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The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma

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In his new book, Gurcharan Das turns to the Mahabharata in order to answer the question, "why be good'', and discovers that the epic's world of moral haziness and uncertainty is closer to our experience as ordinary human beings than the narrow and rigid positions that define most debate in this fundamentalist age of moral certainty. The Mahabharata is obsessed with the elu In his new book, Gurcharan Das turns to the Mahabharata in order to answer the question, "why be good'', and discovers that the epic's world of moral haziness and uncertainty is closer to our experience as ordinary human beings than the narrow and rigid positions that define most debate in this fundamentalist age of moral certainty. The Mahabharata is obsessed with the elusive notion of dharma - in essence, doing the right thing. When a hero falters, the action stops and everyone weighs in with a different and often contradictory take on dharma. The epic's characters are flawed, but their incoherent experiences throw light on our familiar dilemmas. Gurcharan Das's best-selling book India Unbound examined the classical aim of artha, material well being. This, his first book in seven years, dwells on the goal of dharma, moral well being. It addresses the central problem of how to live our lives in an examined way - holding a mirror up to us and forcing us to confront the many ways in which we deceive ourselves and others. What emerges is a doctrine of dharma that we can apply to our business decisions, political strategies and interpersonal relationships - in effect, to life itself.


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In his new book, Gurcharan Das turns to the Mahabharata in order to answer the question, "why be good'', and discovers that the epic's world of moral haziness and uncertainty is closer to our experience as ordinary human beings than the narrow and rigid positions that define most debate in this fundamentalist age of moral certainty. The Mahabharata is obsessed with the elu In his new book, Gurcharan Das turns to the Mahabharata in order to answer the question, "why be good'', and discovers that the epic's world of moral haziness and uncertainty is closer to our experience as ordinary human beings than the narrow and rigid positions that define most debate in this fundamentalist age of moral certainty. The Mahabharata is obsessed with the elusive notion of dharma - in essence, doing the right thing. When a hero falters, the action stops and everyone weighs in with a different and often contradictory take on dharma. The epic's characters are flawed, but their incoherent experiences throw light on our familiar dilemmas. Gurcharan Das's best-selling book India Unbound examined the classical aim of artha, material well being. This, his first book in seven years, dwells on the goal of dharma, moral well being. It addresses the central problem of how to live our lives in an examined way - holding a mirror up to us and forcing us to confront the many ways in which we deceive ourselves and others. What emerges is a doctrine of dharma that we can apply to our business decisions, political strategies and interpersonal relationships - in effect, to life itself.

30 review for The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma

  1. 4 out of 5

    Darshana Unnikrishnan

    Why be good when being bad is considered to be cool? Why does always bad things happen to good people? In a society where people get away by doing bad things, why should people still believe in Non-Violence and Dharma? Is a "bad person" never good? Does not the "good" sometimes become bad? Ultimately what is good and bad? The above questions might have passed through your mind at least once in your lifetime. Thus, what does being good mean? Why be good? It is at this juncture that this book tries to Why be good when being bad is considered to be cool? Why does always bad things happen to good people? In a society where people get away by doing bad things, why should people still believe in Non-Violence and Dharma? Is a "bad person" never good? Does not the "good" sometimes become bad? Ultimately what is good and bad? The above questions might have passed through your mind at least once in your lifetime. Thus, what does being good mean? Why be good? It is at this juncture that this book tries to find meaning to the word Dharma by dissecting the characters in Mahabharata one by one and discussing their behaviour patterns. While reading the book, one might often wonder whether a person can be called inherently good or bad? Isn't there a Raavan hiding in each of the righteous Ramas of the world. Or, to put it in the modern version wasn't a part of Voldemort there in Harry Potter himself. I have never found it so hard to write a review for a book that I absolutely loved. I fear that my review however times edited would not do justice to it. The theme of this book is so close to my heart that after reading the summary given at the back of this book, I just could not hide my happiness in finding a book that talks about some queries that I have had all along my life till now. For an introvert like me who can easily be outsmarted by others and to have to smile at the same person (cursing myself for my lack of ability to express myself) the theme of this book is relevant in my day-to-day life. The question of "why be good?" has occurred to me many a times in life. From my experiences in life so far, I have learnt that a person can never be categorized as good or bad. It is difficult to draw a straight line between good karma and bad karma. The matter is subtle: delicately complex. This has been beautifully discussed in this book through various chapters disseminating each character of The Mahabharatha and also including political/corporate figures from everyday news in some places. Still my favorite chapter is The Krishna's Guile with the tagline "It is the way it is". All through the Gita, "The Krishna" preaches about being righteous but during the Kurukshetra War he makes the Pandavas win by trickery. Duryodhana questions this approach while dying and Krishna replies with a simple "somethings are the way it is". This is my favorite because it helps in finding peace with many situations in life when we fail to find logic in what has happened. I loved this book and I am sure that this is going to be one of my bibles (books I love and would read, re-read, re-re-read..... and by heart and treasure in life). I would recommend this book to anyone anytime as its relevant in all ages.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    Gurcharan Das operates from a very grand perspective of the epic of Mahabharata: that the Mahabharata War and its characters are the prototypes and presiding spirits of all crises in Human natures and cultures. Every great political and moral incident, into the grand stage of history or the everyday drama of life, can be looked at as an imitation of it. Of course, Mahabharata is an epic that asserts this itself and without irony: claiming to contain all, fully confident of being understood by pe Gurcharan Das operates from a very grand perspective of the epic of Mahabharata: that the Mahabharata War and its characters are the prototypes and presiding spirits of all crises in Human natures and cultures. Every great political and moral incident, into the grand stage of history or the everyday drama of life, can be looked at as an imitation of it. Of course, Mahabharata is an epic that asserts this itself and without irony: claiming to contain all, fully confident of being understood by people even aeons later. And few who study it can ever deny that claim. The wholeness of Mahabharata's world and the integrity of its character sketches are miracles of poetic conception even today. These stories were, for the ancient Indians and even till the present day, a bible, a manual carried in memory everywhere and always; a source of wise, proverbial and aphoristic wisdom, that would never abandon them. Gurcharan Das tries to squeeze out the wisdom from the stories, to make them stand alone. This is a fool's errand in many ways but the admirable thing is that he still manages to make sense in this enterprise. This work can only be considered as a book-length introduction to the epic at best, but it would make a really good introduction.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ayushi

    Non-fiction at its best. The Difficulty Of Being Good is written by Gurucharan Das( Harvard boy, Procter and gamble CEO , now retired writer for a bunch of newspapers). The book is scintillating and simple ... Basically the author decided on a break decided to pursue kama -desire,arth-material satisfaction, karma-work ,dharma-righteousness and moksha aka salvation.He wanted to pursue these basic tenets of hinduism using famed books on the suject so behold THE Mahabharata , my favourite epic and Non-fiction at its best. The Difficulty Of Being Good is written by Gurucharan Das( Harvard boy, Procter and gamble CEO , now retired writer for a bunch of newspapers). The book is scintillating and simple ... Basically the author decided on a break decided to pursue kama -desire,arth-material satisfaction, karma-work ,dharma-righteousness and moksha aka salvation.He wanted to pursue these basic tenets of hinduism using famed books on the suject so behold THE Mahabharata , my favourite epic and the greatest book ever written. The beauty and difficulty of the epic lies in the matter of making a choice in essence doing the right thing. Righteousness. Dharma is possibly one of the most difficult concepts to explain to the world... Dharma is your duty, it is also your ethics, it is righteousness and it is the law. It is all these things simultaneously related and rather complex. Like most Indians(not just hindus mind you) I have grown up with the Mahabharata, seen dramas, soap operas, movies, read books and articles on the subject. It is a magnificient complex plot made of more than 100,000 couplets and is a collection of 18 books. It is a dozen times thicker than the combined length of Iliad and odyssey combined. The essence Of mahabharata (personal opinion no quoting)lies in doing the right thing that is doing YOUR dharma and what is the right thing?? Simply, what turns out for best in the long run for everyone. indeed mahabharata's central theme lies in the annihilation of the kshatriyas in the kali yuga, the same disturbed , political, greed age as ours. Ok, now what I like about the book: 1) The author is upset about the fact that mahabharat is perceived as hindu religious literature which of course it is not. In fact Hinduism as a religion does not exist on the lines of Judaism, islam, christianity or for that matter jainism, buddhism and even the bhakti movement. (Read The Discovery Of India for more on this!) The Mahabharat is literature at its finest showcasing human dilemmas. It has nothing to do with religious fanatism of the saffron kind ok! 2) The Book is presented in the most interesting format with 10 chapters(in fact the book is shorter than the reference list). The chapters are themselves a treat with comparisons to Amabanis, satyam fraud and the Indian bureaucracy. Too good. 3) Lastly the author doesn't throw snobbish airs. And The Questions he felt while reading the epic are the ones I did. Overall, engaging, appreciable, nouveau approach and 5 out of 5 just for the epic it deals with. Polite applause. The chapter on Karna- status anxiety and draupadi-courage rock.

