Mentoring: Lessons from Mahabharata

Blogitorial Management Ponderings
Krishna and Arjun on the chariot, Mahabharata,...
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When the battle which later came to be known as Mahabharata was imminent, the opposing sides began garnering support of like minded kings and form alliances with them. Sri Krishna, the ruler of Dwarka, was considered a good potential ally because of the might of the Yadav army he commanded and because of his personal value as a master strategist and diplomat. By a coincidence, Arjun and Duryodhan both reached Sri Krishna’s palace at the same time, to seek alliance with him, and it happened to be at a time when Krishna was sleeping. Arjun, sitting at Krishna’s feet, caught his eye first when he woke up. He was thus given the first of the two choices placed by Krishna before the cousins. He offered the entire Yadav army to one of the camps, and his own services to the other. Much to Duryodhan’s delight Arjun unhesitatingly chose Krishna over the formidable Yadav army, even though by his own injunction, Krishna would not bear weapons in batttle. Subsequent events, of course, bore out the sagacity of Arjun’s choice. Krishna performed the role of Arjun’s charioteer throughout the battle, but he was much more than that. He was Arjun’s mentor, gently guiding and advising him at every step. This relationship stands as exemplary even today when we talk of mentoring.

The significance of this relationship is evident by the fact that one of the popular names by which Krishna is known even today is ‘Parthasarthy’, which means ‘Arjun’s Charioteer’. The term “Charioteer” in connection to Krishna is interpreted as “One who guides” or “One who shows the way”. This particular role has thus been immortalized over the numerous others played by him during his eventful life. The other significant outcome of this mentoring was the Bhagwat Gita, a discourse given by Krishna to Arjun which is acknowledged as a cornerstone of Hindu philosophy, and has served to guide millions of people in their moments of dilemma.

There are quite a few lessons to be derived, even ages after this relationship was written about.

First is about the importance of a good mentor, realized by Arjun when he chose an unarmed Krishna over the mighty Yadav army. He was aware that even the best of resources, such as the army in question, are valueless without strategic vision and tactical acumen such as that possessed by Krishna.

Playing his role as mentor in Imparting advice and knowledge, Krishna provided guidance to Arjun every step along the way. This is something that is talked about even today, while the feats of the Yadav army on the battlefield are long forgotten.

Another lesson is about the role of a mentor in identifying and clarifying values. Just before the onset of battle, when Arjun was plagued with doubts and apprehensions, the Divine Song or Bhagwat Gita narrated by Krishna served to give him the right perspective about his values and duties. Often one finds oneself in a predicament similar to Arjun, not being able to discern the right from wrong. At such a time, a trusted mentor can help one seeing things in a correct perspective.

On many occasions, Krishna protected his protégé from imminent danger and harm, either through astute advice, or through physically removing him from the path of danger. The role of a mentor in protecting and nurturing his mentee’s growth path is critical, as he has much better vision and foresight to be able to judge the long term impact of actions taken today.

There are times when Krishna uses his influence and powers to smoothen the path of Arjun. For instance, when Arjun had vowed that he would avenge the death of his son Abhimanyu by killing Jaydrath by sunset or he would immolate himself, Krishna uses his yogic powers to simulate sunset before time to bring Jaydrath out from hiding, enabling Arjun to slay him.

Another significant aspect was the complete confidence and trust that the mentor and mentee reposed in each other. Not once did Arjun ever doubt the veracity of the advice given to him by Krishna, and Krishna also remained steadfast in his confidence in Arjun’s abilities.

In this day and age, a mentor – mentee relationship is ever more important, due to the increasing complexities and range of choices and dilemmas that one faces at every step of one’s life and career. Fortunate are those who can find an able charioteer to steer one’s professional chariot through the morasses of the professional landscape.

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