Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

"THE CORPORATION is not a family anymore. It's a team," advises William Morin, chairman of an outplacement firm in New York City. Mr. Morin and other job consultants are attempting to explain why "families" such as IBM and Proctor & Gamble have laid off tens of thousands of relatives in the past few years.

"Team" is the answer.

When business booms, the corporation can afford to treat you like family, employing you for a lifetime if you toe the line, take assignments that may repulse you, and agree to uproot your wife and kids at the drop of a hat.

When business doesn't boom, well, the corporation is a team, where non-essential players get the axe.

Known variously as restructuring, downsizing, and re-engineering, axing means you are a negligible creature, a dog begging for a home and scraps. This you get for years of service, and years too, before that, of education, including higher education. Was there something you missed at school?

"Modern university education," Srila Prabhupada replies, "practically prepares one to acquire a doggish mentality with which to accept the service of a greater master. After finishing a so-called education, the so-called educated persons move like dogs from door to door with applications for some service … (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.3.19, purport)

It's a wonder our educational systems produce so many M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s so little inclined or equipped for an independent livelihood, so eager for service as corporate dogs. Makes you wonder if the corporation has a hand in formulating your curriculum.

Not that service to others is in itself a flaw. Service is the dharma, or eternal nature, of every living thing. But human beings should aspire to serve with some degree of independence. In the strictly economic sense this may mean nothing more than taking the initiative and having the determination, come what may, to run your own business and be your own boss.

In the final analysis, however, independence, as far as independence is possible, requires realization of our eternal selves. If like dogs we think we are bodies bundles of senses whose pleasure is life's primary goal we can hardly help acting like dogs. Dogs are noted not for their work ethic, though they may work hard too, but for their servility to the demands of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending.

The most resourceful entrepreneur is still only a polished animal if he ignores the transcendent self and dedicates his life to serving the senses, which, like all bad masters, are never satisfied. At the Paris ISKCON center in 1973, Srila Prabhupada, speaking to a guest, clarified this sensual plight of the doggish worker.

"Suppose one thousand francs will provide for his family, himself. He's not satisfied with one thousand francs. He wants ten thousand. Therefore he does not find time for Krsna consciousness. That is the disease. Otherwise, if he is satisfied when the necessities are supplied and he saves the balance of time for Krsna consciousness, there is no difficulty. But he is always twenty-four hours busy, how to increase, how to increase."

Workers eager to enjoy self-realization, or Krsna consciousness, are content with the thousand francs. Such workers may sometimes work for others, but since their consciousness is transcendental to the body they can live simply, keeping their needs and expenses in check. Their senses do not act as a compounding set of domineering bosses, chaining them to the corporate family.

Workers not interested in self-realization should at least be wary of those outplacement people. They say the cure to corporate dependency is to become a free agent, cultivating and marketing your individual talents. Learn computers, learn a second language, make your own contacts and go where the rewards suit you best. No need to grovel. The employee-employer relationship is changing.

"It's a more equal partnership now, as opposed to a dependency," claims Jackie Fernandez, a Miami market researcher. "Like a marriage, it has to be good for both of you."

Ms. Fernandez intends well with the marriage analogy, but if corporations axe relatives and team players, we can't imagine the fate awaiting spouses.

As for becoming a free agent, if you're consulting an outplacement firm you already are a free agent, courtesy of your former employer. And now again, this time in the name of cultivating your talents and making your own contacts, you're being told to learn new tricks and go barking door to door.

The Garbage Index

I LIVED IN TEXAS during the state's economic boom days, through its worst recession in history, and through its recovery. When times were tough, economists in Houston, where I was living, kept sniffing around for any telltale signs of a recovery. One day they announced that the "Garbage Index" was improving. My reaction was a little ambivalent I didn't know whether that was good news or bad. Besides, I'd had enough business experience to know that most economic predictions are garbage anyway.

It turns out that the Garbage Index was one of the city's fundamental economic indicators, and it was quite literally a measure of garbage.

In case you would like to start a Garbage Index in your own community, here's how the index works: Economists in places like Houston follow the old maxim "garbage in, garbage out." In other words, if the population is affluent the affluence will express itself as effluence, or an outpouring of waste. During the recession, Houstonians had very little money to spend, so they had very little trash at the curb for the sanitation department to haul off every Tuesday. As the economy recovered, the sanitation department had to gear up for a windfall of landfill. As factory output increases, garbage output increases. It's time to curb inflation when the garbage is on the curb.

Early in the morning when I put out my garbage I used to feel embarrassed. I wondered what the neighbors thought about my big trash. I was relieved to return home after work and find it gone. But little did I know that big trash is a status symbol, a sign of prosperity. And prosperity breeds prosperity: the more you spend, the more mailing lists you get on for junk mail, the more trash you have to throw out, and the more your Garbage Index goes up. As they say, "Them that's got gets."

But it is also said, "He who owns little is little owned." In the Vedic culture austerity is considered wealth, and the goal is "simple living and high thinking."

In the September/October issue of this magazine, I read a quote from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (8.19.21): "Even the entirety of whatever there may be within the three worlds to satisfy one's senses cannot satisfy a person whose senses are uncontrolled." Ben Franklin said that it is easier to curb the first desire than to curb all the other desires that will follow it. So we can either curb our desire for garbage or store up garbage till it's flowing to the curb.

According to the Bhagavad-gita, the desire for garbage begins in the mind, as we meditate upon the stuff. But controlling the mind will bring us satisfaction and peace so we can forget about grabbing on to the material things that will soon be trashed. And how do we control and purify our minds? The Vedic writings teach us that the sublime and simple method is to chant Hare Krsna. It is an economically viable, ecologically responsible, time-tested waste-management system. And as they say, the mind is a terrible thing to waste.