  4. 5 out of 5

    dely

    I think that the Mahabharata should be read by everyone. It's full of wisdom but also of helpful advices for everyday life. It isn't easy to understand always the meaning of many behaviors or events in the Mahabharata, and Gurcharan Das' book helps to understand better what dharma means and why the characters behaved as they did. He explains everything in an easy and understandable way (though of course, in my opinion, it's important to already have read the Mahabharata in order to know what it I think that the Mahabharata should be read by everyone. It's full of wisdom but also of helpful advices for everyday life. It isn't easy to understand always the meaning of many behaviors or events in the Mahabharata, and Gurcharan Das' book helps to understand better what dharma means and why the characters behaved as they did. He explains everything in an easy and understandable way (though of course, in my opinion, it's important to already have read the Mahabharata in order to know what it is about, the characters and the happenings). As said, this book analyzes above all the meaning of dharma, one of the main topics of the Mahabharata, but it's also the base of our lives. More than "being good", as written in the title, it is about being right, having an upright behavior, to do what has to be done. It seems easy, but it isn't. Sometimes also a good person, in order to follow dharma, has to act in a way that isn't always considered right (see Yudhisthira that has to lead a war though he preferred to avoid it till the end, or Arjuna that a few moments before the war doesn't want to fight against his kinsmen). This is explained very well in this book analyzing the main characters and their actions. In my opinion it isn't a religious text. Of course, there is Krishna, but the things that are said have to do with a moral behavior more than with religion. Dharma is linked also to compassion, non-violence, goodness, unselfishness, and it could be interesting to analyze if we have to follow dharma in order to reach moksha, or in order to have an upright society in which people behave in a respectful and altruistic way. It isn't easy to review this book because there are really a lot of deep considerations. The author makes also many references to Western and Greek philosophers, and many examples with the Indian political situation or with important characters of the economic life. Gurcharan Das adds also a lot of personal opinions that often help to understand better a concept. Only the second last chapter, "Conclusion", was a bit dragging because the author repeated, though concisely, the main considerations he already dealt with in the previous chapters. So this chapter was a bit too repetitive, at least for me, though I know that repetita iuvant.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Vismay

    This knowledge I have taught is more arcane than any mystery- consider it completely then act as you choose. Towards the end of the Gita, this is what Krishna told Arjuna. That defines Krishna for me. And to see Gurcharan Das, grudgingly admire him in ‘The Difficulty of Being Good’ (of course he is not ready to accept him as God with a capital G), it indeed put me off. To tell you the truth, even before I started reading the book, I was hugely biased. 1) My father vehemently supports Krishna, who lik This knowledge I have taught is more arcane than any mystery- consider it completely then act as you choose. Towards the end of the Gita, this is what Krishna told Arjuna. That defines Krishna for me. And to see Gurcharan Das, grudgingly admire him in ‘The Difficulty of Being Good’ (of course he is not ready to accept him as God with a capital G), it indeed put me off. To tell you the truth, even before I started reading the book, I was hugely biased. 1) My father vehemently supports Krishna, who like Mr. Das’ father believes that what he mentioned as Krishna’s guile was actually Krishna’s leela. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be completely inured from his argument. 2) Granted that almost no one is perfect in this epic, no amount of cogently argued cases in favor of Duryodhayan is ever gonna change my originally held opinion. And my originally held opinion is – he is a villain. And I think I wasn’t the only one who was biased. Mr. Das quotes Marxist D.D. Kosambi describing Gita as the ‘700 fratricidal verses’. Quoting V.S. Sukthankar, Krishna is described as follows, ‘cynic, who preaches the highest morality and stoops to practice the lowest tricks… An opportunist who teaches a god fearing man to tell a lie (Yudhisthir), the only lie he told in all his life! [He is a] charlatan who…advises a hesitating archer (Arjuna) to strike down a foe who is defenseless and crying for mercy.’ I do know that quoting someone doesn’t actually mean he is writing off Krishna as a playful, whimsical God who sometimes indulges in the baser instincts, stooping lower than “righteous” human beings. But while reading the book, I did catch a somewhat negative attitude of the writer towards Krishna. Throughout the book, Mr. Das refutes Krishna’s philosophy, criticizes his deeds and in a way, tars him with the same brush as the likes of Duryodhana, Karna (according to him, Duryodhana is nobler than Krishna could ever be). Why then would the author of this book, gloss over Duryodhana’s misdeeds and mention them in passing. Duryodhana indeed made the life of Pandavas, hell. He applied every vile trick in the book to get rid of Pandavas, the rigged game of dice being just one of them. Yet you whine his being killed deceitfully. I could not understand Duryodhana’s or Karna’s cry for dharma to be followed. Neither could I understand why they felt wronged. They themselves wouldn’t follow morality, yet they want everyone else to uphold dharma. For me, in this case, the end justified the means. Anyways, it was a war. If Duryodhana had won, however noble you would have thought his conduct during war was, what do you think would have happened to Draupadi? Sorry, I don’t think either Karna or Duryodhana would have upheld Dharma then. If the “guileless idealist” in Yudhisthir had his way, then of course Pandavas would not have won. But one must behave morally (ends do not justify the means)! I do not whine that why should we be good when the world isn’t reciprocating in kind? But I do whine about the fact that why each and every character in Mahabharata (including Mr. Das) demands and expects Pandavas to upheld dharma (most of the time they did) when they themselves wouldn’t follow it. If Drona considered Pandavas’ claim to the throne as rightful, then why in the first place he wasn’t on their side. Of course he believed it his dharma to support the ruling party and stem down opposition. Yet Mr. Das mentions that dharma is not only about following a set of rules but also following your conscience. It is more so about being an empathizing do-gooder, which Drona, unfortunately, wasn’t. Yet he expected Yudhisthir to be upright and truthful during the war just before his death. I am by no means justifying the way he was killed, but if you are a pragmatist, then why you would expect and demand your opponent to be guilelessly moral and complain if he isn’t. And though Pandavas’ claim to the throne was dubious, they created Indraprastha for God’s sake. They transformed an arid desert into a bustling, sprawling and prosperous land. That makes Indraprastha theirs. Once you send the rulers of the land by cheating them in a rigged game of dice (I couldn’t understand, why in the book, Mr. Das chose to defend Shakuni? What sort of argument is this that though he told Duryodhana that he would employ deceit while playing, there was no description in Mahabharata he actually did. This is the same argument Arundhati Roy is using to defend Afzal Guru and fellow terrorists.), Pandavas did follow the harsh conditions of exile imposed on them. So once they return and start demanding their land back, this doesn’t make their claim dubious. They were not demanding Hastinapur, they were demanding Indraprastha. And nor do I consider Yudhisthir as the epitome of goodness. First of all he chose to participate in the game of dice (“reluctantly”, though willingly), he lost it. He staked his brothers, wife, he lost them. Inspite of it being all his fault, his brothers and wife do go along with him to the exile and they never ever blame it down on him, yet when they feel frustrated about their fate, he lectures them on morality! I hate him not for his being a peaceful, empathetic king; I hate him because he is a bit of hypocrite. At the end of the book, Mr. Das feels anrishamsya (empathy, the ability to weep with all creatures) is true dharma. Good. He is an altruist. And this is how he interpreted the book. Of course Mahabharata in this case, does believe altruism to be a great virtue. So I am not railing against Mr. Das. But I simply believe in ahimsa (‘not hurting others’) and do not want to progress to anrishamsya. Yet at this point I do feel a need to mention that (a hypothetical situation mentioned in the book) if Bhima squishes the gouty toe of Duryodhana, and when Duryodhana pleads to Bhima to place himself in his shoes and feel the pain, it would have been to Bhima’s sense of ahimsa to which he would have pleaded, not anrishamsya. So Mr. Das’ logic in this case in flawed. He could appeal people to be non-violent from this example, he could not demand altruism. I am not going to spend my life working for the cause of some random human-being. My own belly is empty. I am going to fill it first keeping in mind all my desires, needs and wants. I would try to help few of my fellow human-beings, but only those I care for. I am not supporting Ramlinga Raju here. A king, a public servant, a businessman (of a publicly-owned company only) should not show nepotism or favoritism. Right now, I am none of them – so I would indulge in favoritism. What I have tried interpreting from Ayn Rand’s work (unfortunately I am a mediocre reader) is that one is responsible for oneself. One must advance his own cause. I want to advance mine (not hurting others, though of course if it were a race, then I would try to win and would not care if you felt hurt on losing). So if goodness means altruism, it would be extremely difficult for me to be good, so much so that I wouldn’t care less to be good at all.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gyurme

