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The Virtues Of Loyalty

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We need to differentiate between virtue and dharma; and of the two, dharma must shape virtues. Drona's lavish material comforts, which the students in the case equated with success, are reward for the virtue of loyalty that Drona displayed towards Hastinapur, which had hired him as a teacher to royal princes Kauravas and Pandavas. Due to loyalty, he fought on Kauravas' side even though he knew they were wrong and by demanding amputation of Ekalavya's thumb and robbing him of prowess in archery, he killed competition to Hastinapur in two ways. First, Arjuna the royal prince becomes the best archer and second, the threat of attack on Hastinapur by powerful forest tribes where Ekalavya belongs to, is subverted. Drona's loyalty is not rooted in dharma but destructive emotions chiefly pride, anger and fear... the reasons why Drona is not effective in the roles he plays in life.

In the Mahabharata, all references to dharma imply nurturing, cherishing, enriching, increasing and enhancing all living beings by securing their prabhava or ability to be what they are (prabhavarthaya bhutanam dharma pravachanam krtam. Shanti Parva 101:10). This is possible only by ahimsa or freedom from violence which, according to the Vedas, is not just abstention from physical injury, but also from doing injury to the nature of anything by which it deteriorates in its good qualities. Ahimsa is equated with dharma (ahimsa paramah dharmah).

Drona committed violence to his svadharma when he abandoned his Brahmin svabhava and donned alien Kshatriya robes, thus was neither effective as a teacher nor a warrior. As a guru, he fails to impart dharma-based values to student Duryodhana, and his demand of Ekalavya's thumb as guru dakshina without accepting him as a student (deeksa) is against rules of guru-shisya relationship. As a paid teacher, Drona cheats Hastinapur by withholding knowledge of special mantras, which he imparts only to son Aswathama. Early, every morning the student-princes fill water from the river while Aswathama is given a wide mouth urn so that he can finish the task quickly and be tutored before others arrive. Despite blatant partiality, Arjuna and Ekalavya become great archers simply because they are better students than Drona is guru.

As commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army, Drona is not effective. For 10 days, he fights without killing a single person of significance except thousands of ordinary soldiers. Each day, he makes tall but half-hearted promises to Duryodhana, which he never fulfils (capturing Yudhisthira alive). Finally, when he hears the false news of his son's death, he throws his weapons and withdraws, creating chaos in the Kaurava army. Drona's life demonstrates that deviation from dharma leads to inferior results.

The Vedas emphasise that both disregard and idolatry of human attributes is violence. To disrespect self interest, desire for material prosperity and even morality is violence to the self, while their idolatry invites an even greater violence to self, relationships and society. At the political and economic level, idolatry becomes an ideology that causes collective and extensive harm, examples of which are unbridled capitalism or religious fundamentalism. To value too greatly or too little a particular human attribute in its relations to the rest is to disintegrate the natural wholeness of self. In the case, students consider Drona successful because he is leading a good palace life filled with comforts, riches and position power. To treat roti, kapada and makan as parameters of success is idolatry of materialistic values. Enlightened organisations are strategically moving away from this extreme material- economic perspective to balance the whole through corporate social responsibility, sustainable development practices, stakeholders' perspective and business ethics. Students must realise that organisations today reward excellence in work that can only come from balanced mind, purity of purpose and skills. Drona lacked the first two attributes; mere skills did not help him.

In the context of dharma, the virtue of loyalty can not be interpreted to mean only lifelong allegiance — it is complete self giving to work. Bhishma, Drona and Kripacharya knew Duryodhana's fight was in vain as he was neither morally correct nor valourous like the Pandavas. But they could not cut the golden chains of virtue and fought with a divided self that brought defeat to Duryodhana. It was Ekalavya who rose above virtue and aligned himself to dharma. His devotion (virtue) to guru drove him to Drona's side, who he thought was fighting against enemy Arjuna. When Drona explains that Arjuna is not really the enemy, Ekalavya realises the pointlessness of war, rises above virtue and goes away with his army. The Mahabharata is testimony to the fact that dharma can easily be mixed up with virtue and can lead one astray, while knowledge and practice of dharma alone can lead to success, and this comes from a balanced mind.

Dr Mala Sinha is associate professor, Asian Perspectives in Power and Leadership; Business Ethics at the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 16-01-2012)

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