Thus we come to the question of what is Good and what is Bad. Or rather, what is the essence of Goodness- Is it, or does it have to be a self effacing or self negating quality? One dictionary meaning of ' Good' is, ' Kind, benevolent; virtuous, of a favorable character or tendency, reliable and well founded'. The other meaning of the word is: 'not depreciated, free from injury, infirmity or sorrow'.
The stereotype example of a good person, as portrayed in films or plays,TV serials, novels, and in our religious texts and epics, is that of a person always dedicated to the welfare and satisfaction of others, and undermining his or her own needs, interests and rights; a long faced, sombre looking, regular temple or church goer. Not that one has to be devoutly religious to be 'good.' There are several atheists or agnostics, and strikingly unconservative or unconventional people that I have seen who are as good as (some being better or nobler than) any religious, traditionally good person.
I personally prefer to go by the general meaning of 'Goodness' in the English Dictionary, as given above, which, in a nutshell, means 'going beyond one's self- centered or selfish personal interests to care for the welfare and happiness of other people around and of society at large. 'In short, as the Biblical injunction goes, "Do unto others as thou wouldst that others do unto thee." In other words, 'Do as you would be done by'.
However, what I aim to stress here is that it is not always necessary to sacrifice one's own interests and happiness for guarding those of other people. For I feel that the traditional idea of a good person - which is that of a sombre and totally selfless, self-effacive saint- like person, almost bordering on a masochist, allowing himself or herself to be used by others as a 'door mat' - is like a punishment for being good, and scary as also unappealing to the average, benevolently inclined man or woman. Neither is it necessary to undermine one's own rights, and sense of well being and gratification for the happiness and welfare of others. In fact, in some matters, it may even make the very people and family members unhappy or miserable, for whose benefit the 'good individual' thinks he or she is forfeiting personal comfort and rights, so that no one is happy ultimately.
Take for instance, the character of Yudhisthira, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers of Mahabharata, and known as ' Dharmaraj' because of his devotion to Dharma or Righteousness and unadulterated Truth, and is often quoted as The Epitome of Goodness; but, did he succeed in making his brothers and his wife happy? Not much. Actually, he made them suffer unwarrantedly on a couple of occasions on the pretext of sticking to the rules of righteousness. For example, his stand at the event of Draupadi's 'Vastraharan' i.e. Disrobing, by the Kauravas, when instead of his rising like a worthy Kshatriya husband to his wife's defense and dignity, which had been threatened by his own foolish act of holding her at stake in the game of 'Dice', he just struck a sorry, or rather, exasperating figure as a weak and non - plussed loser, as somebody who has lost an article of possession to his opponent which he could not take claim back in the name of the rules of the game. So much so, that Duryodhana jeered at him and taunted him for behaving as 'Napunsaka' viz. Eunuch.
On another occasion, when the Pandavas returned home with Draupadi, after Arjuna winning the hand of Draupadi at her ' Swayamvara', Yudhisthira announced their return to mother Kunti, before entering the house, with the words " Mother, see what we have brought as a Bhiksha (Alms) today”. As it was the Pandavas' practice to get food for the family by begging during their 12 year-period of exile from Hastinapur, the capital of their kingdom, Kunti as usual, bade them to share whatever they had brought between the five brothers.
Immediately, Yudhisthira told his brothers that they would have to ' honour' their mother's word by sharing Draupadi between themselves. When Kunti came out and saw what or whom her sons had brought, she said that she would take back her words. Still, Yudhisthira, who had probably become secretly enamoured by Draupadi's beauty, insisted on ' obeying' mother's words.
In other words, instead of behaving like a true warrior, winning his bride like a trophy, he showed himself up to be no better than a vulture or a jackal, that is, a scavenger feeding on the victory of others. (Naturally, as he was the son of Yama, not Indra or Vayu, like Arjuna and Bheema.) Even the famous preacher Morari Bapu said in one of his discourses long ago, that he does not know what the idea of Dharma or righteousness was in the days of the Mahabharata, to give sanction to this outrageous attitude and behaviour of Yudhisthira; otherwise, if the latter were to come in his presence today, he would come down from the stage and give Yudhisthira a hard 'slap' in front of everybody ! And yet, he is referred to as ' Dharmaraj'(The Righteous), just on the merit of his being absolutely servile and obedient to the elders, and totally, unquestioningly bound to the practice of Righteousness as defined by the rules and regulatons of his time, as expected of him by virtue of his being the eldest of the Pandavas.
For his unassertive and submissive nature fostered the selfish interests of the frustrated Dhritarashtra and his unscrupulously ambitious son, Duryodhana, as well as their sycophantic priests, Dronacharya and Krupacharya. He was therefore kept pleased and flattered by them all, by effusive praise of his 'Goodness' and 'Righteousness. 'Really speaking, it was not right on the part of his elders, including Bheeshma to bring him up like that, considering that as the eldest son of Pandu, he was entitled to ascend the throne to become the King of Hastinapura. So, he should have been raised to become a forceful ruler, not as a meek and mild lamb, incapable of standing up firmly for the rights of the Pandavas and their mother Kunti, thereby reduced to an exile in his own kingdom.