    An awesome book ( in my opinion). After reading the book I felt that Mahabharat should be considered a literary and a philosophical work rather than a religious one. The book concludes as in the Mahabharat, that dharma is subtle. Thus, how and why to be good are difficult questions but goodness, compassion, forgiveness........ would ultimately be needed for the orderly world. It appears to me that the purpose of the philosophical ideas behind every religious beliefs is to promote the overall good An awesome book ( in my opinion). After reading the book I felt that Mahabharat should be considered a literary and a philosophical work rather than a religious one. The book concludes as in the Mahabharat, that dharma is subtle. Thus, how and why to be good are difficult questions but goodness, compassion, forgiveness........ would ultimately be needed for the orderly world. It appears to me that the purpose of the philosophical ideas behind every religious beliefs is to promote the overall goodness of the humans( and also other creatures in case some of them). The questions like how to be and why be good are answered through the beliefs: gods, heaven, punishments, rewards, hell, well being, freedom from bondage of sufferings and so on.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Siddharth

    This is an excellent book in many ways. Das picks up situations and characters in The Mahabharata, interprets them using arguments and theories from philosophy, evolutionary biology, economics and other fields of study, and then tries to apply these interpretations to more recent events such as controversial government policies, wars and scams. He largely succeeds. The passages he selects from The Mahabharata make for lovely reading. His interpretations of them, mainly using philosophical argumen This is an excellent book in many ways. Das picks up situations and characters in The Mahabharata, interprets them using arguments and theories from philosophy, evolutionary biology, economics and other fields of study, and then tries to apply these interpretations to more recent events such as controversial government policies, wars and scams. He largely succeeds. The passages he selects from The Mahabharata make for lovely reading. His interpretations of them, mainly using philosophical arguments, are insightful and scholarly. The bibliographical essay at the end is a delightful treasure-trove of interesting, accessible books. However, his application of these interpretations to current events seems almost naive in comparison. I think there are two reasons for this. One, Das's simple writing style simply does not match up to the beauty of The Mahabharata's prose and the eloquent arguments made by the many philosophers he quotes throughout the book. His take on affirmative action is an example of this - a nice, well-rounded argument that explores both sides of the fiesty debate on reservations, but one which makes for less compelling reading than, say, his brilliant exploration of Yudhishthira's shifting views on the necessity of waging war with his cousins(from idealistic to pragmatic). More worryingly, some of his interpretations are just too simple, and also carry more than a hint of bias. The best example of this is his bizarre argument that "socialism is driven by envy". Not just that it is one of the factors that drives socialism, which is perfectly reasonable, but that, in his own words, "envy is the sin of socialism". He spends a considerable amount of time expanding upon this argument. In my opinion (and I'm willing to admit that it will itself carry some bias given my left-leaning views), this is a very simplistic argument, and it does not fit well with Das's more nuanced dissections of The Mahabharata and its characters. Nor is this his only feeble argument in the book. His views on Dhirubhai Ambani and his questionable means of wealth generation (broadly "he made money for his investors, so its ok") seems equally prejudiced. It detracts from what is an excellent exploration of India's most complex epic and its many moral dilemmas. Rating: 3.5 Stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Disha

    "Why be good when being bad is considered to be cool? Why does always bad things happen to good people? In a society where people get away by doing bad things, why should people still believe in 'Dharma'? Is a "bad person" never good? Does not the "good" sometimes become bad? Ultimately what is good and bad? What exactly is our Dharma? Isn't there a certain degree of good in all evil and a certain degree of evil in all good? How does one come to terms with the uncertain ethics of the world around us? W "Why be good when being bad is considered to be cool? Why does always bad things happen to good people? In a society where people get away by doing bad things, why should people still believe in 'Dharma'? Is a "bad person" never good? Does not the "good" sometimes become bad? Ultimately what is good and bad? What exactly is our Dharma? Isn't there a certain degree of good in all evil and a certain degree of evil in all good? How does one come to terms with the uncertain ethics of the world around us? Was the great epic called 'Mahabharata' about 'war' or was it about 'peace'? Is Mahabharata relevant in today's world? How does one deal with 'moral' dilemmas when along both sides are one's own people? Should one forgive the wrong doer or take revenge? Is moral blindness an intracable human condition or can one change it?" A lot many times we grope hard in the dark for a lot of these answers. There is hardly anyone who at some or the other point in life has not found himself struggling with these moral dilemmas. Through the elaborate analysis of the powerful characters of Mahabharata, the great author tries to find some of these answers. First, why does a person stray on the wrong path? For Duryodhana, it was envy and the influence of his uncle on him. For his father, it was insecurity. For Ashwathaama, it was revenge. For Karna, it was a search for his identity. Reasons could be many more. The idea is that in life, several things/emotions/circumstances have the power to easily stray one from the right path. In today's world, where a bride is burnt alive, a lot many times, the reason is greed. Bhisma, Drona and many such learned men knew the Kauravas were wrong in what they did to the Indian Queen Draupadi. But their loyalties were not towards what was ethical but towards a throne. A lot many times, we follow the wronged ones just because they are our blood relations; knowing very well that the same will lead to a doom for not just us but them as well in the long run. In times of moral dilemmas, it is easier to weigh the two sides not on who is ethical but on who is closer to us. And that, as the book conveys is disastrous for everyone and not just the victim. Second, what is one supposed to do when wronged? Does one forgive or does one avenge? Are there are limits of tolerance? Yudhistra resisted war even after losing everything. But his goodness was exploited way too far. My favourite chapter of the book is 'Draupadi's Courage'. When she is brought to the assembly, her first question is to her husband : 'Whom did you lose first, yourself or me?' This line has haunted me for days. Clearly, her husband must have lost his conscience first to have staked his wife. For how could he stake the woman he was supposed to protect? What is left of Dharma? For Draupadi, when honest people fail in their duties to speak against wrong, they 'wound' dharma and deserve punishment. If only someone had done that in the assembly, the catastrophic war could have been avoided. The best part of the book is it does not try to take sides, it does not preach. It only tells us that world is made to be imperfect. And how we can still be good and carve out what we want to become rather than let circumstances define that for us. Some of the greatest messages/lines of the book are: - Do good to others but only to the point where goodness does not hurt. Yudhishtra was good but he realized his goodness was being exploited too far and was sending a wrong message. His final decision to go to war was to send the message that goodness should not be exploited too far. Yudhistra's journey from the assembly to the Kurukshetra is insightful. - Let no man do to another which is repugnant to himself. How would you feel if it was you who was suffering? - When in a dilemma, choose the right person and not merely the one close to you. Arjuna knows if he fights, he would be killing his own loved ones, gurus, family members. But as Krishna explains to him, it is in such times one's true character is tested. Arjuna needs to fight not for his sake but for the sake of 'Dharma'. - Dharma is subtle. - I fear not death as I fear a lie - Remorse is different from regret. Someone who is remorseful will always reject a consolation of his wrong doings. Most times, when we do wrong to someone, we feel regret but not remorse. We try to find a rational explanation to our wrong doings, blaming it on circumstances/people. Remorse comes when you feel the suffering of fellow human being to an extent, where suffering becomes your own. A person who is truly remorseful only finds ways to make amends and not reasons to forgive himself. - The process of becoming a good person is an art. - Each person, no matter who he is needs to deal with the consequences of his actions, his decisions. - Abandoning someone devoted to you is a bottomless evil. How Yudhistra did not even abandon a stray dog because the dog was loyal to the King finally opened the doors of heaven for him. - Unexamined life is not worth living. - What we change internally will change the outer reality. - There are times when turning the other cheek really sends a wrong signal. - I act because I must - Mahabharata is not about war but peace.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ikpoxan

