Krishna BEHEADING Shishupal: The importance of EQUANIMITY in sound DECISION-MAKING

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This is a story from the world’s longest Epic Mahabharata. We must revisit the story briefly, even if we have heard of it, before discussing decision making.

Three characters have been referred to in the story:

Krishna: An Avatar of Lord Vishnu, from the Hindu Trilogy of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. In his human form, Krishna was called a cowherd, though his human feats far surpassed that (obviously).

Shishupala: A cousin of Krishna. Shishupal grew to up to be the King of Chedi.

Arjuna: The legendary archer, and a dear friend of Krishna. Krishna became the charioteer of Arjuna in the war of Mahabharata, and led him to victory.

Shishupala was born with some deformity — extra eyes and arms. It was a prophecy that in whosoever’s presence the deformity disappears, that person will be the one to kill Shishupala in future. Cousin Krishna paid a visit and happened to place baby Shishupala on his lap.

The deformities disappeared.

Shishupala’s mother, who was Krishna’s maternal aunt, fearing the inevitable, made Krishna promise that he would not kill Shishupala.

Krishna made a promise that he will forgive 100 mistakes of Shishupala, but at the end of the 100th one, he would kill him.

Shishupala grew up to be a cocky and arrogant King. Krishna kept warning him. During an assembly of kings, Shishupala happened to make his last forgivable mistake, and Krishna, released his Sudarshan Chakra (a spinning disk like weapon), and beheaded Shishupala.

As Shishupala succumbed, Krishna said ..

“May your soul be blessed”

It is said that the soul of Shishupal was as dear to Krishna as was Arjuna’s.

I have always been fascinated by this story. It is a fine example of decision making, especially for those situations when we tend to lose good judgement. When we have emotions attached to the person we are taking a decision on. Emotions of love or hate.

I like this story, because it demonstrates the importance of one of the most important qualities of a good decision-maker — EQUANIMITY.

Being Equanimous …is not the same as… Being Objective.

We talk about the need to be objective in decision-making often. Objective is being rooted in facts and not getting swayed by feeling and biases.

Irony is…

We often act out of feelings

but justify it with

objective facts.

We lie to ourselves that we have taken a fact-based decision…

..but the facts themselves are manipulated based on our feelings…

Let me give you an example.

Every company has some guidelines of behavior and performance, based on which employees can be terminated.

Say a manager does not like one of his team members. They had a few differences of opinion. Unfortunately, the team member goofs up on a project.

The manager does not lend a helping hand to this member. He finds opportunities to push the team member against the wall. He does not hear out this team member’s perspectives, if there is a conflict with another team member.

Slowly, the team member’s situation deteriorates, and the manager takes the opportunity of a company-wide cost cutting to lay-off this person.

Ofcourse, there are very objective reasons on paper — bad performance, bad behavior, not a team player.

This is what I meant, when I said earlier..

“Facts themselves were manipulated based on our feelings…”

We see this happening so often at workplaces.

  • Situations are created..
  • Facts are manipulated..
  • Data is cooked..

Therefore, while the quality of objectivity is is often abused. We misuse objectivity to mask our real feelings. That where we need to dig deeper to look for the quality of Equanimity.

The dictionary meaning if Equanimity is: Calmness, composure, level-headedness. Unfortunately, the dictionary meaning does not capture the real essence of the word.

  • Equanimity in Indian tradition is known as “Samabhaav” (sum-uh-bhaav). It means “sameness of things”.
  • Due to social training many of us have developed the ability to remain composed outside while seething with anger inside. Which is why Equanimity is not the same as being composed in a stress situation.
  • Equanimity is also not neutrality. Neutrality often has a sense of being “indifferent between two things”. That is not equal to “sameness of things”.

Equanimity, is feeling your emotions, but not attaching yourself to a positive feeling any differently than to a negative feeling.

We feel it is “good to be positive”, excited, thrilled and “bad to be negative”, sad, angry, etc.

Samabhaav is not attaching any value judgement to either positive or negative feelings.

Sparing a wrong-doer out of pity

is no better than

punishing an innocent out of malice.

The closest to Equanimity is therefore the quality of non-judgement.

But reflect on how we choose leaders, managers at workplace and society — people who take decisions with wide-spread impact.

The more opinionated and judgmental a person is, the more “strong” a leader we think he or she is.


Mind you, non-judgement is not about being diplomatic.

Krishna did not budge from doing what was right, but he did so without animosity, hatred, anger. He was driven by empathy and love, even for an act like beheading someone.

That in essence, is Equanimity and non-judgement, in context of decision-making.

