Effective Communication – A Hindu Perspective

Om Namo Narayanaya, this seems like a mere greeting but it is not. How often do we see friends or family members and go “hello, how are you”, or “howsit”, “whatsup”, “good morning/afternoon/evening. While we may verbally inquire as to their well-being how often do we really want to pay attention to the response? In the same token how often does the respondent actually answer consciously as opposed to the knee-jerk reaction that these greetings develop into? In putting our palms together and pronouncing the greeting “Om Namo Narayanaya” we do far more than offer a mere greeting via lip service. It is the acknowledgment of the divinity that resides in all of us, that untainted atman. With this in mind once the initial greeting is done the atman does not suddenly disappear or become defunct, it is present always and thus communication needs to be respectful at all times. Our ability to communicate in varied and colourful ways is a gift from the divine that sets us apart from mere animals.

There is a game that many children have played at some point or another. It is a simple game that requires very little to play. Basically one child whispers a message into the ear of the next and the message is carried from one child to the next in a circle until it once again reaches the point of origin. The last child must announce the message received. The game is called broken telephone and the fun of the game lies in the various contortions that the message goes through along the way. This is a simple game but much truth is expressed in it. Communication is something that most of us take for granted. We learn to speak, read and write and thus are able to communicate. Like the game, communication is not a simple matter of spreading words and thoughts. Take the following story. It was Friday night and Raj and his wife, Nalini, had just had their third argument of the day. This resulted in neither of them speaking to the other. When it was time for bed however, Raj realized that he would need his wife’s help. The next day he was to meet his friends early in the morning for a game of golf. Nalini was in the habit of waking up at 4:30 am so he would ask her to wake him at 5:00am.    Not wanting to be the first to break the silence, Raj wrote on a piece of paper, “Nalini, please wake me at 5:00am.”
The next morning, Raj woke and discovered to his horror that it was after 9:00am, and he had missed the game with his friends. Furious, he was about to get out of bed and confront his wife when he noticed a piece of paper on his bedside table that read: “Raj, it’s 5:00am. Wake up.”

Effective communication requires that the message be delivered clearly and understood. This is a truth that was recognised millenia ago by the great Hindu sages. The Ramayana by sage Valmki clearly expresses the aspects of effective communication in the Kishkinda Kaand.

After Ravan abducted Mother Sita, Sri Rama and Lakshmana went in search of her and or any news of her. While searching they entered the territory of the Vanaras. Sri Hanumanji, being a trusted advisor of the Vanara King Sugriva, was sent to investigate the identity of the strangers, to ascertain whether they were friend or foe sent by the Sugriva’s brother, Vali, to spy on them.

Sri Hanumanji disguised himself as a mendicant and approached the exiled brothers. He questioned their identity and their motives before revealing his own.

In the Ramayana Sage Valmiki describes this episode in beautiful pros. It reads:

The son of Raghu joyed to hear

The envoy’s speech, and bright of cheer

He turned to Lakshmaṇ by his side,

And thus in words of transport cried:

“The counselor we now behold

Of King Sugríva righteous-souled.

His face I long have yearned to see,

And now his envoy comes to me

With sweetest words in courteous phrase

Answer this mighty lord who slays

His foemen, by Sugríva sent,

This Vánar chief most eloquent.

For one whose words so sweetly flow

The whole Rig-veda(547) needs must know,

And in his well-trained memory store

The Yajush and the Sáman’s lore.

He must have bent his faithful ear

All grammar’s varied rules to hear.

For his long speech how well he spoke!

In all its length no rule he broke.

In eye, on brow, in all his face

The keenest look no guile could trace.

No change of hue, no pose of limb

Gave sign that aught was false in him.

Concise, unfaltering, sweet and clear,

Without a word to pain the ear.

From chest to throat, nor high nor low,

His accents came in measured flow.

How well he spoke with perfect art

That wondrous speech that charmed the heart,

With finest skill and order graced

In words that knew nor pause nor haste!

That speech, with consonants that spring

From the three seats of uttering,(548)

Would charm the spirit of a foe

Whose sword is raised for mortal blow.

How may a ruler’s plan succeed

Who lacks such envoy good at need?

How fail, if one whose mind is stored

With gifts so rare assist his lord?

What plans can fail, with wisest speech

Of envoy’s lips to further each?”

When addressing the students of a Business Communication course in Chennai, Mr B S Raghavan, a bureaucrat who served under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, elaborated on the above mentioned episode. He spoke of seven aspects of skilled communication displayed by Hanumanji.  In the Ramayan Lord Rama turns to Lakshman, following Hanumaji’s speech and explains the important aspects of communication skills as displayed by Hanumanji:

1.      Hanumanji spoke very briefly.  Not too long or too short.

He spoke only for the required level;

2.      He also spoke with clarity and without ambiguity;

3.      He spoke without any grammatical errors;

4.      He used only appropriate words, that cannot be replaced with any other word;

5.      He spoke in a medium voice that is audible to the other person.
Not too loud or too feeble;

6.      His pronunciation of words was correct.  The way he was pronouncing the words was like a music and it was pleasant

7.      All the words spoken by him, went straight to the heart.

After this initial meeting Hanumanji takes Sri Rama and Lakshmana to meet his King Sugriva and an alliance is struck. Sugriva offered the services of himself and his court in searching for Mother Sita. Touched Sri Rama then asked Sugriva why he resided in the forest.

