Ends & Means – Yudhisthira at crosshair
‘Ashwatthama hato iti, Narova kunjarova’ (Ashwatthama is dead, but I am not sure man or elephant). These lines spoken by Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, the embodiment of truthfulness, the beacon of justice is a landmark moment in The Mahabharata.
To stop an unstoppable and rampaging Dronacharya, the Teacher himself, Lord Krishna devised a devious design. A design to convey to inaccurate news about Dronacharya’s son Ashwatthama’s demise. But the infallible Ashwatthama’s death was a news his father wouldn’t believe, unless and here comes the caveat, it was conveyed by the man who was the epitome of truth, Yudhisthira.
The information was not to be the entire truth because an elephant bearing the name Ashwatthama would be killed by Bheema. Only Yudhisthira who had vowed never to utter a lie could convey such news and kill the morale of Dronacharya leading to his ultimately getting killed by Dristadyumna.
And Yudhisthira did exactly that. It is also believed that when he said those lines, he mumbled through the second part of the sentence so that the meaning was drowned in the noise of the battlefield. Thus a deceit resulted in defeat of a major stumbling block for the Pandavas.
This is a unique moral or ethical dilemma. To achieve the end, that is killing of a powerful warrior, one who has been your guru, yet one who sided with the wrong, is wrongful means, if this is to be classified as one, justified.
Everything of course is not fair in love and war as the cliché would want to have us believe. The Mahabharata was all about the victory of good over evil, satya over asatya, dharma over adharma. While the Kauravas stood for all things evil, Pandavas were symbolic of goodness. But in order to achieve the victory are means of lesser importance?
We may view this situation through few ethical theories. Deontologism or Kantian Deontologism which says that rightness or wrongness is independent of consequence would be against the ‘lie’ of Yudhisthira. Could Yudhisthira have acted based on Moral Absolutism, which would mean that he would get to tell the ‘truth’ and something else or someone else would have stopped Dronacharya.
While the same Yudhisthira viewed through virtue ethics would come as a praiseworthy person, justification of his action could be provided by utilitarianism which believes in greatest good to greater number (in this case the people of the state who were under misrule of Kauravas). Such could be justified with ethical realism too which suggests choosing the lesser evil (in this case the obfuscation).
This mythological legend has bearing on our everyday lives. Just think about the cover and overt lies that we speak each day. On a greater scale, the lies or as many would like to listen ‘being economical with truth’, the leaders (business and political particularly) emanate and its bearing on the stakeholders is something that needs to be pondered on. The ethical dilemma is sometimes lesser and sometimes greater during such an act.
Pandavas won the war. Truth triumphed. Lord Krishna had no ethical dilemma for him the end was important not the means. What bearing it had on him is a different debate. However following the act, Yudhisthira’s chariot which galloped above the ground got grounded.