We often mistake business for friendship and vice versa.

What seems like friendship could actually be a business relationship which the subjects fail to recognise. People live under the illusion of friendship but in reality a relationship maybe based simply upon a transactional thread. Insecurity is stirred when one of the parties do something unexpected which causes deception and loss.

Let’s take two examples from the Hindu epic Mahabharata to illustrate the differences between business and friendship.

The Business between Karna and Duryodhana

In the Mahabharata, Karna is a talented archer who is always deprived of what he deserves. He is denied admission in a school because of his caste, he is denied to fight the royal prince in a “Rangabhoomi” and he is denied to participate in the “Swayamvar” of a beautiful princess, just because he has an apparently low social status.

Karna is insecure. He longs for social status. He wants others to recognise him as a warrior and a great king. He cannot stand the humiliation and mockery. The weakness is evident.

Duryodhana recognizes this weakness and exploits it. Duryodhana seeks his talent. He has studied with Arjuna and knows very well that it is impossible to beat Arjuna in archery. Duryodhana must seek a counter for Arjuna and he gets it by exploiting Karna’s weakness – his craving for recognition.

He makes Karna the king of Anga and gives him the status of a king. In exchange, he makes Karna a moral slave. He gets a talented archer who will do whatever is told – irrespective of Dharma.

Duryodhana is also insecure. He is insecure of Arjuna and the Pandavas. Both the subjects are merely transacting their insecurities with each other. Karna is transacting his talent and receiving “Social recognition” in return. Duryodhana is transacting a piece of land and receiving “Talent” in return.

This is not friendship. This is business. But Karna and Duryodhana are unaware that they are business partners and not friends. They live in the illusion of friendship and think that both are helping each other since they are friends. In reality, they aren’t really friends.

Arjuna and Krishna

Now we take a look at another pair who help each other, irrespective of what one can offer the other.

Arjuna is an ace archer and is secured. He has no weakness. He is well prepared for the war and has no need for recognition from others. He is already recognized, has the necessary talent and needs no one else to secure victory.

Yet, Arjuna is humble. Arjuna knows the value of guidance and the role of tactics in war. He submits himself to his friend “Krishna”, to receive guidance and good advice.

Krishna is god himself, he has descended on this earth to get rid off “Adharmiks”. He can finish the war in one blink of his eye but he won’t, since he wants humanity to learn the necessary lessons. He wants to achieve the objective through mortals. He seeks an instrument (Arjuna).

Krishna is also secured. He knows that if not Arjuna, someone else will be his subject. Both Krishna and Arjuna are independent of each other. There is no transaction involved in the process. Both the subjects submit themselves to the other and as a result, both are empowered.

This is friendship. There is no exchange of “things” but thoughts. Both the subjects uplift each other through thoughts and actions. Krishna gives Arjuna the necessary guidance while Arjuna gives Krishna a platform and an instrument. Both the subjects are secured, grow in wisdom and neither is needy of the other, yet the subject welcomes the other for his own growth and grows the other.

A relationship where both the subjects aren’t needy, aren’t insecure and help each other for mutual growth is friendship. A relationship where both the subjects are needy, are insecure and transact with each other for mutual growth is business.

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