Spirituality as the
Fourth Bottom Line
Sohail Inayatullah, Professor, Tamkang University,
Sunshine Coast University, Queensland University of Technology -
Invariably, at the end of a lecture on paradigm
change, new visions or community capacity, there is always some one in
the audience who asks: but what is the bottom line? This is especially
so at technical universities and business organizations.
The “bottom line” question asserts that
argument, visions and language display are all interesting but
ultimately unimportant. What is important is what can be counted, that
which leads to economic wealth: measurability and profit. Related
is the challenge to the capacity to transform, that is the world is
considered a tough place and only ego-maximizing real politics (money
and territory) is possible – everything else is illusion.
For any speaker focused on gender, community,
health, cultural or spiritual issues suddenly there is very little to
say, since, well, it is not about the bottom line but everything else.
The audience walks away save for a few who are thrilled and desire to
save the world, either through community building, learning meditation,
or recycling bottles.
In Australia, Westpac Bank recently issued an
expanded approach to traditional accountability standards. They now
measure their progress through three criteria: prosperity, social
justice and environment. Their recent corporate report (www.westpac.com.au)
includes claims of ethical business, transparency, human rights,
environmental concerns, caring for employees, and more.
Suddenly the bottom line is not so simple – it has become the
triple bottom line. Organizations have their own interests – profit,
survival – but as well they live in a local and global community, and
are increasingly being forced to become accountable to them.
These demands by shareholder groups and social movements have led
to the need for social justice and social measures. And organizations
and communities live with and in a natural world, and believe that they
have a responsibility toward planetary sustainability – environment is
no longer something out there for others to solve, an economic
externality, rather, it has become defining for the success of an
The triple bottom line movement has taken off.
Indeed, 45% of the world’s top companies publish triple bottom line
This change has not come
about because of the graciousness of organizations but because of a
variety of other reasons. First, changing values among stakeholders
(and, indeed, the notion that multiple stakeholders define the
organization, not just stockholders, but employees, managers, the larger
community, and the environment itself!). Employees desire an
organization that they can be proud of. Along with profit, organizations
are expected to consider human rights, evaluate their impact on the
environment, and on future generations. Jennifer Johnston of Bristol-Myers
Squibb writes: “Work is such a large part of life that
employees increasingly want to work for organizations which reflect
their values, and for us, it’s also an issue of attracting and
Second, CEOs are part of this value shift. This
has partly come about because of internal contradictions – heart
attacks, cancer and other lifestyle diseases - and because of looking
outside their windows and seeing angry protestors, often their children.
It has also come out because of external contradictions, stock prices
falling because of investor campaigns. As well, ethical investments
instruments, as with Calvert, championed by alternative economist, Hazel
Henderson, have done well. Moreover, as John Renesch argues, leaders and
organizations themselves are becoming more conscious – self-aware and
reflective (www.renesch.com). We
are moving from the command-control ego-driven organization to the
learning organization to a learning and healing organization. Each step
involves seeing the organization less in mechanical terms and more in
gaian living terms. The key organizational asset becomes its human
assets, its collective memory and its shared vision.
Even nations are following suite. Bhutan has
developed a gross happiness index. While OECD nations have not gone this
far, the UK is taking happiness seriously. “In the UK, the Cabinet
Office has held a string of seminars on life satisfaction ...
[publishing] a paper recommending policies that might increase the
nation’s happiness (wwww.number-10.gov.uk/su/ls/paper.pdf). These
include quality of life indicators when making decisions about health
and education, and finding an alternative to gross domestic product as a
measure of how well the country is doing – one that reflects happiness
as well as welfare, education and human rights.”[iii]
There are even journals (www.kluweronline.com/issn/1389-4978) and
professors of happiness.
Happiness thus becomes an inner measure of quality
of life, moving away from the quantity of things. As nations move to
postmodern economies, other issues are becoming more important, among
them is the spiritual. It is ceasing to be associated with mediums or
with feudal religions, but about life meaning, and about ananda, or the
bliss beyond pleasure and pain.