    Shallow. Eg., opening sentence - "The Mahabharata is the story of a futile and terrible war..." Futile? How? Another eg., pg 7 which tries to analyse why Yudhishthira played the disastrous game of dice. Inaccurate. Eg., Pg xvi seems to indicate that Pandu waged wars after his sons were born and then left for the forest! It's the other way: he waged wars, went to the forest and then had sons. Does not talk about the second game of dice that the Pandavas lost and as a result had to go on exile. Pg Shallow. Eg., opening sentence - "The Mahabharata is the story of a futile and terrible war..." Futile? How? Another eg., pg 7 which tries to analyse why Yudhishthira played the disastrous game of dice. Inaccurate. Eg., Pg xvi seems to indicate that Pandu waged wars after his sons were born and then left for the forest! It's the other way: he waged wars, went to the forest and then had sons. Does not talk about the second game of dice that the Pandavas lost and as a result had to go on exile. Pg xviii first line: "...the kingdom of Virata where they have perilous and hilarious escapades." Hilarious?? Pg xix: "...Bhishma begins to decimate the armies of the Pandavas..." Inaccurate - infact, Duryodhana actually rages against Bhishma for not doing enough damage to the Pandava armies. During the leadership of Bhishma, the Kauravas suffer greater losses than Pandavas. Pg xix: talks about chakra vyuha, in the form of a lotus like circular array. The learned author is confusing chakra vyuha with the padma vyuha! Pg xxi: states the Pandavas choose Bhima to fight the last duel with Duryodhana. Actually, Yudhishthira offers to Duryodhana to choose any of the five brothers and Duryodhana chooses to fight Bhima. Pg xxix: According to this chronology, Mahabharata is composed after the death of Mahavira and Buddha! Repetitive [whole passages are repeated]. Eg., Pg 1, first paragraph. Refers to Western scholars' translations/interpretations more than Indian ones. Prefers van Buitenen to Kisari Mohan Ganguli. This is not understandable. Pg xliv: Refers to the Mahabharata as a wacky story - it is about a war between the children of a blind pretender fighting the sons of a man too frail to risk the act of coition. This is tantamount to dismissing the Odyssey as the wanderings of a king too foolish to find his way back home. I don't know if this is what comes of reading western renderings of the Mahabharata, but honestly, one would expect better. Pg xlv: "The Mahabharata is a profoundly ironic text with a very modern sense of the absurd."! Really don't want to delve more.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Girish

    Books are timeless because it allows the reader to pour in the values and wisdom of the present and allows the reader to judge. This reading of Mahabaratha as a non-religious handbook on dharma that is proclaimed subtle is the book for our times of moral conflicts. The book is extremely well researched and analyses the layers of the characters in depth. Much like the post modern books, it judges the merit of the action than the actors. Hence the tone of the book moves from black and white to sha Books are timeless because it allows the reader to pour in the values and wisdom of the present and allows the reader to judge. This reading of Mahabaratha as a non-religious handbook on dharma that is proclaimed subtle is the book for our times of moral conflicts. The book is extremely well researched and analyses the layers of the characters in depth. Much like the post modern books, it judges the merit of the action than the actors. Hence the tone of the book moves from black and white to shades of gray applicable to all characters. In it's commentary it declares 'Mahabharata is not about good and bad but that of favorites' The book is also a search for the meaning of 'Dharma' in the texts of Mahabharatha. The author points to the many interpretations, accepts the inconsistencies and hence explains why dharma is subtle. The book asks more questions than answers and extends the understanding to moral dilemma of today's corporate world. The book started out as the author's search for meaning and we grow wiser with him as he introduces the various emotions and svabhavas of the same character. The only complaint might be that the author probably did not want to end his quest and hence hops from thought to thought in his last chapter. But that is something we can look past. The books ends with the echoing lines '..an act of goodness might be one of the very few things of genuine worth in this world'. How true!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Abhinav Choudhry

    The Mahabharata is one heck of an amazing work and any attempt to over-analyze something of its magnificence risks falling flat on its face. The Difficulty of Being Good succeeds and succeeds splendidly.An engrossing, thought provoking book that makes one revisit the word dharma and its significance in our lives. The different connotations and interpretations of the word 'dharma' are enlightening for the average reader.The organization of chapters by the characteristics of the lead characters is The Mahabharata is one heck of an amazing work and any attempt to over-analyze something of its magnificence risks falling flat on its face. The Difficulty of Being Good succeeds and succeeds splendidly.An engrossing, thought provoking book that makes one revisit the word dharma and its significance in our lives. The different connotations and interpretations of the word 'dharma' are enlightening for the average reader.The organization of chapters by the characteristics of the lead characters is a great idea. Gurcharan Das' use of contemporary examples to connect to the characters too is excellent. The book makes one remember the importance of character in a world filled with conflict. It is clear from the text that the author greatly admires Yudhishtira who has rather unfairly been regarded by society as weak and failing. After reading the book, it becomes clear that Yudhishitira was definitely one of the greatest heroes of the epic. He was a man who was wounded by dharma's subtlety and suffered because of his ideals but except for one sole occasion, he lived only for dharma. Now that is something worthy of pursuit.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Akhil

    The author relies excessively on western sources for translations and for interpretations. This is perhaps because he studied the Mahabharata at Harvard and naturally, more western sources would have been available to him than Indian ones. Apart from that, what struck me most is the critical look that Gurcharan Das takes at Krishna's role in the whole epic, without looking at him as God always. The concept of 'Nishkama Karma' (doing one's duty without thinking of the fruits of it) baffles the au The author relies excessively on western sources for translations and for interpretations. This is perhaps because he studied the Mahabharata at Harvard and naturally, more western sources would have been available to him than Indian ones. Apart from that, what struck me most is the critical look that Gurcharan Das takes at Krishna's role in the whole epic, without looking at him as God always. The concept of 'Nishkama Karma' (doing one's duty without thinking of the fruits of it) baffles the author and he concludes that very few people are actually capable of such an existence. Draupadi, Krishna and Yudhishtira are three principal characters that Das analyses in detail, principally because they are the prime movers in the epic and it is refreshing to have an author write about Yudhishtira in a non-simplistic way - that he was a king first and foremost and that he took decisions keeping in mind his 'dharma' to his subjects. The author, in my opinion wrongly calls Chanakya as the Indian 'Machiavelli'. Chanakya's Arthashastra was the Indian counterpart of Machiavelli's 'The Prince', but the objectives of the two works are worlds apart in nature. Chanakya says that the Sovereign must become powerful for the welfare of his subjects whereas Machiavelli recommends a king to the pursuit of power for power alone. Another bone that I have to pick with Das is his lack of familiarity with Indian languages other than those of North India. He says outright in the preface that 'modern' Indian languages do not say Arjuna, but Arjun and that Dharma is pronounced as 'Dharam'. Frankly, I find it appalling that someone who has read so much about Indian epics hasn't made the effort to know more about India itself.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Minakshi Ramji

