Integrity, Ethics and Governance: The integral View – M.S.Srinivasan

aestheticalchemyIntegrity, Ethics and Governance: The integral View


There is a growing recognition that corporate governance has to be based on Ethics and Values. But we need a broader definition of ethics than a set of rules and principle. The concept of integrity provides such a wider view. This article examines corporate governance based on the concept of integrity.

Ethical Imperative in Corporate Governance

In most of us who belong to the average humanity, the ethical instinct is the first and the most prominent manifestation of higher nature.  So it is very important for the higher evolution and well-being of the individual and collectivity to nurture this instinct of the higher nature and develop it to its highest potential.  For once the ethical instinct becomes conscious and active in us, even slightly, then any attempt to suppress, ignore or deny its promptings causes serious and subtle damage to our inner well-being.  It leads to a deep unease and unrest which may manifest inwardly and also outwardly in various forms of mental and physical disease.  On the other hand, when the ethical instincts is pursued consciously and sincerely in thought and action it leads to greater well-being by giving a higher sense of meaning and fulfillment to life.

     So the emerging ethical sensibility in the business and corporate world, like for example “Business Ethics” or “Corporate Social Responsibility” are a welcome and promising development which can uplift the corporate life to higher levels of consciousness and well-being.  These trends have to be pursued to their highest and total potential.  If this is done in the right way, it may even open the consciousness of business to the spiritual dimension. For, as we have mentioned earlier, ethical development is the most natural path of growth towards the spiritual.  On the other hand if this emerging ethical conscience is ignored or suppressed for some immediate or temporary gains to the bottom-line or to cater to some passing “market realities”, then it will be a serious evolutionary lapse, with adverse consequences for human wellbeing and development.  Such missed evolutionary opportunities have to be paid for with much pain and suffering.

The new and emerging concepts in management like corporate governance, business ethics and corporate social responsibility are some of the expressions through which this emerging ethical instinct in the corporate world is trying to express or embody itself in the corporate life.  However effective implementation of an ethical ideal or concept requires two factor: creating an ethical consciousness and promoting ethical conduct and behaviour.  But for the outer conduct and behaviour to be authentic, sincere and effective, it has to be a spontaneous expression of a corresponding inner state of consciousness.

To be pragmatic is legitimate in business.  But to take the next higher step in evolution the corporate world has to move up towards a higher level of pragmatism based on an integral, holistic and consciousness perspective. By the word “integral” we mean both the inner and outer dimensions of the phenomenon under study.  By the word “holistic” we mean what is now called as “systemic” perspective which views corporate governance as a subset and in the context of the larger corporate environment.  By the word “consciousness-perspective” we mean an emphasis on the inner change of consciousness.

And the inner source of ethics is spirituality.  The ethical motive or impulse becomes fully, entirely and perfectly conscious, enlightened intrinsic and spontaneous only in the spiritual consciousness.  So ultimately ethics must blossom towards spirituality.

Corporate Governance: Integral Perspective

In our integral perspective, the ideal of corporate governance is to create a corporate consciousness which leads to self-governance. It is to create a corporate environment in which those who display genuine ethical, social and ecological responsibility, not merely in Director’s speech or annual reports but in concrete actions, prosper, progress and become leaders and decision-makers of the corporate world.

Conversely those who are obstinately unethical are either weeded out or feel the consequences of their action.  And others who are hovering between the two are given the opportunity and feel the pressure to take a decisive step in the ethical path.  In other words, a corporate environment governed by the law of ethical Darwinism by which ethically fittest survive and prosper, the ethically ambivalent are reformed and the ethically unfit or delinquent become extinct. By the term “ethically fittest” we mean those who have fully internalized the ethical consciousness and do not need the threat of law to be ethical.

A biographer of JRD Tata relates an interesting and illustrative episode.  Tata was questioning an executive who was trying to save tax returns to government.  The executive justified his action by saying it is not illegal.  But JRD asked

“Not illegal, yes, But is it right?”

We can see here the difference in the mind-set between the legally ethical and the intrinsically ethical.