But where there may be a subtle shift toward the
spiritual, can it become the 4th bottom line? We certainly
don’t see stakeholders holding long meditations outside of corporate
offices and government buildings? And writes Johnston, “Corporations
are already challenged trying to incorporate social indicators.”[iv]
Certainly, more measurement burdens should not be the purpose of a
fourth bottom line. It must be deeper than that.
By spiritual we mean four interrelated factors.1. A
relationship with the transcendent, generally seen as both immanent and
transcendental. This relationship is focused on trust, surrender and for
Sufis, submission. 2. A practice, either regular meditation or some type
of prayer (but not prayer where the goal is to ask for particular
products or for the train to come quicker). 3. A physical practice to
transform or harmonize the body - yoga, tai chi, chi kung, and other
similar practices. 4. Social – a relationship with the community,
global, or local, a caring for others.[v]
This differs from a debate on whose God, or who is true and who is
false, to an epistemology of depth and shallow with openness and
inclusion toward others.
Thus, there are two apparently external factors –
the transcendental and the social (but of course, the transcendent and
social are both within) and two internal factors – mind and body (of
course, external as well and interdependent).
Are there any indicators that spirituality can
become a bottom line? There are two immediate issues. First, can the
immeasurable be measured? I remember well the words of spiritual master,
P.R. Sarkar on the nature of the transcendent – it cannot be expressed
- that is, it cannot be measured. There are thus some clear risks here.
By measuring we enter tricky ground. We know all attempts to place the
transcendent in history have led to disasters, every collectivity that
desires empire evokes God, claiming that “He” has bestowed “His”
grace on them. Languaging the Transcendent more often than not leads to
genderizing, and thus immediately disenfranchises half the world’s
population. Along with the problem of patriarchy, comes the problem of
caste/class, elite groups claiming they can best interpret the
transcendental. The transcendent becomes a weapon, linguistic,
political, economic; it becomes a source of power and territory, to
And yet, this is the nature of our world. All
concepts can be utilized as such, especially, profound ones. The key, as
points out, is that there be escape ways from our visions – that
contradictions are built into all of our measures and that we need
competing views of the spiritual, lest it become official.
Taking a layered view might thus be the most
appropriate way to consider measuring the immeasurable. Using the
metaphor of the iceberg of spirituality, the tip of the iceberg of could
be measurable, as that is the most visible. A bit deeper are the social
dimensions of the spiritual – community caring, even group
meditations, shared experiences. – the system of spirituality. This
too can be evidenced. Deeper is the worldview of spirituality –
ethics, ecology, devotion, multiple paths, transcendence – and deepest
is the mythic level, the mystical alchemy of the self. As we go deeper,
measurement becomes more problematic, and the deepest is of course
impossible to measure.
Is there any evidence that spirituality as an issue
is gaining in interest? There appears to be. As anecdotal personal
experience, workshop after workshop (in Croatia, Pakistan, Malaysia,
Australia, Thailand, Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Hawaii, for example)
the spiritual future comes out as desirable.[viii] It is generally
constructed as having the following characteristics. 1. Individual
spirituality. 2. Gender partnership or cooperation. 3. Strong ecological
communities. 4. Technology embedded in society but not as the driver. 5.
Economic alternatives to capitalism. 6. Global governance.
Of course, other futures also emerge, particularly
that of societal collapse and that of “global tech” - a digitalized,
geneticized, abundant and globally governed world.
Interestingly, the spiritual (gaian) vision of the
future confirms the qualitative and quantitative research work of Paul
Ray and Sherry Anderson. They document a new phenomena, the rise of the
cultural creatives. This
new group of people challenge the modernist interpretation of the world
(nation-state centric, technology and progress will solve the day,
environment is important but security more so) and the traditional view
of the world (strong patriarchy, strong religion, and strong culture,
agriculture based and derived). Ray and Anderson go so far as to say
that up to 25% of those in OECD nations now subscribe to the
spiritual/eco/gender partnership/global governance/alternative to
capitalism position (www.culturalcreatives.org).
