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What Should be the Qualities of a Great Leader? Let us learn from Bhagavad Gita!

Reading Time: 6 minutes

कर्मणैव हि संसिद्धिमास्थिता जनकादय: |

लोकसंग्रहमेवापि सम्पश्यन्कर्तुमर्हसि || 3.20||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 20 (In Sanskrit)

By performing their prescribed duties, King Janak and others attained perfection. You should also perform your duties to set an example for the good of the world.|| 3.20 ||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 20 (English Translation)

While few exist today, it is possible for a leader to lead without being driven by raga and dvesha. King Janaka, the ruler of Mithila and the father of Sita, is such an example. Janaka’s name comes up repeatedly as an example of someone who remains fully engaged in worldly activities and simultaneously enlightened. 

This verse is often quoted to dismiss the notion that only monks can become enlightened. Ironically, someone who takes to the life of the monk is actually deprived of karma yoga. Janaka was the prototypical karma yogi. By performing his duties as karma yoga, he became enlightened.

Kings like Janaka, who remain engaged in worldly activities and perform karma yoga, gain enlightenment. Janaka was not ruling for his own personal interests, but the welfare of the people (loka-sangraham).

Shri Krishna says that to prioritize the welfare of people, Arjuna should engage in action and fight in the war. If Arjuna fails to fulfill this duty, the Pandavas will lose, and not fighting the war would cause more harm than fighting. Arjuna has to sacrifice his personal agenda—to not fight and avoid killing his own family members—so he doesn’t have to partake in the war. Raga and dvesha are pushing Arjuna to turn away from his duty on the battlefield. For Arjuna, karma yoga is to set aside his desires and instead take action for the welfare of all. Through willpower, he can set aside his own agenda.

Should a Role Model Act or Not Act?

यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जन: |

स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते || 3.21||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 21 (In Sanskrit)

Whatever actions great persons perform, common people follow. Whatever standards they set, all the world pursues.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 21 (English Translation)

Rather than remaining inert, a role model should act as though people will follow suit, and acting is better than not acting. Shri Krishna addresses Arjuna and encourages him to be a role model in this verse.

Arjuna is arguably the mightiest warrior out there on the battlefield. Someone who has achieved such an exalted position would naturally be considered a role model. Imagine the harm that might be caused if Arjuna were to leave the battlefield. As a role model, what kind of message would that send?

Whatever action a role model performs is imitated by other people. Krishna reminds Arjuna that the people look up to him and emulate his actions. Arjuna becomes the standard that other people follow. Arjuna must set aside his own personal agenda, raga, and dvesha, and use his willpower to set aside to act for the welfare of others. In doing so, he becomes that role model. 

न मे पार्थास्ति कर्तव्यं त्रिषु लोकेषु किञ्चन |

नानवाप्तमवाप्तव्यं वर्त एव च कर्मणि || 3.22||

यदि ह्यहं न वर्तेयं जातु कर्मण्यतन्द्रित: |

मम वर्त्मानुवर्तन्ते मनुष्या: पार्थ सर्वश: || 3.23||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 22-23(In Sanskrit)

O Arjuna, for me, there is nothing to be done in the three worlds, nothing to be gained which is not yet gained. Yet, I remain engaged in action. If I were not to engage in any action, constantly, people would follow my example in all situations, O Arjuna. || 3.22-23||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 22-23 (English Translation)

An enlightened role model must continue to engage in activities; otherwise, the people would feel the need to do the same.

When we talk about Krishna as a role model, we talk about him as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He has come down to the earthly plane to help and bless the good people and punish the not-so-good people and re-establish dharma.

There is no compulsion of raga and dvesha in Shri Krishna because he is enlightened. The karma yogi uses will to overcome raga-dvesha, where the enlightened person is naturally and spontaneously free from raga-dvesha. Shri Krishna is in the state of having accomplished everything that needs to be accomplished. For him, there is nothing to be gained. 

Yet, Shri Krishna is engaged in action. He’s not driven by raga dvesha, but instead, he is acting through following dharma. If Shri Krishna failed to take action, other people would be inclined to follow. They would lose a role model.

What Are the Consequences if A Role Model Does Not Act?

