Business Ethics & Lessons from Ramayana

Yes, Ramayana has a few episodes which may have relevance to business ethics.

First let me narrate the relevant parts of the story from Ramayana which relate to business ethics.

Ravana, in Valmiki Ramayana, received several solicited and unsolicited advice from his kith and kin. Let us see who all dared to advise him on what is morally right:

It was the turn of Maricha to advise Ravana first. When Maricha was ordered to take the form of a golden deer to entice Sita,
he told Ravana in no uncertain terms that the power of Rama is unparallelled and therefore Ravana should simply patch up with the lord to save himself and his race. This advice was given in the background of the severe blows he received from Rama on a different occasion. However, when Ravana gave him an ultimatum, Maricha decided to go ahead and obey his command which ended his life.

However, not all Rakshasas gave him good counsel. Several Rakshasas including Mahodara(a renowned counselor of Ravana), readily supported Ravana glorifying his strength and giving him extraordinary confidence to face and defeat Rama. Vibhishana , on the other hand, had a totally different advice to offer. He talked at length about dharma and Rama’s divinely stature and advised what was the right thing to do for his own sake and for the sake of his race. As Ravana refused to budge and on the contrary rebuked Vibhishana for moralising, the latter had no hesitation in switching sides, though surreptitiously. Vibhishana, in fact, gave away valuable state secrets to the enemy camp!
Kumbhakarna’s response was markedly different and somewhat interesting. When Kumbhakarna woke up from his sleep lasting over months, Ravana explained the background to the situation leading up to Rama’s invasion of Lanka along with Sugriva’s army of monkeys. Kumbhakarna did not mince words and his immediate response was that Ravana ought to have consulted his ministers and close relatives before he abducted Sita, which is an immoral act. Curiously, though, after pointing out his immoral act, he threw in his lot with his elder brother and vowed to defeat Rama.
Clearly one can see a widely diverging viewpoints and advice being offered here.

I am tempted to draw parallels to business ethics in our corporates and the moral dilemma faced by senior executives. I am sure several of us, as senior managers, might have faced such ethical dilemmas wherein the organizations go astray and indulge in unethical and sometimes downright fraudulant methods to make money. Faced with such a situation,the moral dilemma is whether one should conduct oneself like Maricha & Kumbhakarna or like Vibhishana or like Mahodara? One might think the obvious answer is Vibhishana. But I am not too sure. One can readily dismiss Mahodara type of conduct. But it is difficult to support Vibhishana type of behaviour or that of Kumbhkarna or for that matter Mareecha. Vibhishana’s conduct is not above-board because of his secret dealings with Ravana’s enemies. Kumbhakarna condemned Ravana’s unrighteous act but decided to go with him for war against Rama because of a feeling of unquestionable allegiance to Ravana. I think Ramayana does not offer an ideal solution to such a problem. It would have been nice to see someone like Vibhishana with guts to cross over to the enemy camp openly. Perhaps the other great epic Mahabharata with its several intricate plots & counter plots would provide satisfactory answers.

The real dilemma in business arises because of the times we live in. In the present day context, it is hard to believe that any business can be run without resorting to unethical conduct in some degree. If a company deliberately chooses to conduct business unethically (like in the case of Satyam), it is obvious that one should desert the ship if one’s good counsel goes unheeded. On the other hand, in most situations, it would be difficult to apply absolute standards of morality and ethics, given the kind of business compulsions. To take one well-known fact about manufacturing companies, even when a company complies with all regulatory requirements, corrupt factory inspectors have to be bribed to get a clean chit.

Published in: on July 29, 2017 at 11:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Who cares if ‘justice delayed is justice denied’?

Justice delayed is justice denied – as the famous saying goes. But is ‘Justice delayed’ considered a sin loaded with appropriate punishment? Obviously,this is not done in any modern society,although we all wax eloquent on the importance of speedy justice. It is in this background that I found it extremely interesting to read a story from Valmiki Ramayana. This is narrated by Rama himself to Lakshmana after the former’s return to Ayodhya and coronation. It is the story of King Nrga well known for his respect for Truth and devotion to Brahmanas who were considered as representatives of gods in those days. Once he happened to gift away a cow to a Brahmana,not knowing that the same belonged to another poor Brahmana whose livelihood depended on that. The poor owner of the cow went about searching all over the kingdom untill he finally stumbled on his cow, already in the posession of the other Brahmana. Natuarally a dispute arose between the two Brahmanas with each one of them staking his rightful claim over the cow. Finally they decided to seek justice from the King Nrga himself and reached his palace. They kept waiting outside the royal gate indefinitely but could not manage to get the audience of the king. Having got frustrated and angry, the brahmanas cursed the king to turn into a lizard and the king had to suffer the ignominy for a long period of time for having committed a sin of delaying or denying justice.

