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The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  3,870 ratings  ·  351 reviews
In his new book, Gurcharan Das turns to the Mahabharata in order to answer the question, "why be good'', and discovers that the epic's world of moral haziness and uncertainty is closer to our experience as ordinary human beings than the narrow and rigid positions that define most debate in this fundamentalist age of moral certainty.

The Mahabharata is obsessed with the elu
Hardcover, Royal, 488 pages
Published August 15th 2009 by Penguin Books India (first published 2009)
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Darshana Unnikrishnan
Dec 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Why be good when being bad is considered to be cool?
Why does always bad things happen to good people?
In a society where people get away by doing bad things, why should people still believe in Non-Violence and Dharma?
Is a "bad person" never good? Does not the "good" sometimes become bad?
Ultimately what is good and bad?

The above questions might have passed through your mind at least once in your lifetime. Thus, what does being good mean? Why be good? It is at this juncture that this book tries to
Riku Sayuj

Gurcharan Das operates from a very grand perspective of the epic of Mahabharata: that the Mahabharata War and its characters are the prototypes and presiding spirits of all crises in Human natures and cultures. Every great political and moral incident, into the grand stage of history or the everyday drama of life, can be looked at as an imitation of it. Of course, Mahabharata is an epic that asserts this itself and without irony: claiming to contain all, fully confident of being understood by pe
Jun 08, 2013 rated it it was ok

This knowledge I have taught
is more arcane than any mystery-
consider it completely
then act as you choose.

Towards the end of the Gita, this is what Krishna told Arjuna. That defines Krishna for me. And to see Gurcharan Das, grudgingly admire him in ‘The Difficulty of Being Good’ (of course he is not ready to accept him as God with a capital G), it indeed put me off.
To tell you the truth, even before I started reading the book, I was hugely biased.
1) My father vehemently supports Krishna, who lik
Jul 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Non-fiction at its best. The Difficulty Of Being Good is written by Gurucharan Das( Harvard boy, Procter and gamble CEO , now retired writer for a bunch of newspapers). The book is scintillating and simple ... Basically the author decided on a break decided to pursue kama -desire,arth-material satisfaction, karma-work ,dharma-righteousness and moksha aka salvation.He wanted to pursue these basic tenets of hinduism using famed books on the suject so behold THE Mahabharata , my favourite epic and ...more
I think that the Mahabharata should be read by everyone. It's full of wisdom but also of helpful advices for everyday life. It isn't easy to understand always the meaning of many behaviors or events in the Mahabharata, and Gurcharan Das' book helps to understand better what dharma means and why the characters behaved as they did. He explains everything in an easy and understandable way (though of course, in my opinion, it's important to already have read the Mahabharata in order to know what it ...more
Jul 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shallow. Eg., opening sentence - "The Mahabharata is the story of a futile and terrible war..." Futile? How?
Another eg., pg 7 which tries to analyse why Yudhishthira played the disastrous game of dice.

Inaccurate. Eg., Pg xvi seems to indicate that Pandu waged wars after his sons were born and then left for the forest! It's the other way: he waged wars, went to the forest and then had sons.
Does not talk about the second game of dice that the Pandavas lost and as a result had to go on exile.
Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
An awesome book ( in my opinion). After reading the book I felt that Mahabharat should be considered a literary and a philosophical work rather than a religious one. The book concludes as in the Mahabharat, that dharma is subtle. Thus, how and why to be good are difficult questions but goodness, compassion, forgiveness........ would ultimately be needed for the orderly world.

It appears to me that the purpose of the philosophical ideas behind every religious beliefs is to promote the overall good
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Gurcharan Das picked up a topic which every person faces more or less often in their lives - why and how to be good in this unethical world? I often find myself asking this question again and again. Was my decision morally correct? So when I came across this book, I wanted to read his perspective on it. But unfortunately, this book fell far short of my expectations.

