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East vs west — the myths that mystify | Devdutt Pattanaik

East vs west — the myths that mystify | Devdutt Pattanaik


To understand the business of mythology and what a Chief Belief Officer is supposed to do, you have to hear a story of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who is the scribe of storytellers, and his brother, the athletic warlord of the gods, Kartikeya. The two brothers one day decided to go on a race, three times around the world. Kartikeya leapt on his peacock and flew around the continents and the mountains and the oceans. He went around once, he went around twice, he went around thrice. But his brother, Ganesha, simply walked around his parents once, twice, thrice, and said, “I won.” “How come?” said Kartikeya. And Ganesha said, “You went around ‘the world.’ I went around ‘my world.'” What matters more? If you understand the difference between ‘the world’ and ‘my world,’ you understand the difference between logos and mythos. ‘The world’ is objective, logical, universal, factual, scientific. ‘My world’ is subjective. It’s emotional. It’s personal. It’s perceptions, thoughts, feelings, dreams. It is the belief system that we carry. It’s the myth that we live in. ‘The world’ tells us how the world functions, how the sun rises, how we are born. ‘My world’ tells us why the sun rises, why we were born. Every culture is trying to understand itself: “Why do we exist?” And every culture comes up with its own understanding of life, its own customized version of mythology. Culture is a reaction to nature, and this understanding of our ancestors is transmitted generation from generation in the form of stories, symbols and rituals, which are always indifferent to rationality. And so, when you study it, you realize that different people of the world have a different understanding of the world. Different people see things differently — different viewpoints. There is my world and there is your world, and my world is always better than your world, because my world, you see, is rational and yours is superstition. Yours is faith. Yours is illogical. This is the root of the clash of civilizations. It took place, once, in 326 B.C. on the banks of a river called the Indus, now in Pakistan. This river lends itself to India’s name. India. Indus. Alexander, a young Macedonian, met there what he called a “gymnosophist,” which means “the naked, wise man.” We don’t know who he was. Perhaps he was a Jain monk, like Bahubali over here, the Gomateshwara Bahubali whose image is not far from Mysore. Or perhaps he was just a yogi who was sitting on a rock, staring at the sky and the sun and the moon. Alexander asked, “What are you doing?” and the gymnosophist answered, “I’m experiencing nothingness.” Then the gymnosophist asked, “What are you doing?” and Alexander said, “I am conquering the world.” And they both laughed. Each one thought that the other was a fool. The gymnosophist said, “Why is he conquering the world? It’s pointless.” And Alexander thought, “Why is he sitting around, doing nothing? What a waste of a life.” To understand this difference in viewpoints, we have to understand the subjective truth of Alexander — his myth, and the mythology that constructed it. Alexander’s mother, his parents, his teacher Aristotle told him the story of Homer’s “Iliad.” They told him of a great hero called Achilles, who, when he participated in battle, victory was assured, but when he withdrew from the battle, defeat was inevitable. “Achilles was a man who could shape history, a man of destiny, and this is what you should be, Alexander.” That’s what he heard. “What should you not be? You should not be Sisyphus, who rolls a rock up a mountain all day only to find the boulder rolled down at night. Don’t live a life which is monotonous, mediocre, meaningless. Be spectacular! — like the Greek heroes, like Jason, who went across the sea with the Argonauts and fetched the Golden Fleece. Be spectacular like Theseus, who entered the labyrinth and killed the bull-headed Minotaur. When you play in a race, win! — because when you win, the exhilaration of victory is the closest you will come to the ambrosia of the gods.” Because, you see, the Greeks believed you live only once, and when you die, you have to cross the River Styx. And if you have lived an extraordinary life, you will be welcomed to Elysium, or what the French call “Champs-Élysées” — (Laughter) — the heaven of the heroes. But these are not the stories that the gymnosophist heard. He heard a very different story. He heard of a man called Bharat, after whom India is called Bhārata. Bharat