In a related story involving Rama himself,a dog went to the royal palace and the king(Rama)instantly gave audience to the dog. The dog complained to Rama about a Brahmana who beat it up in a fit of anger provoked by extreme hunger. Apparently the Brahmana’s way was blocked by the dog as the former was out on his daily routine seeking alms. The Brahmana was irritated and beat it up as the appropriate time for begging was coming to an end. The injured dog wanted justice from the king. The assembled sages opined that a punishment could not be given to a Brahmana especially for such a trivial sin. But the dog insisted that he was only seeking a mild punishment – namely that the Brahmana be appointed as a KULAPATI(head of a ‘mutt’). Every one gathered in the assembly hall was surprised as they felt it was a boon and not a punishment. Rama,however,acceded to the demand of the dog. The dog then explained that he himself was a KULAPATI in his previous birth and elaborated on the evils associated with being a KULAPATI.

The stories above clearly establish the concept of accountability extending up to the highest level during the ancient times. No one was above law including the kings. Due to the built-in system of reward and punishment,kings were abundantly cautious and made sure that justice was not denied or delayed even to the lowliest of the lowly creatures inhabiting their kingdom. Since the modern societies don’t have a system of punishment for denying or delaying justice,we only talk eloquently about speedy delivery of justice without bothering about actual implementation!
The final twist in the story where the dog wanted that the Brahmana be appointed as KULAPATI also points to the same principle of accountability. Like all positions of power,a KULAPATI is also likely to commit sins in an unguarded moment and,of course, pay the price for the same!

Published in: on May 8, 2010 at 10:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Hanuman as a motivating leader

“sa vegavaan vegasamaahitatma haipraveerah paraveerahanta manah samaadhaaya mahanubhavo jagaam lankaam manasa manasvi”.

The translation is: ‘He focused his entire mind on speed alone and immersed himself with the thought of Lanka alone’.

These are the last two lines of ‘Kishkindakanda’ of Valmiki Ramayana. Valmiki,in this epic,makes no secret of his admiration for Hanuman. These lines brilliantly depict Hanuman’s state of mind before he undertakes to leap across the sea in search of Sita. The mental preparation he makes and the manner in which he motivates his colleagues before the all important mission is something to emulate for all of us. Before I explain these lines,let me give a short prelude and background to this.
As part of a mission to find Sita,a group of monkeys (including Hanuman) led by Angada were dispatched by Sugriva to explore in the southern direction. During their search,they ended up in a cave inhabited by a mysterious woman meditating all by herself. As she got disturbed by the arrival of the monkeys,she told them categorically that as per the mysterious powers bestowed on her,whoever entered the cave would not get out alive. However,as a special consideration she agreed to let them out unharmed. As they were about to make a ‘U’- turn,Angada realized that they had exceeded the time limit set by Sugriva for completing the search for Sita. He was also aware that Sugriva was not going to spare them if they came back empty handed after the deadline without any success. Therefore he exhorted the monkeys gathered over there to stay inside the cave and fast unto death,since in any case Sugriva would not be sparing their lives. Hanuman,though, was not convinced.
He used his skills,created rift among the followers of Angada and made sure that the latter was isolated on the issue of staying back in the cave fasting unto death. In order to achieve his noble purpose,he did not hesitate to pick up an argument with Angada. He supported Sugriva even as Angada started to abuse Sugriva as a guy without scruples,gratitude and any character whatsoever. Hanuman handled the situation quite cleverly and tactfully and convinced Angada. Finally,he managed to rally forces around his all important cause of crossing over to Lanka.(Earlier,they happened to learn about the whereabouts Sita through the bird Sampati).
As the monkeys arrived at the final spot where they would be required to cross the ocean,each monkey was asked to state his capacity for jumping across. And it turned out,the capacity of each monkey was falling short of the target needed to be achieved. Hanuman,though, remained silent throughout.
At this point,Jambavan took the initiative and reminded Hanuman of his great pedigree and capacity. That gentle reminder of his unlimited prowess was enough to ignite his mind instantly. Hanuman realized his potential and spontaneously delivered a wonderful speech,which turned the gloomy situation into one of joy. He spelt out his powers very clearly and removed the sorrow of all his monkey colleagues including that of Angada.
Here is a brief translation of his speech:
“I am a proud descendant of the powerful Wind-God,who is capable of smashing mountain peaks and who is unmatched in speed and rapidity. Therefore,I can go around Meru Mountain several times without any exhaustion. I am even capable of overtaking the Sun. Only Garuda,the celestial bird and the Wind-God can equal me in pace. As I take my stride in space,I will resemble the Lord Trivikrama taking a measure of the universe. So,I have no doubt that I will be able to find Sita”.

This speech elevated the spirits of every one around him instantly.
Having generated enthusiasm and excitement all around,Hanuman knew that it was important to focus his mind next on the job at hand. That is what is described eloquently by Valmiki in the last two lines of Kishkinda kanda reproduced above at the beginning of this post. To reproduce the translation once again – ‘He focused his entire mind on speed alone and immersed himself with the thought of Lanka alone’.

This is an excellent illustration of elevating oneself and others with confidence and enthusiasm before undertaking an important mission which calls for extraordinary mental skills and physical strength. And then,when the moment of action arrived,Hanuman knew it was time to concentrate and focus his entire mind completely on the task on hand.

