Volume 7 - Issue 10
OCTOBEr 2009
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HARNESSING THE HEART - PART 20
Living Up to the Challenge of Conscience in Daily Life


Dear Readers, in this series, we offer you real life stories from contemporary heroes who have demonstrated the courage to follow their conscience when confronted with difficult dilemmas or challenging circumstances in their daily lives. This segment is an ode to the strength of the brave-hearts who chose to listen to the voice of their conscience, thereby abiding by the values of Right Conduct, Truth, Love, Peace and Non-violence, even though the choice had appeared tough.

Harnessing the Heart
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In our previous issues, we brought you inspiring stories from around the globe [Please access Harnessing the Heart Archives to read the previous articles of this series].

Many of us in this world face dilemmas either in our professional, personal or social life which we find are extremely difficult to resolve? Sometimes, if we follow the heart, it does not make sense in a worldly way. At other times, we take decisions which are hailed as wise and intelligent, but something within bothers us constantly. More often than not, there are multiple voices in our heads; which is the one we should follow? And how should we do it? What is the eventual result? The following real-life account of Mr. Rama Gopal, a corporate executive with humongous professional experience and powerful spiritual insights, will offer you great clarity about all these issues.


TRUSTING THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER


A successful senior manager shares his personal story
of living a life based on his inner, infallible guide - his conscience


By Mr. B. Rama Gopal


Mr. Bolisetty Rama Gopal presently serves as the President of a shipping group, operating out of a number of ports in India as well as out of Singapore. During his rich and vast experience covering more than three decades he has held very senior positions in the Banking, Telecom, BPO and Logistics industries pursuing business in India and abroad. An expert in project and people management, he has delivered plenty of lectures to students in schools to graduates in business schools to corporate employees. Besides, he has also offered spiritual and self-development presentations to people from all walks of life and all age groups. 

 

 “You should make your conscience secure and have confidence in yourself. Your conscience is your guide and it should dictate your behavior. Either for good or bad it is your conscience that is responsible. The guilt in you causes the bad. The strength and confidence in you should therefore prompt you to do such things that will promote you to have confidence in yourself. That is why I tell you to follow the four “F’s”:

Follow the Master,
Face the Devil,
Fight to the end,
Finish the game


Keep remembering these injunctions so that they resound in you every moment.  That is the most sacred way to lead one’s life.”   
  - Baba

Life is not merely a journey that originates from the mother’s womb and ends in a tomb, but an ongoing series of experiences, which are consequences of actions initiated by us in the past and an opportunity to execute actions that will determine our experiences of future.  It’s special for, it affords an unique opportunity to transform oneself.  Life is, therefore, a challenge as well.

How to meet this challenge? In my opinion, the only answer lies in adhering to the human value of following one’s conscience at all times.

For many years I did not have a clue about the meaning of the term ‘human values’ until I imbibed them in my life.  This awakening came about in the most lucid form from Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.  Just as salt cannot deserve to be called so if it is not salty, which is its natural property, a human being does not deserve to be called so if one does not reflect one’s nature in the form of human values of Truth, Peace, Love, Right Conduct and Nonviolence.

Our conscience represents Love; basing our words on this principle of universal Love amounts to adhering to Truth; carrying out actions based on the twin values of Truth and Love will inevitably lead to Right Action.  

Such purity brought about by the unity of thought, word and deed brings about a harmony that naturally confers Peace.  And where there is Peace, there is no scope for violence and therefore Peace quite naturally results in Nonviolence. 

Early Tryst with Truth

As a child, I studied in one of the best residential schools in the country.  Although in general, I may have been rated as a disciplined one, occasional prank playing against my conscience got me caught and punished.  Such incidents proved to be good lessons in understanding the need to adhere to one’s conscience. Growing into an adult I began to experience the benefits of following my inner voice steadfastly. 

Our conscience represents Love; basing our words on this principle of universal Love amounts to adhering to Truth; carrying out actions based on the twin values of Truth and Love will inevitably lead to Right Action.


More than three decades back, I received my first ever job interview call.  My father tried persuading me to seek the recommendation of someone of influence. Inwardly I did not accept such an approach and I did not evince interest in seeking a recommendation. Therefore, the chances of my getting the job were rated rather low.

