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Hinduism & Vedanta: Transformational Leadership through Listening

In Hinduism and it's mystical philosophy of Vedanta, prayer is said to be not the act of ‘speaking’ to god but the act of listening (‘shravana’). Through listening is transformation. The quality of being is to be completely receptive. And this is also a cornerstone of good leadership: being in a state where you are open to that which is around you. That is the way one's intuition and intelligence are sharpened. That is the way one feels an inward stillness. That is the way your ‘heart’ becomes involved in a deeper way in existence.

Basically the art of listening is the art of acceptance. And out of acceptance comes an inner relaxation and real understanding of reality. What is intelligence? True intelligence means being free from any kind of conditioning, and responding to things as we encounter them. And that is the hallmark of good leadership. Being able to absorb more fully from one's environment, like a sponge. Through this absorption comes transformation and insight into how things really work. And this is the art of listening: coming into an attunement with all that is around us. That is the responsibility a leader truly has to be alert to. And through this alertness, to create such insight that one can bring about order. And in fact the primary duty or Dharma of a leader is to create order where there is chaos.

So create a slight discipline about the act of listening. Be aware of its power. It will bring out a greater ability to read into things, and to respond in a manner which leads to greater success. Most good leaders have one very good quality in common: they can be extremely calm and cool in adverse situations. They seem very collected within themselves during crises. This ensures an unshakeable power within. This leads to what has been called ‘right mindfulness’, a state of being where total energy awakens within you, and you feel a sense of wholeness.

The best part of Hindu philosophy and Vedanta is that it has nothing to do with very particular beliefs or set of beliefs. Rather, it emphasizes the states of being. About how you can move closer to your own ultimate potentiality, and also closer to the larger truth of existence. It does not teach anything novel, but tries to instill those timeless principles that can give us the taste of spiritual freedom, as well as take us to an unfolding of our own life skills. That is why it has been so universally resonant with people around the world.

In Vedanta it is said that what we have to do is find our original self which is hidden underneath several layers of conditioning. Now what listening attentively does, is to allow us to feel those layers, and to peel those layers. Ultimately coming to the core of ourselves. And coming to this very core of ourselves, we not only relate to ourselves better, but also relate to others into the material world in a much more mature and meaningful manner. Interestingly, Jesus also tells his disciples such a thing: that they “hear but do not listen”. Vedanta philosophy also says that while we may be listening in a gross manner, the subtle art of deeper listening is to come to an inner silence. And to act from that inner silence. Because acting from that pure space of inner silence allows the very spirit of ourselves - the very core of ourselves - to find splendid expression.

How many people work from their hearts? Yet the difference between geniuses and others is their ability to go so deeply with their hearts into their pursuit, so that spontaneously some new insight is born. And listening is the most accessible way of going deeply into a thing. It does not require much effort. It just requires a will to relate to others and to the world, in a manner which is much more meaningful. In fact, at some level all meditation is nothing but ‘listening’ to the silence within ourselves. Ultimately, listening to the silence within has the ability to rejuvenate and recreate us.

Vedanta says that we live within many circles of life. At the outermost circle is the material world. Within that circle is another circle, which is the circle of our physical being. Within that also is the circle of our thoughts or ideas. Then is the circle of our feelings. And even subtler than feelings is the circle of the pure ‘witness’ within us. And that pure witness is the purest of things. So it's our job at our innermost core to listen to these different circles, all these different layers of our existence. If you listen close enough to people and events in the material world, you come closer to understanding your own thought process. In becoming closer to your thought processes you begin understanding your own feelings better. And so on…

Hence, this act of attention is very important for any leader. Spirituality is a growth process, and in order to grow, we need to put our entire heart and mind into something. We need great intensity. In fact intensity is one of the hallmarks of good leadership. Without intensity, one remains unsure. But what is intensity? Intensity means simply totality of being. And totality is born from the act and art of listening totally! From bringing consciousness to your listening. From making it a conscious effort. Then only is the bliss of relating to others truly meaningful. Now somebody may say what is the need to listen; you just do what you like… follow what your mind tells you as an individual. But the fact is that we are interconnected. The truth of the matter is that for silence to be born, listening is important; for understanding to be born, listening is important. Make it a habit. Real prayer is listening, real action begins with listening. Real thought is the transformation of listening into spontaneous action.

It is said in the oldest texts that when you are really silent is when the voice of god speaks to you. You begin hearing and living in a totally different kind of way: your work is then not done out of a sense of duty, but out of a sense of real joy. You begin communicating better with the outside world, and within yourself. And that is key for effective leadership.

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