14 lessons for an entrepreneur from Indian mythology — You

Rajeev Dixit
10 min readOct 17, 2019

Protect the team from chaos

Krishna, lifting a mountain to shield people from rain — Protect people from chaos

There is a story of Krishna, growing up in Vrindavan. Indra (god of rain & lightning) was feared by human beings because he would either give the people no rain or flood them if he was not satisfied with their worship. When Krishna found out, he opposed the performance of sacrificial worship for Indra. He emphasized the importance of karma and doing one’s duty. This made Indra angry. Indra started torrential rain lasting for seven days and seven nights.

As an entrepreneur, you are exposed all the time to a lot of chaos. It’s your responsibility to protect other people working with you from this chaos and help them focus. Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you are a leader, success is all about growing others by helping them focus.

Krishna lifted Govardhan Hill, under which all the animals and people of the region took shelter, safe from the rains of Indra’s fury. Ultimately, Indra accepted defeat.

Have patience

Samudra Manthan or churning of the sea by Gods and Demons

The construction of the temple was started around 1117 CE and took about 103 years to complete. During this time, three generations of artisans worked on it, carefully passing strategic plans and skills to the next.

There is a story of Samudra Manthan (churning of the sea) in Indian mythology. Gods (Devas) were once cursed by the Sage named Durvasa and lost all their strength. The asuras then win them in battle and take control of the universe. Lord Vishnu for help advises them that the nectar, which resides at the bottom of the celestial ocean of milk (Milky Way galaxy) can make them strong again, and they would become immortal. However, the ocean would need to be churned in order for the nectar to surface. This was a task they couldn’t do alone (considering they were bereft of energy). They would need to seek the help of the demons (Asuras), who would help for the lure of the nectar. For the churning of the ocean, the devas sought the help of the mountain Mandara to serve as the churning rod. Vasuki, the king of snakes was approached to serve as the rope for the churning and to be bound around Mount Mandara. The devas were to pull one end of the giant serpent, and the asuras, the other. The demons/asuras held the head of the snake, while the devas, it’s tail.

In these modern days of fast-moving technology, 103 years in the 12th century, could be considered equivalent to 5–7 years but not less. For any new venture to succeed and start blossoming, you need to invest a few years. Make sure you are prepared to dedicate at least five years of your life, if not more. Choose co-founders whose temperament matches yours and the core team that believes in your vision and will stick around.

Gods and demons churned patiently for one thousand years after which fourteen gifts and treasures surfaced, including the nectar (Amrita).

Believe in yourself

Torture of Prahlad by soldiers, elephants, and snakes

Prahlad was the young son of asura king Hiranyakshyapu. Instead of being loyal to his mighty father, he chose to be a devotee of Hindu God Maha Vishnu, his father’s arch-enemy. To deviate him from his path of devotion, Hiranyakshyapu’s soldiers inflicted intense pain on him. They threw him before wild elephants to be trampled under their feet, he survived. They set deadly snakes to bite him, but the creatures slithered away without harming him. Finally, Holika, Hiranyakshyapu’s sister tries to burn Prahlad in a fire but he escapes unharmed. Hiranyakshyapu was arrogant because he obtained a “foolproof” boon that he would not be vanquished by day or night, indoors or outdoors, by man nor beast. Vishnu erupts out of the pillar, in the form of a lion-man, or Narasimha avatar and kills Hirankshipu. Unknown to Hirankshipu, the pillar chosen by him was located in the threshold, neither indoors nor outdoors. The time was the twilight hour, neither day nor night. And his nemesis was neither man nor beast, but both.

Many entrepreneurs run out of steam after they have been running their company for about 2–4 years. The daily grind gets to them, especially when they find they aren’t able to meet their rosy projections, and they want to give up and retreat to the safety of a well paid secure job. The trigger for this is often the news of a competitor being funded, and they lose heart and hope.