Published in: on January 10, 2010 at 8:39 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Free Will Versus Destiny : A Debate between Rama and Lakshmana

As Rama was getting ready to leave for forest,there was an interesting dialogue between the brothers on the issue of Rama opting to go to forest.
Seeing that Lakshmana was upset with the developments,Rama put forth His views on the issue. According to Him the entire episode was a consequence of divine will. Without invoking the principle of Divine will,it would be very difficult to explain how or why Kaikeyi who was normally given to very noble disposition could indulge in such a cruel act. All the events were completely unforeseen and whatever is unforeseen or unforeseeable has to be accepted as the decree of the Divine.
Lakshmana,like everyone else, was quite convinced that Rama didn’t deserve to go to forest. He summoned courage and tried to put across his views quite forcefully,knowing fully that Rama was determined to carry out His father’s wish at all costs. Lakshmana’s measured and calculated outburst was a manifestation of his righteous indignation. And the manner in which he presented the case for Rama to return to Ayodhya was too good to be dismissed as histrionics. Here is a gist of what he said to Rama:
Fate,Destiny or ‘Divine will’ are invoked only by the weak minded as an excuse for inaction. Only the cowardly and people incapable of action trust and seek shelter in Fate. Free will can very easily offset the harm and injustice perpetrated in the name of destiny. To the extent the whole act was plotted and engineered by wicked Kaikeyi and meekly accepted by the weak king Dasaradha,there was no justification for accepting the same as Divine Will. On the contrary,injustice done to Rama and the people of Ayodhya should be instantly corrected by resorting to a show of strength. Expressing himself thus in such a forceful manner,Lakshmana was rearing to have a go at the plotters of injustice and show to the world the superiority of Free Will over Divine Will.
Lakshmana also made yet another interesting point to convince Rama. He quoted the code of righteous conduct for kings which lays down the principle of abdicating one’s kingdom only after ruling for a long time and handing over the same to sons. Having passed on the responsibility to the next generation,the king could then retire to forests.

However,none of the arguments (so nicely articulated by Lakshmana) impressed Rama. He was not willing to disobey His father and compromise on the issue.

Evidently,Rama held views which were quite different from those of Lakshmana. As He reasoned with Bharata much later (when the latter came to plead with Rama to return to Ayodhya),Soul is not independent and does not enjoy Free Will. The journey of the Soul is completely influenced and dictated by Divine Will and dispensation.

The question that arises now is how does one reconcile the two completely different positions held by Rama and Lakshmana?
My own view is that Free will does exist but in a limited context. The parents one is born to,the kind of surroundings one grows up in are perhaps part of Divine will. Free will probably can not change all that. Within that broad context,one could make minor modifications to one’s life. If one adds to these constraints the principles and code of conduct enshrined in dharma shastras and scriptures,one will see a very limited sphere in which Free will can operate. In fact this was precisely the dilemma faced by Rama. Although He could very clearly see injustice,He found Himself helpless to act according to His Free Will because He was bound by Dharma. Dharma,in this particular case,dictates that He should simply obey His father irrespective of consequences.

Published in: on December 27, 2009 at 8:41 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Dialogue between Rama and Sita on Dharma

During their sojourn in Dandaka forest, Rama,Lakshmana and Sita took the opportunity to visit and pay respects to a great sage by name Sarabhanga. Knowing that Rama was in Sarabhanga’s hermitage,a group of sages also arrived there and pleaded with Him to address their grievances against demons who were systematically destroying their Tapas and even killing several. They requested Rama to fulfil His obligations as their King and provide protection by destroying the wicked demons. Realizing His duties towards the ascetics,Rama promised them to do the needful along with Lakshmana. He further added that it was only expected of Him to be at the command of the sages and felt indeed happy that His stay in the forest would be highly purposeful and fruitful.
Rama’s spontaneous offer of help and the manner in which He responded positively is highly commendable. It is indeed a hallmark of a great soul to discover a mission and purpose for his stay in the forest instead of lamenting His fate for being forced to live in such conditions.

Sita,on her part,witnessed all this quite attentively and in a wonderful display of Her role as the conscience keeper of her husband, offered the following advice to Rama on certain aspects of Dharma. I will briefly reproduce below the advice given by Sita:
People wanting to follow the path of dharma are often led astray due to the pressure of circumstances. Under pressure from desires,3 types of sins are committed by human beings:
1. Speaking falsehood
2.Coveting another man’s wife
3.Destroying a life of an animal or a human being even though there is no enmity or cause for enmity.

Sita cautioned Rama against the third type of sin because she knew quite well that Rama would never fall prey to the first 2 types of sins.
She went on to explain that Kshatriyas could kill only those that caused harm to others. Her particular reason for worry at that instant was the fact that Rama and Lakshmana were in possession of powerful weapons(Bows and arrows)whereas there was no reason to carry such arms by people who were supposed to be leading an ascetic life in a forest.
In order to substantiate her fears she narrated a story of a sage who was once upon a time conducting severe Tapas. And Indra,feeling jealous of him,thought of an idea to ruin his TAPAS. He appeared as a soldier in front of the sage and deposited a sword,asking him to safeguard the weapon. Therefore,the sage was forced to carry the weapon where-ever he went and over a period of time fell prey to violent ways which completely ruined his austerities.
Rama while appreciating Her advice as a ” Sadharmacharini”(a partner in dharma),clarified that He would be steering clear of unjust violence as dictated by dharma but would certainly fulfil His promise given to the sages to destroy the wicked demons who were causing immense harm to the Tapas of the sages.