While things were so, on the given day, when I reached Bangalore for the interview, my throat had gone so sore that I could not utter a word. Not to let go of the opportunity, I nevertheless attended the interview and exchanged slips in writing with the Chairman of the organization, finding no other way to interact with him.
 
Life is all about making the right choices at the right time

And it worked!  The Chief appreciated my attempt to face the interview despite the ordeal and passed on instructions to serve the appointment order immediately, which was a very rare gesture those times.

What visibly impressed him was my attitude to still attend the interview with self-confidence. The satisfaction of duly following my conscience and not seeking a recommendation boosted my spirits and strengthened my belief in further adhering to this value. I continued experimenting, carrying out things in line with this inner voice, as I progressed in my career and personal life.

Circumstances Cooperate to Honour Right Choices

Once on the annual ceremony of my father’s passing away, I was unexpectedly invited to join a very important business meeting.  It was to be held over a dinner at New Delhi’s Oberoi hotel and a few foreign dignitaries had come specifically for the purpose.  As has been the tradition with our family, I was not supposed to have the usual meal outside that night. My mother pleaded that I avoid such a meeting.  However, attending the meeting and joining them for dinner was unavoidable since I was the Head of our organisation in New Delhi. At the same time it was also necessary that I do not deviate from the tradition of the family. When I deliberated internally and decided to attend the business meeting and participate in the dinner as a matter of duty, because duty is God, as Baba says. The meeting went off well and immediately thereafter the hosts geared up to place orders for drinks and food.

Now came the challenge. How was I to say no to them? On the one hand I do not drink and on the other hand that night I was not supposed to eat as well. I also felt it inappropriate to tell them the reasons why I had to avoid eating since by then I had conversed long enough with them to realize that such an attempt would be worthless. My guess was that they would say,  ‘Come on, don’t tell us you are a teetotaler’.

Being Practical in the Line of Duty

As I groped for words to convey my predicament, I was instantly prompted by my conscience to utter in a low voice:

  “I am slightly indisposed; I am not sure whether I can go for a drink”.  

Came back the host with the words: “Would you like to go for a fresh fruit juice in case you are not comfortable?”

 

That’s what I wanted and so I nodded ‘yes, that would be preferable’.

While we were sipping the juice, the order was placed for the food as well.  I had by now prepared myself to dine with them as I was the only guest invited by the team of hosts and did not want to create a scene. However, amazingly, the food ordered by the foreign hosts did not turn up till late night, in the most famous five star hotel. Upon the hosts inquiring the reasons for the delay it came out that the order slip written down by the floor manager got misplaced in the kitchen. Over the years I have dined at five star hotels any number of times but there has never been an issue where the order slip itself was misplaced.

We are regularly faced with conflicting situations which we need to
overcome with the aid of our conscience

Since it was already beyond 1 a.m. by now, the main host hinted at our retiring for the day. “Mr. Ramagopal, you had a long day and I know you are already late going to bed, I think we should leave now,  let them continue with their dinner.”

Gladly I nodded ‘yes’ once again.

This unusual incident made me believe that things would ultimately go the right way if one takes the stand as guided by the conscience – of discharging one’s duty while adhering to values simultaneously, and in my case, not disrespecting the tradition of the family.

Things would ultimately go the right way if one takes the stand as guided by the conscience – of discharging one’s duty while adhering to values simultaneously, and in my case, not disrespecting the tradition of the family.

Career Growth at What Cost?

During one of the best times of my career, I was promoted to a very senior position in an organisation where I had worked for quite sometime since its inception. I was to report as the Country Head at a new location. The position carried very important responsibilities and power.  However, there was no urge in me to take up this role as the practices followed by the organisation would not let me enjoy the new position. The people at the helm were ambitious enough to somehow or the other grow at a high rate. I was apprehensive of occupying the position since I foresaw myself in conflict with those who were riding high in the limelight at that time, not quite realising that they were running at a hazardous speed. 

While my family members, friends and colleagues spoke highly about my new job, the story of my inner feelings was different; I was constantly being goaded from within to quit the organisation.  As I enjoyed good rapport and close relationship with those holding the reins of power, it was difficult for me to quit as well.