    This book reads a little bit like Gurucharan Das's freshman Intro to Philosophy essay. There's a lot of I feel and I agree with .. which seems a tad sophomoric. All said and done.. I always did think that the Mahabharata was a fun story and I am grateful that Gurucharan introduced me to the more subtler nuances of this epic. I really enjoyed Das' discussions on personal dharma versus societal dharma and unmotivated karma. Das does a great job of explaining why the concept of dharma in the contex This book reads a little bit like Gurucharan Das's freshman Intro to Philosophy essay. There's a lot of I feel and I agree with .. which seems a tad sophomoric. All said and done.. I always did think that the Mahabharata was a fun story and I am grateful that Gurucharan introduced me to the more subtler nuances of this epic. I really enjoyed Das' discussions on personal dharma versus societal dharma and unmotivated karma. Das does a great job of explaining why the concept of dharma in the context of the epic is complicated. However, he doesn't do a good job of explaining how subtle dharma can be in the 20th century. There is also the problem of Das' very evident America and free markets solve all problems bias. Case in point - he makes the claim that critics of America are more motivated by jealousy rather than logic. I paraphrase, but that was the argument in essence. In the final analysis, he gave me much food for thought!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Khyati Tiwari

    I have admired Gurucharan Das in various arenas and his mythos and manners of presenting his view point whether it is the present book or the previous ones. The dynamic pitch keeps one glued and interested in the book till the last page. This book was special as the coherences of anecdotes from current times make believes that history does repeat itself and if things keenly understood, many errs could have been annulled. Duryodhana’s Envy towards the prosperity of his cousin’s pandavas has alwa I have admired Gurucharan Das in various arenas and his mythos and manners of presenting his view point whether it is the present book or the previous ones. The dynamic pitch keeps one glued and interested in the book till the last page. This book was special as the coherences of anecdotes from current times make believes that history does repeat itself and if things keenly understood, many errs could have been annulled. Duryodhana’s Envy towards the prosperity of his cousin’s pandavas has always been resolved as the primary reason for Mahabharata; but it is very intelligibly clarified by the author in first chapter that, it’s a Kshatriya man’s supreme obligation towards his social class to be envious and it is then only that he prevails, expands and flourishes, so does his kingdom. The envy is explained to be of two forms: eternal sickness and healthy competitiveness; excused through the example of Ambani Brothers and their success. The grounds for Mahabaharat were laid on the Draupadi’s chagrin when she was dragged to the royal court in single cloth and was attempted to disrobe. With the respectable Bhishma, Dhritrasthtra, Drona, Vidur, even Pandavas found themselves incapacitated to respond to her cries for help. Paanchali questions the mighty warriors that what is Dharma of the king; witnessing the most unfortunate event and not being able to end the misdeed. It is then when Bhisma altered “Dharma to be subtle”. It is when the sva dharma and sadharan dharma is navigated through. When quoted time again that Pandvas were the good mortals, why was so that they faced the most hardships and deceived by the Kauravas; what good being good was for them? This question is asked by Draupati to the Yudhishthir, to which the presumption made was that a person should act or follow Dharma not because it yields something but because its ones duty to act. There are divergences in the characters of Mahabharat and their dilemmas; Arjuna, the great warrior in the beginning of Kurkshetra was grief stricken to fight with and kill his own brothers and loved ones. When told about the dissembled and lured into the thought of getting heaven he is unmoved; it is then when he was dashed by the god form of Krishna into thinking that one should be intent on their action and not on the fruits of action. Bhishma’s selflessness is discussed in the book through the time takes the vow of celibacy for his father’s marriage to Satyavati, to him acting as tutelary for the empire throughout his lifetime, even at his deathbed he represented himself to be the most impudent for the Kuru dynasty by explaining the final words of wisdom to bereaved Yudisthira. He projects out to be the most significant mortal in history of time. But him being selfless made the Kuru phratry pay a huge price in terms of kurukshetra. The final question remains does selflessness too bespeaks selfishness in so many ways? Similar misfortune is observed in the Karna’s fate, he being the most deserved in the Kuru clan, falls pray of whimsy like inequality, caste, fidelity and even generosity. Author equated the scenario with existent caste system in India quoting Eklavya. Justifying the reservation policy’s existence and the disastrous end that it came to. Having understood the Kurukshetra war was already a rigged affair; as Krishna’s explanations are delivered to the befuddled Arjuna on the war front about being the medium accomplishing purpose of being. The didactics of manipulations, untold truths and partial lies are the way Krishna led Pandvas to wining path. Krishna has been called a cynic, who preaches the highest moralities and stoops to practice the lowest tricks. The book deals with regrets and remorse at the end of the war individually in forms of Ashwatthama and Yudhisthir. Both are brokenhearted in the ending days of the war, ashwatthama because he did not expect the level of adulterous act to win the war by Pandvas, whom he and his father were in favour of since beginning but were duty bound towards Kauravas. But in case of Yudisthir he is truly and unfeignedly suffering from isolating and difficult to console frustration. This made Yudisthir chose the pursuit of justice and the avowedly role of a kind towards his kingdom and mortals. In this uneven world this book takes us to the very different dimension of the great epic, teaches the subtlety of dharma, and nishkaam karma. The analysis of the view points of the personas in Mahabharata. The cause of the war, people who are entwined in it and later the uncovering of the truth, they being mere medium to achieve the concluding outcome- the ultimate balance of universe. The book successfully defines the middle path of Mahabharata grounded in enlightened self-interest with pragmatic, upright statesmen like Bhishma and Krishna, who have responsibility of running a state, should follow. In the world of power politics, the dharma of a person cannot follow moral perfection; hence the subtleness of Dharma comes to being.The very first quote of the book delimitates it altogether: “What is here is found elsewhere What is not here is nowhere.” http://khyati16.blogspot.in/2014/01/t...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Surender Negi

    What is Dharma? This question has been raised by time to time by various scholar or philosopher of world. People who studied Hinduism has create variable definition of this world according to their understanding about Hinduism. As hinduism, don’t have centre authority of creating and controlling definition, the clusters of various experience through various sages define the perimeter of Dharma. But still Scholars run from one scripture to another scripture to define Dharma. According to some promi What is Dharma? This question has been raised by time to time by various scholar or philosopher of world. People who studied Hinduism has create variable definition of this world according to their understanding about Hinduism. As hinduism, don’t have centre authority of creating and controlling definition, the clusters of various experience through various sages define the perimeter of Dharma. But still Scholars run from one scripture to another scripture to define Dharma. According to some prominent writers and scholars of Hinduism, Dharma is “righteous way of living”, for few of them its “Duty imposed by Indian social structure” and for few of them “Dharma is conduct of self-styled duty”. ironically, there is various translation from various scholars [western and eastern] about the concept. This book is similar attempt to understand the dharma through world largest epic “Mahabharata”. Gurucharan das is one of the influence writer with his strong support of neheruvian socialism and capitalism. His panjabi back ground give good tadaka (spice) to this non fictional attempt to understand dharma through Mahabharata. Gurucharan, works enormously over subject to illustrate and confined it into definition through lenses of western philosophy and their understanding of current model of human societies. The Only problem which I feel Gurucharan did is using western lenses for Dharmic understanding and his misrepresent characterisation of Krishna based on his understanding of events of war. I would say, he cherry pick various incident to put Krishna into negative shade and done enormous slurring for giving Duryodhana and Karna a free pass. Well many people might question of this assessment on the writer. I would have two link into that, Gurucharan das was enormously attached to group like Sheldon pollock and Wendy Doniger. Her assessment on Hinduism is more or less is sexiest and misogynist view. I would say, I find her Hinduphobic....To Continue Please go through below link Read full review https://indianindology.com/2017/11/04...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ganesh Sanal