A few points are worth noting in this particular episode:
Firstly,it is to be appreciated that Sita sets an example for women in general by acting as the conscience keeper of her husband cautioning and reminding him at every step on what is right. And to advise some one like Rama who is well versed in Dharma certainly needs some courage of conviction.
Secondly,it is very interesting as to how Rama responds to her remarks. He profusely complements her for the advice without any show of ego and even acknowledges Her role as ” Sadharmacharini”(His partner in the conduct of dharma).
Thirdly, the episode clearly underlies the importance of the circumstances which can lead one astray. While Sita’s apprehensions in the case of Rama are totally misplaced,the general message being conveyed is the following:If one happens to wield powerful weapons,one is likely to misuse the same in a fit of anger. To give an analogy from the modern world,aren’t we aware of the dangers to the world if terrorists get control over nuclear arms?
The other example that comes to my mind is the indiscriminate shooting by gun wielding school children in the USA.
A similar message is contained in the well known saying: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This is true of politicians,Government officers and even CEOs of companies.

Published in: on November 20, 2009 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Rama explaining Subtle aspects of Dharma to Vali

The bitter rivalry between the monkey brothers Vali and Sugriva is well documented and dramatized in Valmiki Ramayana. The manner in which Rama gets entangled in their affairs is also equally sensational.
Here is a brief account of how they turned into sworn enemies:Vali got into a bitter fight with a Rakshas ‘Mayavi’. As the fight went on for an year or so inside a dark cave,Sugriva mistakenly concluded that Vali got killed and therefore blocked the cave opening with a huge piece of Rock so that Mayavi would never exit out of the cave. Sugriva returned to ‘Kishkinda’ and started ruling the kingdom. Eventually,Vali got back victorious and gravely misunderstood the intentions of Sugriva in blocking the cave. Seeing Sugriva occupying his throne,he threw him out instantly,banished him into the forest and even abducted Sugriva’s wife.
Sugriva was rendered homeless and was confined to a small mountainous region called ‘Rishyamuka’. By divine coincidence,Rama and Sugriva met and got into a grand alliance through the good offices of Hanuman. Rama,on his part, promised Sugriva that he would kill Vali and restore his kingdom along with his wife. In return Sugriva assured Rama that he would use his entire army of monkeys to search for Sita.
In keeping with his promise Rama killed Vali hiding behind a tree ,as the two brothers were engaged in a bitter fight.
The killing of Vali by Rama from behind a tree is one of the unresolved controversies in Ramayana. In Valmiki Ramayana,the dialogue between Rama and Vali before the latter’s death provides a lot of insight into the subtle aspects of ‘Dharma’.
Vali was forthright in questioning Rama about the propriety of killing him. Vali raises the following basic issues with Rama before dying:
1. Why did Rama kill him hiding from behind which is against the basic dharma of any warrior
2.As Vali did not commit any sin or offense against Rama,where was the need to kill him?
3.There can possibly be no area of conflict between a monkey (dwelling in a forest and subsisting on roots and fruits)and Rama who is a king and a great soul. Even the flesh of a monkey is not fit to be consumed by a righteous man following dharma.
All are very relevant questions which needed to be addressed by Rama.

In a perfect display of humility,Rama listened to all that Vali had to say without interrupting him. As soon as Vali finished his speech,Rama chose to answer him point by point as follows:
1.At the outset Rama states that Vali is completely ignorant of Dharma and that has led him to denounce His actions with harsh words.
2.Then He goes on to explain that the kings of Ikshvaku rule the entire globe including all the forests,mountains and rivers. Their sovereignty extends to all inhabitants like humans,animals,beasts,trees,plants etc. And Rama himself is acting on behalf of the king Bharata who has the responsibility to punish sinners and establish Dharma.
3. He then tells Vali without mincing words that he had committed a grave sin by coveting his brother’s wife who is to be treated like his daughter-in-law. Such a sin is punishable by death as per Dharma.
4.A king by punishing such a sinner achieves two objectives: The sinner’s sin is neutralized which will facilitate his passage to the heavens. And secondly the king redeems himself by carrying out his duty. On the other hand,a king who soft pedals and turns a blind eye to a sinful act becomes a sinner himself and fruits of the sin accrue to him. These subtle aspects of dharma from ‘Manu dharma shastra’ were explained in detail by Rama.
5.Kings,according to Dharma,are entitled to hunting animals and beasts even as a sport and under such circumstances,it is irrelevant whether the hunter is facing or hidden from the view of the prey.
6. Finally,Rama says that he had given a word to Sugriva (in presence of all the monkeys after forging an alliance with the latter) that he would punish Vali and restore his thone. And there is no way he would let it go in vain.