The dilemma was I could not on my own look out for new positions elsewhere since I would be deserting the people whom I liked and who had trusted me enough to confer upon me such senior positions unasked. On the other hand, if I took up the new position it would be increasingly compromising to work against my conscience.

However, the exit route emerged when a friend of mine made an offer to me to become part of their international business.   My family members silently decried my decision to leave the organisation while some colleagues and friends termed the step, behind my back, as ‘a hasty one’ too.  It took a lot of effort to convince my employers that I had to leave them because I had an option for better growth.

Conscience is Almighty

Time vindicated the stand I took following the guidance of my conscience. It did not take more than two years before the organisation I had left, got dismantled and perished.

The erstwhile colleagues then turned to shower their appreciation on my decision to leave the organisation much before the disastrous end. I cannot refrain from sharing the delight of encashing the shares allotted under stock option as well after leaving the above organisation. One fine morning while I sat over a cup of coffee with my wife, we entered into a dialogue on selling the stocks that I was holding under the employees’ stock option scheme.

The prospects of the stock’s price soaring were very much in the air by that time and we started calculating what we would make at the prevailing prices and how much more if the prices rose?

 
Inner Peace can be found not in endlessly fulfiiling desires
but in containing desires and practising contentment

After our greed-driven fantasies, came the voice of the conscience which asked, “What if the prices dropped?”, “How much more do you need?”, “Why not be content with what you are getting now?”  The inner voice prompted me to encash the shares as the money would be a comfortable back-up for us.

This sudden prompting interested me because truly it was a sum which could not be ignored.  However, selling at that time was not considered worldly wise as the market at that time was agog with the talk of the particular stock’s potential to scale up further in value. It was tough to decide.

I realized that if I had continued after such an experience, it meant I was compromising with the values for the sake of making money, and falling in my own esteem. Taking the decision to get out of the business was giving me the equanimity I needed.  This is a true benchmark and very important one too.   

To Cash or Not to Cash the Stock Option

At times of such dilemmas, following the dictum of the conscience would always be the option that would prove to be in our real interest, maybe immediate or in the long run.  Sometimes confusion may add up since we are not sure about the multiple voices we may hear.  We may wonder which guidance is of the conscience and how to identify the same. The best way would be to discretely put questions. The conscience is ever ready to provide answers but it is imperative to be receptive to it. The guidance provided by the inner voice when considered  and decided to be implemented upon would  bring clarity of thought, peace of mind and an immediate sense of confidence; one would know he or she is indeed following exactly what one is supposed to and that is what would be in one’s best long term interest.

In this case my conscience did respond ‘Better one in the hand than two in the bush”, ‘Better being content than being greedy’. Upon hearing my thoughts, initially my wife dissuaded me. But later it turned out that I was one of the very few employees who made money out of the stocks before the scrip collapsed to zero in value. The majority of the employees had to forego even the face value of their investments.    

Righteousness Guarantees Protection

In real life all of us have a role to play either by default or as assigned to us in our capacity as a member of the family at home, at the work place or in society.

It is very important that we play our roles to the best of our ability by relying upon the guidance of our conscience at all times. It is also necessary to be assertive on the stand we take in tune with the conscience. Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitaha (Righteousness will protect those who tread upon the path of right conduct). The protection is guaranteed to those who carry out actions as prompted by their inner voice – this has been my experience.

However, for reasons unknown to us we may at times encounter unforeseen situations though we are sure there was no fault on our part while we executed such actions.  One such event intrigued me when the Central Board of Investigation or CBI called me for an investigation into a matter relating to a lending transaction carried out to a client at Delhi while I worked for an institution as its Head for North India.

The acid test lies in our ability to evaluate a particular action by the consequences it is likely to result in, whether it is ‘sreyaskara’ (in our larger interest) or ‘preyaskara’ (merely attractive) to us. Human values have, therefore,
to be adhered to at all times
.

