This is the last episode on my personal and business travel series, where we chronical the making of technology products in foreign lands – as well as share more than a few stories along the way. In the prior episode, Accounting App Ashram VIII: The BRIC Road to Rishikesh, the journey continues from the heart of northern India.
The waiter (guru, yogi, et al.) had prayed for rain today and confidently exclaimed he had been denied and rain was certain for tomorrow. One hour later it starts to rain, as I make my way to the banks of the Ganges. Healing waters always attract the sick, mostly with skin discoloration and deformation. We share the same water, same moment. I was suffering from claustrofobia, agoraphobia, germaphobia, and acrophobia – when a sip of the holy water cured all. I sip the brown Ganga soup. I was inspired by the river's swirling majesty and pilgrims, but little did I know that I would be submerged in the murky depths just days later.
The trip to Rishikesh was a road seemingly less traveled, although still very crowded and now I was across the river looking for ways to escape the town. I go on an unmarked trail and then turn on yet another junction... So triple path less travelled. Alone. Thunder. Temple pedestals dot the trail, with deities long since eroded and washed into the Ganges. No water, save for the drops falling on my head, hot, alone, no one knows where I am, least of all myself. I hear strange sounds.
Rain pours and I wrap my iPhone in Hyatt note paper and a leaf I picked off a nearby tree. I approach the new trail with great trepidation, scared mostly to find some kinda hashish or opium den hideout. The ubiquitous plastic wrappers still line the trail and there I found the secret and holy spa. FOR COWS. Ten cows are crowded into their secret pond, chillin' like I never knew cows could chill. One looks over, but most are enjoying their muddy treatments. I sneak away as to not disturb this place... Or create a stampede.
Higher and higher I climb, plastic trash and car horns beginning to fade, sweat pours in a refreshing way. So relieved to be away from the never ending flow of people and BRICS. I see shade... MY bodhi tree, overlooking the wispy clouds that line this ancient place. I inhale the future, hold in the present, and exhale the past. My poser Buddha moment is short lived, but the meditation was to be found in the trek itself.
APP: 054 Accounting App Ashram X: Enlightenment
I sit cross-legged overlooking the banks of the Ganges River in Rishikesh, a spiritual yoga center in India, pondering, this time, Accounting. No, this, CPA has not lost his mind, although writing and speaking in the third person is always unsettling. I ponder… What spiritual light can Eastern Philosophy shed on the “language of money” - aka accounting?
Religion and philosophy might just have a lot to do with how business and accounting is conducted. Accounting may be as ancient as the world’s other oldest profession. The double entry system we are discussing, however, is credited to Luca Pacioli - a Renaissance man and hommie to none other than Leonardo Davinci. This era (14th to 17th century) set the foundation for modern material history and epitomizes “Western” material wealth and Catholic religious grandeur in forms such as the Sistine Chapel and what would become the Vatican Bank. Luca’s accounting system surely supported this growth. Counting, documenting, recording... all an exercise contrary to some “Eastern” philosophies?
Grasping (“Upādāna”), material obsession ("Maya"), attachment (“Mo’H”), and presence of mind (“Sati”) have a place in spiritual and business life. These concepts cross various faiths, languages, and philosophies, but I am applying them in the sense of the words only – not how Buddhism or another faith may interpret or apply the words. My own realization is that Accounting IS: materialism, grasping, and lack of presence. I wonder then, if an Accounting App Ashram is contradictory – a fitting predicament for a trip laden with contradictions. How might these concepts be discussed in the field of accountancy?
The accountant accumulates the status of material wealth in the form of the balance sheet. Assets are judged and categorized based on the ability to turn such wealth into cash.
Lack of Presence
Most accounting looks back on what happened, occasionally projecting into the future, and is rarely present.
The current state and flow of material wealth is captured retrospectively on the balance sheet and income statement. Even when the money and business entity may be gone in the present – aka dead or bankrupt – the accounting exercise may continue on.
Perhaps the ancient “anti” contemporary accounting concepts can be used to engender change in of a profession, largely unchanged for five-hundred years. The Bay Area may already unknowingly be leading the charge. Instead of just material consumption, Benefit Corporations are concerned with a triple bottom line which adds social and environmental concerns to traditional metrics of profit and equity. New currency of users and clicks may be viewed as a new type of revenue or asset. Trade using complementary currencies is facilitated by communities such as Bay Bucks. Software is continuing to propel the profession from being six months behind in accounting, to being days or minutes behind, a modern presence. And while the balance sheet date will always be in the past by definition - grasping to the past - we can now more easily look to the future.
I am no philosopher and will continue practicing based upon my IRS and FASB gurus. Nor am I a professional accounting or religious historian, anthropologist, or similar. More simply, I am intrigued on how a profession can be in specific contrast to some philosophies. And I wonder how these beliefs cascade down from developed economies which are heavily influenced by seemingly anti-accounting dogma. For now, it is simply time to continue my practice, of the CPA nature.