One, this book is filled with his bias against other religions. I sincerely believe that the main purpose of all the religions is t
Mar 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"Why be good when being bad is considered to be cool?
Why does always bad things happen to good people?
In a society where people get away by doing bad things, why should people still believe in 'Dharma'?
Is a "bad person" never good? Does not the "good" sometimes become bad?
Ultimately what is good and bad? What exactly is our Dharma?
Isn't there a certain degree of good in all evil and a certain degree of evil in all good?
How does one come to terms with the uncertain ethics of the world around us?
Feb 14, 2012 rated it liked it
This is an excellent book in many ways. Das picks up situations and characters in The Mahabharata, interprets them using arguments and theories from philosophy, evolutionary biology, economics and other fields of study, and then tries to apply these interpretations to more recent events such as controversial government policies, wars and scams.

He largely succeeds. The passages he selects from The Mahabharata make for lovely reading. His interpretations of them, mainly using philosophical argumen
Feb 16, 2010 rated it liked it
The author relies excessively on western sources for translations and for interpretations. This is perhaps because he studied the Mahabharata at Harvard and naturally, more western sources would have been available to him than Indian ones. Apart from that, what struck me most is the critical look that Gurcharan Das takes at Krishna's role in the whole epic, without looking at him as God always. The concept of 'Nishkama Karma' (doing one's duty without thinking of the fruits of it) baffles the au ...more
Kartik Singhal
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uclib
My first advisor recommended this to me almost a decade ago. Glad that I finally finished it! Totally worth it.
Dec 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-owned
Books are timeless because it allows the reader to pour in the values and wisdom of the present and allows the reader to judge. This reading of Mahabaratha as a non-religious handbook on dharma that is proclaimed subtle is the book for our times of moral conflicts.

The book is extremely well researched and analyses the layers of the characters in depth. Much like the post modern books, it judges the merit of the action than the actors. Hence the tone of the book moves from black and white to sha
Abhinav Choudhry
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Mahabharata is one heck of an amazing work and any attempt to over-analyze something of its magnificence risks falling flat on its face. The Difficulty of Being Good succeeds and succeeds splendidly.An engrossing, thought provoking book that makes one revisit the word dharma and its significance in our lives. The different connotations and interpretations of the word 'dharma' are enlightening for the average reader.The organization of chapters by the characteristics of the lead characters is ...more
Minakshi Ramji
Oct 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book reads a little bit like Gurucharan Das's freshman Intro to Philosophy essay. There's a lot of I feel and I agree with .. which seems a tad sophomoric.

All said and done.. I always did think that the Mahabharata was a fun story and I am grateful that Gurucharan introduced me to the more subtler nuances of this epic. I really enjoyed Das' discussions on personal dharma versus societal dharma and unmotivated karma. Das does a great job of explaining why the concept of dharma in the contex
Wow ! This book took longer than usual for me to finish. I liked the concept of the book honestly but I feel that the author’s analysis is highly influenced by western philosophers more than actual Mahabharata. And this becomes predominant as the chapters progress.

Initially, if you start with the prelude, you will later find many repetitions of exact words and sentences in the book in chapter 1. This brings me to an interesting fact about chapters in this book almost being around 30 pages each.

Surender Negi
Nov 04, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hinduism
What is Dharma?

This question has been raised by time to time by various scholar or philosopher of world. People who studied Hinduism has create variable definition of this world according to their understanding about Hinduism. As hinduism, don’t have centre authority of creating and controlling definition, the clusters of various experience through various sages define the perimeter of Dharma.

But still Scholars run from one scripture to another scripture to define Dharma. According to some promi
Jun 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up
"It is always tempting to see the human beings as 'good' and 'bad', but this is not the Mahabharata way. It never makes the choice easy."

One unique aspect of this book is that it doesn't make Duryodhana seem completely evil, which the other books written about Mahabharata tend to do. Das also shows that there was some logic behind Duryodhana's intentions of taking over Indraprastha. Duryodhana believed that satisfaction with one's endowment makes one a complacent ruler. It is essential for a ki
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
A detailed analysis of Mahabharata on it's Dharma philosophy. Could have been more concise and to the point. I found it repetitive in it's narrative.

In the end one gets a feeling that Dharma as enunciated is a difficult ideal to most mortals, and lesser than Yudhishtara.

