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.

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