CBI Investigates Monetary Transactions

Strangely, the CBI summoned me about 10 years after the transaction was carried out and three years after I left the organisation with a clean chit.  When I received the summons, I was intrigued as to what mistake I could have committed. All that I could recall was that the client involved was a state undertaking, which used to borrow money of the order of few tens of crores of rupees from us.  As the Head of the institution, I bore the ultimate responsibility of ensuring the required compliances and the use of funds vested with me by default.

The client could not comply with all the formalities required and as such the funds were only partly released. The people representing the client tried convincing me to release the entire money at that time. Not succumbing to any pressure or luring, I was able to ward off their demands by purely putting forth our views on the merits of the case.

That was the case that the CBI was investigating to see how the funds were appropriated after they were drawn from our organisation. As a part of the process my name was picked up for investigation.  I was advised that I should make myself available for the interrogation for at least three days. Having no option but to attend the same, I proceeded for the inquiry.

Tough Investigation Ends in Friendly Lunch

Having followed professional ethics and high values all my life, I did have the courage to face any situation, or as Baba says, ‘face the devil with confidence’.  In my heart I was sure l had never deviated or compromised anyway in the matter at any time. It was therefore easy for me to face the CBI authorities though the conversation was intriguing:

 

CBI Official: “Your name, your father’s name?
(The other official starts writing a statement)

Upon exchanging my basic identity, the occupation I was in, etc., on their recalling my memory to the lending made to the client, the conversation went further on:

CBI Official: “How did you release the monies, the big monies?”

My answer:  “In line with the terms of the sanction and in the ordinary course of business.”

CBI official: “When did you release Rs.7.50 crores?”

When we rely on our conscience, we can always be courageous

My answer: “The account will speak for itself.”

CBI Official:  “Why was the remaining money not released?”

Sometimes confusion may add up since we are not sure about the multiple voices we may hear.  We may wonder which guidance is of the conscience and how to identify the same. The best way would be to discretely put questions. The conscience is ever ready to provide answers but it is imperative to be receptive to it. The guidance provided by the inner voice when considered  and decided to be implemented upon would  bring clarity of thought, peace of mind and an immediate sense of confidence; one would know that it would be in one’s
best long term interest.

My answer: “The first trench was released because the required formalities were complied with and the end use was clear to that extent. The remaining money was not released as the stipulated terms and conditions were not complied with.”

Anyway why are you asking me all these questions, it is more than 3-4 years since I left the organisation with a clean chit; the records will speak for themselves. I think you people are new to conducting investigations of this type that you have to question me for the information which is otherwise easily and readily available on records with the organisation I have left.”

CBI Official:  “Can you give us some tips how to go about the investigation?

My answer: Please go through the files and records, you will get answers to all the questions you are raising. I supervised releases of hundreds of crores of rupees during my career. You think I will be able to remember each transaction?

CBI Official: Why not?

My counter questionCan you please recall now and list out all items you and your wife spent using your salary last month?

CBI Official:  “I think it is difficult”. But then he surprised me with an inquiry that came as a bolt out of the blue) “Sir, are you a devotee of  Sathya Sai Baba?”

My Answer: “I do not know if I can claim to be one, but yes, we follow Him.”

CBI Official: “Sir, you may please have lunch here and go.”

(The CBI people advised me to come prepared for investigation for three days while the whole conversation lasted for not more than 15 minutes)

Within minutes, what seemed like a hostile atmosphere at the beginning turned out to be a friendly one and the proceedings  were concluded.   I remained surprised, at the sudden twist to the episode, thanking the Lord for it. Certainly, following the conscience in the true sense would ultimately prove to be in our best interest.  It is indeed our unfailing guide and well-wisher.

Breached Trust Violates Conscience

The dilemma of whether to opt for a particular decision or not did haunt me on many occasions. As mentioned earlier, I was persuaded by a friend of mine to join their international business.  Upon my hesitating to take an immediate decision, the friend persuaded me even more. It took me quite some time to decide whether I should leave the organisation I was then working for and join the friend in the business. However, clarity came at one time when I felt it right and justifiable to leave the company I was working for. The business levels of the friend’s organisation were however very low when the offer was made to me. Not taking this into consideration at all, I chose to go ahead with the offer made respecting the friend’s proposal and deeming that I would be better off joining a friend who would be better to work with.

