ISOL 2015 conference in Chicago

ISOL 2015 conference in Chicago – a summary of select presentations

The goal of this unique international conference was to focus on global economic development through integrating spirituality with management practices. Dozens of speakers from MUM, and from universities and organizations around the world covered a vast range of topics for three days from September 11-13, 2015. The conference was held in the historic and beautiful Fullerton Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago, to build on the legacy of Swami Vivekananda’s legacy of a path-breaking speech at the World Parliament of Religions on September 11, 1893 in that same hall. The conference was organized by a Delhi, India, based organization called ISOL (Integrating Spirituality and Organizational Leadership).

Most speakers implicitly or explicitly referred to the Vedic idea that consciousness is a unity, and that it is reflected in all sentient beings just as the same Sun is reflected in all pots of water. Many people also cited Vivekananda’s humble statement: I am a voice without form. Almost all speakers emphasized that raising the consciousness of the managers is the primary lever to raise the collective consciousness in organizations. MUM came in for enormous glorious praise as an organization that by design promotes raising the level of consciousness as part of the education process and daily living. Many organizations were recognized with awards. There was a 30-minute guided meditation session every morning.

Here is a brief summary of some of the presentations, from MUM and other organizations.

Rajaraam Dr. Tony Nader was the plenary keynote speaker. He spoke of the complete congruence between the structure of Vedas and the structure of human physiology. Brain is the instrument for cognizing the wholeness of knowledge. The brain should be purified through regular transcendence using the TM technique to align with natural law and achieve great happiness. Dr. Craig Pearson, citing Ralph Waldo Emerson, said that man must turn within; and connect with the source of thought, the pure consciousness. We need to water the root (consciousness) to enjoy the fruit (happiness). Just like medications have different varieties and efficacy, so do meditations. TM excels in helping effortlessly transcend and connect with the infinite sources. Dr. Jeffrey Abramson said Vastu architecture is natural knowledge and not a man made knowledge. Sun is the most nourishing influence in our life. Our biorhythms are aligned around the Sun. Brain cells fire according to orientation. East-facing entrance is auspicious and creates enlightenment and affluence. People report positive influences when working in Vastu offices. Dr. Dennis Heaton said that connecting with the Unified Field is the basis for sustainable business practices. He briefly described MUM as vegetarianism, vastu and Veda. Dr. Anil Maheshwari spoke on the confluence of Leadership, Veda and Technology. The leadership model of a spiritual leader like Swami Vivekananda should be as compelling and attractive as that of a technological leader such as Steve Jobs. New models of leadership should include and transcend both models, and lead towards expansion of happiness in the world. Dr. Mohan Gurubatham spoke about Vasudeva Kutumbakam. Lord Krishna said that one can’t intellectually experience the entire range of objects. It can be achieved by transcending cognitive development towards wisdom thru TM. Mr. Stuart Valentine took a spiritual view of finance and investment. Through the right ethics and biomimicry, one can use finance in the service of human development.

Dr. Subhash Kak emphasized need to continue the dialogue between the east and the west. He suggested that connections between the inner and the outer (bandhu), paradox (paroksha), and yajna (sacrifice) are the basis of understanding of reality and a means to self transformation. He also spoke of the philosophy of srishti-drishti, according to which the divinity intercedes in the universe just by observation. Dr. Subhash Patri said that every person can be a Vivekananda, or Buddha or Jesus. There have been millions of great masters. We should integrate spirituality into everything we do. Feel like Buddha and you will become Buddha. Dr. Corne Bekker made an exquisite exposition on the life and message of St. Francis of Assisi, who wanted to be freed from the thirst for power and possessions. He said that narcissism is on the rise among corporate leaders. Our leaders need to pray to God, to ‘become an instrument of peace’. Dr. Jagadish Kohli said that mind is a prism that fragments holistic knowledge into diverse manifestations. Intellectuals need to start with consciousness education to lift collective consciousness. Dr. Ramnath Narayanswamy said that religion is a shell while spirituality is sweet nectar within. Narrating his own journey through compelling stories, he said that one needs a self realized guru to achieve self transformation. Values of faith, devotion and surrender can help achieve perfection on the inside and outside. Dr. John Reed implored everyone to make a commitment  to not lead a hedonistic life; and live a spiritual life. Dr. Shanmugamurthy challenged the western dogma of modern science and called for a more inclusive model of reality that values local contextual traditions that have embedded within them deep life-sustaining knowledge.

