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Love and Light

Leaders like Lions: Knowing is not the same as becoming

"I want you to be leaders to protect the world. Leaders like lions, self-reliant, courageous, majestic and just. Lion is the king of animals and I want you to be king among men."
~ Sri Sathya Sai Baba, inaugural address to students, Summer Course 1992

The calling from Bhagawan Baba to all of us to rise up to our true Atmic potential and participate as able instruments in His Divine Mission to establish Peace on Earth through Love. On leaders and leadership, Swami also made his great utterance, ‘the Mahavakya’: ‘’Leadership is To Be, To Do, To See and To Tell’’

First, He sets out the aspiration for each of us in terms of the ‘What’, in His ever loving way. This is followed by the Mahavakya, which identifies for us the means to be that aspiration; the ‘How to’ of realising our inherent potential. Reading, writing, watching and talking about lions will not make us into lions! Instead we need to become like those majestic creatures. We do this by becoming men and women of character and deep integrity, by doing good deeds and service to humanity, to see always the bigger, truthful picture and also by telling and communicating the inner truth, sensitively and without fear.

History provides some wonderful and stirring examples of men and women of Character, whose courageous, majestic, and just actions protected the goodness in the world.

Rosa Parks in 1955, a humble African American lady returning home, somewhat tired after a hard day’s work as a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to be cowed down by a bully of a bus conductor, demanding her to vacate her seat for a white passenger in a bus. This led to her arrest, imprisonment and eventually even losing her job. However, this courageous lion-like lady’s simple but resolute stance, as we now know of course, led to the Civil Rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King in the lead. The leadership of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King paved the way to America electing its first black president, in Barrack Obama some fifty years later: Something that could barely have been imagined during those troubled times of the civil rights movement.

The Mahatma, almost single-handedly and despite ridicule and scorn, but with enormous courage, determination and vision, helped Bharat gain Independence from the then invading and powerful British empire.

The unassuming and self- effacing, but endowed with steely determination and clear vision, a former cook at London’s Carlton hotel, Ho Chi Min fought off two super powers in France and the US, to liberate the peoples of Vietnam.

Abraham Lincoln with his hallmark humility, compassion, courage and unrivalled ability to communicate and connect with a wide range of peoples, ensured the unity of the United States and fought valiantly to bring an end to slavery.

William Wilberforce, the gutsy and unbowed MP from Westminster, worked indefatigably, despite failing health, to bring an end to the then economically lucrative but morally abhorrent slave trade based in Great Britain. His spirited campaign culminated in the successful enactment in the Parliament of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

Very recently Madiba, as he was affectionately addressed by people, a true Gandhian by nature and principles, and a real majestic lion from Africa who could not be tamed even after 27 years in prison, who with his compassion and clear vision liberated the now so called rainbow nation of South Africa.

There have been many, many more! But the most illuminating aspect in these exemplary lives is the common thread that connects them with the aspiration that our beloved Swami has set out for us: To be a Lion – self-reliant, courageous, majestic and just, which is what the achievements of the above tell us. Can we be like this? What challenges do we see with in, and in the current environment that we live in, whether be in the UK or elsewhere in the globe, to meet this aspiration?

This is what an enlightened lady called Dorothy Sayers living in England saw, in 1954:

‘’Futility; lack of living faith; the drift into loose morality; greedy consumption; financial irresponsibility; uncontrolled bad temper; a self-opinionated and obstinate individualism; violence, sterility and a lack of reverence for life and property including one’s own; the exploitation of sex; the debasing of language by advertisement and propaganda; the commercialisation of religion; venality and string pulling in public affairs; dishonesty in material things; intellectual dishonesty; the fomenting of discord (class against class, nation against nation for what one can get out of it; the exploitation of the lowest and stupidest of mass emotions; - these are all too recognisable stages that lead to the cold death of society and the extinguishing of all civilised relations.’’

More recently amongst the developed economies, along with a wave of crises arising from financial mismanagement, there have been questionable labour practices, environmental disasters, and many accusations of dodgy dealings. All these have shaken the core foundations of trust and respect in both the leaders and our understanding of leadership.

There may be many reasons for this current plight, but the main one seems to be a steady and deep shift in values, like the movement of the continental plates, causing a seismic change that affects all our national cultures, perhaps shaking some more than others. We as individuals, are seen as ends in ourselves, rather than as means to societal, national and global welfare. However at the same time, the truth has become increasingly clearer that a democratic society does need Good leadership. Good: How often have we heard this word from our dear Bhagawan as opposed to Great, a word misplaced and misused in all walks of life! One man who personified this good leadership essential in times today, and for tomorrow, was Dag Hammaarskjold, Secretary of the UN (1953-1958), who wrote:

‘Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated.’

How relevant this is to us all! Be Good in thought word and deed – lead yourself in the right path and others will follow your light. As our dear Bhagawan says:

‘Be Good, Do Good, and See Good. This is the way to God!’

It is possible to be a good leader either as a supervisor or a hospital sister, as the head of a university department or as a school teacher, as the chief executive of a company or as a director of a government department….And as an office bearer of the sacred Sri Sathya Sai Service Organisation. Such goodness in the various roles of leadership underpins the very act of leading, in the true spiritual and moral sense of the word.

Let me conclude with a story that Swami often narrated to illustrate the paradigm of good versus great most poignantly: That of Ravana the great king of the lush Lanka, and Lord Rama, the Embodiment of goodness! Ravana without doubt was truly a great king, scholar and leader of his people, endowed with great chivalry and empowered with the many boons he received from the Gods for his penance and sacrifices. However as time passed, his ego and desires became as inflated as Mount Kailash; his unbridled ego, arrogance, and anger caused him to lose his discrimination, wisdom and character. This made all his great learning and achievements useless, redundant and harmful! Lord Narayana incarnated on earth as Lord Sri Rama, the very embodiment of goodness, in response to the prayers of the good and saintly people. The good prince Rama destroyed the great king Ravana, who despite his greatness and the mighty army, suffered an ignominious end due to his various misdeeds.

The moral from the story of Ravana, one might suggest, is similar to the torrid tales from contemporaneous lives of a Hitler, a Stalin and many others of evil vision and values. Without goodness in the heart and a good character in the Persona, our experience in the modern world shows us that greatness is both shallow and short-lived.

Hence, Swami’s constant mantra to mankind, and to us His children of service in particular, is to relentlessly strive for goodness in our hearts and if greatness happens to follow, so be it! And not the other way round, with ego becoming the driving force in our lives.

So let us pray to our Loving Bhagawan for His Blessings, and resolve to progress on the journey of transformation into Leaders like Lions, just as the young Narendra (later renowned as Swami Vivekananda) did, after being spiritually woken by his Master, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Let us strive to become as mighty and high as the Vivekananda Rock in the Indian Ocean at Kanyakumari, named after him as an everlasting tribute to his lion-like leadership qualities in the service of his fellow humanity.

Professor Sri Kandiah
Member, Steering Committee, Sathya Sai Leadership Training Programme
SSSSO UK