoughts in determining the quality of my life and the lives of those I interact with. There are repercussions from my priorities and decisions and from my sensitivity to their impact on others. I have developed a respect for the way in which these repercussions take forms which often are not immediately apparent, and so have become closely attuned to karmic signals. I have also developed a healthy respect for the power of karma. Work well done has often been rewarded greatly in building my business through personal referrals and support. By way of contrast, I have witnessed the hugely destructive effects that egotism and conflict can have on the longevity and value of business relationships.

When I was younger, I always attributed serendipitous events or random outcomes to chance, or at best the will of others. Now I'm not so sure. On several occasions during my career I have been faced with seemingly impossible situations, feeling that things are beyond my control or unable to see a way through; or on still other occasions I haven't been able to resolve conflicting and important demands. I have learned, when faced with these situations, to do everything I can and then to wait for circumstances to unfold. This unfolding has always taken place through changes in the interpersonal relationships creating the problems. A seemingly irrepressible force will suddenly yield, a previously unseen opportunity will arise, or a group of circumstances previously unforeseeable to me will manifest and provide a solution. I have learned to hold the light, go with the flow, and respect the outcome.

A second useful principle is reincarnation, which is intimately linked with karma. Understanding these two concepts has been of enormous value in defining my levels of honesty with, and commitment to, the people I work with. Reincarnation has helped me to be more tolerant of the views of others, more patient in dealing with people, and better able to balance competing short- and long-term demands and considerations. It helps encourage taking a longer term view of my role in business, rather than the traditional results-driven, short-term view so vigorously espoused today in management schools and the corridors of corporate power. Seeking to distinguish between the eternal and the ephemeral, I am mindful that in dealings with people I should always try to act in a harmonious manner, rather than manipulating them for immediate advantage. There is plenty of time to deal with everything. Indeed we have to deal with everything -- we are not constrained by the boundaries of a single lifetime. I cannot escape the consequences of what I do by simply deferring things and leaving them behind me when I die. They won't go away, and are guaranteed to come back to haunt me either in this life or a future one. Knowing that I can't escape the consequences of my decisions helps me try to make the most balanced decisions I can. I have often found that the most spiritually-balanced decision is the best one, even if it is the hardest at the time. It often gives rise to a host of benefits that were unforeseeable when the hard decision was taken.

Another helpful principle is that of the two paths, of selfishness and of compassion. A life in business exposes us every day to people: their joys, their sorrows, and their demands upon each other. It gives us ample opportunity to develop within ourselves the qualities necessary for spiritual growth. We learn to live with fear and uncertainty, and to develop self-reliance and understanding. We are constantly faced with the temptations of acting for ourselves and the duty of acting in the best interest of all. Each decision we take, and there are many, helps to create the quality of character we will need to cope successfully with our spiritual development. As the twig is bent, so shall the tree grow. If we apply our understanding of the choice between altruism and self-centeredness in our daily experiences, we help ourselves to choose the path of light over the path of darkness when the time comes.

Although I didn't consciously set out to pursue a career in business, I have spent most of my life in the hustle and bustle of a small business environment. Growing older and more reflective on life's experiences brings the realization that a life in business has given me a great deal of opportunity to interact closely with other people and learn from these experiences. In so doing, I have been able to apply my understanding of the principles of theosophy, to test them, to improve my faith in them, and to share them with others.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2005; copyright © 2005 Theosophical University Press)

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The path of duty lies in what is near, and men seek for it in what is remote. The work of duty lies in what is easy, and men seek for it in what is difficult. -- Mencius