Struggles have been an inseparable part of human existence. Man’s initial struggle was to survive in unaccustomed nature. But soon, greed, intolerance and power led to the struggles which made the history chapters bleed. In the tales of useless plunders and meaningless wars, the emergence of saviors was a silver lining. Saviors are not necessarily warriors; there have been kings like Gautam Buddha and Mahavir who abandoned all luxuries to realize and teach the beauty of self-control and peace. Then there have been philosophers and thinkers like Locke, Plato and others who postulated the principles of humanism, individual freedom, ethics, and analysis. Leaders with humble backgrounds and fragile bodies like Mahatma Gandhi and Mandela freed their nations with the path of non-violence and inspired generations after generations.
But not all sparks become flames: some die young and some become wildfire and torch the bearers. History is rife with personalities like Gadaffi and Hitler who rose against all adversities, brushed past all thorns of their arduous path, but slipped on a smooth road.
Not just in politics and not just in present times, the power of influence has always been difficult to handle. Abraham Lincoln rightly said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Of course, the power mentioned here does not imply only political power. The power of popularity, the power of money, the power of beauty, the power of intellect or the power of position can contribute the same.
But why power is so corruptible? How is it able to corrupt seemingly headstrong and virtuous persons? The simple question has a complex answer. The causes and paths of downfall vary from person to person but the start does not. Where ascent is a toilsome journey, the descent is easier and faster, but never is it instant. The person who has been through struggle knows very well about the right and wrong. The discretionary faculties of mind don’t get upset in a day. It is a gradual process of silencing the inner voice and leaning towards luring desires.
Usually, carnal desire is the first temptation to which power resorts. Flesh trade undeniably is one of the oldest trades across the globe. And money is instrumental in gratifying such desires. Be it sexual gratification through brothels or keeping mistresses, the size of one’s pocket determines the variety, control, and exclusiveness of the pleasure. Nevertheless, in the unethical lanes of lust, money for sex apparently seems better.
Ranked low in the power hierarchy, physical strength is the dominant face of sexual abuse. Sexual violence in wartime is not a recent phenomenon of ISIS, it dates back to centuries ago. The perpetrators of sexual abuse need not be physically strong, just more physically powerful than victims. Humans are the most vicious animals. In the past years, many successful men have been accused of molestation at the workplace. Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O‘Reilly, Tarun Tejpal, are just a few names which reveal the hypocrisy of mankind. Another powerful layer in the social hierarchy, the clergy, which holds itself very high on the moral ground, has been found guilty of systematic sexual abuse a number of times, irrespective of religion and geography. More abominable is the pedophilic character in many cases. Back in the pre-renaissance era, the Roman Catholic Church indulged in crimes of all sorts.
Money is the most potent pursuit of mankind. Needless to say, billionaires outnumber philanthropists. The use (abuse) of money forms a vivid spectrum, from basic needs to luxuries, from erecting huge buildings to terrorism funding; the reach of money is paramount. Paid news, paid reviews and public relations can weave beautiful yarns (may be exaggerated and sometimes diametrically opposite) and enhance your profile. The hazards of advertising require no mention. Covered in the glamour of celebrities, many food items are causing havoc on health, especially of children. As H. G. Wells put it, ‘Advertisement is legalized lying.’ The standards of beauty have been purposefully made unnatural by the use of software in advertisements – just to sell beauty products. Companies are only interested in minting money; they don’t care about the psychological repercussions of their ad campaigns. This insatiable thirst beyond responsibility is called greed. Greed knows no boundaries. Greed was what got seeded as profit, sprouted in imperialism and fruited in world wars.
Lust and greed, the twin sins seem invincible. But in times of pain and distress, one feels restrained to fall into these two vile urges. Therefore, one can say lust and greed are just brain games. Making your brain busy is one method of averting it and self-control is other. Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and perhaps all religion knead self-control in rituals and practices. For example, fasting is an integral part of most religions. Fasting should not be confused with dieting. Fasting means abstaining from sex, food, drink, and sleep. It is an excellent way to control one’s urges.
There are people who are immune to lust and greed. But it does not imply they are not infallible. They may be afflicted with diseases like arrogance and vanity which are as dangerous as the previously mentioned sins. Arrogance, ego, and vanity: the three siblings make one of the most destructive forces of human life. Surprisingly, arrogance is easily visible in others, but rarely one is able to appreciate in oneself. The lines between pride, honor, self-respect and ego are thin and prone to being blurred. Ego can damage one’s professional and personal life. But the most devastating is ego conflicts. Thinking too highly of oneself and repudiating others can lead to struggles of alarming proportions. Cycles of insult and vengeance decimated many kingdoms. Currently, Syria, at the loggerheads of two powers, is the burning example of ego conflicts of nations.
Individually, the power of money, muscle or position can brutally ravage many systems. But, these powers often seek allegiance of each other amorphously. Terrorism (financial and physical and sometimes politically sponsored), corruption (positional and intellectual), and totalitarianism (fanatical religious oppression, financial and political) show the complex interwoven structures of powers.
Jim Collins said, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.” Discipline in actions and choice of righteous path: both require clear analysis of the present and a vision for the future.
The ability to stay rooted to one’s principles in the times of success and power is not a general human behavior. It is easy to get carried away in applause and laurels. Then how come few people never lose their way? Why do they remain unaffected of praise, and glory? The theory of Karma describes it beautifully. Successes, pride, disappointment, regret: all are attached to the results of our actions. But when actions are devoid of any expectations, the doer finds success and failure alike. The law of karma is easy to understand but difficult to implement. But being human is not easy as being a human being.
All said and done, the definition of the righteous path is integral to steer power. But the definition of righteous path is full of confusions. Al Qaeda killed many innocents, as they interpreted that killing non-Muslims is righteous as per Quran. Bruno was burned alive by religious authorities for his rational ideas. Hinduism allows a caste system to exploit the lower castes. There is no rule to a righteous path. The righteous path cannot be searched in scriptures in isolation of the context. The righteous path depends on the circumstances: what is right in one can turn wrong in the other condition.
Kathopanishad seeks the infallibility of mankind due to power, and its prevention in an analogy of the chariot. It goes like this: there is a chariot, which has five horses pulling it. The horses have reins in their mouths, which are in the hands of a charioteer. A passenger is sitting at the back of the chariot. Ideally, the passenger should instruct the charioteer, who should then control the reins and guide the horses in the proper direction. However, in this case, the passenger has gone to sleep, and so the horses are holding sway.
The chariot is the body, the horses are the five senses, the charioteer is the intellect, and the passenger seated behind is the soul residing in the body. The senses (horses) desire pleasurable routes which end in lust, attachment, greed anger and conceit. The mind (reins) is not exercising restraint on the senses (horses). The intellect (charioteer) submits to the pull of the reins (mind). So in the power-bound state, the bewildered soul does not direct the intellect in the proper direction. However, if the soul wakes up to its higher nature and decides to take a proactive role, it can exercise the intellect in the proper direction.