(Published in “Charted Secretary” journal of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India)

The corporate world is in a state ferment and transition. There is at present a growing group of management thinkers and leaders who are seeking for something greater than the bottomline. Among them there are some who are talking about spirituality in business. However most of what is called as “spiritual” in management skims the upper layers of the mental and moral domains and falls short of the true spiritual domains of consciousness. This new thought in management can help the corporate world in taking the next step in evolution beyond the techno-economic bottomline and therefore helpful in the forward march of business. But to move further beyond into the spiritual, the corporate mind has to understand clearly the distinction between the higher mental-moral domains and the true spiritual dimensions. The main purpose of this study is to bring about this distinction between the new thought in management and the spiritual paradigm of consciousness.

Key Perspectives:

New thought in management (NTM); meaning of spirituality; spiritual paradigm of consciousness (SPC); difference between NTM and SPC; inner discipline for spiritual transformation of consciousness.

The New Thought in Management

Let us take some brief snapshots of the evolving corporate world. When we look back at the early seventies, the dominant corporate values are shareholder value, market-share, profit-maximization, productivity, and competitive advantage. Looking again after another ten or fifteen years, you see some new values like quality, customer service, innovation, knowledge-management, and globalization gaining prominence. Presently we see another set of values like social responsibility, sustainability, ethics, and employee development, slowly gaining increasing acceptance among corporate leaders. A new concept, which is popular at present among business leaders, is “triple-bottom line”: economic, social and environmental. What is the meaning and significance of this change or evolution in values?

We can perhaps get some clues to answer these questions if we examine the corresponding or parallel evolution in terms of conception of human nature and motivation theories in management. According to Stephen Covey, evolution of management thought may be viewed in terms of four paradigms.  First is the scientific-authoritarian paradigm of Fredrick Taylor, which viewed the human being as a physical man or a “stomach” seeking mainly for economic survival and security. In this paradigm, the path of motivation is through a system of punishments and rewards administered by an authoritarian management style. The second paradigm is that of the human relations school which conceived human beings as a “heart” with emotional needs for appreciation, recognition and affection. The path of motivation lies in treating people with respect, decency, courtesy and kindness. The third paradigm views the human being as a “mind” with its need for knowledge, self-expression and self-actualization. Here, the motivational strategy is based on providing sufficient autonomy and opportunity for people to develop and express their mental potentials and talents and harness them for realizing organizational goals. This is the paradigm of the human resource development.

The first, Taylorian paradigm is predominantly physical, the next human relations paradigm is social, and the third Human Resource Development paradigm is psychological. And finally, Stephen Covey presents his own principle-centred approach as a “spiritual” paradigm. In this fourth paradigm a human being is viewed mainly as a “soul” seeking for “meaning.” According to Covey, the highest motivation happens when people are given the freedom and opportunity to use their talent to serve a meaningful moral cause. As Cowey explains this fourth paradigm:

“Now we work with fairness, kindness, efficiency, and effectiveness. We work with the whole person. We see that people are not just resources or assets, not just economic, social, and psychological beings. They are also spiritual beings; they want meaning, a sense of doing something that matters. People do not want to work for a cause with little meaning, even though it taps their mental capacities to their fullest. There must be purposes that lift them, ennoble them, and bring them to their highest selves. Using this paradigm, we manage people by a set of proven principles. These principles are the natural laws and governing social values that have characterized every great society, every responsible civilization, over the centuries. They surface in the form of values, ideas, ideals, norms, and teachings that uplift, ennoble, fulfill, empower, and inspire.”(1)

Thus, in terms of organizational development the highest conception arrived in modern management thought is the concept of the “triple bottom line” with an emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability and creating value for stakeholders. And in terms of human resource development it is the principle-centred paradigm of Stephen Covey.

There is a meaning and pattern behind this change and evolution of values and conceptions in business and management thought. Modern business has gone through a process of natural evolution from the physical-economic, social-emotional to the mental-moral paradigm. In our integral view Covey’s paradigm is not entirely spiritual; it is predominantly mental-moral, but it can be a very effective preparation for the spiritual.

There are more or less similar perspectives as that of Stephen Cowey by other thinkers like for example, Abraham Maslow, Charles Hardy and many such authors on self-development. We will not enter into the details of this new thought. We are highlighting Stephen Cowey because he is a representative thinker of this type of thinking which tries to bring higher values to management. Their thoughts and ideals are more or less similar to that of Cowey. Most of the literature in this category is based on the following values or principles:

  1. Personal Development
  2. Positive Thinking
  3. Optimism or positive self-assertion
  4. Self-expression of the human potential or self-actualisation
  5. Emphasis on some universal moral principles like integrity, fairness, justice, kindness, service or contribution to the society.
  6. Harmonious relationship with people with an emphasis on family, friends, work-life balance.
  7. Worldly success with an altruistic touch

The integral view agrees with Stephen Covey that the next step in evolution has to be in the spiritual dimension. But as we have indicated earlier, in the integral view, most of this new thought in management are within the mental-moral domain and do not enter into the spiritual domain. In our further discussions we will call the new thought in management as the NTM paradigm and the spiritual paradigm as SPC which means spiritual paradigm of consciousness.

The Meaning of Spirituality

Before coming to the differences between NTM and SPC we must have a clear understanding of the meaning of spirituality. Let us now examine this much misunderstood term, “spirituality” in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s luminous and insightful perspectives.