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Mathematics is Fun

I often say that I eat because of my comfort in math. It is my love and comfort with math that makes me confident and successful (sometimes), no matter what role in what organization. I was lucky to have parents who cared about math so much that I practiced and practiced, for funny money, always trying to find faster ways to accomplish my ‘practice load’. I was lucky to have a high-school math teacher who always emphasized starting from first principles, whenever in doubt. I have instilled in both our daughters the love for math.

An anecdote here. My wife was working at a Kumon center in Austin, tutoring 4-6 year old kids in English. I was then happily working at IBM. The live-wire Taiwanese-American lady owner of that Kumon center was bragging one day to her staff that not even CS professors at UT Austin can pass the G-level math test (They go from A to M levels). My wife casually said that I would pass it. Jennifer, the owner, said no way and said she would bet $100 that I won’t be able to pass. So, my wife chose to call me and told me about it. Never shy about such challenges, I drove up to the Kumon center, and took the G-level test. It is a good test that the kids have to score within a couple of errors, in a time frame of about 30 min, to pass. I was able to do it pretty quickly. Blood drained out of her face, as she went through my answers skipping many intermediate steps. She said she had never lost a bet in her life, especially around Kumon activities. We declined the $100, but she insisted on my accepting that crisp $100 note. So we organized a party for all the Kumon students. I later showed her my GRE transcript showing a perfect 800 score in math. I said she messed with the wrong guy, and she laughed.

I wonder if programmatizing anything is a kiss of death. The reason people feel bored in large organizations is because of large programs with rigid structures and limited scope for initiatives. May be the education departments should take note and teach the teachers to teach according to inside-out model, where students learn by expressing what they feel and see. That goes for teaching math, Psychology, Computer Science, Management, and everything else.

Trip to Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park

This summer, we made a 3000-mile road trip to Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, and more. For those who don’t know, Mt. Rushmore monument in South Dakota has the faces of four most important US Presidents carved on a mountain top (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt). It was created in the 1930s. And Yellowstone is the first, and the largest, national park in the US. It was declared a national park in around 1910.

After a 800 mile drive over two days from Fairfield Iowa, we reached the Mt. Rushmore. We stayed at a nice hotel in Keystone, SD, just three miles from the monument. The monument, frankly, looked a little underwhelming from a distance. It is actually quite large at 80x human scale, but given the size of the mountains, they look small. From inside the park though, it looks imposing and grand. In the evening, there is a nice light-and-sound show that shows the history of the monument including a brief description of the accomplishments of each of the four presidents.

Anil at Mt Rushmore from a distance  4 heads at Mt Rushmore

Thirty miles from Mt. Rushmore, is the Crazy Horse memorial. This is to celebrate a native Indian chief. This monument is much bigger, at 450x the human scale. It is so big that the entire bust of 4 presidents on Mt. Rushmore would fit into the head of Crazy Horse’s bust itself. It is privately funded and is thus slowly evolving based on funding. Both the Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments are a part of the Black Hills National Park.

Crazy Horse Memorial - Mammoth Face Anil Neerja at Yellowstone Grand Canyon

After a 700 mile and 10 hour drive on I-90, we went to Yellowstone national park through Montana. On the way we saw a limping bear cross the highway. We stayed the night with friends at the Big Sky skiing resort in Montana. The next day we drove into the huge Yellowstone national park. The entire park is a crater formed 600 thousand years ago from a major volcanic eruption. It could erupt anytime. The place is full of geysers, small and big. Steam can be rising from many spots on the ground. The big Old Faithful geyser erupts every 90 minutes, thus its name. It rose to almost 100 feet for us, though can go up to 150 ft. The old faithful inn is also a delightful structure. This park has a huge 80×80 mile lake at its center. Yellowstone park also has a Grand Canyon of its own, like the one in Arizona, with two huge falls.

From there we drove south to Grand Teeton Park, and saw its beautiful twin peaks. Through the elite resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, we drove into Utah, and stayed the night at Salt Lake City. There we visited the Salt Lake Park, just west of the city. The lake is really huge and actually very salty. From there we drove to Las Vegas, and then to Los Angeles to attend a destination wedding of a friend’s son.