Tina Das
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The Difficulty of Being Good treads on one of my favorite epics "The Mahabharata".
Clearly one of the best books I've read so far on this theme and one that will for a very long time remain in depths of my heart.
Nov 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
I felt it could have been a bit more coherent in the way it perceived Mahabharatha, an epic which is inherently grey. Plus it felt a tad preachy , which i'm not a fan of.
Abhishek Desikan
Dharma is a word which has been used for millennia in the Indian subcontinent and later throughout the world, but it is also probably the word which has been taken for granted the most. By this I mean to say people have been using Dharma in a variety of contexts, each of which has added their own meaning to what Dharma actually means. It is not naive to suggest that Dharma cannot be translated into a single meaning in any language, and it can only be explored for its various facets.

By using one
Khyati Tiwari
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have admired Gurucharan Das in various arenas and his mythos and manners of presenting his view point whether it is the present book or the previous ones. The dynamic pitch keeps one glued and interested in the book till the last page. This book was special as the coherences of anecdotes from current times make believes that history does repeat itself and if things keenly understood, many errs could have been annulled.
Duryodhana’s Envy towards the prosperity of his cousin’s pandavas has alwa
Ganesh Sanal
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
First of all, a big thanks to Gurcharan Das for introducing me to the greatest epic of all time, The Mahabharata.

I grew up in a religious Hindu family and like most of my peers, my childhood was filled with stories about The Amazing Arjuna, The Incredible Bhima and, above all, The Mighty Krishna. We even had their action figures and stickers in our pooja rooms. Most interestingly, they were all connected with a bunch of other characters from other stories like The Invincible Ram and The Fantasti
Raghunath Kalpana-Ananth
Aug 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
A concise but scholarly review of moral dilemmas the characters in Mahabharata face in the epic.

As we gradually realize that the epic is far from the simplistic good vs evil story that we had learnt in our childhood, it leads us into the realms of moral philosophy, discussing the merits of consequential-ist ethics (Utilitarianism) and the contradictions between the different moral duties laid down in the earlier moral texts like Vedas, Manusmriti etc; all of which come into conversations between
Nithya Nagarathinam
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Unlike many biased and simplistic renditions of the Mahabharata, the Difficulty of Being Good is a refreshing examination of the moral and ethical issues dealt with in the epic with commendable poise. This book, as the author says, is an account of his quest for understanding “dharma” through one of the greatest literary works known to mankind – the Mahabharata.

Though the chapter on envy stands out as superficial and even childish at a point, the rest of the book is engaging and thought provoki
Ayushi Agrawal
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Why do bad things happen to good people? Is it possible to categorize people into two sets of bad and good? These question comes to me quite often.

This book discusses such questions in length by not only analysing the characters from Mahabharata but also drawing parallels from various wars fought in different eras as well as from the modern corporate world. The author presents myriad perceptions drawn from the same situations by great thinkers and philosophers along with his own. At one point,
Satwik Hebbar
Jun 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
If you liked reading Gurcharan Das' weekly articles in the Sunday edition of the Times Of India, then you might probably like this book as well. Although it is well-researched and attempts to analyse the Mahabarat and its stories and events with a moral torch-light to find lessons for how to be "good", it feels like the author has taken too much of a modernistic and generalising view of the great epic. Attempts to try and compare events from the epic to current events of the last couple of years ...more
Oct 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
Disappointed. I had expected a better philosophical insight / correlation between Mahabharata & day-to-day life. This book looks like collection of school essays - each essay describes a different incident in Mahabharata and then in the concluding paragraph has a subtle mention, often something like - "in daily life also we can see so and so"

If you have read any other text on Mahabharata, this book is no value addition - you must have read those incidents in greater detail elsewhere, and this bo
Amandeep Taunque
Apr 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
I am bored of books that turn to scriptures to make meaning of current human existence. I wish someone would give an entirely new perspective , something fresh , the way children look at things with new eyes and new meanings, children whose minds have not yet been conditioned by the ways of the world (and books!) Very bored with the prescriptive life stages, vanaprasthashrama and it’s dull melancholy reflected in the book does not make it exciting enough for me to continue...
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Gurcharan Das (Punjabi: ਗੁਰਚਰਨ ਦਾਸ, Hindi: गुरचरण दास), (born October 3, 1943), is an Indian author, commentator and public intellectual. He is the author of The Difficulty of Being Good: On the subtle art of dharma which interrogates the epic, Mahabharata. His international bestseller, India Unbound, is a narrative account of India from Independence to the global Information Age, and has been pub ...more

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