Two interesting aspects get highlighted in this dialogue:
1. To start with,Rama has clearly shown that he is a great listener. Although he knew right from the beginning that Vali was ignorant of Dharma,He still listened to him without any interruption.
2.Rama also felt obligated to enlighten Vali(instead of brushing him aside as an unrepentant sinner) on all points raised by him. He takes pains to quote from ‘Manu Smriti’ also to justify his killing of Vali. This is a great exhibition of His humility as well as thorough understanding of His rights and obligations as per ‘Dharma shastras’.

I was discussing this particular episode with a friend of mine and he said we are all victims of circumstances and as such are propelled to act instinctively under a given situation. He seemed to imply that even Gods are not exempt from it.
Let us see the relevance of this thesis. Rama had given a promise to Sugriva to finish off Vali. He saw Sugriva being grievously injured with fatal blows from Vali in his fight. Under these circumstances,it appears Rama had no choice but to act the way He did.
But such such a view,precludes the operation of Free Will and Dharma. Therefore I choose to look at the episode slightly differently.
Dharma is basically a matter of perspective. The broader the perspective,better our understanding is of what is right and what is wrong. Conversely,narrower the perspective,poorer is our understanding of Dharma.
Rama’s perspective,as the proxy King of the globe, is certainly much broader and richer than that of a monkey king confined merely to forests and mountains.
In fact it is for this reason we say Dharma is too subtle to understand. To understand Dharma we should have the knowledge and wisdom of seers who possess a very broad perspective. Don’t we often say “God only knows what is right”. The implication is that since God is,by definition omnipresent and omniscient,He knows fully all the equations and with the broadest possible world view. Therefore,He alone knows what is righteous action(or ‘dharma’). It is impossible for common mortals to decipher Dharma in all its dimensions.

Published in: on November 1, 2009 at 6:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Hanuman as a Diplomat par excellence

Lessons in the subtle art of diplomacy – yes,this is what is clearly brought out in the episode in Ramayana dealing with Hanuman’s first meeting with Rama & Lakshmana. The meeting took place in the forest(‘Dandakaranya’) while Rama and Lakshmana were frantically searching for Sita after the latter’s abduction by Ravana.
As Sugreeva sighted the two handsome brothers from a distance he got really worried thinking that they were sent by Vali to destroy him. Hanuman,though,was quite confident that there was nothing to worry about and readily agreed to meet them in disguise and find out in detail about the two. The conversation that followed between them is a master piece. Hanuman started off with a great adulation of the two young men of princely charm. Describing their charming physical features,he made no secret of his admiration for their divine looks. He even went to the extent of saying that they were indeed fit to rule the entire universe by virtue of their prowess and merit. After his admiration of Rama and Lakshmana, Hanuman gave a brief background of his master and himself. He introduced Sugriva in a very fitting manner as ‘Vanara pungava'(meaning the most distinguished among monkeys)and ‘Dharmatma'(meaning one who is highly virtuous)and then narrated the story of how Vali dethroned him,took away his wife and banished him into the forests. Then he introduced himself as Sugriva’s minister and the son of the wind-god. Having thus highlighted Sugriva’s noble credentials and his own rich pedigree,Hanuman announced that they were indeed seeking the friendship of Rama and Lakshmana. Before seeking Rama’s friendship,Hanuman wanted to reassure him that Sugriva was a worthy and a deserving soul.
Rama,on his part,listened to Hanuman’s speech spell bound and expressed his praise for him quite spontaneously. He said that the manner in which Hanuman spoke was indicative of his rich knowledge of all the four ‘vedas’ as well as intricacies of grammar. Besides,his articulation of speech and scholarly use of the language was simply outstanding and whatever he spoke came straight from his heart with no hint of hypocrisy.
What a great coincidence that Rama and Lakshmana were also looking for the same Sugriva! Lakshmana himself mentioned this to Hanuman. Hanuman was quick to seize the opportunity as he saw a great possibility of forging a win-win alliance. Quite predictably,the meeting took place between Rama and Lakshman on the one hand and Sugriva and Hanuman on the other with the good offices of the latter,which led to a treaty of friendship and mutual help.

The whole episode of how this grand alliance materialized is a lesson in diplomacy par excellence.
One finds all the ingredients of a potential alliance in the situation. Both parties were in need of help. Rama needed an army of soldiers who could roam around the difficult terrain of ‘Dandakaranya’ to search for Sita,whereas Sugriva needed a divine intervention and power to regain his wife and kingdom from his wicked brother Vali. Their strengths were complimentary in nature . Both parties were in desperation to fulfil their objectives with outside help. Thus the situation was quite ripe for an alliance. All that was needed was someone to negotiate a deal. In this background Hanuman played the crucial role of an emissary and a diplomat quite commendably. His articulation of the Sugriva’s case,the sequence in which he delivered the message,his choice of words and expressions to describe Rama,the manner in which he introduced his king Sugriva and himself while seeking his friendship and alliance – all make for a wonderful lesson in the subtle art of diplomacy.

