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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. 

Times have changed  

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 ( 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 organization. 

The triple bottom line movement has taken off. Indeed, 45% of the world’s top companies publish triple bottom line reports.[i]  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 retaining talent.”[ii] 

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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 in language[vi] - 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 control. 

And yet, this is the nature of our world. All concepts can be utilized as such, especially, profound ones. The key, as Ashis Nandy[vii] 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 ( 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 ( 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). 

Spirituality 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 ( This is partly evidenced by reports from the TM organization (, 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 Milojevic,[xi] 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 bottom. 

However, educator Marcus Bussey ( 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. 

Health changes  

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 curriculum[xiv] 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 

Grand Patterns  

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 faulty. 

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 revival.[xvii] However, religiousity 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.  

For 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).  


 But 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.

We 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.   

Measurements 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.  

What 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 ( 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.  

One 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)?  

Finally, 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.  

Even 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.


[ii] Ibid, 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, 185.

[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.

[viii] For more on this, see reports and articles at and

[ix] Michael Bond, “The pursuit of happiness,” 43.

[x] And the research is far from established!

[xi] Personal Comments, August 2003

[xii] Reid Ewing et al, “Relationship between Urban Sprawl and Physical Activity, Obesity and Morbidity,” The Science of Health Promotion, Vol, 18, No. 1, 2003.

[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.

[xv] Op cit, Time, 55.

[xvi] 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.

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