This deeper change can be achieved only by a psychological process and discipline.  The main psychological factors which have to be developed and internalized to create an enduring ethical consciousness in the individual and the community are as follows:

  • Self-knowledge, self-control and self-mastery.
  • Calm, peace and tranquility
  • Ethical, emotional and aesthetic intelligence, which has an intuitive sensitivity to higher values like truth, beauty, goodness, harmony, unity.
  • Faculties and qualities of Will and the Vital force like firmness, persistence, strength, courage, enthusiasm, energy, which are essential for manifesting these values in work, life and action.
  • Kindness, compassion and generosity.
  • Integrity, which means in a psychological perspective harmonious integration of thought, feeling, will and action around a higher ideal.

    In other words, calm, clarity and understanding in the mind, kindness, compassion and generosity in the heart, firmness, strength and self-mastery in the will, courage, energy and force in the vitality, aspiration for truth, beauty, and goodness in the soul, and an integrated personality, these are the contours of a fully developed self-governing consciousness, what is called as “Strength of Character.”

Integrity & Ethics:

The modern corporate world as a whole is in the process of acquiring a Conscience. One of the terms we hear constantly in the current ethical debate, and among corporate executives, is “Integrity”.  The concept of integrity is perceived mostly in its ethical connotations.   But the concept can also be viewed in its psychological and spiritual, individual and collective dimension.

 Integrity: Ethical Perspective

 In the ethical perspective, integrity means honesty, truthfulness, transparency and condour in all transactions.  This ethical aspect of integrity is now well recognized in business.  We hear top executives talking about Integrity as the foundation of long-term effectiveness.  Many reputed companies have placed Integrity as a core element in their value systems. However, modern business has arrived at this awakening to the importance of integrity mostly through pragmatic and environmental pressures like for example, changing competitive landscape, demands of the investor and customer, green or consumer activism, long-term benefits in terms goodwill and trust, better public image. But to realize fully the spiritual potential as well as the material benefits of integrity, it has to be pursued for its own sake without seeking for any short-term or long-term material benefits, even while knowing that such benefits may come.  For an ethical or spiritual value lived in action releases a moral and spiritual force, which brings material results in the long run.  The quality, power and effectiveness of this moral or spiritual force and its results depend on the extent of selflessness and disinterestedness in the motive.  This is the significance of the constantly repeated assertion in the Indian epic Mahabharatha, that Dharma is the source of Wealth (Artha).

     These are spiritual insights of seers, which cannot be fully validated, in empirical terms.  However there are some executives and entrepreneurs in business, who are spiritually inclined, have experienced this phenomenon in their lives.  Alvaro Cruz, CEO of the construction company I.C.M Ingeniers Ltd states “Non-attachment to your work attracts more income and better result.  The less attached you are to the fruits of your work the more you are likely to get higher profits”. (1) And V.V. Ranganathan, a former Senior Partner, Ernst and Young states “If you are able to run any enterprise without selfish motives and with selfless service, then I believe that success will fall into place” and explains further “what I mean is that my effort and involvement in doing something is not determined or driven by what I get in return.  And I know by my own experience this works” (2).  The scientific mind may not accept these examples as valid proof.  It may question the connection between the cause and effect.  But the scientific mind must have the humility to admit that there are faculties beyond the scientific reason which can perceive truth which it can not know.

Integrity: Psychological Perspective

In a psychological perspective integrity means, for the individual, alignment or harmony between inner intention and outer action or as Stephen Covey puts “intention drives perception which drives behaviour, which then drives results.”(3) More comprehensively stated, integrity means harmony between thought, feeling, will and action.  I must have the conviction and clarity in my thought, firmly will what I think, passionate about what I think or believe and finally honest and courageous in executing what I think or feel in my action.  This integration of the personality is the source of inner power or charisma and effectiveness in action.  This is a difficult achievement, which requires much discipline and self-observation.  But it is an ideal worth striving for, because it builds our individuality and helps in achieving our higher potentialities. At the organizational level integrity means harmony between vision, values, strategy and outer behaviour of the organisation.

Integrity: Spiritual Perspective

The essence of integrity is truthfulness.  So to realize the highest level of integrity we have to integrate our whole being around the very source of truth within us.  As we have mentioned earlier, most of the spiritual traditions and teachings of the world agree that there is a spiritual element or divinity, soul or spirit in every individual, which is the source of all higher values and aspirations in man.  According to the Indian spiritual thought, this spirit or divinity within man is the deepest and innermost truth of our being, beyond our body and mind, beyond even our ethical and aesthetic being.  This indwelling divinity or soul is an immortal spark of the universal and the eternal Truth.