Viswamitra’s moment of Truth

In Balakanda of Valmiki Ramayana,one will find a good collection of ‘bed-time stories’ of the sage Viswamitra narrated to Rama and Lakshmana during their sojourn in the forests on a specific mission to kill ‘Rakshasas’. While these stories are certainly very interesting,the story of the sage Viswamitra himself is even more gripping. Therefore I will start with the story of the sage himself.
The sage was born as a kshatriya(great grandson of Kusa and the son of the great king Gadhi). During his long rule,he happened to undertake a tour around the globe with his entire retinue including his huge army. On the way he halted at the hermitage of the great sage Vasishta(who was the son of the creator Brahma himself). He paid his respects to Vasishta,stayed on for a while after accepting a few fruits and roots offered by the sage. And as he got ready to leave with his entire retinue,Vasishta had other ideas. He was not willing to let them go without accepting his hospitality. He offered to provide a sumptuous meal to them all. Viswamitra simply ignored the offer and told him humbly that the sage should not bother himself to give them such a treat and in any case he was more than happy with the offer of fruits and water. Vasishta insisted that there was no way that he was going to let them go without enjoying his hospitality. Viswamitra had no option but to agree to stay on.
To the surprise of everyone including Viswamitra,Vasishta was,indeed, in a position to provide a highly sumptuous meal consisting of all 6 kinds of dishes(sweet,bitter,salt,acidic,alkaline,pungent)to Viswamitra and his huge army. Everyone including Viswamitra was mightily pleased with the hospitality.
Viswamitra later learnt the secret behind Vasishta’s hospitality – it was the famous ‘Kamadhenu’ cow(by name ‘Sabala’). This priceless possession of Vasishta was famous for granting or fulfilling any wish as demanded by its owner. Thus Vasishta was able to satisfy every single requirement of his hosts simply by asking ‘Sabala’ for the same!
Viswamitra was pleased and impressed with the manner in which Sabala yielded every wish and desire of the sage Vasishta. And at that very instant, he entertained an intense desire to possess such an invaluable Cow himself. He immediately put forth his request to Vasishta and asked him to part with Sabala. As the latter said ‘No’ politely but firmly,Viswamitra tried to reason with him saying that such a wish yielding Sabala would be of immense value to a king like him rather than to a sage who lived in a hermitage. Vasishta was equally stubborn and gave his own reasons for not parting with it. He explained that Sabala was a jewel in his possession and he needed it to feed his innumerable guests,rishis and also to produce material needed for conducting Yajna etc. Viswamitra,whose intellect was clouded by his deep desire,was equally unrelenting. He insisted on physically taking Sabala and ordered his men to attack Sabala and forcefully take it away. Sabala resisted and pleaded with Vasishta to save it from Viswamitra and his men. Thereupon Vasishta used his spiritual power and commanded Sabala to produce different weapons to attack its attackers. Encouraged by Vasishta,Sabala could successfully neutralize attacks and defended itself. Then the hundred sons of Viswamitra who attacked Vasishta were burnt to ashes by the sage himself. Finally Viswamitra himself began to fight directly attacking Vasishta with several divine weapons (presided over by the gods Varuna,Fire-God,Indra,Rudra,Siva etc). Vasishta simply used his ‘Staff'(so called Brahminical staff or ‘Dand’) to counter and defeat all these missiles. Viswamitra used his ultimate weapon,the most powerful ‘ Brahmastra'(a weapon presided over by the creator Brahma himself).
As Vasishta managed to repulse this as well using his powerful Staff,Viswamitra was left completely clueless and accepted defeat.

This great defeat set him to introspect very deeply. It was a moment of Truth for him as he realized that his strength(as a kshatriya)is nothing before the strength of Vasishta who is a ‘brahma-rishi’. The strength of a kshatriya is reproachful while that of a person with ‘Brahma tejas'(brilliance of spiritual power of a true brahmin)is the real strength. In his own words:”Dhig balam kshatriya balam,brahma tejo balam balam ekena brahmadandena sarvaastrani hataani me”.
This is the profound conclusion reached by Viswamitra and it is this statement which saw him set very high standards for himself. He took a vow to keep performing ‘Tapas'(penance) untill he became a so called “Brahma Rishi”(This is the highest status in the hierarchy of rishis – the others being ‘Rajarishi’ meaning royal sage,Rishi,Maharishi). Energised by this vow,as the story goes,he goes on with severe ‘tapas’ for a thousand years or so. During this period of ‘tapas’,he was tested with several obstacles. As is well known,he briefly succumbed to the beauty of one divine woman(Menaka). He realized his folly and continued with his ‘tapas’. And yet again, he had to face and overcome one more distraction in the form of another divine woman(this time, it was Rambha). And the final distraction was provided by revival of his old rivalry with Vasishta which gave ample scope for exhibition of his ego once again. He offered to help Trisanku (a king) to enter heaven even as he was alive much against the advice and wishes of Vasishta(the story of a heaven created exclusively for Trisanku is well known).

