Blue Flower

Business executives and economists are coming to understand the importance of spirituality in evaluating the performance of business.


by Sohail Inayatullah

At the end of a lecture on paradigm change, new visions or community capacity, someone in the audience will ask: “But what is the bottom line?” This is especially so at technical universities and business organizations.

The ‘bottom line’ question asserts that argument, visions, etc., are all interesting but ultimately unimportant. What is important is what can be counted, what leads to economic wealth: measurability and profit. There is another challenge too: 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 expanded their 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 be accountable to them. These demands by shareholders 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 environment is no longer something out there for others to solve, an economic externality; rather, it can define 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. This change is not because of the graciousness of organizations but for other reasons. First, changing values among stakeholders (and these values include the larger community, and the environment itself!). Employees desire an organization 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.”

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, such as stock prices falling because of investor campaigns.

As well, ethical investments instruments, such as those 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 suit. Bhutan has developed a gross happiness index. While OECD nations have not gone this far, the UK is taking happiness seriously. “The UK Cabinet Office has… [published] a paper recommending policies that might increase the nation’s happiness. These include quality of life indicators… 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.” There are even journals ( and professors of happiness.

Happiness thus becomes an inner measure of quality of life. As nations move to postmodern economies, other issues become 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 can this subtle shift toward the spiritual become the 4th bottom line? We don’t see stakeholders holding long meditations outside of corporate offices. And 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, for example.

4. Social—a relationship with the community, global, or local, a caring for 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 (which are both external and interdependent).

Are there any indicators that spirituality can become a bottom line? There are two immediate issues. First, can we measure the immeasurable? I remember well the words of spiritual master, P.R. Sarkar, that the transcendent cannot be expressed in language; that is, it cannot be measured. Thus, by measuring we enter tricky ground. We know that every group that desires empire evokes God, claiming that “He” has bestowed “His” grace on them. This also leads to genderizing, disenfranchising half the world’s population. Along with the problem of patriarchy, comes the problem of 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, in our world all concepts can be utilized as such, especially, profound ones. The key, as Ashis Nandy 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 measure the immeasurable. Using the metaphor of the iceberg of spirituality, the tip of the iceberg could be measurable, as that is the most visible. A bit deeper are the social dimensions of the spiritual such as community caring, even group meditations, shared experiences: the system of spirituality. This is tangible. 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 spirituality as an issue gaining in interest? My experience is that in workshop after workshop (in Croatia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Australia, Thailand, Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Hawaii, for example) the spiritual future comes out as desirable. 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.

Interestingly, the spiritual (Gaian) vision of the future confirms the research work of Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson. They document a new phenomenon, the rise of the cultural creatives. This new group of people challenges 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 do not associate themselves as a political or social movement. Indeed, they represent a change in values.

It is this change in values that Oliver Markley, Willis Harmon, Duane Elgin and others have been spearheading ( They argue 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 is no longer legitimate. The problem, especially for the rich nations, has become a hunger for meaning and a desire for the experience of bliss.

Spirituality, while enhancing economic productivity, social connectivity, inner and outer health, should not be confused with economic materialism or indeed any type of materialism.

Spirituality and educational-life transformation

While the spiritual is linked to health, it is yet to be linked to economic prosperity, justice and social inclusion.
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 through meditation. For Sarkar, spiritual practices lead to clarity. It is this clarity, argues Ivana Milojevic, 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 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.

Health changes

In the health field we see that civilizational diseases are rampant, not just from lifestyle but from structure. A recent study reports that suburbanization is directly related to obesity, and thus cancer/heart disease rates.

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”

An article in the Medical Journal of Australia finds that over 80% of general practitioners in Victoria have referred patients to alternative therapies. Nearly all GPs agreed that the federal government should fund acupuncture and 77% believe meditation should be government funded. 93% believe that meditation should be part of the undergraduate core medical curriculum. 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” Even near-American president, Al Gore, meditates.

Grand Patterns

For those who study macro-history, the grand patterns of change, this is not surprising. Modernity has brought us the nation-state, stunning technology, material progress but the pendulum has shifted so far toward materialism that it would be surprising if the spiritual as a civilizational foundation did not return. In this sense, spirituality as the fourth bottom line should not be seen as selling to ‘global corporatopia’ but 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. All traditions grow up in certain historical conditions; once history changes, there is no need to keep the trappings; it’s the message that remains important.

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 or a rethinking of shopping to suburban planning. And, individuals want this change. Philip Daffara’s research on the future of the Sunshine Coast reports that over 30% desire a living, Gaian 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.
The evidence does point to a desire for a spiritual future, throughout the world. 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 trans-modern, not rejecting the science and technology revolution and the Enlightenment, nor acceding to post-modernity (where all values and perspectives are relativised) or the pre-modern (where feudal relations are supreme).


But for spirituality to become part of 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/relationship, the neo-humanistic dimension of inclusion, an expanded sense of identity.
Measurements as well would need to include physical practices (a certain percent in a locale engaged in regular meditation or disciplined prayer), systemic measurements (city design) and 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). We need ‘death by lifestyle diseases’ to measure worldview and system contradictions. Suicide indicators would measure societal failure. Hate crime indicators and bullying in schools and organizations would help us understand levels of inclusion. There is also cooperative growth, looking at economic partnership, at new models of economy. Cigarette consumption. Treatment of animals. These are just a few. This is not an easy process.

One way to move toward indicators is to ask fundamental 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. 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)?

4. Does the leadership of the organization demonstrate through example the spiritual principle (and the other three bottom lines)?
Finally, 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 it to action, 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.

Sohail Inayatullah, associate editor of New Renaissance, is Professor, Tamkang University, Sunshine Coast University, Queensland University of Technology. His website is: He is the author or editor of more than a dozen books and several hundred published articles.

This article was printed in New Renaissance, Vol. 12, No. 2  Posted on the web on November 1,  2006