bhishma1

Actions, good or bad, have consequences

Articles, Business, Indian Mythology 7 Comments

Published in ET, Corporate Dossier, August 31, 2012

I head procurement for a large MNC and  am about to retire in a year. My entire life I have been an honest and upright man. With retirement facing me, suddenly I find myself in an odd situation. With no regular income and most of my savings gone in taking care of my 3 children, I don’t have enough money to take care of myself and my wife in our old age. But in a year, if I overlook some things and make minor adjustments in some large orders, I can make enough to live comfortably. Even the company will not suffer because the quality loss or monetary loss will be negligible. So why not. But my conscience is needling me. Haven’t even gods tweaked the moral code a little bit in times of extreme need?

I get a feeling that you are asking for permission to be dishonest. Does the act become acceptable if someone agrees with you? Why do you need someone else’s approval to be honest, or dishonest? Is it okay to be dishonest because the ‘gods’ were dishonest?

There is a folk story of Bhisma asking the people of Hastinapur for advise on whether he should fight for the Kauravas or the Pandavas. The people answered, “Why are you seeking permission now? Did you seek our permission when you took the decision to renounce your throne and stay celibate for the sake of your father? We, the people of the city, are still paying the price of those foolhardy decisions. It is the one reason that has led to this war.”

You took a decision earlier in your career to focus all expenses on your children, and not on your old age. You are now facing the consequences of that decision.  Good or bad, you have created this situation. This is what is called karma – the result of our actions that we are obliged to experience. Rather than taking responsibility, you are playing the victim.

Whether you are honest or dishonest, there is a price to pay. In the Mahabharata, Krishna upholds dharma and for that he is cursed by Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas, which results in the destruction of his entire family. He does not plead innocent; he does not curse Gandhari for being unfair. Good actions have collateral damage, as do bad actions.

In Indian philosophy, no action is right or wrong, unlike commandment-based biblical traditions that have shaped principles of Modern Management. The organization expects you to be honest. But it also knows that you can be dishonest hence a whole system of CCTVs and auditors exist, to keep a check on wrongful activity. You can turn the other way, and rationalize your act, but there is the chance of you getting caught and with that will follow disgrace and loss of reputation. And even if you do not get caught, you have to live with the guilt and shame of upholding values only when it was convenient. The choice is entirely yours.

In taking the great vow, Bhisma gave his father happiness but doomed the city of Hastinapur to generations of palace squabbles. Is that good or bad? For years, writers and storytellers have told us Bhisma is a noble upright man. Was he really so? There is no objective truth. Only opinions. Ultimately, you have to decide and face up to the consequences. That is what Indian mythology talks about.

  • Guest

    If there is no right or wrong, that makes ‘criminal’ acts like murder a subjective issue. Fair enough. Technically, Ajmal Kasab was also ‘murdered’ but that can be easily justified. But what about immoral acts like rape? How can one explain that?

  • Amit Jain

    If there is no right or wrong, that makes ‘criminal’ acts like murder a subjective issue. Fair enough. Technically, Ajmal Kasab was also ‘murdered’ but that can be easily justified by some. I don’t mean to put you in a spot but what about immoral acts like rape? Isn’t rape plainly and simply a ‘wrong action’? How can one explain that?

  • Sooraj

    Hello My dear friend!

    There is no Good or Bad. That is totally judgmental and emotional.

    There is only Right or Wrong. Your dilemma arises out of your lack of clarity on your value systems. You have a big confusion there. Any decision in tune with your value systems is right. If you have been honest because you value honesty, you accept whatever comes with it. Just remember that honor was the result of your decision. Honor is like the roots of a tree. They are invisible but without them the tree will die. You are now confused with funding your retired life and are considering a big compromise. A very visible sign that you were not honest by choice. It was a result of your cowardice. Get thinking. Your cowardice saved your honor. Your wisdom (!) now will make you lose it.

    Just do not become the case of an addition to the great IAS cadre.

  • Akash Kothari

    There is nothing as good or bad, just the reactions of one`s actions that follow.
    If you have been an honest and upright man, and you make the minor adjustments, no one might come to know, except you.Can you live with that?
    ….and your children are your greatest investments. If you feel your entire earnings went into making them what they are today, then it is no shame in asking from them in your times of need. You provided them in theirs.

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  • Harsha Muddu

    True, but some actions are clearly “good” or “bad”? For example, Duryodhana and his brother insulting Draupadi cannot be subjective truth.

  • Sir I really like your writings. Wonderful!
    With my little experience what I saw & found in many cases – Dishonest/ Corrupt/ Fraud people don’t survive for a long time. At most by third generation they comeback from where they all started or vanish.
    On the above issue I feel it all depends on the way we look at the situation and react to it accordingly.