Book Review : The Difficulty of Being Good

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This book is on my reading list since couple of months now, managed to finish reading only now.   I gave a lengthy summary of the book to my sister-in-law, but not sure how much of it I can capture in writing.  This book is a heavy read and one of the most practical commentaries of Mahabharata, one of our greatest epics. With the memories of watching the epic on TV every sunday, and the experience of listening to commentary by accomplished telugu pandits, I thought I knew a lot about the epic. Gurucharan Das brings out the basic difference between our epic and all other epics – Unlike the Greek epics,where the hero does something wrong and gets on with it, the action stops in the Mahabharata until every character has weighed in on the moral dilemma from every possible angle. In the indian epic, harmony and happiness come to a society only through behavior based on dharma – that means variously virtue, duty and law, but is chiefly concerned with doing the right thing.

There are 10 chapters in the book, and each chapter deals with a central character, their situations and the decisions they have taken – from Duryodhana, Arjuna to Krishna. The book boldy states at various places that the original version of the epic did not have Krishna in such a godly status as we see today, but was later modified as Krishna started getting more devotees.

What makes this book different is not just a dogmatic representation, but connects the dots between the situations in the epic, to the greek mythology and current social and political situations. It put things in context for reader of any era.

The author tells us why he chose to dwell more and more on this epic, while selecting 5-6 of them to study over a period of 2 years? For this audacious claim of the epic –

What is here is found elsewhere. What is not here is nowhere.

He comments that originally the epic set out to narrate a tale of truimph but, in fact, ended in telling a story of defeat.Seemingly hard questions are answered in a very all-rounded way and I am satisfied with the conclusions Gurucharan comes up as the lessons the epic teaches us –

a) The only thing certain, the Mahabharata tells us, is that kala(time or death) is always cooking us

b) Adopt a friendly face to the world, but do not allow yourself to be exploited. Turning the other cheek sends a wrong signal to cheats.

c) Do something ‘because it must be done’.

d) One should never do to another what one regards as injurious to oneself. This, in brief, is the law of dharma.

e) One does not control the outcome of one’s acts, but one can chose to work or not. Human initiative does matter even though there is much beyond one’s control.

The author takes generous references to Greek Mythology. As someone who has absolutely no idea about the Greek Mythology, I found the comparisons a bit hard to follow, but the context clears up most of the things.

Gurucharan Das states that, Mahabharata can never be a ‘how to’ book since it offers more questions than answers.He concludes –

The Mahabharata is about our incomplete lives, about good people acting badly, about how difficult it is to be good in this world.

 

If you have ever wondered – “Why Good People suffer?” and “How is the world so unjust if God is true?”, this book is a must-read.

Have a great day and keep rocking!!

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Author: Saraswathi Pulluru

Aham Bhrahmasmi.

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