It is having a good judgement..

Without being judgmental

Within organizations..

When we look for future leaders, groom them.. we need to start valuing and looking for people who can practice non-judgement to an extent.

It is a quality we need to start building in ourselves especially when we take the roles of decision makers — as managers, leaders, teachers, parents.

There is a famous line from Mario Puzo’s book, The Godfather.

“Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgement”

I would say, go ahead and feel hatrade and love. Feel the entire range of human emotions. But develop the ability to detach yourself from it. Especially when you are taking decisions.

Every fool can judge.

But it takes wisdom and non-judgement to take a decision that truly matters.

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(Disclaimer: No part of this blog maybe copied or reproduced or reused or republished in any way, except to share either using the share feature of LinkedIn or posting a direct link to this blog — An excerpt from the blog may be quoted while sharing it in the above mentioned manner. Any other form of reuse, must be only after explicit written consent of the author)

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Swati Jena is a writer and entrepreneur. While she writes on a wide variety of subjects, her favorite topics are leadership, culture, artificial intelligence, education and ‘self’.

She is the author of a unique book on entrepreneurship, called:

The Entrepreneur’s Soulbook — Is it your cup of tea? Link to the book

Swati is the founder of GhostWritersWorld (LinkedIn Page)/(website)

Twitter: @swatcat_sj

Her other articles include:

Technology & product

  1. “If Robots will do everything, what will humans do”: Why AI Rhetoric deeply worries me
  2. “Justice delayed is justice denied”: Could AI and Data Science be the answer to India’s judicial backlog?
  3. Flirt with your product ideas, don’t fall in love
  4. LOL … driverless cars for India??: When AI meets Cows, Rajinikanth and Ganpati
  5. Love in the time of Artificial Intelligence: Valentine’s Day 2030
  6. “Who pays the price?”: Why PRODUCT INNOVATION without SERVICE EXCELLENCE hurts customers — the ETHICS of product innovation

Leadership and Organization

  1. “If you are nothing without the suit, you don’t deserve it”: 3 cardinal tests for anyone who calls himself leader
  2. 3 unforgettable lessons I learnt from an Indian Ed Tech Leader
  3. “Oh! You are sensitive”: Why sensitive is a TABOO word — and LEADERS should consciously HIRE such people in teams
  4. “I love solving problems”: The BIG problem with problem solving
  5. “So why are you leaving?”: Don’t treat retention discussions like a ONE TIME date
  6. Sophisticated-fear-based-management: 3 unmistakable signs
  7. Interns or cheap labor? Making internship count
  8. “Travis may be Uber, but Uber cannot be Travis: The curious case of Charismatic leaders”

Diversity and Inclusion

  1. “Women can’t code because of Biology: 3 reasons it was a BIG MISTAKE for google to fire James Damore (perspectives of a feminist)
  2. 3 taboo questions Millennials are asking, leaving hiring managers shocked
  3. Why the ‘Corporate-style Women’s Day Celebrations’ gives me the creeps
  4. The OOUCH of maternity leaves: Why managers secretly dread it
  5. Man or Woman? Who should lead gender diversity? Why we are simply asking the WRONG question.
  6. “She has good figure”: Why creating a safe place to work takes much more than just sexual harrassment policy
  7. “The unlikely mentor”: Why people who take us ahead in life are often NOT how we imagine them to be


1.”But I have bills to pay..”: Why the PREMISE we build our life on, DECIDES how far we will go..

2. “How is life? Well, going on.”: Why you should NOT quit your job, but GRADUATE from it

3.The Monkey Catcher’s Lesson: Why we get stuck in our jobs, situations, emotions..

4. “Anger is remembered pain”: 3 steps to healing from difficult experiences at workplace

5. “How is life? Well, going on..”: Why you should NOT quit your job, but GRADUATE from it

6. A “50-over-50” list: Pressures of adults “growing up” in a world of over-achieving youngsters

7. The (difficult) art of doing nothing and why it matters in a world proud of “busy”

8. 500 Uber rides without driver talking on the phone: My personal starfish story

9. “Here is a muffin that will make you successful”: The unspoken truth about success

10. 5 reasons we should “stop fighting” for a cause

11. “You are hiding something”: 4 reasons we find it difficult to trust those we love

12. “Pick your battles”: Fine, but how?


  1. The Yin and Yang of Ed-Tech: Will schools even survive the next 10 years?
  2. Why we “grown-ups” are the biggest reason the education system must change urgently
  3. “No chair for teacher”: Is it time we do away with this regressive and myopic policies