also conquered the world. And then he went to the top-most peak of the greatest mountain of the center of the world called Meru. And he wanted to hoist his flag to say, “I was here first.” But when he reached the mountain peak, he found the peak covered with countless flags of world-conquerors before him, each one claiming “‘I was here first’ … that’s what I thought until I came here.” And suddenly, in this canvas of infinity, Bharat felt insignificant. This was the mythology of the gymnosophist. You see, he had heroes, like Ram — Raghupati Ram and Krishna, Govinda Hari. But they were not two characters on two different adventures. They were two lifetimes of the same hero. When the Ramayana ends the Mahabharata begins. When Ram dies, Krishna is born. When Krishna dies, eventually he will be back as Ram. You see, the Indians also had a river that separates the land of the living from the land of the dead. But you don’t cross it once. You go to and fro endlessly. It was called the Vaitarani. You go again and again and again. Because, you see, nothing lasts forever in India, not even death. And so, you have these grand rituals where great images of mother goddesses are built and worshiped for 10 days … And what do you do at the end of 10 days? You dunk it in the river. Because it has to end. And next year, she will come back. What goes around always comes around, and this rule applies not just to man, but also the gods. You see, the gods have to come back again and again and again as Ram, as Krishna. Not only do they live infinite lives, but the same life is lived infinite times till you get to the point of it all. “Groundhog Day.” (Laughter) Two different mythologies. Which is right? Two different mythologies, two different ways of looking at the world. One linear, one cyclical. One believes this is the one and only life. The other believes this is one of many lives. And so, the denominator of Alexander’s life was one. So, the value of his life was the sum total of his achievements. The denominator of the gymnosophist’s life was infinity. So, no matter what he did, it was always zero. And I believe it is this mythological paradigm that inspired Indian mathematicians to discover the number zero. Who knows? And that brings us to the mythology of business. If Alexander’s belief influenced his behavior, if the gymnosophist’s belief influences his behavior, then it was bound to influence the business they were in. You see, what is business but the result of how the market behaves and how the organization behaves? And if you look at cultures around the world, all you have to do is understand the mythology and you will see how they behave and how they do business. Take a look. If you live only once, in one-life cultures around the world, you will see an obsession with binary logic, absolute truth, standardization, absoluteness, linear patterns in design. But if you look at cultures which have cyclical and based on infinite lives, you will see a comfort with fuzzy logic, with opinion, with contextual thinking, with everything is relative, sort of — (Laughter) mostly. (Laughter) You look at art. Look at the ballerina, how linear she is in her performance. And then look at the Indian classical dancer, the Kuchipudi dancer, the Bharatanatyam dancer, curvaceous. (Laughter) And then look at business. Standard business model: vision, mission, values, processes. Sounds very much like the journey through the wilderness to the promised land, with the commandments held by the leader. And if you comply, you will go to heaven. But in India there is no “the” promised land. There are many promised lands, depending on your station in society, depending on your stage of life. You see, businesses are not run as institutions, by the idiosyncrasies of individuals. It’s always about taste. It’s always about my taste. You see, Indian music, for example, does not have the concept of harmony. There is no orchestra conductor. There is one performer standing there, and everybody follows. And you can never replicate that performance twice. It is not about documentation and contract. It’s about conversation and faith. It’s not about compliance. It’s about setting, getting the job done, by bending or breaking the rules — just look at your Indian people around here, you’ll see them smile; they know what it is. (Laughter) And then look at people who have done business in India, you’ll see the exasperation on their faces. (Laughter) (Applause) You see, this is what India is today. The ground reality is based on a cyclical world view. So, it’s rapidly changing, highly diverse, chaotic, ambiguous, unpredictable. And people are okay