A couple of years back, I had participated in an international conference on corporate governance and excellence in Delhi. In the inaugural session, one MBA student from the packed-up audience stood up and asked the key-note speaker sitting on the dais, “Sir, why should we at all follow ethics in business?” The key-note speaker thought for a moment and replied with a smile, “So that you can sleep well at night.”
Such a brief, specific and to-the-point reply charmed me a lot and also charmed the audience and of course, particularly the student who asked the question. It is really an all-accepted fact that everybody needs to sleep well for a better tomorrow, for a better and stronger body and mind and also for a peaceful and disease-free life. But very often, we do slip out from the ethical standards in personal life or business, in education or workplace, in family or society; and then to get rid of the consequences, we keep on running to either God or lawyer or both. It needs to be mentioned here that sleeplessness may not always have any cause and effect relationship with ethics only. There may be many other causes responsible for it. However, what the key-note speaker replied cannot certainly be ruled out.
Human beings have always been puzzled with moral questions of right and wrong behaviour and struggling to develop a system that produced the maximum good for the individual and for the group. They understood the importance of “right” behaviour and realised that there was danger of extinction if violent acts and pilferages were not controlled. There is a proverb, “Once the last tree is cut and the last river poisoned, you will find you cannot eat your money.” Hence, over the time, codes of conduct were developed just to ensure the mere survival of mankind. Accordingly, a system of acceptable behaviour was formed. For example, say Ten Commandments from the Bible. In every religion as well as tradition, there are sacred and ancient texts and such texts have guided people’s actions in all areas for centuries and have still been guiding. In fact, ethics are the sum total of essence of all religions put together; they are the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.
In the words of Swami Vivekananda, “Not ‘I’, but ‘Thou’” — that is the background of ethical codes.”
Throughout the history of civilization, it can be observed that wise men and religions all over the world have considered “value centred perfection” and not the “material success” as the ultimate goal of every human being. But unfortunately, with the passage of time, a degradation of ethics and values has been witnessed, keeping aside the wise teachings. Material success and fame have very often been witnessed to be considered as the symbol of highest achievement.
Mahatma Gandhi stressed that people should follow ethical principles. According to him, there are seven Social Sins. These are: (i) Politics without Principles (ii) Wealth without work, (iii) Commerce without Morality (iv) Knowledge without Characters (v) Pleasure without Conscience. (vi) Science without humanity, and (vii) Worship without Sacrifice.
So far as the ethics in workplace is concerned, Mahatma Gandhi put it like this: “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important.”
According to Henry Ford, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.” Finance and Accounts are perhaps the only business functions that accept responsibility to act in the public interest. While acting in public interest, it becomes imperative that the finance and accounting professional adheres to certain basic ethics in order to achieve his objective. But various accounting scandals witnessed during the past few years have put a serious question mark on the role of the finance and accounting professional in providing the right information for decision making, both within and outside their respective organisations.
A question that often comes to mind is this: In spite of knowing the importance of following the path of ethical standards, why do people prefer to follow the path of immoral, indisciplined and uncontrolled life? This must be result of their cost-benefit-analysis. When unethical path is followed, their analysis must have showed more benefit with less cost. They think that they will earn happiness in this process. But this is only a short term phenomenon. Innumerable numbers of examples are there which would prove that this will not hold good in the long run.
Sri Ramakrishna used to tell a story of a dog. A dog had found a bone somewhere. It would bury the bone in the ground. Time and again it would dig that dry bone out and try to chew at it. While doing so some blood would come out of its mouth and the dog would think that bone tasted nice and keep it in its mouth for some more time before burying it again. This practice would repeat whenever the desire came. The bone actually has no taste. It injures the dog’s palate and makes it bleed. But the dog does not realise that it tastes its own blood. Here, we may think that the dog is foolish; but that is what we exactly do. Whenever we are trying to satisfy any kind of desire, we forget that it might cause harms to ourselves. An immoral person, an indisciplined person, an uncontrolled life is considered by most people to be happy life. They enjoy drinking, partying, having fun – all unethically. But here the Upanishad says that if one wants to be happy in the real sense, one has to be a person of good character. The Upanishad connects morality with happiness.
Happiness is such a thing which attracts everyone. But according to Advaita Vedanta, man can experience varieties of happiness. If one wants vishaya ananda – that’s very good. One can try to adjust to the world, get better vishaya, better sharira, better loka and one will get more and more joy. But if one is wiser, one will not go into that and get trapped in vishayananda. He/she will rather make his/her mind calm and serene by being in the midst of all vishaya. That is possible. Who is there to prevent? But it must be kept in mind that the happiness does not depend on vishaya. Happiness does not depend upon the sugar candy, chocolate, job, the pay packet, husband, wife or the child (Swami Sarvapriyananda, Bulletin of the RMIC, March, 2015, pp-151). Ananda or happiness, in fact, manifests from within. But in all cases, man is Ananda Itself. Ananda is one’s svarupa, one’s own nature. It is not something that one has to chase up. It is not something that one has to beg from outside. This is the core idea of Advaita Vedanta. This is called Brahmananda.
Hence the question that arises here is: What type of happiness or Ananda do we chase up at the cost of our ethics, morality and above all our svarupa. The happiness or Ananda that we chase up at the cost of our ethics, morality and above all our svarupa, does ultimately kill our Brahmananda which is already in us and which manifests from within. Let this Brahmananda manifest in the lives of all of us through following the path of Ethics.