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Ancient principles can guide leaders, says philosopher

By Matt Golosinski

10/6/2005 - "If you don't find peace in action, you'll never find it with weekends and vacations," said Swami Parthasarathy during his visit to the Kellogg School on Oct. 6.

The renowned Vedanta philosopher addressed a capacity audience of Kellogg students, faculty and staff at the Donald P. Jacobs Center where he delivered a lecture on "the science of productivity" and shared insights from his lifelong study of an ancient Hindu religious tradition.

Far from suggesting that contemplation must lead a person to passivity or reclusion, Parthasarathy grounded his discussion by explaining the importance of properly aligning one's passion and intellect to achieve desired objectives through action. He parsed the differences between conventional intelligence, such as that obtained through classroom instruction, and what he defined as the more refined reasoning faculties of intellect, which is a function of special concentration leading to self-realization.

He contended that Vedantic thought, which derives from 4,000-year-old Hindu scriptures known as the Vedas, could help a person gain a more profound sense of identity, perspective and connection to life and work, no matter what that work might entail.

"If you want to be CEO, you can be CEO," he said, adding that regardless of one's career path it is critical to develop concentration that keeps the intellect focused on the present task.

"[When] the mind slips into the past or future, it saps your energy and you cannot produce," he said. Whether one is worried about previous failures or anxious about future possibilities, the result is what he called an inability for the intellect to hold the mind effectively on the task at hand.

Parthasarathy, 79, traced the roots of much of the world's strife to overheated emotions and a limited collective ability to channel these potentially dangerous passions through the intellect. The solution, both for solving global issues and for addressing leadership challenges, is training one's reasoning to avoid being victimized by impulses and anger.

"You have got to have emotion [to be human], but you do not have to act on it," he said. "If you are affected by emotion, you fall. You must channel it through the intellect."

Parthasarathy also noted the importance of cultivating compassion for others and for thinking more broadly about community and one's responsibility to it.

"Everyone who thinks of a higher goal or ideal grows; if not, he perishes."

The speaker explained the roots of the Sanskrit word Vedanta, defining it as a combination of the terms for "knowledge" and "end."

"Most conventional knowledge has to do with the world," said Parthasarathy. "Vedanta is talking about the individual, and the individual has been neglected to a point of fault."