with it. And then globalization is taking place. The demands of modern institutional thinking is coming in. Which is rooted in one-life culture. And a clash is going to take place, like on the banks of the Indus. It is bound to happen. I have personally experienced it. I’m trained as a medical doctor. I did not want to study surgery. Don’t ask me why. I love mythology too much. I wanted to learn mythology. But there is nowhere you can study. So, I had to teach it to myself. And mythology does not pay, well, until now. (Laughter) So, I had to take up a job. And I worked in the pharma industry. And I worked in the healthcare industry. And I worked as a marketing guy, and a sales guy, and a knowledge guy, and a content guy, and a training guy. I even was a business consultant, doing strategies and tactics. And I would see the exasperation between my American and European colleagues, when they were dealing with India. Example: Please tell us the process to invoice hospitals. Step A. Step B. Step C. Mostly. (Laughter) How do you parameterize “mostly”? How do you put it in a nice little software? You can’t. I would give my viewpoints to people. But nobody was interested in listening to it, you see, until I met Kishore Biyani of the Future group. You see, he has established the largest retail chain, called Big Bazaar. And there are more than 200 formats, across 50 cities and towns of India. And he was dealing with diverse and dynamic markets. And he knew very intuitively, that best practices, developed in Japan and China and Europe and America will not work in India. He knew that institutional thinking doesn’t work in India. Individual thinking does. He had an intuitive understanding of the mythic structure of India. So, he had asked me to be the Chief Belief Officer, and said, “All I want to do is align belief.” Sounds so simple. But belief is not measurable. You can’t measure it. You can’t manage it. So, how do you construct belief? How do you enhance the sensitivity of people to Indian-ness. Even if you are Indian, it is not very explicit, it is not very obvious. So, I tried to work on the standard model of culture, which is, develop stories, symbols and rituals. And I will share one of the rituals with you. You see it is based on the Hindu ritual of Darshan. Hindus don’t have the concept of commandments. So, there is nothing right or wrong in what you do in life. So, you’re not really sure how you stand in front of God. So, when you go to the temple, all you seek is an audience with God. You want to see God. And you want God to see you, and hence the gods have very large eyes, large unblinking eyes, sometimes made of silver, so they look at you. Because you don’t know whether you’re right or wrong, and so all you seek is divine empathy. “Just know where I came from, why I did the Jugaad.” (Laughter) “Why did I do the setting, why I don’t care for the processes. Just understand me, please.” And based on this, we created a ritual for leaders. After a leader completes his training and is about to take over the store, we blindfold him, we surround him with the stakeholders, the customer, his family, his team, his boss. You read out his KRA, his KPI, you give him the keys, and then you remove the blindfold. And invariably, you see a tear, because the penny has dropped. He realizes that to succeed, he does not have to be a “professional,” he does not have to cut out his emotions, he has to include all these people in his world to succeed, to make them happy, to make the boss happy, to make everyone happy. The customer is happy, because the customer is God. That sensitivity is what we need. Once this belief enters, behavior will happen, business will happen. And it has. So, then we come back to Alexander and to the gymnosophist. And everybody asks me, “Which is the better way, this way or that way?” And it’s a very dangerous question, because it leads you to the path of fundamentalism and violence. So, I will not answer the question. What I will give you is an Indian answer, the Indian head-shake. (Laughter) (Applause) Depending on the context, depending on the outcome, choose your paradigm. You see, because both the paradigms are human constructions. They are cultural creations, not natural phenomena. And so the next time you meet someone, a stranger, one request: Understand that you live in the subjective truth, and so does he. Understand it. And when you understand it you will discover something spectacular. You will discover that within infinite myths lies the eternal truth. Who sees it all? Varuna has but a thousand eyes. Indra, a hundred. You and I, only two. Thank you. Namaste. (Applause)

