Spirituality, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility

(There is a higher spiritual dimension to sustainability and corporate responsibility. This article brings out this higher dimension in the concept of ‘sustainable evolution’.)

Our Sustainable Evolution

‘Sustainability’ has become a catchword in contemporary thought. According to present understanding, in simple terms, sustainability means to attune human life with the laws of Nature in such a way that it leads to sustainable economic development. However, we need a deeper and broader understanding of sustainability based on a better understanding of Man and Nature. Here comes the role of spirituality and the spiritual vision of ancient and modern seers in steering our sustainable development. According to this spiritual vision, neither human nor Nature is entirely physical. The human organism is multidimensional, made of physical, psychological and spiritual energies, which are in turn derived from corresponding dimensions in universal Nature; or in other words, for our sustainable evolution we need a greater ecology which can help us to attune our outer life not only with the laws of outer physical Nature but also to synchronize our inner being with the laws of the psychological and spiritual dimensions of Nature. This cannot be done entirely by the scientific and rational mind. We must have the spiritual intuition of the seer and the sage. If we do not have it, we have to draw upon the spiritual wisdom of the past and the present seers, and based on it use our scientific, rational and pragmatic mind to arrive at a feasible framework of thought and practice.

Here comes the importance of the ethical and spiritual principles and practices discovered by the spiritual traditions of the world, especially the Indian spirituality and the great science of yoga. What else are modern ecological practices such as recycling to our physical sustainability or the path of yoga is to our psychological and spiritual sustainability? In this spiritual perspective, we have to replace the term ‘sustainable development’ by the term ‘sustainable evolution’. In modern thought, the term ‘development’ is associated with economic and social development. But economic and social development, even when it is pursued with ecological principles, is not sufficient to steer the evolution of human race and our planet to our higher and future destiny. The prophetic insights of evolutionary thinkers such as Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin indicate that the future evolution of our race lies not in the material, economic or even the ecological domain but in the moral, psychological and spiritual realms. This requires a rethinking of the aims of development, which is already happening.

The New Thinking

One of the most forceful exponents of this new thinking in economics is the Swedish economists E. F. Schumacher. In his well-known and influential book Small Is Beautiful, Schumacher presents a powerful critique of the traditional paradigms of development based on endless material growth and consumption. He calls modern humanity to return to the eternal values of truth, beauty and goodness and to Buddhist economics which aims at ‘maximum well-being with minimum consumption’ and a work culture where there is less toil for acquiring more and more material wealth and as a result ‘more time and strength is left for artistic creativity’.1

Commenting on the biblical passage “Seek first the kingdom of God, all else will be added on to you”, Schumacher argues that the modern humanity, afflicted with maladies like ‘terrorism, genocide, breakdown, pollution, exhaustion’, is in such a condition that “unless you seek first the kingdom of God, these other thinks which you need will cease to be available to you”. In the concluding paragraph of his book, Schumacher delivers the following message to modern humanity:

“The type of realism which behaves as if the good, the true, beautiful were too vague and subjective to be adapted as the highest aims of social and individual life or the automatic spin-offs of the successful pursuit of wealth and power, has been aptly called ‘crack-pot realism’… People ask ‘What can I actually do’. The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting; we can each of us, work to put our own inner house in order.  The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology—but it can be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind.”2


In the field of environment also many thinkers have come to a more or less same conclusion as Schumacher. One of them is Dr. Maurice Strong, a former chief of the UN Environmental Agency, who states:

“We desperately need a new body of ideas, a new synthesis. This must centre on the need for a new attitude towards growth…. It will require a major transition to a less physical kind of growth, relatively less demanding of energy and raw materials. It will be one, which is based on an increasing degree on the satisfaction of people’s intellectual, moral and spiritual needs and aspirations in such fields as culture, music, art, literature and other forms of individual self-development and fulfilment. These are the areas in which man can achieve his highest level of growth in human terms.”3

This means priorities of sustainable development have to shift from material, economic and ecological sustainability to psychological and spiritual sustainability. This requires a human development and organizational strategy based on the principles of yoga. But there is much misunderstanding on the meaning of yoga. The popular understanding of yoga tends to equate yoga with the asanas of Hatha Yoga, but the asanas are a very secondary and physical aspect of yoga. The true meaning and principle of yoga may be described as ‘growth of conscious through accelerated inner evolution’. Yoga speeds up the inner progress of the individual through a focused concentration of the psychological energies in the human being. The principles of yoga can also be applied to the inner development of the collective, which has not been done so far in the history of humanity, but it can be an important part of the evolutionary experiments of the future.

The Law of Oneness: Spiritual Source of Our Sustainability

As we grow in consciousness through the path of yoga, one day we will rediscover the greatest ecological principle discovered by Indian seers—‘unity of life’ and ‘oneness of all existence’. Modern science has discovered this unity in the form of connectedness and interdependence of things at the physical level—new physics at the subatomic level and modern ecology at the biological or macro level in physical Nature. Indian seers perceived this in its essence as a Unity of Consciousness pervading all the levels of creation—physical, vital, mental and spiritual.

In our individual human existence we can feel this unity in our own highest self beyond our mind, where we can experience all others and all creation as part of our own self, as concretely as we feel our body as our own self. This is our highest spiritual destiny and to make our whole life and every activity of our life into a conscious and progressive journey towards this Unity of Consciousness is the aim of yoga and the path of evolutionary sustainability.

In this spiritual perspective corporate social responsibility has to be based on this perception of the Unity of Consciousness and the connectedness and interdependence of all life. In practical terms, it means our individual well-being is dependent on the well-being of all others and the well-being of the larger whole of life. An act of goodness which brings wellness to others returns upon me, enhancing my own wellness because I am one with all others. Similarly an act of exploitation or violence also returns upon me with painful consequences. The other aspect of corporate responsibility is towards the people who work in the organization. A company which looks towards the future has to regard their higher evolution towards their ‘Self of Unity’ as a part of their corporate responsibility and create an outer environment favourable to this evolution.


  1. E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful, Harper Perennial: New York (1973/2010), pp. 44–52.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Maurice Strong, ‘New Growth Model’, in Ritchie Calder (ed.), Future of a Troubled World, Heinemann, London, 1983, p. 141.

M. S. Srinivasan



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