उत्सीदेयुरिमे लोका न कुर्यां कर्म चेदहम् |

सङ्करस्य च कर्ता स्यामुपहन्यामिमा: प्रजा: || 3.24||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 24(In Sanskrit)

These people would perish if I were not to perform action. I would be the agent of confusion. I would destroy these people. || 3.24 ||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 24 (English Translation)

Shri Krishna reincarnated to perform actions and help restore dharma, and if he did not, there would be dire consequences. If he returns and chooses not to perform his duty, the people would perish. 

Shri Krishna would be an agent of confusion for having taken form for the sake of helping people and then not helping people. He is expected to be engaged in acting for the welfare of the people (loka-sangraham). There would be consequences for failing to be a role model and not fulfilling his dharma as an avatar. Avatars take birth due to the good karmas of many people in the world. Imagine if millions of people in the world were suffering terribly and praying to Lord Vishnu, these prayers having a karmic effect which causes Lord Vishnu to appear.

Lord Vishnu’s birth results from the world’s karma and not of his own. Your life is a result of your karma, and therefore in your lifetime, you have to exhaust those karmas with which you are born. Shri Krishna has to spend all of our karmas from which he is born, and they will be exhausted by helping the welfare of the people. This is why he is present guiding Arjuna before the battle. These words of Lord Krishna in the Gita are his words of blessing for all of us.

How Are the Actions of The Ignorant and Non-Ignorant Different?

सक्ता: कर्मण्यविद्वांसो यथा कुर्वन्ति भारत |

कुर्याद्विद्वांस्तथासक्तश्चिकीर्षुर्लोकसंग्रहम् || 3.25||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 25(In Sanskrit)

Just like the ignorant, who are attached to results, perform action, O Arjuna, so too, the wise, who are not attached, would act desiring the welfare of mankind. || 3.25 ||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 25(English Translation)

Ignorant people are attached to their actions. Attachment means emotional dependence when you need the outcomes of your actions to be suitable to you being driven by raga and dvesha

The wise one who is unattached should act for the sake of the welfare of all people. Unlike the ignorant people driven by attachment, a wise person who is free from attachment is not driven by raga-dvesha but has a desire to improve the welfare of the world. 

The karma yogi desires spiritual growth and a desire to help others. The willpower to set aside their agenda is used to follow dharma. On the other hand, the ignorant people driven by attachment want to fulfill their worldly desires. The karma yogi wants to transcend worldly desires by using free will to set aside raga-dvesha and act instead to follow dharma

We are mature enough to rise above the level of being dragged up by our desires (raga and dvesha) and use our will to set aside our agendas. At the same time as helping others, you continue on your spiritual path.

Should the Awakened Encourage the Ignorant to Cease Acting?

न बुद्धिभेदं जनयेदज्ञानां कर्मसङ्गिनाम् |

जोषयेत्सर्वकर्माणि विद्वान्युक्त: समाचरन् || 3.26||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 26(In Sanskrit)

One should not sow confusion for the ignorant who are attached to results. Encouraging them to perform all actions, the wise should act properly with discipline. || 3.26 ||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 26(English Translation)

A wise person should not confuse those who are ignorant or attached to the results of their deeds. For example, Arjuna is a role model for all those gathered on the battlefield. Leaving that battlefield would convey a negative message. Those wise people should encourage the ignorant people to be engaged in all actions, specifically in actions that follow dharma

An enlightened person has nothing to accomplish. If they did not perform any action, they would not be a good role model. It would confuse the unenlightened people by not engaging in acts. 

Suppose there is someone who teaches everything is Brahman, why bother performing any of our duties? This message implies that everything is meaningless. One who was to teach this to non-enlightened people would abuse spiritual teachings. Instead, these people should be encouraged to engage in actions, including dharmic activities. 

What the Gita Teaches Us

It is better for an enlightened person, particularly role models, to act rather than not act. If we are engaged in actions designed to benefit the welfare of the world, it does not necessarily mean we are enlightened. In today’s world, there are very few role models to follow. We see few righteous and noble people with an exalted nature that become the standard for us to follow. This gives us more reason to be role models and not depend on others.