Living Gita: 02: Wise Leaders Speak Little

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Responding to Dhritarashtra’s question, Sanjaya says:

Having seen the army of Pandavas drawn up in battle array, King Duryodhana then approached his teacher, Drona, and spoke these words:

“Behold, Oh Acharya, this mighty army of the sons of Pandu, arrayed by the son of Drupada, your disciple of great intelligence.

“Here are the fearless mighty archers equal in battle to Bhima and Arjuna: Yuyudhana [Satyaki], Virata, the great chariot warrior Drupada, Dhrishtaketu, Chekitana, the valiant king of Kasi, Purujit, Kuntibhoja, the great Shaibya, the heroic Yudhamanyu, the brave Uttamauja, Abhimanyu and the sons of Draupadi – all great warriors indeed.

“Now know, Oh Great Brahmana, the names of the leaders of my army, the most distinguished men on our side. Let me tell you their names for your information. Yourself, Bhishma, Karna, the war winner Kripa, Aswatthama, Vikarna, Jayadratha and Saumadatti. And then many other heroes too who have laid down their lives for me, all outstanding in warfare, all armed with all kinds of weapons.

Boundless is our army led by Bhishma, but their army under the protection of Bhima is limited. So in whatever formation the army is, all of you stand in your positions and make sure Bhishma is well protected.

Then Bhishma, the aged grandfather of the Kurus, roared like a lion and blew a booming blast on his conch, making Duryodhana’s heart leap with joy. Gita 1.3-12


The truly wicked do not abandon wickedness till the very end.

With Shakuni, Karna was with Duryodhana in all his dark deeds right from their childhood. The three of them together made numerous attempts on the life of the Pandavas even before they began their studies under Drona, says the Mahabharata. However, towards the end, sometime before the war, Karna’s transformation begins. He still fights on Duryodhana’s side, but his heart is not in his friend’s victory. In fact he says so when Krishna offers him the kingdom, asking him to join the Pandava side. He says openly to Krishna that Duryodhana is wicked and should not become king.

Seen in this light, his refusal to fight so long as Bhishma fights, his giving away of his armour and earrings that made him invincible and his promising his mother that he would not kill any of her sons other than Arjuna, all assume a different meaning.

However, Duryodhana never gives up the path of wickedness until the very end. The epic says he was an incarnation of the Kali Age and perhaps that is the reason why he never abandons evil. Kali is evil.

We see this darkness in Duryodhana’s heart right in the first words he speaks to his guru Drona in the Gita.

Behold, O Acharya, this mighty army of the sons of Pandu, arrayed by the son of Drupada, your disciple of great intelligence.

Every word he speaks here spits out vicious dark fumes of poison at his guru who is with him in the battlefield ready to lay down his life for his cause just out of gratitude for the Kuru wealth he has enjoyed for years and not because he believes in his cause. He has no faith in Duryodhana, no respect for his claims over the kingdom, no respect for him as a person, and does not consider him ethically fit to rule, still gratefulness compels him to fight on his side, as he says again and again openly. In spite of that, and perhaps partly also because of that, we see Duryodhana’s contempt for him in these words.

He does not forget to point out to Drona that the supreme commander of the Pandava army is his disciple and the knowledge and skills he is using against them are all taught by Drona himself. Not content with this, he also points out that he is the son of Drona’s arch enemy Drupada!

The placing of the words panduputraanaam and aacharya is interesting. Was it a Freudian slip that the two words could be read together thus making Duryodhana insult Drona further by calling him the acharya of his enemies?


One of the essential leadership qualities is to know when to speak and when to keep quiet, when to give advice and when to seek advice. Prattling reveals lack of confidence and reduces your credibility, respect and the ability to command as a leader. An able leader retains mastery over himself however difficult the circumstances are and holds back the tendency to babble and rattle. The war is about to begin and Duryodhana as the leader of the Kauravas, should have sought his acharya’s advice and guidance rather than telling him what to do, which is what he does in the nine verses he speaks in the Gita, all of which are said here.

Speaking of great leadership, John Heider in his book The Tao of Leadership, which interprets for us people of today Dao De Jing, the ancient Chinese classic and the second most translated book in the world, says:

The wise leader speaks rarely and briefly. The leader teaches more through being than through doing. The quality of one’s silence conveys more than long speeches.

Be still. Follow your inner wisdom.

In order to know your inner wisdom, you have to be still. The leader who knows how to be still and feel deeply will be effective. But the leader who chatters and boasts and tries to impress the group has no centre and carries little weight.

By speaking when he should have kept quiet and allowed the acharya and others to speak, Duryodhana reveals his shallowness here. And by what he says, he reveals his meanness and wickedness.

What is the reason behind Duryodhana’s lack of confidence that makes him blather?

Truth, integrity and uprightness give us strength and confidence. Guilt drains our confidence. Duryodhana is a swindler of power, a usurper. He knows he has no right over the Kuru throne. All of it belongs to Yudhisthira and he could have avoided the war if he was willing to give him just five villages, but he wouldn’t give them so much land as could be pierced by the tip of a needle. Deep in his heart he knows the warriors in the battlefield are all going to die for the sake of his ego, because of his power hunger. That guilt weighs down on him heavily. He tries to project confidence in his actions and speech, but his confidence is not real, it is only a put on. Just beneath his façade of confidence there is complete lack of confidence. All you have to do is scratch the surface and his lack of confidence becomes visible.

Duryodhana, in the words of the epic, is an incarnation of the age of kali when naked power hunger rules the world, as we can see around us every day. Our world believes that anything you do for power is justified. Our politicians earlier admitted secretly that there are no permanent enemies in politics, but today they openly and loudly proclaim it as their governing principle.