    First of all, a big thanks to Gurcharan Das for introducing me to the greatest epic of all time, The Mahabharata. I grew up in a religious Hindu family and like most of my peers, my childhood was filled with stories about The Amazing Arjuna, The Incredible Bhima and, above all, The Mighty Krishna. We even had their action figures and stickers in our pooja rooms. Most interestingly, they were all connected with a bunch of other characters from other stories like The Invincible Ram and The Fantasti First of all, a big thanks to Gurcharan Das for introducing me to the greatest epic of all time, The Mahabharata. I grew up in a religious Hindu family and like most of my peers, my childhood was filled with stories about The Amazing Arjuna, The Incredible Bhima and, above all, The Mighty Krishna. We even had their action figures and stickers in our pooja rooms. Most interestingly, they were all connected with a bunch of other characters from other stories like The Invincible Ram and The Fantastic Parasuram. There were even a few cameos by the Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in all of these stories. Together, they were here to save our world from super villains like The Dreadful Duryodhana and through their stories, we understood the way of the world - whatever happens, the good guys always triumphed in the end. It would've been the most nostalgic part of our childhood if only we were to grow up and understand these characters and their motives for what they actually symbolized. Some of my friends tried reading this book before but they all left when they felt that the title was misleading. They expected a genuine philosophical treatise on the difficulty of being good but it felt more like a Mahaharata-fanboy's in-depth-analysis. However, turning past the last pages of this book, I couldn't think of a better approach to examine this bizarre conundrum. It may not be apparent to the uninitiated, but the entirety of Mahabharata is nothing but an unprecedented inquiry into the nature of Dharma or Righteousness. Every character, every event and every conversation in this epic is a exquisitely thought out approach towards Dharma. Just think about it... 1. You may think that the war, the Dharma Yudha, itself is righteous. But it was won with lies and deceit 2. You may think that Yudhistira, the son of dharma, is Righteous. But he had to lie to Drona to get him killed 2. You may think that Arjuna is Righteous. But he had to attack the defenseless Bhishma and Karna to win his glory 3. You may think that Krishna, the God with a capital 'G', is Righteous. But he forced every Pandava to cheat so that his side may win 4. You may think that Bhishma's celibacy was the most selfless and righteous deed in the entire story. But had he been selfish, there wouldn't have been a Kurkshetra war in the first place. 5. You may think that Drona's decision to side with Kurava despite his liking for Pandava was one of the most righteous deed, but he was the same person who, to favor a student, made a dalit mutilate himself 6. You may think that Duryodhana is anything but Righteous. But he crowned Karna when all the rest wanted the son of a charioteer ostracized I could continue the list on and on till it become obvious. Being righteousness is more difficult that you think. Because, Dharma is subtle.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Raghunath Kalpana-Ananth

    A concise but scholarly review of moral dilemmas the characters in Mahabharata face in the epic. As we gradually realize that the epic is far from the simplistic good vs evil story that we had learnt in our childhood, it leads us into the realms of moral philosophy, discussing the merits of consequential-ist ethics (Utilitarianism) and the contradictions between the different moral duties laid down in the earlier moral texts like Vedas, Manusmriti etc; all of which come into conversations between A concise but scholarly review of moral dilemmas the characters in Mahabharata face in the epic. As we gradually realize that the epic is far from the simplistic good vs evil story that we had learnt in our childhood, it leads us into the realms of moral philosophy, discussing the merits of consequential-ist ethics (Utilitarianism) and the contradictions between the different moral duties laid down in the earlier moral texts like Vedas, Manusmriti etc; all of which come into conversations between its characters. This book throws light on many uncomfortable truths that had been hitherto censored out during Television/Cinema adaptations. This book, as it is faithful to the epic, raises more questions than answer them, leaving the reader like me to conclude that this epic is essentially a clash between two mafia groups (Pandavas and Kauravas) over land, while including deep concerns (expressed by the characters) for the pursuit of an absolute universal dharma.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Devika

    "It is always tempting to see the human beings as 'good' and 'bad', but this is not the Mahabharata way. It never makes the choice easy." One unique aspect of this book is that it doesn't make Duryodhana seem completely evil, which the other books written about Mahabharata tend to do. Das also shows that there was some logic behind Duryodhana's intentions of usurping Indraprastha. Duryodhana believed that satisfaction with one's endowment makes one a complacent ruler. It is essential for a king t "It is always tempting to see the human beings as 'good' and 'bad', but this is not the Mahabharata way. It never makes the choice easy." One unique aspect of this book is that it doesn't make Duryodhana seem completely evil, which the other books written about Mahabharata tend to do. Das also shows that there was some logic behind Duryodhana's intentions of usurping Indraprastha. Duryodhana believed that satisfaction with one's endowment makes one a complacent ruler. It is essential for a king to have the desire to conquer all. Similarly, this book offers a more balanced perspective on others such as Draupadi, Bhishma, Karna, and Yudhishthira. Anyone looking for a comprehensive literary and verse-by-verse analysis of Mahabharata should read this book. I didn't particularly enjoy it, and gave up after two chapters.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nithya Nagarathinam

    Unlike many biased and simplistic renditions of the Mahabharata, the Difficulty of Being Good is a refreshing examination of the moral and ethical issues dealt with in the epic with commendable poise. This book, as the author says, is an account of his quest for understanding “dharma” through one of the greatest literary works known to mankind – the Mahabharata. Though the chapter on envy stands out as superficial and even childish at a point, the rest of the book is engaging and thought provoki Unlike many biased and simplistic renditions of the Mahabharata, the Difficulty of Being Good is a refreshing examination of the moral and ethical issues dealt with in the epic with commendable poise. This book, as the author says, is an account of his quest for understanding “dharma” through one of the greatest literary works known to mankind – the Mahabharata. Though the chapter on envy stands out as superficial and even childish at a point, the rest of the book is engaging and thought provoking. He plods through the thicket of the epic and ponders over its offerings to discover that “Mahabharata is an allegory of elusiveness of dharma; dharma is subtle” The path to this discovery is filled with deep contemplations on our everyday activities and meaning of life and an attempt at understanding human behavior transcending time and place

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tina Das

    The Difficulty of Being Good treads on one of my favorite epics "The Mahabharata". Clearly one of the best books I've read so far on this theme and one that will for a very long time remain in depths of my heart.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Poonam Mishra

    It’s very difficult but okay I’m trying

  22. 4 out of 5

    Harshit Nayyar

    Makes you think by going deep into the dilemmas faced by the characters in Mahabharat. Explores different dimensions of Dharma without being too philosophical or preachy. Worth a read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nitin Vaidya

    A very fascinating book about the author's journey to understand the concept of "Dharma" by reading and studying Mahabharata. Very well written!! Loved it!!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shah Saguna