According to the theory of Transactional Analysis, the system of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy ( I'm OK, You're Ok) instituted by Eric Berne, such a 'goody-goody' character, upholding the ideal of good conduct as dictated and approved by tradition or authorities, is termed an ' Adapted Child'. Such a person may function well in situations requiring him to act in keeping with the Beaten, Traditionally laid down Track, if he gets the support of all, but cannot cope, or defend himself and his near and dear ones, in the face of challenges calling for flexibility and courage to deviate even a little from the conventional code of conduct, for fear of disapproval of elders to begin with, and later, because of his own acquired inhibitions.
Yudhisthira is a typical example of the ' Adapted child'. Another sample of the obedient 'Adapted child' is, with due respect to the devotees of Rama, Raja Ramchandra of Ayodhya. Of course, in terms of genuine character, he cannot be equated with the weakling Yudhisthira at all. His only weakness, if I may call it so, was his desire to please everybody, starting from his selfish and misguided stepmother Kaikeyi to the silly and petty Dhobi of Ayodhya; but in the bargain, he broke the heart of the very persons he loved and treasured most, and who had cared the most for him,viz. his father, King Dashrath and his beloved wife Sita. The awarding of death sentence to his most devoted and loyal brother, Lakshman, in the name of equality of Law and Justice for everybody, is also an event in the last part of Ramayana that leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth. At the end, Rama himself also died a sad man. Which good and cherished person/ s or relatives did his sacrifices benefit, or make happy?
Sometimes, I think over how Sri Krishna would have behaved in response to Kaikeyi's mean, selfish and uncharitable demand that King Dasharatha should crown her son Bharat as king, and sentence his eldest and most virtuous, beloved son to exile in the forest for 14 years, and that too, without any princely attire or living facilities, if he had been in the place of Rama. I presume that being devoted to his parents and shrewd at the same time, Krishna would have solved Dashratha's dilemma of having to banish his eldest son to the forest, or, breaking his promise to Kaikeyi to fulfill two of her wishes, by resorting to the policy of Portia in the famous Shakespearean play 'The Merchant of Venice', viz. " A Pound of Flesh means Apound of Flesh. Nothing more, ( i.e. no blood along with the flesh), and nothing less."
Similarly, Krishna too would have agreed to forfeit his right to the throne for his brother, and also go to settle in the forest, (just as he too left Mathura, and settled in Dwarka, for the sake of protecting his people from the harassment by Jarasandh); but, in contrast to Rama, who went on accepting all the unreasonable and ill- motivated demands of Kaikeyi, Sri Krishna would have limited his obedience and sacrifice to her two main and initial demands, and refused to oblige her anymore, over and above compliance to the first two demands. That is, he would have said, "You had asked for two wishes of yours to be fulfilled, so I honour and agree to submit to your first two demands to keep my father's word to you, but beyond that, neither my father nor I, are duty bound to accept your dictates, so I shall go to the forest, but shall live there in a way befitting a prince, not an ascetic” !
According to the laws of physiology, every living being is provided by nature with its own means of self- defense, which it uses, by employing any of three main ways, as per the need created by the threatening situation,viz. Fight, Fright (whereby an animal or individual protects itself by submission or admission of accepting defeat before a stronger aggressor or opponent to win his mercy to survive), or Flight, literally, or by escapist ways of behavior. All these methods of self- defense are normal and necessary for survival so far as they are used judiciously and moderately, in genuinely threatening situations. It is only when anyone uses defense habitually and compulsively without real danger that it becomes an abnormal habit or an illness. Likewise, preventing or incapacitating an animal or person from resorting to any of these means of self- defense, say, by encaging it for protection, or putting excessive cultural obstacles or inhibitions in a person's way, in the name of obedience, modesty or sacrifice for others is also crippling, tantamount to paralyzing the living being in the face of danger. It can be killing, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally too, in the case of human beings, which may be acted upon by the conscious or subconscious mind by suicide or by development of severe depression or mental illness, both of which are forms of flight from painful reality.
Sri Rama was a good warrior but he did not possess the moral courage or shrewdness of Sri Krishna to enable him to protect the sentiments and rights of his closest family members or of himself from the wicked wiles of his step- mother, or from having to give in to the expectations of low and uncultured people like the washerman (Dhobi) of Ayodhya. As a result he died in a state of depression after having lost all those people whom he loved, and who loved and served Him with the utmost sincerity. The Lord Shiva, Rameshwar was a simpleton like Rama, so at times, I feel that he, rather than Hanuman is more like an avatar or reincarnation of Shiva than of Vishnu.
Whatever it is, coming back to the subject of Goodness, I uphold and recommend for all to follow in this Kaliyuga, the role model of Sri Krishna, whose Bhagvadgita gives excellent advice for living as a good human being, without sacrificing oneself unduly and excessively for others, in the name of unrealistic and masochistic social ideals!