Soon after the princes complete their education under Drona, Yudhishthira is crowned yuvaraja and he becomes famous as a competent ruler and his fame exceeds that of his father Pandu who was adored by his subjects. Dhritarashtra becomes jealous of his success and asks his minister Kanika to advice him how he can recapture power. Kanika gives a long lecture here on cunning, manipulative, asuri leadership and advises Dhritarashtra to practice it. It is as though Duryodhana did not have to learn such leadership but was a born master of it, for that is what he practiced all his life, right from his childhood, even before he became a student of Drona. And he knew all along what he was doing and that gave birth to guilt in him. There is a famous Sanskrit verse said by him, a verse whose textual source has been lost, which says: janami dharmam na cha me pravrittih, janami adharmam na cha me nivrittih; kenaapi devena hridisthitena yathaa niyukto’smi tathaa karomi - I know what dharma is but I am not driven to act according to that and I know what adharma is but I cannot keep away from it; I act as directed by some power that lives in my heart.

When you know what is right and do not act accordingly, when you know what is wrong and you still follow it all your life, there will be immense guilt in you. It is this burden of oppressive guilt that erodes Duryodhana’s confidence and makes him blabber on as he does here.

Duryodhana stands for the political philosophy Krishna fought to destroy all his life: power as an end in itself. He was told repeatedly by such elders as Bhishma and Drona and by his own mother and father that he had no right over the throne by birth and even if he had, he is not morally fir to become king. His father openly tells him in the Kuru court that he, Dhritarashtra, was never king and hence the kingdom cannot be his by inheritance.

Poor interpersonal skills have always been one of Duryodhana’s many weaknesses because of which he made enemies throughout his life. He earns the curse of several sages and elders because of his arrogant ways of dealing with people. Though the Gita does not specifically say so but only indicates it, it is clear his words here ire and irk the revered acharya and creates confusion in the minds of other senior warriors on his side who could hear him, which is why Bhishma interferes at this juncture and blows his conch announcing the war, thus preventing him from continuing his senseless speech.


It is interesting that it is to his guru Drona that Duryodhana comes to speak, and not to his army’s supreme commander Bhishma, who is also his grand uncle, a member of the Kuru family, and the most senior warrior on his side. Bhishma is also perhaps the oldest man in the battlefield and the wisest man on the Kaurava side. His intention here is to stir up his guru, but what he actually accomplishes is to outrage the acharya, to insult him, disgrace him.

Duryodhana uses outrage and insult as a means of motivation repeatedly. All asuri leaders do so and Duryodhana is clearly an asuri leader. Such men like to humiliate and anger their people thus hoping to get the best out of them. Of course they also intend to demonstrate their power over their people. This is typical boss behaviour – something that a leader rarely does and a boss always does. This kind of motivation does work for a while, like whipped horses people give what they can out of their fear of insult and punishment – but it ultimately proves counterproductive because all of us resent wounds to our ego and would let down the leader and avenge the insult as soon as we get an opportunity. Motivation through fear is the worst kind of motivation. It destroys relationships – and effective leadership is a relationship.

In his prattling, Duryodhana praises the enemy army and its warriors, which is tactically stupid at this stage. He says the strength of his own army is Bhishma. Even if this is the truth, saying so to Drona at this point is not the right thing to do from a motivational angle. For all we know, Drona is no less a warrior than Bhishma. What Duryodhana does here is to tell the acharya that he is not as important as Bhishma is, not as competent as Bhishma is. Demoralising a warrior like Drona at the beginning of the war and creating resentment in him is idiotic.

Krishna later in the Gita classifies people as daivi or asuri – daivi people are those who are rich in noble virtues and asuri people, in dark qualities. Asuri people spread fear, distrust and resentment wherever they go, and that is what Duryodhana does all the time. Speaking of such people, Krishna says they are bound for hell. It is not only that they live in hell all the time, but also create hell for others.

What Duryodhana does in the next few verses of the Gita is, apart from insulting the acharya, telling him what to do. Of course, Duryodhana has the right to do so since he is effectively the Kuru king and the acharya is working for him. Drona is an employee of the Kurus and Duryodhana is his de facto employer and as his de facto employer he has every right to tell him what to do.

But apart from being his employee, Drona is many other things too. He is Duryodhana’s guru, the greatest living teacher of the martial arts, and from all we know, knows the dhanurveda, including the war strategies it teaches, better than anyone else in the battlefield and you do not order about such people.

Tom Peters is the author of the world’s first modern management best seller The Pursuit of Excellence. In his subsequent book A passion for Excellence, he talks of seven people truths, one of which is: “Listen to your people... Bosses don’t have all the answers.” This is a people truth Duryodhana forgets when he instructs Guru Drona what to do.

He also forgets another people truth that Tom Peters talks about: “People have egos and development needs…and they’ll commit themselves only to the extent that they can see ways of satisfying these needs.” Duryodhana’s words to Drona here crushes the achary’s self-respect by reducing his role in the war to that of someone second to Bhishma whose guard he should be throughout the war because if Bhishma falls, everything is lost. Drona is an ambitious person, had perhaps ambitions of becoming the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army – later, after Bhishma’s fall, when he is given that position he celebrates it. It is that Drona who has been told what he should do in the war – protect Bhishma.

When you are guilt ridden, you lose confidence, become confused and say things you shouldn’t say and do things you should not do.


Why does Duryodhana go to Drona here and not to Bhishma? Bhishma is not his employee and will not listen to him, instead will openly ask him to shut up, whereas Drona is bound to listen to him, albeit unwillingly. Drona is his teacher, but he is also his employee. And as his employee, he can command him.

That is how the arrogant mind thinks.

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