     In Indian philosophy the term used for Truth is “Sat” which is the spiritual essence of all that is and That by which all exists The soul or the spirit in man is made of this spiritual substance of Sat.  So, in this Indian spiritual conception “Truth” is not merely ethical honesty.  To be truthful in a spiritual sense is to integrate our whole being¾our body, life and mind and all its faculties, ¾around the spiritual centre in us, which is the truth of our individual being and the source of all higher values.  This is the highest level of integrity.  We can now understand why the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram defines Sincerity as: “To lift all the movements of the being to the level of the highest consciousness and realization already attained.  Sincerity exacts the unification and harmonization of the whole being in all its parts and movement around the central Divine Will”.(4)

 Is this ideal and discipline a little too high and difficult for people in the corporated world? Is there anyone in business and management thinking about or practicing this spiritual ideal in the corporate world?  Stephen Cowey comes very close to this spiritual ideal of integrity when he says.

 “To me spirituality is three things.  First of all you are dealing with the whole person.  That includes the person’s spirit or soul.  You cannot separate their body or their mind or their heart from their spirit because they are all so interrelated and there is a synergic relationship between all the four dimensions of our nature.  Another dimension would be that you are dealing with principles that are universal and timeless— certainly principles have a moral and spiritual foundation but no religion has a patent on them—”(5)

Peter Pruzan and Kirsten Pruzan Mikkelson in their book Leading with Wisdom which contain interviews of 31 corporate leaders from 15 countries who are making the attempt to lead from a basis of spirituality, state: “Most, not all of the executives had some kind of systematic spiritual practice—-Meditation was a practice mentioned by a large number of the leaders” and quotes Niran Jung, CEO of Institute of Human Excellence, Australia:  “I go to meditation retreats,—-Meditation for me is throughout the day.  It is being mindful. The other spiritual practice, which was mentioned by many executives interviewed in this book by Pruzans, is “looking and listening within”.  As Ricardo B. Levy Chairman of Catalyca Inc. USA, explains: “learning to quiet my mind and get into my deeper inner self and from that place listen to the voice of God, to give me the signals of my path”.(6)

 The Collective dimension

   We have discussed so far the ideal of spiritual integration at the individual level.  Can there be a similar integration at the collective level.  A collectivity is coming together of individuals for a common purpose.  So if we accept the presence of a spiritual element in the individual, then it would not be unreasonable to suppose that there is probably a dormant and potential spiritual dimension in the collectivity.  This potential spiritual dimension becomes active under three conditions.  First when the collectivity is formed by the divine Power with a specific spiritual mission; secondly, when the founders of the collectivity are spiritual personalities, who give a spiritual purpose and direction to the community; third when the collectivity in the course of its evolution gets spiritually awakened through spiritually inspired leadership.  Thus, when the leaders and individuals in an organization practice and realize this spiritual integration within themselves, they will provide the focal point of harmony for the spiritual integration of the collectivity.  For, integration of the individual is the basis for the integration of the collectivity.  A spiritually integrated individual radiates a spiritual force of harmony which by its subtle, silent and invisible spiritual influence, releases a corresponding force of harmony in the collectivity.  And when the leaders of an organization live according to the inner guidance and inspiration of the spiritual source of their being, they will provide the right system of spiritual ideals and values around which the life of the collectivity can be integrated at the highest spiritual level.


  1. Peter Pruzan and Kristen Pruzan Mikkelsen eds(2007), Leading with Wisdom, (Response New delshi), Pg.80, 82, 113, 243, 245.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Cowey S, (1996) Putting Principles First, eds: Rowan Gibson, Rethinking the Future, (Nicholas Brealey, London)
  1. The Mother, (1972) Collected Works, vol.14, (Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry), Pg.67
  1. Cowey S, (1996) Putting Principles First, eds: Rowan Gibson, Rethinking the Future, (Nicholas Brealey, London)
  1. Peter Pruzan and Kristen Pruzan Mikkelsen eds(2007), Leading with Wisdom, (Response New delshi), Pg.80, 82, 113, 243, 245.
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