However, they clearly state that cultural creatives do not associate
themselves a a political or social movement. Indeed, they represent a
paradigm change, a change in values.
It is this change in values that Oliver Markley,
Willis Harmon and Duane Elgin and others have been spearheading (www.owmarkley.org).
They have argued that we are in between images. The traditional image of
“man” as economic worker (the modernist image) has reached a point
of fatigue, materialism is being questioned. Internal contradictions
(breakdown of family, life style diseases) and external contradictions
(biodiversity loss, global warming) and systemic contradictions (global
poverty) lead to the conclusion that the system cannot maintain its
legitimacy. The problem, especially for the rich nations, has become a
hunger for meaning and a desire for the experience of bliss.
There is data that confirms that materialism does
not lead to happiness. “One study, by Tim Kasser of Knox College in
Galesburg, Illinois, found that young adults who focus on money, image
and fame tend to be more depressed, have less enthusiasm for life and
suffer more physical symptoms such as headaches and sore throats than
others (The High Price of Materialism, MIT Press, 2002).”[ix] Indeed, Kasser believes
that advertising, central to the desire machine, should be considered a
form of pollution, and be taxed or advertisers should be forced to
include warning messages that materialism can damage one’s health.
Spirituality, while enhancing, economic
productivity, social connectivity, inner and outer health, should not be
confused with economic materialism or indeed any type of materialism
(even the spiritual variety, that is, collecting gurus, mantras, or
using the spiritual to accumulate ego).
and educational-life transformation
However, the emerging image of cultural creatives
may not have enough staying power as it is largely associated with the
baby boomer generation.[x] While the spiritual
is linked to health, it is yet to be linked to economic
prosperity/justice and social inclusion. Spiritual practices often lead
to an escape from the material world. Moreover, the languaging of the
spiritual remains nationalistic or groupist, and not neo-humanistic (ie
outside of the dogma of class, varna, nation and gender)
But as Sarkar has argued, a new theory of economy
would make the spiritual central (www.anandamarga.org). This is partly
evidenced by reports from the TM organization (www.tm.org),
which documents hundreds of scientific studies claiming increased IQ,
productivity and even increased community peace. But for Sarkar,
spiritual practices lead to clarity. It is this clarity, argues Ivana
which can enhance productivity. Most of our time is spent uncertain of
our mission, uncertain as to how to do what we need to do. Spiritual
practices allow clarity of intent (and a slowing of time) thus enhancing
productivity. Sarkar’s model of political-economy, PROUT, is based on
this – increasingly using intellectual and spiritual resources for the
good of all. Of course, along with the progressive use of resources is a
clear ceiling and floor of wealth – a progressively linked top and
However, educator Marcus Bussey (www.metafuture.org)
argues that the pedagogy of meditation must be stage-like. Schools
clearly should not push spirituality for productivity purposes. Primary,
is the creation of a more balanced, integrated and holistic individual
and community. Children have dreamlike phases in their development and
these should be supported, not quickly framed in bottom-line language.
Of course, as they move to adulthood, then work practices and outcomes
should benefit from regular spiritual practices and approaches. One
measure or approach cannot be the same for all.
Part of the challenge in the future is to transform
our template of our life itself. Currently it is: birth, student, work,
retirement and death. In the Indian system, it is student, householder,
service to society and then monk. In a spiritual model, spirituality
would travel through all these stages. As well, “studenthood” would
never terminate but rather continue one’s entire life – true life
long learning. In addition, the worker phase would be forever, transformed to
mission, doing what is most important, and into life long earning.
Service to society as well would be daily, finding some way, every day,
to contribute to others. Thus, seeing spirituality as the fourth bottom
line means transforming the foundational template we have of our
lifecycle. This is especially crucial as the aging of society changes
our historically stable age pyramid.
The rise of the spiritual paradigm comes as well
from the health field. This is partly as the contradictions of modern
man are in the health area – civilizational diseases are rampant, and
not just from lifestyle but from structure. A recent study reports that
city design as in suburbanization is directly related to obesity, and
thus cancer/heart disease rates.[xii]
Thus the paradigm of modernity – the big city outlook, faster –
becomes the site of weakness, and transformation.