Comments (100)

  1. Let me be brutally honest. And I really dont mean to offend my Indian friends. I was born and raised in India and I love and respect that country as much any Indian. Despite all the chaos and unspeakable poverty and the painfully slow progression towards modernity there is an underlying beauty in the heart of most of its people. But this kind of talk has the potential to mislead todays youth in to complecancy that the country cannot afford. It even borders on justifying the kaam-chalao attitude that is very prevalent in indian work culture. Having said that it is not up to me to tell what india should strive towards. If it wants to catch up to the rest of the developed world i dont think waiting till infinity makes any sense.

  2. Alexander lost his battle and world conquest in INDIA and that should sum it all.

  3. He is fraud….hindoos beware of this fraud..he has no knowledge….gives false interpretations

  4. Mystery of Indian head shake solved !

  5. God Is One And Many In Manifestations Through Nature! God Don't Create, He Manifest Himself As Both Male And Female By Nature Through The Cosmic One! Called Shiva Shakti! We Are All Connected To Nature 🙏🌐🙏
    VASUDEVAM KUTUMBAKAM!
    The World Is One Family! The Truth Is One! Saints And Sages Calls It By Different Names! Bound By The Nature Of Oneness!

  6. What a gifted orator Mr. Pattnaik is. Amazing video as always. The very best of TED.

  7. sometime i wonder – why for so many years Western media is scared of putting Hindu like Dev or Rajiv Malhotra into mainstream media, national television for public consumption..at large… We have a saying in India "Aaakh Khuli Andhe ki to Maa Chu*** Dhande ki"

  8. Devdutt made carrier out of calling Mahabharata and Ramayana myth. Connecting nonsensically some stupid parallels between business philosophy and Ramayana and Mahabharata philosophy. Which is totally bullshit.
    He is just fooling to those who are not well verse with Mahabharata and Ramayana and it's philosophy in its fullest Glory…
    This fool and ignorant devdutt should be challenged and made him to confess that he is a scammer.

  9. What a ignorant man
    Product of the 711AD Invasions of which the British were the final administrators
    Another member of the breaking India forces.
    These creatures must be put down

  10. We are the culture we live in… Yes.

    Now we live in capitalist culture we are the things in cogwheel of profit but we also are individuals having a world of our own and this guy wants to serve the culture of commodity by nullifying,sublimating and altering world's in which one lives What ultimately he is telling is what ever is your culture and belief system he will help to align it to culture of commodity and profit what hypocrisy…what this discloses is the culture we are in… Myth ,reading of myth,philosophy,religion everything has to be a commodity bought and sold and this person and every such person is a commodity…and that is the culture a global culture all other cultures have to align to it and chief belief officer helps to do that…in fact this hypocritic adaptation it self is an example of boneless contextual thinking

  11. i just love him

  12. oh lord, the farting out of his mouth.

  13. Lie always sell my friend.

  14. This needs more views.

  15. F h₹ z. 😒💁

  16. My god, being an Indian, it feels amazing that somebody has studied the Indian mindset, contrasted it with the globalization and succeeded as a business, which serves as "the" proof.

  17. Good speech but I still dont agree with some of his books on Hinduism.

  18. The explanation given are not correct he is misguiding Hindus by giving sanskrit references
    The actual meaning of sanskrit he gives is distorting
    The proud Hindus should bycott him as he mislead the youths without proper debate with the experts

  19. There is Dashvara. Trayavara Dharma parishad without their permission no-one is given right to teach or call sanskrit Siddhant as myth
    All the sanskrit literature like Vegas puranas upanishada sankhya shastra uttermimamsa purvamimamsa vyakarana should be learnt in the Gurukul system

  20. Vedas
    Mispelt word

  21. Hindus should not fall victim to his false prapoganda he is just a money maker

  22. Dev sir is the best

  23. Devdutt, you are just amazing!

  24. What a con jobber and snake oil salesman. 18 minutes of pure BS. Indian business is about conversation and faith? Bullshit. It's about which politician you know or can ask favour from, and which government official you can bribe. Talk about obfuscating the truth.

    Not to mention just how overly dramatic and bombastic this guy is. Pretty obvious is all an act and pure insincerity. Watch this video by Rajiv Malhotra, a true Hindutva warrior, exposing this fraud: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtkMFLuOa3M

  25. Who said India is chaotic? In India a small minority group is very rich and a vast majority are deprived of basic needs. You can't explain this as chaotic or pattern .one cannot romanticize or evolve a philosophy out of the misery of deprived people. The question why some are in high rise buildings and many in slums remains unanswered in your sophisticated lecture

  26. How is all this going to help India Now? 30% poverty.

  27. No wonder the Jews are more powerful than Indians!

  28. This is what happens when knowledge is made available to idiots….😂😂

  29. His body language was high back than, i see a calm devdutt now still like him

  30. Awesome.. We have gone way bad..

  31. First example of plastic surgery, wah Modi ji wah 😂😂

  32. Can someone tell me what is he trying to communicate? I understand or understood all the words but missed the context.