Recovering once again from his ego inspired detours, Viswamitra continued with his ‘tapas’. Brahma was pleased with him and bestowed on him the status of ‘Maharishi’ – still one notch below the much sought after ‘Brahma rishi’ status. This was because he was yet to completely control or master his senses and ego (as the episodes of Menaka and Trisanku proved abundantly). However ,not content with the title of Maharishi,Viswamitra continued his ‘tapas’ -this time around it was so severe that the fire of his ‘tapas’,began to destroy the mother earth itself. Thereupon all the Gods and Brahma were mightily pleased and conferred the title of ‘Brahma rishi’ and requested him to stop his tapas at once. Viswamitra ,however,said he would stop only if Vasishta pronounced him as Brama rishi. Ultimately,Vasishta also obliged and the great tapas came to an end with the conferment of the title of brahma rishi by vasishta.

The story of Viswamitra has several interesting parallels to our lives. Viswamitra exhibited pretty much similar tendencies like any one of us – play of ego and desiring something unjustly and trying to acquire the same in an unfair manner. By any standards,his demand for Sabala is completely unjustified not to talk of using force to acquire the same. But the comparison with the common mortals probably ends there. The defeat he faced in the hands of Vasishta forced him to look at life in a completely different perspective. It was an ‘Eureka’ moment for him. It shows that a wise man will need just one incident to completely transform himself. For Viswamitra the comprehensive defeat at the hands of Vasishta was such a moment. He took it as a challenge and set himself a high goal.
It is also important to realize that whenever we undertake a great task,there are bound to be distractions and obstacles which can make us lose control over our senses and allow our ego to take control. A wise man is one who can quickly see the traps(as Viswamitra did)and apply corrections.
The story also goes to establish the principle of meritocracy. No matter how influential one is,there is no easy way to attain the highest status of Brahma rishi. It is not a birth right nor is it to be gained by any short cuts. One has to attain it by sheer hard work alone.

Hanuman as an inspirational Hero

“Mahotsaham maha satvam maha balam maha shaktim maha kayam maha matim!”

The above lines are from Sundara kanda. This is a glorious description of none other than Hanuman by Valmiki. The battle of Hanuman  with the Rakshasa Durdhara( who was deputed by Ravana) in Lanka was the scene which inspired Valmiki to glorify Hanuman by these adjectives.

One will quickly observe that each adjective or quality is preceded by the word ‘Maha’ or great. It is unique in itself to combine so many great qualities in one single individual. But what is of even greater significance in the case of Hanuman is that he has a highly discriminating intellect and wisdom to utilise or exhbit the qualities at the most appropriate time and place. I will try to illustrate this particular aspect with examples of his commedable conduct.

One of the qualities mentioned in the line above is ‘Maha matim’,meaning great intelligence. One can find several instances of his intelligence in Sudarakanda.

The very first instance of the test of his intelligence was when a demoness Simhika tried to obstruct his way while he was crossing the ocean. He had a choice either to engage  in a long drawn out fight or find a shortcut to killing her. He chose the latter strategy since he had little time to fulfill his main mission. Therefore he decided to enter her mouth in a small form  and came out of her in a huge form, killed her in the process and proceeded with his  journey.

As an emissary of Rama,he knew that his mission was highly critical and had a great degree of clarity on the purpose of his mission. His main job was to find Sita, console and comfort her by giving her hope. In addition to this main purpose, it would also be nice to take the opportunity to survey Lanka and assess the strengths of Ravana as part of the preparation for war. When he found and identified Sita under the Ashoka tree,he was really at a loss as to how he should proceed to identify or introduce  himself. He knew that Sita was in distress and in that frame of mind she would suspect him to be a Rakshasa in the form of a monkey. The question before him was how to make Sita listen to him without getting freightened. He knew that was  a highly critical moment of the mission and so he  reflected deeply on  the course of action to be taken. His unwavering  commitment to the task and ability to think practically  was evident in his words when he says that ‘ Even a well planned strategy in the hands of an emissary who is over confident,and self-opionated is bound to fail’. Reflecting thus on the course of action,he thought of a perfect idea – he decided that the only way in which he can capture her attention under the circumstances was to sing in praise of Rama so as to reach her ears and in such a manner that it created confidence in her. Thus sitting on the branch of the tree he begins to narrate the story of Rama. Sita got interested  looked around and found a monkey. Although her initial reaction was one of disbelief,eventually she got convinced and got into a conversation. As further confirmation of his identity as an emissary of Rama,she asked Hanuman to describe Rama’s physical features as well as his qualities. Hanuman took the opportunity to give a glorious description of both His physical features,mental prowess,His knowledge of Vedas and Dharmas,His valour etc. He talked with so much passion that Sita was convinced beyond doubt that he was indeed an emissary of Rama. 

 Even before finding Sita,Hanuman showed great maturity while reflecting on his mission and strategy. On a couple of occasions,he got into deep despair and let his imagination go wild with thoughts of the consequences if his mission were to fail. However,thinking of the grave consequences of his failure itself was enough to motivate him to  use all the powers at his command to make the mission a grand success. Clearly Hanuman himself, in a  grave crisis, got into depression and sorrow like ordinary mortals. But instantly and cleverly used the same depression and fear of the consequences of failure as a motivating factor to add force to his efforts.