    A great convulsion of spirituality and economics, “The Difficulty of Being Good” traces how as rational beings we are bound to interrogate conservatisms, ancestors, customs and consciousness. Set on the backdrop of the epic Mahabharata, the author Gurcharan Das writes intriguingly, drawing comparisons to today's worldly characters of uncertainty, malice, envy, greed and filthy politics with an uncanny resemblance to the epic. What is dharma, does anyone ever practice it, what is morality, why is A great convulsion of spirituality and economics, “The Difficulty of Being Good” traces how as rational beings we are bound to interrogate conservatisms, ancestors, customs and consciousness. Set on the backdrop of the epic Mahabharata, the author Gurcharan Das writes intriguingly, drawing comparisons to today's worldly characters of uncertainty, malice, envy, greed and filthy politics with an uncanny resemblance to the epic. What is dharma, does anyone ever practice it, what is morality, why is it so difficult to be good in the world full of vices, why does goodness suffer and evil flourish, what is our inner and outer self are the few reservation the author holds. Perhaps goodness is not difficult, but to be your own master is unambiguously one. “The Difficult of Being Good” however does not preach morality but discusses how it becomes difficult to keep one’s sanity unharmed in the world full of vices. It raises questions on one’s ethics, morals and behavior. Gurcharan Das has not only pointed out the flaws of the so called virtuous but has also drawn their uncanny resemblance to the post-modern world where people are swamped with vanity. The epic Mahabharata’s tentative world of moral haziness represents our post-modern world of skepticism. “Dharma” is about virtuous v/s evil. Why then is dharma not pursued by the virtuous (Pandavas) and what makes Krishna resort to treachery? The epic cannot be called a “Dharmayudha” (just war) as it is not just. If being righteous is so important then why do the heroes fall prey to their own anxiety, greed, envy, despair and remorse at the end despite having won the battle? Gurcharan Das exhibits strong conviction by picking up an epic which interrogates dharma itself and points out the theology behind corporate consequentialists and utilitarianisms alike. Each chapter in the book focuses on different characters of the epic and carefully examines their actions and moral implications drawing comparisons with the modern corporate world. Karna’s Status Anxiety, Duryodhana’s Envy, Draupadi’s Courage, Bhishma’s Selflessness, Arjuna’s despair and Yudhisthira’s Duty are related to the modern context. Why is being ‘somebody’ or having a certain status in the society so important? Status anxiety makes one boastful and self praising, which is a negative trait to acquire. We may deny that all of us have a desire to be loved and praised. This could perhaps be in the dormant form. Is this trait there in us because we do not recognize or evaluate our own worth? We are bothered about how the world perceives us and hence become a victim of other people’s judgements like Karna who is in search of identity. Karan’s status anxiety comes in the form denouncement as a ‘shutaputra.' Das exemplifies the family feud brought in by the sibling rivalry of the Ambani Brothers relating it to Duryodhana’s envy for the Pandavas, Draupadi’s question on the immorality of silence has an insinuation to PM Dr. Manmohan Singh’s silence regarding President Pratibha Patil’s corruption charges. In this modern interpretation of Mahabhrata, Das poignantly attempts to justify the actions of Duryodhana, the virtue of Karna and the uprightness of Vikarna by provoking our thoughts. When the virtuous fail to speak up and fail in their duties, then dharma is wounded is what the author feels. In this modern age interpretation, Das amalgamates the Western and Eastern philosophies often drawing comparisons from Greek epic Iliad and delves into the act of the characters. “The Difficulty of Being Good” is an unbiased, non-religious view of the Mahabharatha characters dissecting their dharmic beliefs and value systems. The loop hole of the book could be the digression, doggedly repetitive chapters which tend to be boring at times and incidents which apparently make the reading non-linear.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Shanmuganathan

    After a long time spent in reading mediocre books, I was searching for an ideal book to revive my reading habit. This fantastic book, "The Difficulty of Being Good - On the Subtle Art of Dharma" by Gurcharan Das, was recently as a part of low-priced popular Penguin initiative. Gurcharan Das was an Ex-CEO of Procter & Gamble India. He took an early retirement to concentrate more on his literary contributions. He is mostly known for his other famous book called "India Unbound" which promotes c After a long time spent in reading mediocre books, I was searching for an ideal book to revive my reading habit. This fantastic book, "The Difficulty of Being Good - On the Subtle Art of Dharma" by Gurcharan Das, was recently as a part of low-priced popular Penguin initiative. Gurcharan Das was an Ex-CEO of Procter & Gamble India. He took an early retirement to concentrate more on his literary contributions. He is mostly known for his other famous book called "India Unbound" which promotes capitalistic ideals of modern India. Though I started reading "India Unbound" inspired by his book on Dharma, it did not impress me much. The book, "The Difficulty of Being Good", landed me in a whole new world of Dharma (being good or perfect, roughly) and its various implications as suggested through various incidents in the Indian epic Mahabharata. After 6 years of research reading Mahabharata, Gurcharan Das has indeed delivered a masterpiece. Though there are various versions of Mahabharata and its commentary are prevalent, I have never seen such an in-depth analysis of the major incidents of Mahabharata. I was not matured enough to understand the epic completely when it was shown in Doordarshan long back. The beauty of this book is that one can directly read this book without having ever come close to hearing about this Indian epic. Gurcharan Das, in particular focuses on 2 types of Dharma in the epic called 'Sva-Dharma' (perfectness of oneself and his/her tradition) and 'Sadharana Dharma' (perfectness which is universally accepted). Different Mahabharata characters like Yudhishtra, Arjuna, Karna, Krishna, Duryodhana, Dhridharashtra, Drowpadi, etc. are used as tools to explain the intricacies of the Dharma. It might be a spoiler, but I can't resist admiring how Das primarily employs Yudhishtra to explain the different phases of Dharma one has to go through in real life. Even a person well versed with Mahabharata will find this book full of wisdom he/she has never learnt before. I am amazed how the tricky incidents of Mahabharata are being repeated in various forms often in this modern world. Another extra-ordinary attempt by Das is that he does not view this epic as a Hindu religious book, thereby avoiding biased religious views from affecting the perfect understanding of the Dharma as illustrated in the Mahabharata. I strongly recommend this book for anyone in this world who would like to delve into the world of Dharma and the practice of it in everyday life. I enjoyed every page of this book thoroughly. A Must Read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ishan Mahajan

    The story of the Mahabharata has always fascinated me. Though the other Vishnu epic, the Ramayana raises a number of questions on Kingship, friendship and society at large, I have realized that the Mahabharata to be deviously layered and the more you peel at it, the more you find ensconced in it - almost like a circular reference to Draupadi's divine garment which was layered to infinity. Thus, a lot has been written about the Mahabharata and the various elements in and around it. Gurcharan Das, The story of the Mahabharata has always fascinated me. Though the other Vishnu epic, the Ramayana raises a number of questions on Kingship, friendship and society at large, I have realized that the Mahabharata to be deviously layered and the more you peel at it, the more you find ensconced in it - almost like a circular reference to Draupadi's divine garment which was layered to infinity. Thus, a lot has been written about the Mahabharata and the various elements in and around it. Gurcharan Das, however, manages to carve out a highly engrossing and enlightening read by diving deep into the narrative of the Mahabharata and trying to understand why the characters in the epic did what they did, marries it beautifully with parallels in several Greek & Roman mythological texts and takes a stab at underlining its importance in the world of today. Das' research behind the book is admirable - a testimony to which is the ~20 pages devoted to texts & sources he referred to to hone his understanding of the Mahabharata. The book becomes more engaging as Das reminds the reader that this is not a treatise to showcase his wisdom, but is rather a commentary on his own quest to seek answers to questions like 'what is good?', 'can we be good?', 'do we need to be good at all?', and the like. Of late, I had been exposed to a number of articles which had highlighted the conceited side of Yudhishtara. However, this book makes one aware of a fallible, yet reflective, side of the eldest Pandava. A large part of this book talks about the events that transpire after the epic ends for most of us (the victory of the Pandavas in the 17 day battle) - how Ashwathama goes on a rampage to avenge the murder of his kin, and most importantly how Yudhishtara and the others reflect on what had transpired and the consequences they meet for their deeds, treacherous or otherwise, during the war. Das' writing is brilliant as he deftly handles the subtle definitions and nuances of topic at hand, and explains his viewpoint in extremely lucid manner. There are parts where he goes repetitive but it is largely to stress on some of the points he wants to make with this. Das' wide years as a social & political commentator, and a business leader show brightly in his handling of this text. It is a must read in our current times for its balanced treatment of the right vs. wrong, and its cautious analysis of what Dharma could mean to the people of this world.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Aman Jain

