The Pandavas have escaped from Varanavart through the underground tunnel. They are wandering through the woods trying to locate a village where they can settle. They are tired and exhausted – restless, thirsty and hungry. All were tired and exhausted except Bhima who has an inexhaustible strength. Realizing the predicament of others, he placed all the five on his shoulders and rushed his way through the forest like a mad elephant destroying trees and scarring away the wild animals. They crossed the Ganges river and arrived at a thick jungle. It has become dark. Everyone was exhausted and rested under a tree except Bhima who was awake and guarding everyone. There was a cannibal named Hidimba with his sister Hidimbi. They were used to killing hapless travelers and used to feast on their flesh. Bhima could detect this danger and was soon face-to-face with Hidimba. Both were mighty and strong. Bhima, on one hand was using his strength to uphold virtue and protect the innocent and Hidimba, on another hand was using his strength to slaughter the innocent for his sensual pleasures. What a contradiction? Before going on to the details of the duel, let us first study the nature of power and the means to harness it for our own good and of others.
How power can corrupt us?
From Hitler to Nixon and Stalin to Enron, history showed from time to time how power has the potential to corrupt. Most of us have some power or influence over others. We need to be vigilant that our power and position do not corrupt us. A powerful position offers us control over people, policies and wealth. The subordinates offer respect and are always cautious not to earn our displeasure. Quite often, many flock to us to flatter us and get their favor. This gives us an impression that the entire world is at our beck and call. We have the magic wand to control and decide the destiny of many. This sense of controllership will naturally impel us to use it for fulfilling our own ends. There is no bureaucracy that is bereft of bribery. Further, we may be tempted to exploit our dependents for fulfilling our vested interests. One may say that the ends justify the means. Let us analyze what this tendency can do to us.
What misuse of power can do to us?
In a group of people – be it society, office or home, power has ethical bounds. When we start crossing the line and misuse power for our own ends, we will be blinded by greed. Hidimba was victimized by greed. His thirst for human flesh was insatiable. He was impatient. We will be made to believe that we can do anything and get away with it (BG 16.13-15). Simultaneously, we will also be gripped by fear – what if we get caught? We will be always anxious to cover up our misuses. When our subordinates feel exploited, at the least they lose trust on us and the worst, they turn up against us. They will also look forward to expose us and take revenge. Filled with greed and fear, hardly there will be room for us to enjoy the spoils earned through misuse. This way, we get attached to the power we have and will try to hold on to it by hook or crook. We end up becoming heartless and restless with no pleasure and peace of mind (BG 16.11-12). Power corrupts the most crucial aspects that define our personality – character, values and world view (BG 16.4). Hidimba was callous to the helpless plight of the Pandavas. This mentality is detrimental and can turn deadly. Let us see how do we overcome this vicious mentality.
The right purpose of power
The first step in overcoming this mentality is to become aware of the right purpose of power and pursue it wholeheartedly. The power does not belong to us (BG 3.27). We are trained by someone else in the ways of using power. It is given to us for a purpose. Every powerful position comes with a set of duties and responsibilities. The power we are given is a means to contribute to the society. It is a means to care for others. Using power in this way brings real fulfilment to the heart. Bhima is blessed with invincible strength. He was virtuous, submissive to his brother Yudhistir. He was using his mighty strength to protect virtue and the virtuous. It makes us happy and others happy. Everyone is meant to contribute. Some does it by controlling others; some by being controlled by others and some by both. A mood of contribution alone can bring real contentment (BG 3.11). The respect, recognition and rewards we get from others can be shared with our team members. We can always recognize the contribution of others and appreciate them. This will prevent us from becoming proud. We can focus on improving our contribution, taking feedback from others and admitting our limitations and incompetence. This prevents us from becoming greedy and builds trust in our team members.