As Sita listened to Hanuman  carefully ,she repeatedly wanted to know why Rama was delaying his actions to take her back. At this point he had to give a credible and comforting answer. He said that Rama was so deep in sorrow by separation from her that he was in no position or state to initiate an action plan to bring her back. At the same time Hanuman gave her great hope adding that now that she had been found, Rama would certainly come with the army of monkeys to Lanka and destroy Ravana to take her back. He repeated this message several times because that was what would sustain her hope and ensure her very survival.

Next ,let us turn our attention to what he did after comforting Sita. As part of the mission,he knew that it would be desirable to make an assessment of strength of  Ravana’s Lanka and if possible meet Ravana himself. He hit upon an idea to achieve this purpose. He had to somehow draw the attention of Rakshasas by doing something crazy. Thus he virtually destroyed the Ashokavana and in the process did attract the wrath of rakshsas who started attacking him. And that was the perfect time to exhibit his strength,energy and his ability to assume a huge and terrifying form(‘Maha satvam,maha balam,maha shaktim,maha kayam‘). He did this very convincingly and in the process killed several rakshasas including Akshaya kumara(Ravana’s son)and Durdhara(Ravana’s minister). This led to Indrajit,the great warrior, coming on the scene and  tying him up with Brahma ‘s missile. Hanuman ,in fact ,instantly realised that in accordance with a boon he obtained from Brahma,he could not be tied down by the missile. But very interestingly he pretended as though he had been immobilised by the missile. The reasons are not far to seek: Firsly,he wanted to show his humility and respect to  Brahma the Creator and secondly he knew that he would be dragged to Ravana’s court if he submitted himself to the missile,which would give him a chance to meet Ravana face to face. He would then get an oportunity to advise him as an emissary. Hanuman knows that it is an important role of an emissary to give good counsel to the enemy and prevent war and violence as far as possible.

As expected he got the audience of Ravana. The conversation that followed between the two was really a great example of diplomacy and tactfulness combined with declarations  of principles of Dharma and Satyam on the part of Hanuman on the one hand and ego display by Ravana. The way he introduced himself itself was interesting. He called himself an emissary(‘dhoot)’ of Rama,a servant(dasa) of Rama and a vanara. He ,then eloborated saying that he was also a minister of Sugriva who was the brother of Vali. Hanuman,obviously, wanted to impress upon Ravana that apart from his valour and strength (the taste of which Rakshasa have already seen) he was also associated with Sugreeva and Vali,who were  well known to Ravana(at one time Vali was a terror to Ravana!). To add more credibility to his great association,he also mentioned as a matter of fact that Vali was killed by Rama with just one arrow. This sort of introduction of himself  to Ravana associating himself with great names, was basically to create an interest  in Ravana on what he was going to convey further. This was also intended to create a sort of fear in Ravana’s mind about his enemy’s strengths. Obviously that was not the occasion to show humility – rather a perfect occasion to show off his powerful connections and credentials. And that was what he precisely did. He then made a passionate appeal and offered advice to Ravana which was at once forceful,well meaning,diplomatic,truthful and in accordance with dharma. Diplomacy of presentation was quite evident as he paid great compliments to Ravana for his material,intellectual and spiritual attainments which was made possible by virtue of his austerity and panance. While praising him for his attainments,he also did not hesitate to talk about the glory of Rama,Lakshmana and Sugreeva. He did not mince words in declaring tenets of Truth and Dharma(Righteousness) in support of his advice to return Sita. He  clarified that one has to independently face the consequences of one’s acts of dharma and adharma. Since Ravana seemed to have already enjoyed the fruits of his dharma,Hanuman said that unless he made amends to his acts of adharma(abducting another man’s wife)by returning Sita immediately,he was bound to face its grave consequences. He substantiated this by stating that  Rama & Lakshmana who are themselves  great warriors were supported by very powerful army of monkeys led by Sugriva.

Thus Hanuman’s advice to Ravana contained all aspects of  diplomacy(glorious introduction of himself and at the same time praising Ravana’s great positive qualities),exposition of righteous conduct(references of his speech on dharma & adharma),truth (about glory of his master Rama)and forceful in advising him to act with a sense of urgency in returning Sita. 

When Ravana rejected his advice and ordered his tail to be lit on fire,Hanuman used the opportunity to destroy Lanka with the same fire causing immense damage to Lanka.

After accomplishing his mission succesfully,he got back to meet fellow monkeys first and then Sugriva,Rama & Lakshmana. The manner in which he broke the news of success of his mission was also exemplary. He showed extraordinary skill in conveying his message to his anxious audience. He said  ” Drishta Seeteti–”   (Discovered is Sita). Instead of saying Sita is discovered,he  skillfully used the word ‘Drishta’ before ‘Sita’ in order not to cause any confusion (even for a moment)in the minds of his listeners about success of his mission. 

Finally he showed exemplary humility in talking about the success of his mission to his monkey colleagues . He says ” Raghavasya prabhavena bhavatam chaiva tejasa Sugreevasya cha karyardham maya sarvamanushtitam”.

(Owing to Rama’s prowess and the energy and enthusiasm of all of you I have accomplished the mission that Sugreeva has entrusted to us).  He never took any credit for what he had achieved single handedly. Thus he exhibited great humility where it was indeed necessary and displayed his prowess  and wisdom when  it was badly needed during his stay in Lanka.