Monday, November 24, 2014

The Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das

On the Subtle Art of Dharma
Why should we be good? 
How should we be good? 
And how might we more deeply understand the moral and ethical failings-splashed across today's headlines-that have not only destroyed individual lives but caused widespread calamity as well, bringing communities, nations, and indeed the global economy to the brink of collapse?
In The Difficulty of Being Good, Gurcharan Das seeks answers to these questions in an unlikely source: the 2,000 year-old Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata

A sprawling, witty, ironic, and delightful poem, the Mahabharata is obsessed with the elusive notion of dharma-in essence, doing the right thing.
 When a hero does something wrong in a Greek epic, he wastes little time on self-reflection; when a hero falters in the Mahabharata, the action stops and everyone weighs in with a different and often contradictory take on dharma. 
Each major character in the epic embodies a significant moral failing or virtue, and their struggles mirror with uncanny precision our own familiar emotions of anxiety, courage, despair, remorse, envy, compassion, vengefulness, and duty. 
Das explores the Mahabharata from many perspectives and compares the successes and failures of the poem's characters to those of contemporary individuals, many of them highly visible players in the world of economics, business, and politics.
In every case, he finds striking parallels that carry lessons for everyone faced with ethical and moral dilemmas in today's complex world.
Written with the flair and seemingly effortless erudition that have made Gurcharan Das a bestselling author around the world-and enlivened by Das's forthright discussion of his own personal search for a more meaningful life-The Difficulty of Being Good shines the light of an ancient poem on the most challenging moral ambiguities of modern life.

 [Source: ]

The Mahabharata is a sweeping epic that chronicles different facets of human life, emotional and ethical conflicts. 
It has a huge number of characters and none of them are perfect. 
The negative characters have positive attributes too, and the heroes also have flaws. 
 In fact, they're all essentially human.
So it is not difficult for the author to study today’s moral questions in the context of the characters in the epic. 
Dharma, the moral code of behavior, has generally remained unchanged since those ancient times. 
In The Difficulty Of Being Good: On The Subtle Art Of Dharma, the author analyzes major characters like Duryodhana, Karna, Bhishma, Yudhishthira and Arjuna.
He looks at the character and behavior of these people in difficult situations, and their individual reactions.
He looks at Karna's status anxiety and Duryodhana's envy. 
He critically examines the methods used by both sides to win the war.
He also brings in current parallels to some of the situations and characters in the epic. 
For instance, he sees Duryodhana’s envy reflected in the Ambani brothers feud. 
He uses Karna’s anxiety over his status to debate the issue of reservation in modern India. 
The book analyzes the very basic question of why should a person be good, the motivations for living life according to a moral or ethical code.
 It also examines the ambiguities in the choices made by characters when faced with a dilemma, the hazy line that divides the good and the bad.
The Mahabharata focuses a lot on Dharma and whenever there is a transgression of an ethical code, the story pauses and the incident is thoroughly analyzed by various characters.

Goodreads Rating - 4.04 out of 5 (15522 Ratings; 150 Reviews)

My Review:
Liked the way the moral dilemmas faced by the Mahabharata characters are analyzed and their relevance in the modern context explained. 
A very well researched book. 
Guess it might have been the Ph.D dissertation of the author Gurcharan Das resulting from a sabbatical he took from the corporate world.
Not a very light read but nor too heavy either for the readers interested in this genre.


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