Any entrepreneurial journey is full of ups and downs. The product may not get traction, you may be close to running out of cash, investors may refuse to fund, co-founders may lose faith and leave, friends and family may cast doubts, you have to grapple with new unknowns everyday, make decisions based on limited data and your spouse may belittle your earnings while pointing to your peers with glamorous titles and globe-trotting positions. And a lot of times, you may wonder if all these sacrifices are worth it. During such times, self-doubt can crop up and shake your confidence. The key is to maintain that unwavering self-belief during these trying times while persistently seeking the right path with iterative learnings and actions. Over a period of time, you will have insights in a particular domain that nobody has and that becomes your “core competency.” Such a “Baptism by fire” provides you the deep experience and expertise in one domain, which will ultimately prepare you for the path to success.

Prahlad, with his unwavering faith, overcomes all odds, to finally become King Prahlad.

Find a mentor

Dronacharya — Only the lifelong learner could break-through Chakravyua and come out

In the epic of Mahabharata, three characters stand out for their choice of learning from mentors — Arjuna, Karna, and Eklavya. They teach us why a mentor is needed and how to best make use of their wisdom.

Eklavya: The Observer

Eklavya idolizes Dronacharya as his guru and watches him secretly teaching the Pandavas and Kauravas. He practices the teachings that he observes with great dedication and becomes a great archer. He doesn’t have a formal teacher and guide and is unceremoniously killed by Krishna as he tries to avenge the death of Jarasandha by killing the entire Yadav clan. Without a guru and a guide, he never attains the wisdom of being on the right side of humanity or to utilize his skills for a worthy cause.

Karna: The Warrior

Karna, to become a great archer, impersonates as a Brahmin and becomes a disciple of Parshuram, a great warrior and guru of Dronacharya, who teaches warfare only to Brahmins. Under the tutorship of Parshuram, Karna becomes a great archer and warrior.

Karna does have a guru, but he does not have a trustworthy guide. In a battle, a charioteer plays an important role as a guide. He takes the warrior into areas where he can win and gets out of areas when the going gets tough. In the final battle of Mahabharat, King Shalya, who is highly skilled, is his charioteer. But Karna doesn’t trust his guide. Despite Shalya’s warning that his chariot may get stuck in the mud, he orders him to take his chariot towards Arjuna. As foreseen by Shalya, his chariot gets stuck. As he steps down from the chariot to free the wheel, he is killed by Arjuna.

Arjuna: The Accomplisher

Arjuna is an epitome of focus and patience. He learns archery and warfare from Guru Dronacharya. He never shies to pick warfare lessons from other accomplished warriors like Bhishma and Krishna. He is a keen learner and respectfully listens to life lessons from elders like Yudhishthira, Kunti, Bhishma, and Krishna. On the battlefield, his emotions are checked by his guide, his charioteer, Lord Krishna. He trusts Krishna and follows his advice on numerous occasions in the battle. Following Krishna’s advice saves his life in several life-threatening attacks from great warriors like Bhishma, Dronacharya, and Karna and ultimately enables him to defeat them.

Data leads to information, filtered information provides knowledge, knowledge leads to understanding and years of understanding gained through this data-information-knowledge-understanding-action feedback loop gives wisdom. A lot of times, entrepreneurs have to make quick decisions based on incomplete information with seemingly far-reaching consequences. A guru or a mentor, with their wisdom gained over the years, can provide guidance during such uncertain times.

Like Arjuna, an entrepreneur should be constantly listening and learning from mentors who have traveled a similar path.

Help others

Bali, the giver, Vamana, the receiver and Shukracharya, the denier

There is a story in Hindu mythology about King Bali, who is also known as Maha Bali, the benevolent ruler whose kingdom was so extensive, due to his righteous reign, that his popularity threatens the gods. Indra, the king of gods, did penance to Vishnu, the supreme deity, to protect his throne. Visnu knows that King Bali has a reputation for extreme generosity. Appearing before him in the form of the dwarf, Vamana, he asks Bali for as much land as he could cross in three steps. Having been granted this request, he then reveals his gigantic size, taking two steps to claim the earth and heaven. In order to fulfill his promise, Bali offers his own head for the third step. With that, he gets pushed down into Patala, the netherworld. He becomes King of Patala with Lord Vishnu acting as a gatekeeper to his new kingdom.

