Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #24 – Damn the Expedient!

June 17th, 2019

It bothers me when people, knowingly or unknowingly, neglect or minimize what is right for what they see as convenient or practical. It is called expediency. Perhaps that bothers all of us, but I know it especially irks me.


People who manage under pressure seem particularly susceptible to minimizing or neglecting what is proper for what is seemingly practical, but all of us are challenged regularly with such choices, especially when the right choice is somewhat subtle. In such situations, only the thoughtful and saintly can consistently avoid the lure of seeking a material advantage, which risks their soul, in lieu of what is right.


Risk their soul? For each step forward in life we have a myriad of choices to make, some more crucial than others. The soul is consciousness that reaches its fulfillment in selflessness or devotion. Dharma is the science of making the choice that moves one towards a clearer conception of the self. All other choices, by the nature of being self-serving, only further obscure that vision. So yes, expediency is at the cost of the soul.


It is no wonder, therefore, that this promotion of dharma and the concomitant warning against expediency rests at the root of classical Indian thought. In fact, one of the most famous moral guides in India is the Kauṭilya Sūtras (aphorisms) by Cāṇakya Paṇḍita, which was written specifically to temper the lure of expediency by promoting dharma, especially for those in positions of leadership. The first aphorism sets the tone for the book by highlighting the fruit of dharma, doing what is right in the face of expediency.


sukhasya mūlaṁ dharmaḥ

The root of happiness is dharma, righteousness.


If the Kauṭilya Sūtras is one of the most prominent moral guidebooks in classical Indian literature, the Bhagavad-gītā is the most prominent book of classical Indian thought in terms of applying spirituality in daily life. The same message that dharma, not expedience, leads to auspiciousness is also stressed there. That can especially be seen in the profound connection between its first and last verse, which is significant, as the first and last verse of a book are one of the important indications of a book’s theme according to classical hermeneutics. Here is something I wrote about in a previous Monday Morning Greetings:


In the very first verse of the Gītā, King Dhṛtarāṣṭra inquires from Sañjaya, his mystical advisor, about the impending battle at Kurukṣetra between his sons and the sons of Pāṇḍu led by Arjuna:


‘Dhṛtarāṣṭra said: O Sañjaya, after assembling in the place of pilgrimage at Kurukṣetra, what did my sons and the sons of Pāṇḍu do, being desirous to fight?’


The commentators explain that Dhṛtarāṣṭra is concerned with how the holy place will influence the battle, but that he expected victory in this ugly fratricidal war because of the greater size of his son’s army.[1] The verse also forebodes victory for the sons of Pāṇḍu. The battlefield is a place of pilgrimage (dharma-kṣetra) and Krishna, who upholds and protects dharma (righteousness), is on their side.


The last verse of the Gītā states its conclusion and answers Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s initial inquiry definitively:


‘Wherever there is Krishna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality. That is my opinion.’


The connection seems obvious, although I have never seen it stated. The first verse is a view of the battle through the eyes of a materialist filled with anxiety about a situation he cannot control, calculating success based on one’s personal power rather than doing what’s right. In contrast the last verse, spoken by his advisor Sañjaya is a view of that same world through the eyes of a spiritualist, seeing success or victory not by expedience or material superiority, but by choosing righteousness or dharmaDharma here is represented by the presence of Krishna, the master of all mystics, and His devotee Arjuna, the supreme archer.” (“The Talking Book”, Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #48)


So the Gītā also says, “Damn the Expedient!” I pray never again to fall prey to it.


“Cowardice asks: Is it safe? Expediency asks: Is it politic? But conscience asks: Is it right?” — William Morley Punshon




[1] Before the battle the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra were given the choice of either Krishna or Krishna’s armies. They chose Krishna’s armies which gave them even more confidence in their military superiority. It proved to have been an expedient choice.

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