January 17, 2009

Sage Sri Aurobindo's and social scientist Schein's concepts of culture

CREATING CULTURE SPECIFIC OD SYNERGY: A FOCUS ON INDIA The Sanskrit word for culture is samskriti. The root sam means to synthesize. It is held that samskriti synthesizes or integrates the samskritas (those who possess samskriti) to the transcendental powers in the universe. In other words, samskriti is a current of human thought, sentiment and action which oversees superficial transactions and transitions (Panse, 1972). The thought follows a line of inquiry into the nature of one's own self and the self’s relation to the external world. Culture, according to Indian thought, is a function of people's cosmological concepts and philosophy of life, having to do with higher things in life, and with subtle things of the mind.

Perhaps a clearer conception of this notion of samskriti or culture is that of Sri Aurobindo (1971), a mystic and respected exponent of Indian philosophy and psychology. According to him, culture is the expression of a society's consciousness of life in terms of three aspects: (1) thoughts, ideals, upward will and aspirations; (2) creative self-expression of imagination and intelligence; and (3) outward and pragmatic formulation of the inspiring ideals under the practical constraints of time and space.

It may be noted that there are some western definitions of culture that are not too different. For example, Skinner (1964) suggested four aspects of culture: (a) assumptions and attitudes, (b) personal beliefs and aspirations, (c) interpersonal relationships, and (d) social structure. Assumptions and attitudes include how an individual views time, what will the future be, whether or not there is life after death, what an individual's duties and responsibilities are, and what he/she sees as his/her proper purpose in life. Personal beliefs and aspirations constitute an individual's views about right and wrong, sources of self-pride, fear and concern, hopes, and beliefs about the balance between a single person's importance vs. that of society's. Interpersonal relationships include the source of authority, whether or not an individual has empathy for others, the importance of the family to a person, where the objects of an individual's loyalty are located, and the extent of tolerance for personal differences. Social structure encompasses the amount of inter-class mobility, whether or not there is a class or caste system, whether the society is urban, farm or village, and what determines status in that culture.

Schein's (1981) definition is even closer to that of Sri Aurobindo. He has defined culture as consisting of three levels: (a) basic assumptions and premises, (b) values and ideology, and (c) artifacts and creations. The first level includes aspects like the relationship of man to man and man's concept of space and his place in it. These are usually taken for granted and are 'preconscious'. The middle level includes values and ideology, indicating ideals and goals as well as paths for achieving them. The third level includes language, technology and social organization. Each successive level is, to an extent, a manifestation of the one before it and thus all levels are interrelated.

It is interesting to note that both sage Aurobindo's and social scientist Schein's concepts of culture are in terms of levels, both having three levels. Furthermore, there is some similarity between Schein's second level, values and ideology, and Aurobindo's first level, religion and philosophy. They differ in terms of the importance they attach to this as the defining and predominant aspect of culture. According to Aurobindo's conception, religion and philosophy represent the most intense form of a people's upward will and aspiration and are the most emphatic disclosures of culture. The second aspect, the creative, imaginative and intellectual aspect refers to art, poetry, literature, dance, drama, music, architecture, etc. The third aspect, the outer and practical expression includes morals, mores, language, dress, food habits, and political-social organizations.

The indigenous Aurobindonian first level framework is adopted for the remainder of this paper for obvious reasons. To start off, the religious-philosophical ideals, upward will and aspirations of the primary Indian culture (also called Hindu, Sanatana or Vedanta) are presented in Table 11.3 below. Also noted in the table are contrasts from the western (Judeo-Christian) conceptions, which further helps to describe and distinguish the value framework in India for which appropriate OD interventions need to be envisioned. For, as noted earlier, the notions of OD evolved in the backdrop of the Judeo-Christian paradigm.

In order to derive implications from Table 11.3 for individual behavior in organizations it would help to take into account additional anchoring notions of Hinduism as described by a number of scholars (Ajaya, 1983; Brown, 1990; Das, 1989; Jacobs, 1961; Kenghe, 1972a, 1972b; Rama, Ballentine and Ajaya, 1976). The concepts of self, body, external world, and interpersonal relationships are unique in the Hindu orientation. It is held that the body is not the real person, but only an outer shell or clothing, and has a higher mission than just being a means of sensual experience. So an individual is enjoined to think that he has a body, but he is not the body; he has emotions, but he is not the emotions; that in his core, he is pure consciousness. The core is the inner spirit of the person, the-essential self. Death brings an end to the body, but not to its real core or atman. This inner self is accorded the highest importance as revealed by the following hymn. 'The spirit within me is smaller than a mustard seed; the spirit within me is greater than this earth and the sky and the heaven, and all these combined.'

ORGANIZATIONAL REVITALIZATION: MAYA OR MOKSHA? {Excerpted and somewhat rephrased from an earlier publication as a chapter. The focus here is on organizations in India. It also holds implications for Indian/Hindu organizations outside of India.} Excerpted and somewhat rephrased from Kalburgi M. Srinivas. Organization Development: Maya or Moksha. Pp 248- 282, Chapter 11 in Work Motivation: Models for Developing Countries, Edited by R.N.Kanungo and M. Mendonca, Sage Publications, 1994. If interested you may read the original chapter that first talks about developing countries and contexts prior to the above section on India.
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  1. The complete chapter can be read in Kalburgi M. Srinivas. Organization Development: Maya or Moksha. Pp 248- 282, Chapter 11 in, Work Motivation: Models for Developing Countries, Edited by R.N.Kanungo and M. Mendonca, Sage Publications, 1994.
    Also see blog http://kalburgisrinivas.blogspot.com
    for contextual reading. Also see blog http://HinduPsychotherapy.blogspot.com