In the Ramayana, one will find the character of Sri Rama portrayed by Valmiki as a personification of Dharma (righteousness). Through the mouth of Maareecha, Valmiki describes the essence of Rama’s character as,“Ramo vigrahavan dharma”.
As a son, Prince Rama obeys his father’s words and leaves the Ayodhya kingdom and goes to the forest. At the same time when his wife Sita insists that she will accompany him to the forest, though initially Rama declines, but when she reminds him about the dharma of a wife saying that a wife has to be with the husband always, Rama finally agrees reluctantly.
Truth is permanent but Dharma may change over a period of time. The reason why our Hindu Dharma is vibrant despite being one of the oldest civilisations yet continues remain as modern is- it follows the yuga dharma, kala dharma and adapts itself to meet the requirements of the people and the society over a period of time.
One can find this difference when a comparison is made between Ramayana and Mahabharatha. Ramayana occurred in Treta Yuga whereas Mahabharatha occurred long after Ramayana in Dwapara Yuga.
In Treta Yuga, Prince Rama gave up kingdom and went to forest to obey his father. In Dwapara Yuga, Pandavas and Kouravas fought a bitter and bloody battle for the control of the kingdom. Yudhistira was against the war but was persuaded by Krishna. Even the great warrior Arjun in the battle field after seeing his kith and kin on the opponent side declines to fight the battle but Krishna gives Gitopadesha and convinces Arjun to fight the battle.
The essence of Gitopadesha clearly says when Adharma is in vogue, one has to not only resist but even wage a war against adharma to enforce dharma. Krishna says candidly in Gita that one has to follow his dharma unmindful of the consequences. Therefore, the contrast between the times of Ramayana and Mahabharata is very clear.
During Ramayana times, people followed the dharma as a norm. In Mahabharata period people did not mind indulging in adharma and therefore, assertion or reinforcement of dharma became essential even at the cost of a battle.
”Ends justify the means” was the policy mostly followed by the people during Mahabharata times. However, in the end dharma prevails. In Mahabharata, great warriors like- Bhisma, Drona and Karna compromised the dharma and went by the loyalty to the King in spite of knowing pretty well the King (Dhuryodhana) was on a wrong path (Adharma). This compelled them to fight the battle against Pandavas at the cost of their lives.
Loyalty may win the favour of the King but if it is at the cost of dharma or righteousness then one has to pay a price for it eventually.
People often get confused between truth and dharma. Truth is eternal, permanent and universal. Dharma is defined by the context of time, people, place, society, culture and practices. Decision making under dharma also takes into account the overall impact/ benefit to the people of the society.
One who follows dharma or righteousness will strive to do the right things rather than doing the things right. While doing the right thing one goes by the conscience, ethicality and the outcomes. Whereas when one does the things right he merely goes by the rule book adhering to the policies or procedures.
In modern days the friction between righteousness and loyalty can be related to the work situation in an organisation where the boss is wrong and the subordinate has to choose between dissenting with the boss or blindly supporting him. Many a times the subordinates toe the line of the boss in order to not only to not to displease him but more importantly to also gain favours.
However, we also come across some people who feel organisation’s interests are more important than individual loyalties and they dissent with the boss when he is wrong and even raise a red flag when they notice the boss’s decisions are detrimental to the organisation.
In management parlance, such righteous people are called as thorough professionals. A professional is one who is sincere and committed to the profession. He is even prepared to clash with his boss rather than compromising with his professional principles. No doubt employees are expected to be loyal but their loyalty should be towards the institution and not the individuals (read bosses).
Successful organisations require not the employees who are loyal to the bosses but only those who are loyal to the institution and committed to their jobs with high level of professionalism.
In Mahabharata Vidura tells Dhrutarashtra, “renounce one person for the sake of the family, a family for the sake of village; village for the sake of country and even the [kingdom of] earth for one’s own sake.”
The correct meaning of what Vidura said as above is if in a family one person is behaving in an unacceptable manner and bringing disrepute to the entire family, then that person has to be abandoned. In the same way in an organisation if one person (even if he is the boss) is causing damage to the institution then in order to save the institution that person has to be removed.
Needless to say that the organisations which follow the path of righteousness will survive in the long run as they consider overall institutional interests that are long term oriented are more important than short term gains which are only temporary.
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