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Friday, 20th October 2017

Ancient Wisdom on Leadership

I am just completing a very interesting course on leadership organised by the charity Common Purpose http://www.commonpurpose.org It is an experiential course, and one of its central themes is 'Leading Beyond Authority' - as the most common approach to leadership seems to be through the use of status and power, and Common Purpose would like to show other approaches which in the long run are more 'empowering'.

I come from a whole culture and community of leaders. It has very long roots, in fact 3000 years old, and it is fair to say that the Jains are not just leaders but oftentimes, leaders of leaders. We have a beautiful temple in London which is dedicated to our 24th Tirthankar (Prophet) Mahavir who was our pioneering spirit. Born as a prince in northern India in 599 BC, he was well-educated and from a young age, had a deep spiritual quest. At the age of 30, he decided to leave his home and family and go into the forest to meditate on the real science and purpose of life. A deep and intense reflection over a period of twelve years resulted in him attaining 'Kevalya Gnan' (perfect knowledge and wisdom) one day, and after that, he established the Jain Sangha and gave sermons on the science and philosophy of ahimsa (non-violence).

The connections with Common Purpose are obvious. The Jains also believe very strongly in interdependence and this philosophy is extended to all living beings (parasparopagraho jivanam). There is a strong emphasis on values and self-discipline. Every Jain is encouraged to minimise harm to any living being and live a life of simplicity and respect. The environment, animals and nature are given a very high status, where humans are trustees and fully responsible and accountable for their actions.

When such values are practiced, leadership becomes a 'natural' act. People are automatically drawn to you as there is no agenda, and one leads through example. Knowledge and learning are regarded as very important for the progress of the soul, and the combination of a scientific approach with a deep sense of ethical accountability are key ingredients for success in leadership. Even in the area of thought leadership, Jains have had a huge role in the history of India. Mahatma Gandhi, regarded as the greatest leader of the twentieth century, drew his inspiration from the Jain philosophy of ahimsa. Our latest book on 'Social Cohesion' can be seen as an example of responsible thought leadership being given to this very pressing problem in Britain.

In the guided tour of the temple on 9th May, I will explain these concepts and show how Jains replenish their leadership values and commitment through regular worship and prayer. For us, Common Purpose is a cosmic law. We are very pleased to be associated with this charity and to help them with their diversity outreach.