The recounting of Sugriva’s tale is an indication of how the lack of proper communication could lead to difficulties and suffering.

Once a demon threatened their kingdom so Sugriva’s brother, Vali, went off to fight it. Sugriva was instructed to wait a fortnight and if there was no sign of Vali… to consider him dead. A month after leaving to fight the demon Vali had not returned but a stream of blood was noticed escaping the cave in which the battle took place. To protect himself and the people Sugriva closed the cave and returned home, where at the bequest of the ministers he assumed the throne. Vali however defeated the demon and returned to discover Sugriva ruling the land. Seeing it as a betrayal and without adequate communication, Vali violently beat Sugriva and claimed everything, including Sugriva’s wife, for himself. Afraid, for his life, Sugriva was forced to leave home and wander the forrest in constant fear of his brother’s wrath.

On hearing this Sri Rama proclaims that he shall aid Sugriva and will himself kill Vali for his misdeeds. He declares that one should always regard the need of a friend to be greater than one’s own worries and concerns. He also states that those who cannot do this should not attempt friendship. A friend must serve as one’s conscience, advising friends on the right path and dissuading them from that which is wrong. The Vedas declare these to be the qualities of a noble friend. The Lord says, “He, however, who contrives to speak bland words to your face and harms you behind your back and harbours some evil design in his heart, and whose mind is as tortuous as the movements of a snake is an unworthy friend and one had better bid good-bye to such a friend. A stupid servant, a stingy monarch, a bad wife and a false friend these four are tormenting like a pike. Relying on my strength, dear friend, grieve no more.”

When later Vali and Sugriva confronted each other in battle, Sri Rama was true to his word and killed Vali. As he lay dying in the Lord’s arms Vali asked Sri Rama for a reason for shooting at him.

Once again the importance of communication is highlighted in the Ramayan. Very easily Sri Rama could have ignored Vali and left him to die. Instead he explains how Vali sinned and brought destruction on himself putting Vali’s mind at ease.

“Listen, O wretch: a younger brother’s wife, a sister, a daughter-in-law and one’s own daughter. These four are alike. One would incur no sin by killing him who looks upon these with an evil eye. Fool, in your extravagant pride you paid no heed to your wife’s warning. You knew that your brother had taken refuge under the might of my arm; and yet in your vile arrogance you sought to kill him!”

In the end Vali was most blessed to have died at the hands of Sri Rama.

As Sri Rama mentioned Vali ignored the council of his wife and thus entered a battle he was bound to lose. Mandodari too counseled Ravan against imprisoning Mother Sita and challenging Sri Rama but he too ignored her. I guess there is some truth to, and a possible lesson in a   t-shirt I saw that read: I do not need google search… my wife knows everything.

In the pages of the Ramayan there are many episodes that express the importance of good communication, even Vibhishana offered sage advice which fell on pride deafened ears.

Today we have a plethora of communication means but are we communicating successfully? Ask this of the children who struggle to string words together to form a sentence but who can spend hours messaging each other on mobile phones. Ask this of the families who only speak to each other via electronic devices. Ask this of the friends at a restaurant all texting on their phones. With so much on offer the need to communicate effectively is all that more important lest the broken telephone becomes reality and the message is incorrectly received.

In the Bhagavad Gita Sri Krishna declared “Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendent of Bharta, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend myself To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to re establish the principles of religion, I myself appear millennium after millennium “.

In this age God manifested as Master, Holy Mother and Swamiji. And among their many lessons they taught us how to communicate, each displaying a different manner to do so depending on one’s temperament.

The Master communicated with each person he came across differently based on the individual’s character and understanding. This is an important aspect of effective communication as communication is a two way process between speaker and listener and vice versa. Master also regarded others with due respect. For example Master never referred to Holy Mother as “tui” which is a term usually used in reference to a junior. Master revered the Holy Mother as the embodiment of Shakti. Mother in return always referred to the Master as “Thakur”, like all his devotees did. Holy Mother, although Masters wife, never allowed that fact to negate her attitude of being Master’s disciple. They were filled with mutual respect.

Communication is not all about the transfer of words as Sri Ram noted in Hanumanji’s speech, for a lot is inferred by one’s expression, posture and actions. The Holy Mother by all accounts was generally quiet and unseen yet her quiet, veiled figure commanded the respect of a force that revolutionised the world. That very force, Swami Vivekananda, who mesmerised and captured the West with the simple, humble yet powerful greeting, “Sisters and Brothers of America. Like Hanumanji, every word spoken by Swami Vivekananda went straight to the heart.

In all three aspects of divinity, effective communication is evident and one factor resonates in all their lives, respect. Respect for the divinity in each creature and truth. Their ability to win the hearts and respect of all they interacted with was based on the sincerity with which they communicated remembering always the divinity that exists in all beings. Nothing was advised to others if they themselves had not practiced or experienced it first-hand.

When we imbibe the meaning of Om Namo Narayanaya and communicate with respect for all we ultimately allow for the divinity within to manifest. Om Namo Narayanaya


3 comments on “Effective Communication – A Hindu Perspective

  1. svp says:

    Under Share This please add Google Plus button!


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