When we face adversity, we either break or bend. A wise person knows when to stand one’s ground and fight, and when to accept defeat and avoid confrontation.
Chanakya says that the warrior enters battle to win. It is foolish to fight someone more powerful than you when you face certain defeat. You must escape a face-off and save yourself once you are certain you have no chance of coming out a winner. There’s no shame or ridicule in running away, when one is sure of losing, and possibly ending up dead, if one can live to fight and win another day!
This advice seems extremely strange, doesn’t it? However, it has a precedent in scriptures too. Krishna has an epithet “Rannchhod”- the one who ran away from the battlefield. He and the Yadavas abandoned Mathura when faced with certain defeat at the hands of Jarasandha, Magadha’s powerful king, and resettled far away, at Dwarka. Much later, Krishna returned with his cousin, the powerful Pandava Bheem, who wrestled the tyrant Jarasandha and killed him.
In a hurricane, it is the strong oak that gets uprooted, whereas soft grass bends to the gale, and remains unharmed. In our mouth, the teeth are made of the hardest enamel and the tongue of the most pliant muscle. But when we become old, it is the tongue that remains intact, whereas our teeth are all gone!
It’s always the supple, pliant and soft ones that survive tough situations. Corpses become hard and stiff. Grass and the tongue are flexible, whereas the strong oak and hard teeth are not. The grass flattens in a heavy storm. The tongue twists and slides around any hard food item and rarely gets injured. Their frailty becomes their strength.
Our flexibility is in humility and wisdom. Learning to bend in the face of adversity, we can go through any tough situation. If we are inflexible and rigid, we are sure to snap and break like dry twigs.
Inflexibility manifests through our ego, pride and vanity. It doesn’t let us look beyond ourselves. It blocks our vision and common sense. The Machiavellian and Chanakyan tenets question, “what’s the use of self-respect in a man who leaps headlong into a fight where he’ll surely end up dead? Others will sing his praises, but he will not be alive to hear them!” This thinking shocks many, as it goes against morals, honour and ethics, but master strategists like Sun Tzu and Chanakya were very clear that the end justifies the means. Self righteous pride doesn’t win wars, strategy and planning do.
There are many corrupt people sitting in positions of power. They can make our life difficult with a flat refusal or the stroke of a pen. They can make us go round in circles fruitlessly. When we are under genuine pressure to get some important work done urgently, such people get the perfect opportunity to take advantage of our helplessness. They are the Jarasandhas of today, attacking us constantly.
A wise man knows when to stop himself from retaliating. He knows that he needs to set things in motion to ensure that corrupted people are ultimately taken to task. He may have to wait a long time to find the right means and opportunity to ensure justice is served. Being flexible, he bends like grass and waits, biding his time. In the Bible it has been said, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” When the sun comes out, the grass straightens up and grows once more.
Like Krishna, the wise man doesn’t confront adversity when he is unsure of being able to fix troublemakers. He waits till he finds his Bheem, and turns his frailty into his strength, thereby choosing to fight another day, in another way.
Deepam Chatterjee is a teacher, writer, storyteller and corporate speaker, integrating Modern Life Lessons with Military History, Hindu Scriptures, Mythology and Mysticism. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org