Pleased with my decision the friend expressed various terms under which we could run the business together. The terms were indeed reasonable and gave me a feeling I made a right decision in the matter. In no time the business picked up and flourished in numbers beyond the targeted levels.  The more the business grew, the larger was the piece of the pie the friend had to share with me. But this became very difficult for my friend. The mind is so wavering; it can tilt a person’s attitude in a wink of the eye.  Very surprisingly, one day, the friend uttered few words

in such a voice that he clearly went back on the earlier assured terms. The conditions expressed were indeed affecting me financially but it was his going back on his assurances that disturbed me even more. To add insult to injury, he tried to cover up his foul game by painting the whole episode as though the terms were as we had originally agreed upon.  Clearly, the friend was playing a foul game that hurt me even more.

There was no reason why he should offer me terms that were not demanded on him and why he should go back on his words without a discussion. I could not digest his unethical behavior. 

 
   

It occurred to me, on one hand, that one should not work with people and at places where one has to compromise with ones’ values. On the other hand even though the stand taken by my friend affected me monetarily, there was still a good scope for making money further.  Nevertheless, following my conscience, I preferred to articulate my feelings
on the unreasonable stand taken by him and fearlessly expressed that it was
unfair on his part to go back on his own words.

My inner voice did not permit me to work any further with him.  Thus I chose to part with and severed our business relationship.

In retrospect, I did wonder for some time if I was unreasonable in making such a decision. But then I realized that if I had continued after such an experience, it meant I was compromising with the values for the sake of making money, and falling in my own esteem. Taking the decision to get out of the business was giving me the equanimity I needed.  This is a true benchmark and very important one too.   
 
Ambiguity of Role Causes Confusion

On another occasion, when I had just concluded an international assignment and was looking out for a new contract, another friend invited me to be part of their multinational joint venture organisation. The position however, did not offer me full clarity of my role and the utility of my services to the company.  This ambiguity prevailed even after I had spent some time with them. Growing concerned over the situation and having high regard for our relationship, I was stuck in a dilemma whether I should continue offering my services without clarity or deliberate with them. My conscience did not favour a discussion with them at that stage and guided me to continue. 

It is therefore important that we remain alert by not letting the mind ignore the dictates of the conscience.  A holistic approach to any issue is possible only after a thought emanating from the mind is processed through the intellect and influenced by the guidance of the conscience.

Listening to the inner voice, I chose not to discuss the issue and left it to be solved over time. Within a few days I was woken up by a phone call one late night when once again an offer to lead another organisation came as a bolt out of the blue and I expressed my desire to take up the new option. Later, I learnt from the friend that, just about the time I left their organisation, he had been contemplating to offer a role in their Board that would have certainly satisfied me. I would have loved to continue with my friend if only he made his plans clear earlier. A little more time spent in patience on my part would have given us time to be together. Opting to accept the new offer I was no doubt in pain leaving a very good friend and wondered if I left the friend as well in pain.  I could not of course reason out till date the logic in my friend not being able to spell out his offer and my inability to deliberate with him. Nevertheless, the growth continued to be favourable.

The Four Formidable “F’s”

Every thought word and deed of ours takes us towards or away from our goals. It is therefore important that we remain alert by not letting the mind ignore the dictates of the conscience.  A holistic approach to any issue is possible only after a thought emanating from the mind is processed through the intellect and influenced by the guidance of the conscience. Taming the mind to serve as an instrument of the conscience, instead of being subservient to the senses and the outer world, forms the essential part of the individual sadhana. The acid test lies in our ability to evaluate a particular action by the consequences it is likely to result in, whether it is ‘sreyaskara’ (in our larger interest) or ‘preyaskara’ (merely attractive) to us. Human values have, therefore, to be adhered to at all times.   Today, I understand the four “F’s” of Baba with greater clarity.

Illustrations: Ms. Anu Shankar

Dear reader, if you have such inspiring tale or know somebody who would like to share his story, we would only be too happy to feature it in this section of Heart2Heart. After all, what is Heart2Heart without tales of love, inspiration, values and compassion? Please write to us at [email protected] with your name and country. Thank you for your time.

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