    Gurucharan Das with his masterpiece “The difficulty of being good” tries to answer the moral issues of present times by relating them to the Mahabharata. It talks about nature of Dharma in length and its subtlety. The author insists that the story of Mahabharata is not of war but of peace. The pessimist ending of the 1,00,000 verses long Mahabharata leaves its reader wondering about the nature of Dharma which has still not been demystified even by the highest minds. Author suggests that there is Gurucharan Das with his masterpiece “The difficulty of being good” tries to answer the moral issues of present times by relating them to the Mahabharata. It talks about nature of Dharma in length and its subtlety. The author insists that the story of Mahabharata is not of war but of peace. The pessimist ending of the 1,00,000 verses long Mahabharata leaves its reader wondering about the nature of Dharma which has still not been demystified even by the highest minds. Author suggests that there is no right or wrong and Dharma can’t be defined by a set of words. It is the law of universe which states that an action is beneficial for some and detrimental for others. Thus, he explains that Pandavas can’t be termed right for they employed trickery to beat Bhishma, Drona, Karna and Duryodhana. So, Pandavas can be considered as “Preferred” team while terms Kauravas as “not preferred”. Yudhishthira is in the limelight throughout the book as it seems to critically evaluate the conflicting conscience of various characters in the Mahabharata and relate them to contemporary times. The language used is easy to handle and is very narrative. It reproduces the story in the minds of reader quite vividly. It was always an advantage for me to have already read Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari. The best part about this book is that it addresses present time issues in context of Mahabharata. The discussion on Satyam Scam brings out a completely new insight on Why did Raju commit such heinous crime leaving the shareholders baffled? Was it the personal rivalry between Dick Fuld and Hank Paulson that led to the Global Meltdown in 2008? Is it fair for executives to draw billions of dollars as bonuses when their firms are being bailed out by taxpayers’ money? Every page of the book throws in a challenge on the reader and keeps him involved. The book is very interesting till the very last page unlike other non-fiction books which tend to make the same point over and over again. A must read for philosophy lovers and for those who weight every action on the scale of morality. It adds a new dimension to the understanding of The Mahabharata and the conflicting conscience of its characters.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sunil Pawar

    I haven't read a book so difficult and yet amazing in the past couple of years. I had read Das' earlier book - India Unbound - and quite liked it, but this book is better still. The prelude is extravagantly long - and rightly so, since the author details the exact reason that spawned this book. The intent is simple - to explore the great epic of Mahabharata in order to understand the moral dilemmas that we face in our daily lives. I've always been told that the Mahabharata is more than a semi-re I haven't read a book so difficult and yet amazing in the past couple of years. I had read Das' earlier book - India Unbound - and quite liked it, but this book is better still. The prelude is extravagantly long - and rightly so, since the author details the exact reason that spawned this book. The intent is simple - to explore the great epic of Mahabharata in order to understand the moral dilemmas that we face in our daily lives. I've always been told that the Mahabharata is more than a semi-religious, story book. Reading this book will give you an explicit idea of what the epic might have in store. The author attempts to unravel the 'subtle' nature Dharma throughout the book. There is lot of research done behind this book - a fact which is evident by innumerable anecdotes and perspectives listed out by Das. The book might be very punishing in the initial stages, but gets along nicely after that. The past/present day situations - both public & personal - stated by the author are very much relevant to us all. Some of the chapters, such as "Karna's Status Anxiety" and "Yudhisthira's Remorse" are so good & relevant - that they grab you by the scruff of your neck. The author offers several explanations citing different academic areas: philosophy, sociology, economics, etc. He also makes several delightful phrases of his own, sample this: "Envy is felt more strongly between near equals than those widely separated in fortune. It doesn't make sense to envy the Queen of England." Only after reading this book that I came across several related yet distinct words: forgiveness & forbearance; conservationists and liberals; and the best is the - difference between 'regret' and 'remorse'- none of which you will feel once you're finished with the book!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Akshi

    When one thinks of Great Writings on/from India, one thinks of some landmark books. Gurcharan Das's 'The Difficulty of Being Good' is not always an instinctive choice on the list. My suggestion is that this should change. Combining insights from the many ethical schools of Western Philosophy - from the Greeks to the Medieval Catholic Saints to the more Modern Utilitarians and Immanuel Kant - yet keeping the Mahabharata and its concerns on morality right at the center of the book, Gurcharan Das h When one thinks of Great Writings on/from India, one thinks of some landmark books. Gurcharan Das's 'The Difficulty of Being Good' is not always an instinctive choice on the list. My suggestion is that this should change. Combining insights from the many ethical schools of Western Philosophy - from the Greeks to the Medieval Catholic Saints to the more Modern Utilitarians and Immanuel Kant - yet keeping the Mahabharata and its concerns on morality right at the center of the book, Gurcharan Das has achieved a rare feat - he has managed to present a multitude of complex, ethical deliberations in an extremely accessible manner to the reader. The book makes a delightful reading at many levels - first, it enlightens one on the many tales within the Indian Epic and examines them from an ethical dimension. At another level, Das struggles with his own ethical dilemmas along with the characters of the Mahabharata - an exercise many of us who share such struggles can relate to with ease. Lastly, the book tries to link the world and questions from the times of the Mahabharata to the contemporary times and makes us re-look at them from a newer perspective. This reading of the Epic is remarkably similar to the Great Indian text in a profound way, and that is, it raises more questions than it answers and while Das does endeavour to look for some definite answers, it is ultimately left to the reader to decide. Thus, as the author emphasizes the subtlety of Dharma in his arguments the book reinforces the subtlety by leaving one with a lot more food for thought by the time one puts it down.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Aniket

    I have had this book on my to read list for a long time - maybe close to a decade. I am really glad I finally got to reading it. Gurcharan Das analyzes characters in the Mahabharata from the perspective of 'dharma', and the whys, whats, hows of they behaved through the epic, and at times draws parallels with today's world and how lessons from those times can be applicable now. He puts forth his thoughts as an 'Hindu liberal' as distinct from the Hindu right as well as the secular liberal that is I have had this book on my to read list for a long time - maybe close to a decade. I am really glad I finally got to reading it. Gurcharan Das analyzes characters in the Mahabharata from the perspective of 'dharma', and the whys, whats, hows of they behaved through the epic, and at times draws parallels with today's world and how lessons from those times can be applicable now. He puts forth his thoughts as an 'Hindu liberal' as distinct from the Hindu right as well as the secular liberal that is in vogue for the past few decades. The book contains meticulous research that the author conducted over his post-retirement years traveling to the USA and interacting with various scholars as well as reading multiple different versions of the Mahabharata - and its numerous analysis. He goes into what 'dharma' is, how fluid the definition is, and how it has changed over the ages. There are discussions about whether post-Christ adaptations of the epic imbued characteristics of a Buddhist Ashoka into Yudhishthira, and other impacts Buddism, Jainism had on the epic and Hinduism in general. The book compares Arjuna to Achilles, argues whether the Pandavas were really 'heros' in the book and analyzes the impact Karna's upbringing by a different caste had had on his charity later in life. The book was able to keep me spell-bound for most of its duration. There are numerous references that would be worth digging into as well. It can stand alongside Yuganta, Jaya and other contemporary retellings / analysis of this timeless epic. I can't recommend it highly enough to anybody interested in exploring Indian philosophy.

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