Sri Aurobindo begins his elaboration of the meaning of spirituality by listing what spirituality is not, “It must therefore be emphasised” says Sri Aurobindo, “that spirituality is not a high intellectuality, not idealism, not an ethical turn of mind or moral purity or austerity not religiosity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervor, not even a compound of all these excellent things; a mental belief, creed or faith, an emotional aspiration, a regulation of conduct according to a religious or ethical formula are not spiritual achievement or experience.” We must note here many of these characteristics, aims or objectives of NTM come within this list of what spirituality is not. For example in the emerging literature in the West sometimes a strong vital “passion” for work is regarded as spiritual. But what is called here as passion belongs to what Sri Aurobindo describes as “ardent and exalted emotional fervor” in the list of what is not spiritual.

But as we have mentioned earlier, true spirituality does not reject these mental and moral aspirations and activities but accepts the nobility and value of the effort and their evolutionary utility. As Sri Aurobindo explains further: “These things are of considerable value to mind and life; they are of value to the spiritual evolution itself as preparatory movements, disciplining, purifying or giving a suitable form to the nature; but they still belong to the mental evolution—the beginning of a spiritual experience or change is not there.” The last part of this passage by Sri Aurobindo indicates the main or essential difference between the NTM and SPC. NTM paradigm is predominantly mental, conceptual and behavioural and there is not the aspiration for a direct inner contact with the spirit. This aspiration for a direct experiential contact with the spiritual Reality and the resulting inner transformation is the essence of spirituality. As Sri Aurobindo sums up:

“Spirituality is in its essence an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than our mind, life and body, an inner aspiration to know, to feel, to be that, to enter into contact with the greater Reality beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being, to be in communion with It and union with It, and a turning, a conversion, a transformation of our whole being as a result of the aspiration, the contact, the union, a growth or waking into a new becoming or new being, a new self, a new nature.”(2)

The Main Differences

We are now in a better position to understand with greater clarity the distinctive features of NTM and SPC. These are the main differences:

  1. NTM paradigm is confined to self-development within the mental-moral ego; SPC aims at self-transcendence of the mental-moral ego in an egoless and universal consciousness.
  2. NTM paradigm aims at a mental-moral reformation of outer behaviour and action; SPC aims at an inner transformation of consciousness.
  3. NTM aims at self-actualisation within the body-mind complex; the goal of SPC is self-realisation, which means discovery of the deepest and innermost truth of our spiritual individuality beyond our body and mind and live and act from this true Self. This true Self is at once individual and universal.       It has an individuality with its own unique and intrinsic nature. But at the same time its consciousness extends to embrace others and all life in a feeling of spiritual identity, where we can feel all others as part of our own self, as concretely as we feel our body as our own self. If you ask how can something be at once individual and universal, we can only say that the spiritual domain transcends the categories of logical thinking; it is a consciousness in which contradictions of logic are fused in a suprarational harmony.
  4. NTM aims at meaningful work; the quest of SPC is to discover the highest aim, meaning and purpose of human life as a whole.
  5. In NTM, worldly success is an important and integral part of the goal; in SPC they are the result or a by-product and not the aim.
  6. In NTM, CSR is based on economic and social mutuality between the Corporation and the Community; in SPC it is based on the unity of consciousness where other are felt as part of our own self.
  7. Leading faculties of NTM are reason and ethical sense. In SPC they are the ethical aesthetic and intuitive intelligence.

The Inner Transformation of Consciousness

The most important difference between the NTM and SPC lies in the inner transformation of consciousness. In the NTM paradigm, the main emphasis is on externalization of Ideas or Values in action and behaviour. Though this is very important and a vital part of the inner discipline of spirituality, this is not enough for a complete transformation of consciousness. For this inner transformation, externalization of ideas through action has to be accompanied by internalization of them in thought and feelings so that outer action becomes a spontaneous expression of a corresponding inner state of consciousness. In SPC this transformation of consciousness can be achieved by the following system of discipline, which is lacking in NTM:

  1. Growth of consciousness through increasing self-awareness
  2. Preparatory inner purification through a process of cultivation-rejection, which means rejections of all thought, feeling, impulses and motives which are contrary to the ideal and cultivation of all that is in harmony with ideals.
  3. Progressive elimination of ego and desire from all the levels of our being—physical, emotional, mental, moral.
  4. Transcendence of dualities through the practice of equanimity to the polarities of life like success and failure, praise and blame, joy and sorrow.
  5. Witness-consciousness by which we can watch the inner movements of our mind and heart as a detached observer.
  6. Inner calm, peace and silence, which means freedom from the clamour thought.
  7. Development of the intuitive intelligence beyond the mind.
  8. Self-surrender to a higher divine power above our mind.
  9. All actions for and relationship with others have to be based on an experience, intuition, feeling or perception of the Unity-consciousness or I-am-You consciousness, which means on the perception, my wellbeing is dependent on the wellbeing of others and that of the larger whole of life, and when I do good to others I am doing good to myself and when I hurt others I am hurting myself.
  10. This principle of unity-consciousness applies not only to outer activities but also to our inner movements like thoughts and feelings. A good thought and feeling for others induces a similar thought and feeling in them leading to harmonious relationship. And conversely, negative thoughts and feelings like irritation, anger, resentment also invokes a similar reaction in others, leading to perpetual inner conflict which may not be visible outside.


  1. Stephen R. Cowey, Principle-Centred Leadership, Simon & Schultzer, London, p. 178-79
  2. Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 21-22, p. 889
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