As you go through your entrepreneurship journey, you gather wisdom which can be of great help to others. Donating your time to coach others is the best way to give back. This can be in the form of talks in meetups, one-on-one coaching or writeups, and blogs. The process will make you wiser as well.

As you become successful, you can invest in startups and donate your wealth to worthy causes.

This story is beautifully depicted on the outer wall of the Halebidu temple. Bali who is “the giver” is shown the tallest, followed by Vaman who is “the receiver” and then Shukracharya, King Bali’s guru, who warns him against giving is the shortest.

Find time for yourself

Yoganarsimha — Meditation

As an entrepreneur, you are often overworked, lonely, and stressed out. It’s the nature of the work. This slowly takes a toll on your creative and analytical capacity. You need ballast — something that is unrelated to work which gives you a break. This can be any hobby that you enjoy. You will find that most of the brilliant ideas or solutions to current issues will come to you during these idyllic times.

Another way to reduce stress is to practice “mindfulness” to train your “monkey mind” to focus. At the center of the practice of mindfulness is learning to manage your attention. When you learn how to manage your attention, you learn how to manage your thoughts. You learn to hold your focus on what you choose, whether it is a phone call, an email, a meeting, the information you need to work with or the people you are with. In other words, you train yourself to be more present in the here and now.

Through meditation training, just like you train your physical body with physical exercises, you can train for compassion and mindfulness.

Enjoy the journey

Kubera — the protector of wealth

This is a century-old tale when there was a common man named Kuber. He worshiped Lord Shiva — the creator of this universe. Being impressed by rigorous prayers of this common man Lord Shiva decided to meet Kuber. So, he appeared in front of this common man and granted him the guardianship of the world’s entire wealth. The Kuber was immensely happy and he became greedy. Also, he forgot that he is only the caretaker and not the owner of this entire wealth.

This change in the Kuber’s attitude made Lord Shiva angry. Thus, the creator of this universe decided to teach Kuber a lesson. Therefore, he sent Lord Ganesha his son to the feast that Kuber arranged for all Gods. Surprisingly, Lord Ganesha was the first one to be at the feast and ate all the food Kuber prepared for the event. That was not all. The Lord Ganesha was so hungry that he was even ready to eat Kuber himself to full his stomach.

Though money is a good motivator, it should not be-all and end-all. Your company should be driven by a vision bigger than money. The money will follow. Believing in the soul, karma, and performing one's duty towards fellow beings and society without any expectation is the basis for stories in Indian mythology. In Bhagwat Geeta, Krishna advises Arjuna — “कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन । मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भुर्मा ते संगोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥”. Meaning “You are entitled to do your duty and action, but never to the results of your actions. Let not the results be your motivation, and do not be attached to laziness and inaction.” Entrepreneurship is a journey. The ups and downs are inevitable and the destination may not be always clear. Enjoy — it’s about the stories that you and others can tell when the journey ends. And you will be surprised at the end to see how little you really need to survive!

In the panic state, Kubera went to lord shiva and asked for forgiveness and the solution to satiate the Ganesha hunger. Lord Shiva asked Kubera to give a handful of roasted rice with love and humility. kubera did the same and Lord Ganesha was satisfied.

In the first article, I talked about “The Product.” The second article talks about “The Team.”

This article is part of a series that describe my experiences working with entrepreneurs. If you are looking for a product engineering company to build your next solution, please contact us at info@47billion.com.

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Rajeev Dixit

Those places where you find resistance in yourself, that’s where growth happens. I am a Co-founder and CTO at http://47Billion.com.