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Monday, January 2, 2012

Action Defined by Dharma Alone is the Savior of a Leader

Santiparva is said to be the excellent fruit of the tree, Mahabharata, which is known for Yadihasti tadanyatrayannehasti na kutracit (“what is not here is not elsewhere”). According to the epic, at the end of Kurukshetra— the battle between Pandavas and Kauravas— and after the completion of funeral rites for the departed heroes, Lord Krishna took Yudhishthira to Bheeshma who was lying on the bed of arrows and asked him to teach Yudhishthira the ‘art of ruling the kingdom well’. That is the importance attached to ‘leadership’ – to be précise, ‘Kingship’ – by the greatest leader of yore.

The criticality of learning right conduct as a king is again stressed, when Yudhishthira bowing with folded hands implored Bheeshma: “It has been said by the wise that kingly duties constitute the highest science. Please tell me about the duties of a king.”

Being immensely pleased with the humility and eagerness of Yudhishthira for knowing righteous conduct of a king, Bheeshma smiled at him and said:
  •  A king should essentially be a man of action. You might have heard many  saying:   Kālo vā kāranam rājah rājā vā kālahāranam / Iti te samśayo mā bhūt rājā kālasya kāranam; but it is a fallacy in reasoning if you think that destiny rules a king. Destiny does play a part. I grant that. But without action a king can never help destiny to play her part. Destiny is powerful but action is equally powerful. Both are potent. But to me, it seems that action is the more potent of the two. It is action that shapes destiny.
  • The next, or rather, the next equally important duty of a king, is Truth. If you want to inspire confidence in the minds of your subjects, you should always be truthful.
  •  All accomplishments find a home in a king. His behavior should be above reproach. Self-restraint, humility and righteousness are qualities, which you have to look for in a king if he has to be successful. He should have his passions under perfect control.
  •  Justice should be the second nature of a king.
  •  A king’s conduct should be straightforward. Another danger for a king is mildness. He should not be too mild. He will then be disregarded. The subjects will not have enough respect for him and his words. Again, he should avoid the other extreme. He should not be too fierce, because the subjects will then be afraid of him, and that is not a happy state of affairs.
  •  A king should know the art of choosing servants. He should have compassion as part of his mental make-up, but he should guard against too forgiving a nature. The lowest of men will take advantage of him and his nature if he is considered weak.
  • Alertness is a great necessity for a king. He should study his foes and his friends too, continually.
  • A king must consider that his first duty is to his subjects. He should guard them as a mother guards the child in her womb.Will any mother have thoughts of pleasing herself when her child is in her womb? All her thoughts will be bent only on the child and its welfare. Likewise, a king should subordinate his desires to those of his subjects. Their welfare should be his only concern.
  • A king should be pleasant in speech. He should have around him men who are all like him in nature and in noble qualities. The only difference between the king and his officers should be the white umbrella.
  • The very core of a king’s duty is the protection of his subjects and their happiness. It is not easy. To secure the happiness of his people he should use diverse methods.
  •  A king should be proficient in the art of choosing honest men to hold important offices. Skill, cleverness and truth – all the three are necessary in a king. He should know how to use his powers in inflicting corporal punishments and fines on miscreants.

All this only highlights the importance of leadership in public life. Bheeshma’s teaching emphasizes that kingship is a “trust” and not a “privileged position”. He commends that a leader should first conquer his internal enemies – the human passions, infatuations, longings, etc. – and then proceed to conquer external enemies. A king holds the sceptre to punish the guilty and reward the righteous. Thus “Dharma” becomes the highest priority for a king to practice. Cumulatively, all this calls for the highest sense of ‘trust’ and ‘magnanimity’ in all situations. It is needless to add here that these cardinal principles of ‘Kingship’ are equally important for today’s corporate leaders.


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