A version of this Post was published on Andhra Cultural Portal on December 8, 2013
“Arey, he’s so ambitious, yaar”, “Do you know, she’s really ambitious”, “You should be ambitious too”….
I must have missed the memo, but since when did ambition become a good thing?
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for self-improvement (both spiritual and material), and success in one’s chosen livelihood—but when did personal gain become more important than collective good and virtue? Because contrary to popular thought, ambition actually runs in direct opposition to the collective good. Ambition overturns the just order, ambition prevents rightful inheritance, ambition pits younger against older, ambition poisons the minds of parents, ambition embitters relations between spouses and between friends, ambition blinds one to duty to society—in short, ambition destroys.
The fundamental problem with Ambition is that it asks the question Why NOT me instead of Why me?
You may ask, “what is the difference”? The difference is Why Not Me puts the burden of proof on others to ask why others are more deserving than you. Why Me considers whether you are even qualified for the position to begin with.
While just aspiration in harmony with duty is good (i.e. I want to be a politician to help people), ambition is destructive (i.e.I want to be a politician to gain position and dominate people, and damn anybody, even the country, if he comes in my way…cough…KCR). Aspiration asks, “I think I could do this—but am I the most qualified, or deserving person?”.
The great irony of our time is that our culture itself answered this question thousands of years ago in the form of the Son of Dasaratha—no, I don’t mean Sri Rama, as great as he indeed was, but in fact his brother…Bharata.
The Example of Bharata
Rama is truly the ideal man, the rightful heir, the protector of the weak, and the eponymous and undisputed hero of the Ramayana, but ultimately he was able to do his duty and still retain his throne because of the nobility and sacrifice of the second eldest brother, Bharata.
Indeed one of the greatest moments in the entire Ramayana (perhaps all of scripture) is when after reluctantly agreeing to Janaka’s decision, Bharata swears to immolate himself if Rama does not take back his throne within 14 years. . .What a gesture!…Not only does this Royal Prince, whose grandfather was promised by Dasharatha to give Kaikeyi’s son the throne, whose mother gained a boon from Dasharatha to grant him the throne, and who was a qualified king in his own right, refuse this grand Kingdom, but he also threatens to give up his own life if the rightful heir is not restored to the throne within the specified period of time. Even Rama himself is moved and tells Bharata in admiration, “I should have known you would give up in an instant what takes men lifetimes to learn to reject”.
In contrast, Duryodhana covets precisely that which he has no right to by law or any other qualification. Yudhisthira was the eldest of the Kurus, was crowned by Dhritarashtra as yuvaraja, and was the greatest in dharma. Yet by hook or by crook, Duryodhana nursed his ambition for the throne of Hastinapura and craved what was not his. In the end,while Duryodhana is defeated, Bharata is triumphant (and incidentally, is granted kingship of Takshasila (modern Taxila), which he founded).
Thus, when ambition is cast aside, society in turn benefits, because it is spared fratricidal and internecine warfare. The energies that go into nursing pointless rivalries and political competitions go into societal welfare and good instead. Therefore, Bharatas are not only required at the highest echelons but at the lower levels of society as well. When people do what is right, rather than what is selfish–then everyone benefits, as the four Princes of Ayodhya did. Mutual regard leads to mutual gain.
We must not take or covet what is not rightfully ours. Might (or sleight…of hand, in this case) does not make right. It is Dharma that makes right. That is the lesson of Bharata. Indeed, it is for this reason that Vasishta himself is said to have remarked that “No one understood the lessons of Dharma better than Bharata.”
People ask, with all the evil going on in the world today—“where is Vishnu”?
Perhaps, when the people are ready, a Kali Yuga Rama may indeed appear, but the real question we have to ask is: where are our Bharatas?