Do the ends justify the means, as your Mahabharata explanations imply? Won’t that justify terrorism too?

by Chaitanya CharanOctober 4, 2019

Terrorists say that their ends – to establish the rule of religion – justify their means of targetting civilians. Is this view different from the Pandavas’ using unfair means for killing the Kauravas

Transcription :

Transcriber: Sharan Shetty
Question: Do the ends justify the means, as your Mahabharata explanations imply? Won’t that justify terrorism too?
Answer: The policy of ends justify means does not justify terrorism at all.

Firstly, when the Mahabharata talks about the ends justifying the means we have to carefully understand what it means. In the Vedic culture, generally three code of conducts (neeti) are mentioned, they are:

1. Brihaspati-neeti: It is named after Brihaspati, priest of the demigods. It says, the end should be moral and virtuous. The means should also be moral and virtuous. No matter what someone does to you, always follow dharma from your end. Let others do bad, you do good. Yudhishthira Maharaja followed this meticulously.

2. Shukra-neeti: It is named after Shukracharya, priest of the demons. As per his policy the ends justify the means. By hook or crook, get your work done. For example, we see the demons very often use illusion, deception and immoral practises to conquer the demigods.

3. Kanika-neeti: It is named after a brahmana named Kanika who was a friend of Shakuni, maternal uncle of the Kauravas. Shakuni used Kanika to persuade Dhritarashtra, who was although attached to Duryodhana, but had some moral sense due to which he was always apprehensive towards Shakuni’s evil schemes against the Pandavas. According to Kanika-neeti, if somebody is your enemy then there should be no hesitation in adopting any means for the sake of destruction of the enemy. There is no mention of following dharma in this neeti. The only objective is one’s own prosperity irrespective of whether it is in harmony with the higher principles of life. Here, neither the end, nor the means matter, only one’s prosperity and success matter.

Kanika-neeti is universally condemned in the Vedic culture because actions which are performed without consideration of either their ends or their means is not at all acceptable; they only lead to bad consequences. What is normally recommended is Brihaspati Neeti.

In the Mahabharata, we see that the Pandavas exhaustively followed the first neeti. Even after several incidents like Bhima being poisoned, the house where they were staying being set on fire etc they maintained peace and did not resort to violence, what to say about following any immoral means. Although violence could have been a justified response in such a situation, they did not resort to that. During the gambling match, when the Kauravas unfairly dispossessed the Pandavas off their kingdom and disrobed their wife, Draupadi, even then they maintained restraint and did not violate the codes of dharma.

Before the Kurukshetra war, both the commanders – Bhishma from Kaurava’s army and Drishtadyumna from Pandava’s army, met and laid down the war codes to be followed during the war. Drishtadyumna made the point that they will not be the first ones to violate the war codes but if the violation happens from the Kaurava side then they will respond accordingly and will not follow morality in that case. When Bhishma was the commander of the Kaurava army, there were no major violations since Bhishma being an ethical person followed morality. However, when Bhishma was slain and Drona became the commander, Drona did the massive unethical act of killing Abhimanyu due to attachment to his son, Ashwathama, and bad association of Duryodhana. Once this happened several other unethical ways were adopted by the Pandavas also.

This approach of Pandavas is substantially different from what the terrorists do.

Here first we need to consider, if the Pandavas used unethical means it was when all the possible ethical efforts failed. Secondly, even if they are considered unethical (actually they are transethical since they were sanctioned by Krishna directly), they were directed against the direct perpetrators of their atrocities. The Pandavas did not use their unethical means against innocent people.

On the other hand, modern terrorists target only the innocent citizens. Even from a philosophical point of view, such terrorists have a very narrow and distorted understanding of their own religion. They consider that their only mission is to make the entire world follow their religion. They even consider that those who do not follow their religion deserve to burn in hell and they have a moral responsibility to punish such people, even kill them if needed. Unfortunately, such people are brainwashed and indoctrinated by the fanatics who have their own selfish and ulterior motives. They do not teach those part of their religious scriptures which teaches tolerance.

Do such people have God’s sanction? Not at all. What to speak of sanction of God, they do not have sanction from their own scriptures in the first place. More importantly, from a normal ethical point of view, sometimes unfair means maybe required for fair ends. However, unfair means should not target those who have not done anything unfair.

According to Kshatriya code of fighting, a warrior will engage with another warrior who is (i) his equal (ii) armed (iii) alert. However, the terrorists attack innocent people who are (i) not their equal (terrorists receive lot of training before the attack) (ii) not armed (iii) unalert. Therefore, acts of terrorists is totally an antithesis of the kshatriya code.

The Pandavas tried as much as they could to use Brihaspati-neeti but the Kauravas far from sticking to Brihaspati-neeti used not just Shukra-neeti but used Kanika-neeti to meet devious ends. Thus, the Pandavas wanted to demonstrate as per the will of Krishna that sometimes the ends justify the means, however such a policy was practised with extreme caution and under divine sanction. This should not be a normal practice. Even when Shukra-neeti is used in extreme condition, it should be used against the direct perpetrators of the misdeeds and not the innocient people.

End of transcription.

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Chaitanya Charan

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