Vedic roots of absolute power

This article is part of the latest book by U. Mahesh Prabhu – Kautilya: Understanding the Colossal Genius. The book is available on as well as

उद्योगिनं पुरुषसिंहमुपैति लक्ष्मी:

 दैवेन देयमिति कापुरुषा वदन्ति |

दैवं निहत्य कुरु पौरुषमात्मशक्त्या

यत्ने कृते यदि न सिध्यतिकोत्र दोष: ||

Fortune (Goddess Lakshmi) favors the industrious and brave (Lion-like). “Divine decree” is coward-speak. Forget providence and put in your best efforts. If you endeavored, but still failed, it is not your fault.


Power is usually viewed from an external perspective. It is defined as the capability of accomplishing something with some permanence. Power is sometimes referred to as a political or executive ability, or the marked ability to do or act with decisiveness, might, and force. It is the possession of control or command over others – authority. It is also political control of a government, which often delegates authority to a person in an office or capacity. It is not necessarily something tangible or something one can buy exclusively with money.

Today, what most people consider a seat of power—or, power by position—is the feeblest of powers as also temporal. Yet, it is addictive and demands a lot, both from those who aspire for it as well those who occupy its status. It is a purely outward power that may not include any power over oneself. If it is a position of power that is won or given, it can always be quickly lost or taken away.

Bhartrihari said that “fear is everywhere and in every person in the absence of supreme wisdom.” While the weak fear the powerful, the powerful fear the loss of power. In Bhartrihari’s own words,

“In enjoyment, there is fear of disease. In social position, there is fear of disgrace. In wealth, there is fear of taxation. In honor, there is fear of humiliation. In power, there is fear of foe. In beauty, there is a fear of old age. In erudition, there is fear of criticism. In virtue, the fear of slander. In the body, fear of death…”

So, if you think that the chair of the president of United States is the most powerful in the world, you might want to consider that it can be occupied by a person for not more than eight years and requires regular approval from other branches of the U.S. government and the voters. Given this fact, even the chair of the president of the United States of America is not with absolute power. There have been times when sitting presidents have had to step down in disgrace, have been killed or, even humiliated. Like all powers, such political prominence is transitory. But then, is there really something called absolute power, possessing which, a person could take on the mightiest?

Absolute power, that which Vedic seers like Kautilya, Bhartrihari, and Bhardwaj taught, is that which makes a man brave and fearless. In the presence of fear, there can seldom be any enduring power. In life, all fears must be uprooted before we make a place for power. Whether power is to be used in material or spiritual pursuits, uprooting the fear is the key.

Fears are caused by six passions, called ‘Arishadvargas,’ which come to people naturally because of the excess of the mind. These are kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (infatuation), madaa (ego) and matsarya (envy, jealousy).

When in lust for an object of our desire, we fear the inability to possess it; or when it is in our possession, we fear its loss. We are infested with anger geneerated from our fear of losing what we have and the fear of those who would try to deprive us of it. Greed occurs when we fear too much about the future. In fear of the future, we seek to accumulate material things beyond our present needs, and resort to devious means. Infatuation often brings in emotional pain, and anticipation of such pain causes of fear. Egoistic people often seek excessive, and frequently undeserved, appreciation, acceptance, and publicity; and therefore, fear their absence or loss. Envy and jealousy too make way for fear. When someone has something we do not possess, we envy them and fear that we may never be able to possess on our own that which they possess; or that they may outdo us.

All the so-called ‘The Most Powerful People,’ labeled by international media publications, are infested with these Arishadvargas. Yet, we are made to believe that they are powerful owing to these very limitations which are roots of peril. Vedic seers declared that in the presence of any or all Arishadvargas, a person who appears strong, is so only on the outside, while truly being weak on the inside. So, according to them, to be powerful, a person must first overcome his fears by overcoming those six perils. This is a matter of developing self-control and cannot be achieved by controlling others or through external resources.