  33. He refers Hinduism as Myth or Mythology
    A degenerate who needs deportation or shooting
    Part of the Breaking Bharat Forces

  34. This is exceptional… My appreciation n respect for this author grew ten fold today… Wow

  35. Calling a clown from india instead of real scholars ? well , that shows credibility of TED talks …

  36. I like this guy, he is brilliant.

  37. Wow . How did you not mention the most important evil in hinduism. Caste System.

  38. There is no Caste System in Hinduism. Casta is a word from Portugal – which classifies people based on economic strata and the lower strata are exploited. Hinduism has Varna System Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vysas, and Shudras, as per Manusmrithi and Baghawadgeetha – people can go up and down this ORDER based on GUNAS (Behavioral Traits). A philosopher from lower Varnas can become a Brahmarishi (ex: a Hunter Valmiki wrote Ramayana and ran his own university, a Kshatriya Vishwamitra left his kingdom to raise equal to Brahmarishi Vashishta).
    If you misinterpret Hinduism and take literal meanings of "PARABLES" you will misunderstand the religion. Come out of Western and Saudi propaganda. Be Objective and not prejudiced.

  39. The story of ganesha and kartikeya is simply touching !

  40. He is a blessed man!

  41. Can anybody guide me on, which sect of Hinduism is comprehensive… Pls be clear and don't be philosophical…

  42. yeh haramazadah pattnaik sala yahan bhi pahunch gaya.

  43. Other religions have myths.
    Hindus have history .

  44. Taking logic and belief to next level. Great work. Economic model follows the west and Society (or Religious) model follows the east would be ideal!!

  45. I think not a single world on Jesus(A mythical person).

  46. Chutiyapa … nothing else.

  47. Why does the sun rise? What do we mean by this question? Do you think mythology and imaginary stories can answer this question? Lol..
    Mythology is just for entertainment. Don't take it seriously.

    How can beliefs like paradise and all affect the truth, rather sticking to mythological beliefs is a way to ignore truth.

    Most of the things that mythological scripts claim to have authority on being source of the truth, need to be updated or rejected.

    Faking the understanding with heavy words doesn't mean you have the right answer.

    There is no actual content in this entire talk. Definitely he is telling you how he became rich. Fooling you! Taking advantage of general Indian mentality! Right on your face!

    Mr. Speaker has just compiled and compared some vague ideas.

    What is this? Varuna has thousand eyes, Indra hundred , you and I only 2.. poetry? Why refer varuna instead of wind? What is even Indra referred to?
    Because this content sells in India.. he's a businessman. Nothing more!

    Open your eyes people!! Hahaha

  48. Good job Mr patnaik

  49. Mythology is looking backward. Sociology deals with past present and future. Mythology is something, most of which is, out dated.

  50. Is he the tvf guy Arnub

  51. Alexander a Macedonian was told Greek hero stories? Really. This is history for uneducated. Even the story of Ganesha and karthikeya is incorrect. Ganesha did not tell this is my world. He said my parents are the world as Shiva and Parvathi are Purusha and Stree which created the energy to the universe. Macedonians and Greeks were dead enemies so there is no historical account of Greeks would be told to Alexander. http://www.historyofmacedonia.org/MacedonianGreekConflict/conflict.html
    Every decent Historian has discredited his stories as he gets many facts wrong.
    326 BCE

    Battle of Hydaspes where King Porus of the Paurava kingdom met a disastrous defeat at the hands of Alexander the Great.

    c. 325 BCE – c. 320 BCE

    Greek rule in Gandhara, ending some time after the death of Alexander the Great.
    So what is the connection of bahubali to Alexander?

  52. Creating faith in you, finger outwards.

  53. Dev dutt patnaik
    Excellent talk..

  54. always a pleasure to listen to devdutt

  55. You and Rajiv Malhotra would make a great team. Heard that you are avoiding him, any reason??.

  56. Useless BS. Read this book instead:

    https://www.amazon.com/Thoughts-liberated-mind-Short-essays/dp/1099402565/ref=mp_s_a_1_13?keywords=thoughts+of+a+liberated+mind+paperback&qid=1561036805&s=gateway&sprefix=thoughts+of+a+libe&sr=8-13

  57. Overrated pop -mythologist

  58. Demolishing Devdutt Pattanaik Point by Point in Detail . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtkMFLuOa3M&t=1125s

  59. What a bullshit in terms of the Mythology! He connected his wild imaginations to the mythology ( the race between Ganesha and Kartikka). The other part of the story is compellingly put together but he doesn't know anything about Hindu mythology.

