• Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Why be good when being bad is better?
  • Is a “bad person” never good? Or the Corollary: Is a good person never ‘Bad’?
  • Who decides what is good and what is bad and what is good enough?
  • In a society where people get away by doing bad things, why should people still believe in Non-Violence and Dharma?
  • Does my Dharma have to be the same as yours? Then why should you get away with doing wrong and I cannot?

Questions like these often trouble us. There are instances when we feel disgruntled by the options before us. As a child, we are told that we should be just, be fair, never tell lies and never cheat anyone. As we  grow up we face troubling questions like these and we don’t find easy answers to them 

In the epic story of Mahabharata, which forms the basis for our understanding of Dharma and Karma, we come across several instances of how the Pandavas, who are considered to be ‘good’ the ‘righteous’ are treated unfairly and made to suffer a lot of pain. Then we also see, in the battle of Kurukshetra, the Pandavas are encouraged to deceit and cheat by none other than Krishna, who we all revere as God. 

Inspired by Gurcharan Das’s book with the same title, I decided to write on this topic. Das has used the Mahabharata as the base and compared the characters and episodes of the epic with what we see in today’s world 

The difficulty of being good 2
The beauty and difficulty of the epic lies in the matter of making a choice in essence doing the right thing. Righteousness. Dharma is possibly one of the most difficult concepts to explain to the world. Dharma is your duty, it is also your ethics, it is righteousness and it is the law. It is all these things simultaneously related and rather complex.  But is there room for any compromise in your Dharma? Should you continue to harp on the slogan of Dharma, like Yudhisthira did in the game of dice and lose everything? Or should you stand up and bring an end to the misery that is being thrust upon you? Do you always take action when you see something wrong happen to another person, or you look the other way and just move on ? 

The book throws up some interesting questions. First, why does a person stray on the wrong path? 

  • For Duryodhana, it was envy and the influence of his uncle on him. For his father, it was insecurity.
  • For Ashwathama, it was revenge.
  • For Karna, it was a search for his identity.

Reasons could be many more. The idea is that in life, several things/emotions/circumstances have the power to easily stray one from the right path. In today’s world, where a bride is burnt alive, a lot many times, the reason is greed. 

Bhishma, Drona and many such learned men knew the Kauravas were wrong in what they did to the Indian Queen Draupadi. But their loyalties were not towards what was ethical but towards a throne. 

A lot many times, we follow the wronged ones just because they are our blood relations; knowing very well that the same will lead to a doom for not just us but them as well in the long run. In times of moral dilemmas, it is easier to weigh the two sides not on who is ethical but on who is closer to us. And that, as the book conveys is disastrous for everyone and not just the victim. And what is one supposed to do when wronged? Does one forgive or does one avenge? Are there limits of tolerance? Yudhisthira resisted war even after losing everything. But his goodness was exploited way too far.

In the recent past we have seen the downfall of so many people, including Subroto Roy, Vijay Malya, Nirav Modi. When we track their career, we would note that they did not cheat from day one, they were able to accumulate wealth through tact and legal means until some point in their career. But at some point they resorted to wrong practices which finally led to their downfall. The question is WHY?

On similar lines, I recollect  the ABCL scam that Amitabh Bachchan got himself into. Or the instance where the God of Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar asked for a duty waiver for his Ferrari. How do we interpret instances like these where a God Like person does something ‘wrong’. Do we also use these as an excuse to do ‘wrong’ once in a while and feel it’s ok?

Some of the thoughts from the book are worth quoting here:

  • Do good to others but only to the point where goodness does not hurt. Yudhishthira was good but he realised his goodness was being exploited too far and was sending a wrong message.
  • Let no man do to another which is repugnant to himself. How would you feel if it was you who was suffering?
  • Arjuna knows if he fights, he would be killing his own loved ones, gurus, family members. But as Krishna explains to him, he  needs to fight not for his sake but for the sake of ‘Dharma’.
  • Remorse is different from regret. Someone who is remorseful will always reject a consolation of his wrong doings. Most times, when we do wrong to someone, we feel regret but not remorse. We try to find a rational explanation to our wrong doings, blaming it on circumstances/people. 
  • Abandoning someone devoted to you is a bottomless evil. How Yudhisthira did not even abandon a stray dog because the dog was loyal to the King finally opened the doors of heaven for him.

The debate is endless. But the key point here is that in life, there is nothing which is clear Black and White, there are shades of Grey in everything.  While it’s good to make our best attempt to be righteous and do good all the time, we need to be prepared that consciously or subconsciously, we may do things which are ‘not good’ and will have to face the consequences of our acts, sooner or  later.

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Hetal Sonpal

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