Monday, August 17, 2009

The Debate

The following story from the Mahabharata is taken from the novel Show Business by Dr. Shashi Tharoor.

Ashok Banjara, the superhero of Hindi cinema, at the peak of his fame suddenly decides to take a turn in his career and plunges into politics, to follow the path of his Father, though not exactly the way his Father wanted. Acting upon his brother Ashwin's advice, Ashok visits a Guru in his ashram, to seek his blessings prior to the upcoming elections. The following excerpt is from the Guru's address to his followers:

"... I shall conclude this discourse with a story from the Mahabharata - a debate, shall we say, amongst the five Pandava brothers, the "heroes", if you must, of the great epic. The topic they were debating was a typically Hindu question of hierarchies: which, they argued, was the highest of human pursuits, - kama, pleasure, artha, wealth, or dharma, righteousness? Their uncle and counsellor Vidura thought the matter was self-evident: the answer was obviously dharma. Arjuna, the most intelligent of the Pandavas, was not so sure: he put artha first, seeing pleasure and righteousness as merely two adjuncts of wealth. (He would obviously have made a very successful merchant banker today.) Bhima, the glutton and strongman, disagreed. In his view, the satisfaction of desire, in other words, kama, was obviously man's first duty, since without the desire to achieve, any achievement would be impossible. The twin brothers Nakul and Sahadev wanted to have it both ways: man, they declared, should go for all three - first pursue righteousness, then wealth, and lastly pleasure. (I am beginning to think they had a point there, but not necessarily in that order.) Finally, the oldest brother, Yudhishtira, paragon of virtue, surveyed the options and sadly rejected all of them. The only thing for a man to do, he concluded, was to sidestep the debate altogether, and submit himself to Fate."