As a sign of public acceptance, the August 4, 2003
issue of Time Magazine is titled “The Science of Meditation.”
“Meditation is being recommended by more and more physicians as a way
to prevent, slow or at least control the pain of chronic diseases”[xiii]
An article in the Medical Journal of Australia
finds that over 80% of general practitioners in Victoria have referred
patients to alternative therapies, 34% are trained in meditation, 23%
acupuncture and 20% herbal medicine. Of particular interest is that
nearly all GPs agreed that the federal government should fund/subsidize
acupuncture, 91% believe hypnosis should be, and 77% believe meditation
should be government funded, and 93%
believe that meditation should be part of the undergraduate core medical
Doctors, of course, only accept practices of which there is an
evidence-base. And meditation continues to build an impressive evidence
base. A recent study, reports Time magazine, shows that “women who
meditate and use guided imagery have higher levels of the immune cells
known to combat tumors in the breast”[xv]
Even near American president, Al Gore meditates. So, does the evidence
stick at the “bottom” of society, with meditation leading to
decreased recidivism among prisoners
For those who study macrohistory, the grand
patterns of change, this is not surprising. Modernity has brought the
nation-state, stunning technology, material progress but the pendulum
has shifted so far toward sensate civilization that it would be
surprising if the spiritual as a foundational civilizational perspective
did not return. In this sense, spirituality as fourth bottom line should
not be seen as selling to global corporatopia but in fact ensuring that
the pendulum does not take us back to medieval times but spirals
forward. This means keeping the scientific, inclusionary, mystical parts
of spirituality but not acceding to the dogmatic, the sexist, the feudal
dimensions. That is, all traditions grow up in certain historical
conditions, once history changes, there is no need to keep the
trappings, the message remains important but there is no need to retreat
to a cave.
It is also not surprising that it is gender that
defines cultural creatives. Modernity has been defined by male values as
were earlier eras, there is likely gender dialectic at work. Patriarchy
has reached its limits. It is often those outside the current system who
are the torch bearers for the new image of the future. In this case,
gender is crucial. Of course, the system remains patriarchy laden.
Individuals may change but the system, for example, city design, remains
However, the triple bottom line, and spirituality
as the fourth, may be a way to start to change the system so that it is
spiritual-friendly, instead of ridiculing and marginalizing it. This
could be the very simple use of Feng Shui to a rethinking of shopping to
suburban planning. And, individuals want this change. Philip Daffara in
his research on the future of the Sunshine Coast reports that over 30%
desire a Gaian coast – a living coast where technology and spirit are
embedded in the design and policies of the area. Others preferred the
triple bottom line sustainability model and the linked villages model.
Only a few percent still desire business as usual.[xvi]
The evidence does point to a desire for a spiritual
future, throughout the world. Indeed, sociologist Riaz Hussain writes
that this complicated matters for Al-Quaeda. They become even more
radicalized as the Islamic world is in the process of a religious
is not necessarily spirituality. They overlap. But one is exclusive,
text-based only and generally closed to other systems and worldviews.
The spiritual is not linked to race or nation. However, it is certainly
the deeper part of every religion.
spirituality to become part of the global solution it will have to
become transmodern, moving through modernity, not rejecting the science
and technology revolution and the Enlightenment, nor acceding to
postmodernity (where all values and perspectives are relativised) or the
premodern (where feudal relations are supreme).
for spirituality to become associated with the quadruple bottom line,
the bottom line will be finding measures. Measuring the immeasurable
will not be an easy task.
need to ensure that measures match the four dimensions –
transcendental, mind practice, body practice, and relationship, the
neo-humanistic dimension of inclusion, an expanded sense of identity.
as well would need to be layered, touching on the easiest and obvious
– the ice berg metaphor - physical practices (% in a locale engaged in
regular meditation or disciplined prayer) to systemic measurements (city
design) to worldview ones (neo-humanism as demonstrated in educational
textbooks). Of course, this is for spirituality generally, for
organizations, we would need measures that showed the movement from the
command-control model to the learning organization model, to a vision of
a living, learning and healing, conscious organization.
are some potential indicators (explored further by Marcus Bussey in this
issue). There are positive indicators such as well-being, happiness
(qualitative measures) and negative ones (far easier to collect). Death
by lifestyle diseases to measure worldview and system contradictions.