  60. Undoubtedly maderchod u r

  61. Had he said apology for his hinduphobic comments or still is he continuing with his negative comments like telling puranas are mythology

  62. its so sad that he did not get the real meaning of our culture.. we also have a concept of karma. And ganesha moved thre times around lord shiva and goddess parvati because they together are the universe, but then what… its ur opinion and i do not agree with u.

  63. Best speaker I never herd before

  64. 3:00 clash of civilisation!!!
    Damn 3min ago the advertisement of rise of civilisation game played from youtube

  65. Super imprressive

  66. What an amazing talk…best 19:55 mins.

  67. Better to hear Sadhguru rather than some European mentality

  68. There are plenty of European spiritual traditions that believe in re-incarnation and cycle of life and death. As much as I loved his lecture he generalised a lot.

  69. Father cut his son's head and burned it. He is a god wow again he cut the head of a elephant and fixed it to his son's body. Superb he is our god. My dear stupids think rationally

  70. Just found a gold Ted talk!

  71. Why tf I hate Indian brown face so much ?

  72. Indians always found busy in giving lecture on philosophy and proving themselves Superior in spite of being under colonial rule for more than 1000 of years.

  73. Excellent. Regards

  74. That is most beautiful explanation I ever heard

  75. Nice vedio…
    Well its quite interesting and important topic that which one makes right sense whether Gymnosophists or Alexander way…
    I will do more research on this….

  76. This man is illiterate

  77. Someone tell him that we all living in a computer simulation.we are characters of a video game featured with emotions birth death etc

  78. As excellent as the creation shaped in the hands of greatest intelligent of worlds.

  79. Somehow I find this BULLSHIT.

  80. Seems like trying to justify our history and culture to suit today's conscience

  81. No one cannot find the truth because truth is always opposite human species cannot find anything with the help of Veda

  82. Open Challenge To Devdutt Pattanaik (Nityanand Misra & Rajiv Malhotra)plz watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfORjgKrIec

  83. Union of human diversity and oneness. Very insightful.

  84. Indians cant digest him.. they are not indian.. they are from Bihar and haryana.. No india doesnt not represents such illiterate cow mob lynchers.. Comment if u like bhosdike

  85. What matters is you reply to Sir Rajiv Malhotra.

  86. Far better than movies…….thank u Ted….for making up a productive time

  87. Watch him on EPIC channel

  88. "depending on the context, depending on the outcome, choose your paradigm"… A very subjective take on the pros and cons of a subjective vs objective culture. A take that could only be honestly espoused by one who holds to a subjective paradigm, that truth is not absolute, someone who holds to an objective paradigm would say that there is a correct and incorrect answer… Therefore, your choice is inevitably directed by the worldview you have already chosen… Making your basis for that choice… OBJECTIVE? SUBJECTIVE? I believe we have reached a logical paradox.

  89. I don't know man…

  90. Fantastic, totally Confident, right on Track!!
    Wat an Indian intellectual brain!
    Only Devdutt can take on Shashi Taroor who is proud, obligatory, and evil with rotten thoughts about Hindustan.

  91. Devdutt Pattanaik: Salutations to this Man.
    The wisest and the most truthful brain that God ever produced. Hats off to his brilliance.
    If we common Indians had even half his intelligence and honesty, we would be a prosperous country.

  92. It's your philosophy based on your study, experience and understanding of life and etc. and there is no guarantee that all you said is true but everyone has his/her wisdom to understand it. See what happens when we study a lot and try to give lecture others thinking and believing that only I aware the and know everything and only this should be followed by the rest…. this is real myth of a man … get out of it soon else this may cause cancer to those who believe others (like you) rather than themselves.

  93. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3b7ANTp6ddw&t=97s Let us know more about our cultural folklores and myths with Indian Mythology in Modernity.

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