Post Script, Running Away from Rishikesh
My last match, but not my last beedi - the miniature cigarettes I had just procured. I was in the strange and rare position where the matter to smoke outweighed the ability to smoke it. I guess that is possible when a pack of these raw tobacco leaf rolled joint looking things cost... 15 cents. It was my last day in Rishikesh - four nights and days of vegetarian sobriety and I was letting loose. After all, I survived my holy bath.
I was finally settling in to the place and after great mental anguish, I decided that I was going to go rafting on the Ganges. It was either that, or follow a stranger’s offer to visit his guru. I explained I was already on my Accounting App Ashram and he understood. I crossed the ladder bridge passing monkey, cow, scooter, and selfie sticks to hookup with the rafting company. Before I knew it, I was in a raft of unbelievable cultural and religious and aquatic diversity. Two people could not swim. Off we go into class four rapids, a week prior to rafting season close. The water just gets toooo dangerous that time of year, but, “luckily” we had just made the cut.
The brown river, a favorite place for some to cast bodies into, is quite a different color when viewed close up. Every inch is a swirl of gleaming silt and chocolate. Every inch a mysterious energy. The rapids only amplify this power into full on dancing waves that one could surf. The melting chocolate began to cleanse me of the grasping and judgement I had earlier been steaming over - the open wiring, trash, wild animals, crowds, horns... All started to escape my conscious.
Days earlier I could not stop holding to my notions of "living standards" as I recalled frustratingly seeking shelter in a cafe that had a leaky roof. The owner's friend had sent some money via Western Union to try and fix up the river side café, serving water and coffee crystals. I tell him about micro-lending - he basically asks me for some cash. I flipped out, nicely, and identified 10 things they could do to improve, starting with picking up the F-ing trash. We then surveyed cafe property, family living in back, and shreds of Abuja Cement bags around. I left, wondering if I was a total prick, poor attitude amplified by my current vegetarian diet mandated by the city. Shiz I forgot my headphones at the cafe shack. My headphones that cost more than the dang shack were hanging off of a wooden support "beam" (stick) in the one dry area in the place. Now I really felt like an arss. Oh, the Bose headphones were hanging next to my Patagonia visor: gross. I returned to see the owners diligently fixing the roof. Righteous I thought, as the raft leader yelled "Paddle!"
My reflective river trance that was stroked by warm canyon breezes ended with a dousing of brown water, as we voluntarily dipped into what looked more like an ocean. Screams of delight were shouted as we broke through to a brief calm before the next section. Back into the raft, "Right side harder, harder!" commanded our leader. I was on the left, nothing to do, except watch the approaching brown walls of water. As though a dark hand reached from the depths below, I felt the raft being lifted from under, the holy river had turned agro, lifting us from below...
The night prior I had witnessed a fight started with an angered lady striking a guy with a water bottle in front of a temple. Water bottles turned to fists as orange robed practitioners of non-violence raised their hands in protest. Slowly it became a mob against one dude and some began to pick up stones and rocks. Seriously, STONES, when everything broke up. The calm had been upset, water polluted, currents changed, and a wave had crested. My thoughts all culminated, so full of judgement and palak paneer, and now in the middle of the current, current, now, finally in the moment and then: darkness.
I had been hesitant to put my feet in the Ganges and now I was deep under water. I am tossed far from the raft, with many more rapids to enjoy, sans raft. I surface and survey what is ahead. A giant brown wave, seriously huge. And I thought the wave was kinda cool, but what mystery generated this thing? The Ganges cleansed my thinking once again with a mercifully short hold-down. Seconds could have been hours though... Time was lost or gained? Contradictions made sense. I bobbed down the river, eventually reuniting with the soaked crew, non-swimmers white in the face – which was quite a complexion change. Once ashore I bummed a beedi. Others had celebratory curry flavored potato chips and coke.
I sank into the evening, becoming more and more local. I ate a fabled $1 meal and bathed with the large AND small bucket that had sat lonely in my shower. My guru referrer spotted me in town and invited me for chi. But no. Coffee, to go, an Americano was the order. I still remembered the purpose of this journey and returned to my work, to find a different kind of enlightenment.
John Gillingham, CPA is the founder of Accounting Play and the author of the ten part blog series “Accounting App Ashram” where he details his entrepreneurial journeys in India and the islands of Java in search of entrepreneurial enlightenment. The series chronicles the surprises and struggles of meeting remote teams and conducting business abroad.
Thanks for joining for the last, for now, installment of our Accounting App Ashram Series, APP: 054 Accounting App Ashram IX & X: Holy Cow and Enlightenment. Join up free at AccountingPlay.com for the community, books, and intro courses to learn academic accounting, tax prep, and small business bookkeeping.
Prior Episode APP: 053 Accounting App Ashram VIII: The BRIC Road to Rishikesh
Next Episode APP: 055 Making a Podcast, Apps, Teamwork, & Passive Income – The Accounting Play Story