Suicide indicators to measure societal failure.
Hate crime indicators and bullying in schools and organizations
that help us understand levels of inclusion. Cooperative growth, looking
at economic partnership, at new models of economy. Cigarette
consumption. Treatment of animals (wider ethics).These are just a few.
This is not an easy process at any level. For example, some believe that
enhanced spirituality in itself can lead to reduction in automobile
fatalities ( http://www.tm.org/charts/chart_48.html)
However, I would argue that it is not driver education per se but
changing the nature of transportation. However, I am sure those making
the meditation = decrease in car accidents would argue that there is
less road rage, more clarity, less drunken driving.
way to move toward indicators is to ask foundational questions of
society or organization. These would include: 1. is the
organization/society neo-humanistic (that is, expanding identities
beyond nation-state, race, religion and even humanism)? 2. Is there a
link between the highest and lowest income, that is, are they
progressively related, as the top goes up, does the bottom go up as
well. 3. Is the prosperity ratio rational, especially in terms of
purchasing capacity for the bottom? 4. Does gender, social and
environmental inclusion go beyond representation (number of women or
minorities on a leadership board) to include ways of knowing
(construction time, significance, learning, for example)? 5. does the
leadership of the organization demonstrate through example the spiritual
principle (and the other three bottom lines)?
there is an additional challenge. In spiritual life there can be dark
nights of the soul, where one wrestles with one’s own contradictions
– it is this that cannot be measured, nor can the experience of Ananda.
However, after the experience of bliss, there is the issue of
translating, of creating a better world.
with a world engulfed by weapons sales, by killing, even in a world of
rampant materialism, of feeling less, of unhappiness, even in
communities beset by trauma, what is clear is that the spiritual is
becoming part of a new world paradigm of what is real, what is
important. What is needed is a debate on indicators that can evaluate
this new paradigm in process.
[i] Lachlan Colquhoun,
“Corporate Social Responsibility,” Silverkris, August 2003, 57.
[iii] Michael Bond, “The
pursuit of happiness,” New Scientist (4 october 2003), 40.
[iv] Email, October 3, 2003.
[v] Riane Eisler argues in The
Power of Partnership that this caring for others is central to
creating a partnership spirituality – with nature, society,
family, and self. “Partnership spirituality is both transcendent
and immanent. It informs our day-to-day lives with caring and
empathy. It provides ethical and moral standards for partnership
relations as alternatives to both lack of ethical standards and the
misuse of “morality” to justify oppression and violence.”
Eisler, The Power of Partnership, Novato, New World Library, 2003,
[vi] Sohail Inayatullah,
Situating Sarkar. Maleny, Gurukul, 1999 and Understanding Sarkar.
Leiden, Brill, 2002.
[vii] Ashis Nandy, Traditions,
Tyranny and Utopias. Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1987.
[ix] Michael Bond, “The
pursuit of happiness,” 43.
[x] And the research is far
[xi] Personal Comments, August
[xii] Reid Ewing et al,
“Relationship between Urban Sprawl and Physical Activity, Obesity
and Morbidity,” The Science of Health Promotion, Vol, 18, No. 1,
[xiii] Joel Stein, “Just say
Om, Time, 4 August 2003, 51.
[xiv] Marie V. Pirotta, March M
Cohen, Vicki Kotsirilos and Stephen J Farish, Complementary
therapies: have they become accepted in general practice? MJA 2000; 172: 105-109.
Sohail Inayatullah, Scanning for City Futures. Brisbane, Brisbane
City Council, 2002.
[xvii] See Hasan's Faithlines:
Muslim Conceptions of Islam and Society.
Oxford University Press - forthcoming.