We are witnessing today two interesting phenomena. In India, unbridled corruption, and in another Asiatic nation, Japan, exemplary manifestation of discipline, dignity and grace in the face of a terrible national disaster. There is a certain commonality between them related to national character. The corruption in India is due to loss of national character and the Japanese response to disaster is the result of a strong efflorescence of national character.
This brings us to the question: what is the source of character in an individual or a nation? It is discipline; loss of character comes from lack of discipline. What is the cause of lack of discipline? There are many but one of the main factors is straying away from our natural and inborn temperament. In India the roots of corruption lies in rootlessness, a nation which has wandered away from its natural roots of dharma and spirituality, lured by the glamour of alien cultures. Modern India is like a saint or a sage who has fallen from his natural and inborn nobility, bewitched by the sensuous charms of a superficial life!
On the other hand Japan never lost her national character even when she borrowed western science and methods. But how is she able to do this? What is the secret? Assimilation. Japan did not blindly imitate the alien culture. She took the alien methods and technology but not their cultural values. She was able to fully assimilate the alien methods with her own cultural ethos.
A living example of Japan’s assimilative genius in the corporate landscape is Toyota Motor Corporation, regarded as one of the most innovative companies in the world. This Japanese automobile company rigorously follows the scientific management techniques of Fredrick Taylor in its production system. But it is not a blind imitation. There is a creative assimilation of Taylorism with a humanistic ethos which is the hallmark of Asiatic cultures. Taylor’s production system views the worker as a pair of hands and a human robot who has to do nothing except obey orders, and its aim is mechanistic efficiency. However, Toyota Production System looks at the worker as not a pair of hands but as a living mind of knowledge and its aim is not efficiency but harnessing the collective experience and wisdom of people. As Japanese management scholars, Hirotaka Takeuchi and his co-authors wrote in an article on Toyota in the Harvard Business Review:
“Toyota believes that efficiency alone cannot guarantee success. Make no mistake. No company practices Taylorism better than Toyota does. What’s different is that the company views employees not just as pairs of hands but as knowledge workers who accumulate chie – the wisdom of experience – on the company’s front lines. Toyota therefore invests heavily in people and organizational capabilities, and it garners ideas from everyone and everywhere: the shop floor, the office, the field.”
What are the lessons to be learnt from Indian corruption, Japanese discipline and Toyota’s assimilative power? A nation rooted in her national character based on her unique cultural temperament and genius gathers inner power from poverty and disaster. When these adverse conditions pass away, she springs back with a greater creative force. On the other hand, when a nation remains uprooted from its natural self, even prosperity and favourable conditions lead only to greater corruption and degeneration. The long-term solution to Indian corruption lies in reclaiming her national character by recovering the great and ancient Indian discipline based on Sattwa, Dharma and Yoga. The first major step in this task is to create and disseminate widely a new system of education based on the moral and spiritual values and discipline of Indian yoga. In the economic, social and political sphere, India has to acquire the assimilative skill of Toyota, which means the ability to use the latest western science, technology and organisational methods for an efficient, productive and material realisation of Indian spiritual vision and values in the outer life.