|Saturday, 12 January 2002|
Management lessons from Buddhist jataka stories
by K. A. I. Kalyanaratne
Training is to be considered an integral element of the all encompassing managerial component of human resources management. It is for this reason that when the monarch of the time sought the advice of Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, as what more should be done for the populace, after having fed, provided shelter and clothing and education to them, he said to train them, and to train them more and more.
This short historical dialogue heightens the importance and efficacy of training in a nation's forward march to achieve its aspirations.
However, for seeds of training to germinate and to bring about healthy results, it is best that wherever and whenever the circumstances permit, to implant training activities on native soil. This approach brings about a strong sense of nativity and that the concepts that are being taught and deliberated are based on familiar climes.
From among the numerous training methods that are being employed by the trainers, the method that could be conveniently placed on a native footing is the case study method.
A case study is a record of a real or fictitious situation, including the surrounding facts, opinions and prejudices, given to trainees to analyse and discuss. It may deal with one event or with a situation involving several events.
It may be presented as a written oral narration and on film, filmstrip or slides. Case studies can be employed for the trainees to gain analytical skills and to provide an insight into the logical decision-making processes.
Another advantage of this method of training is that trainees can draw upon experience and exercise skills which are used in their work without incurring real risk.
In short, case studies are an effective training method for the trainees to gain 'experiential learning' in supervisory management training for dealing with such concepts as authority and responsibility.
Apart from the inspiration of the Bodhisatva ideal, the jataka stories have such an appeal that they have entered into the life of the people. In a society where there were no novels - romances or short stories, the jataka stories took their place. Even today the Jataka tales are very popular among the folk.
The jataka stories have an added virtue of depicting the vagaries of human behaviour, and it would thus provide a fertile base for any study relating to analysing human behaviour.
Understanding human nature is central to the management of organisational behaviour, as managements would not exist sans their human element. In defining organisations, it has now gained ground that 'staff is the organisation'.
Therefore, the impact of human behaviour on the corporate image of an organisation and vice versa, is inseparable/intertwined.
The jataka stories depicting human behaviour, in different environs, would thus provide a sound launching pad for gaining experiential learning especially with regard to understanding how people behave in different circumstances.Managements need to understand why people behave as they do. To get things done through other people, you have to know why they engage in certain characteristic behaviours.
The Guttila Kavyaya can be singled out from the rest of the classical Sinhala poems, due to the unlaboured and free flow of its poetry.
The musical contest will illustrate the poet's (Monk Wettewe) genius in the choice of natural imagery, and his skills in the use of words.
The base and basis of the Guttila Kavyaya is the Jathaka story highlighting the human ingratitude, and the most quoted lines are from the soliloquy of the Bodhisatva when he reflected on the action of Musila in challenging him to contest.
To narrate in a nutshell the Jathaka story, Guttila the royal musician was once requested by his parents to teach the art to Musila.
Although Guttila read Muslia's character by studying his body signs, he obliged by teaching the art of music, not withholding any knowledge, even if Guttila was to be surpassed by Musila, his pupil.
It is hereupon that the story rises to its ludicrous heights. Musila requests his teacher to introduce him to the king and seek his approval to serve as an additional musician at the King's Court.
The King, conveying his decision said that he would deploy Musila, but at half the salary that was paid to Guttila. When Guttila said this to Musila, he argued as to why he should be paid less, when he was an competent as the teacher.
When the King heard this, he said, "if he displayed his competence to the same degree, he would also be made a payment commensurate to his skills." This is how the musical contest between Guttila the teacher and Musila, his pupil, was brought about.
Guttila, knowing well Musila's prowess in music and thinking of the impending defeat at the hands of the pupil, entered the forest.
It was at this stage the Chief God, Sakra, came to Guttila's rescue by divine intervention.
The advice given was to break the strings of his lyre one by one and the throw up the three pills given by Sakra, to get nine hundred divine nymphs to descend and dance to the tune of Guttila's lure.
With the breaking of the strings, Guttila's lyre would continue to produce music full of melody even more agreeable to the ear. Musila, following suit, would only have a dumb, stringless lyre.
The ultimate results were as any one would guess; Musila, defeated at the contest, was ridiculed, stoned, assaulted and thrown out (of the city).
It we take the three characters: - the King, Guttila and Musila as the Leader, Supervisor (Manager) and Employee, respectively, it would definitely be thought provoking to analyze and assess the duties/responsibilities of the three characters vis-a-vis their attitudes and behaviour.
(a) Was it becoming of a teacher to harbour ill-conceived notions against his pupil?
(b) How proper was Musila's demand for equal pay, when he lacked maturity, service, experience and correct altitude (to serve in the King's Court?)
(c) is competency the only/sole criticism to be considered for any appointment or salary placement or promotion?
(d) Guttila's incompetence and failure, in not making Musila aware of the credentials necessary to serve in the King's Court.
(e) The King's motive of directly conducting a contest and indirectly holding a festivity for sheer merry-making of his-self and the township?
The above are only a few queries that could clearly be raised out of the given narration.
It is also extremely clear that none of the three characters were mindful of the consequences to their actions and reactions; and all were driven by selfish objectives.
The jathaka story, so narrated appears to be simple; it nevertheless contains a deep philosophy a well-accomplished Manager would analyze and interpret, as so many lessons could be accrued for experimental learning of budding managers; and for anyone interested in Management.
Such an episode would, for certain, raise issues on matters of vital importance to management; some of these being: - Counselling and Grievance Handling; Crisis Management; Conflict Management: Communication; Leadership; Negotiating; Problem Solving and decision Making and Valuing People.
Mishandling of the issues, at every turn, had brought about the misfortune of losing a valuable asset; viz. Musila, a clever and young musician, to the community.
Isn't the Guttila - Musila story, therefore, an apt case-study, for all those engaged in analytical deliberations, to gain Managerial Competence? It will also produce an enjoyable session, as these stories are much closer to our hearts and souls.
(The writer is Head-Human Resources and Administration, Merchant Bank of Sri Lanka)
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