The Vedic word for power is Shakti. Shakti comes from the root word ‘shak,’ which means ‘to be able.’ There are five manifestations of this Shakti, which truly makes a man powerful. They are:

  1. Chit Shakti: the power of consciousness

  2. Ananda Shakti: the power of unconditional bliss

  3. Iccha Shakti: the power of unimpeded will

  4. Jnana Shakti: the power of intuitive knowledge

  5. Kriya Shakti: the power of action at will

These are inner powers that cannot be gained through manipulating others. They arise from Yoga Shakti or Power of Yoga. It is through appropriate use of the aforesaid shaktis that a person becomes powerful enough for:

  1. Srushti: manifestation

  2. Stithi: sustenance

  3. Samhara: dissolution

  4. Tirodhana: concealment

  5. Anugraha: benevolence

No person is truly powerful unless (s)he can perform these five tasks. Yet these are universal functions, not something any person can own or dispense of their own accord.

Once people achieve worldly power, they are addicted to it and are eventually overwhelmed by it. They seek enjoyment by abusing that power, even while fearing its loss. This causes their downfall. Many seers of Vedic origin have propounded that getting power is far easier than holding on to it.

Power, according to Vedic wisdom, has three major limitations. They are:

  1. Dukhamishritham (it is filled with sorrow)

  2. Atriptikaratvam (it leads to dissatisfaction) and

  3. Bhandhakatvam (it results in bondage).

All these limitations make a person more prone to anger. From anger, comes delusion. From delusion arises failure of judgment. From the failure of the sense of judgment, loss of understanding. And from loss of understanding comes destruction.

Modern history is replete with stories of leaders who have often been overwhelmed by the power they possessed and eventually lost everything to it.

Therefore, Kautilya recommends that a Shakta (person deserving of power) must seek silence, vows of austerity, wisdom, study, solace, meditation, and retrospection. When these seven are skipped, his shakti leaves him thereby causing his peril.

Shakti is also regarded as the mother or Maatrika. There are essentially seven maatrikas (or saptamaatrikaas) in the Vedas:

  1. Brahmani: the power of creation

  2. Vaishnavi: the power of sustenance

  3. Maheshwari: the power of destruction

  4. Indrani: the power of self-control

  5. Kaumari: the power of wisdom

  6. Varahi: the power of wealth

  7. Chamunda: the power of fearlessness

These Saptamaatrikaas have been revered by Vedic people since time immemorial in pursuit of a power to overcome human pains, propagate truths, sustain wisdom as well as achieve liberation.

Therefore, without inner power, outer power is just an illusion and brings as much danger as prestige. Inner power may not require outer power, but outer power is dependent on the inner power of an individual to sustain oneself. True power comes from one’s good karma; which transforms one into a conduit for nature’s energies. Abuse of power is bound to cause peril, not just to his position but to the person as well.

Kings from the early Rig Vedic period had mentors who were held in highest regard. They were called Rajaguru. Rajaguru essentially translates to Guru of the King.

King Bharat, after whom India is also called Bharath, had Bharadwaj; King Rama of Ayodhya had Vashistha; the Mauryan King Chandragupta had Kautilya a.k.a. Chanakya a.k.a. Vishnugupta; the founders of the Vijayanagara Empire – Hakka and Bukka – had Vidyaranya; and the list goes on. These Rajaguru never stayed in the capital or in grand palaces. They were not priests, as some portray them to be. They were men of commendable knowledge and great wisdom. They preferred to stay secluded from masses in hermitages closer to the forests. They would not leave their hermitages for long periods of time, as a cardinal rule.

When these Rajaguru visited the capital, the kings would vacate their seats for them; treat them as if deities; and seek their counsel in matters considered to be relevant. Their wise counsel is well documented in many Vedic texts. For example, the counsel provided by Vashistha to the then Prince Rama is well documented in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Arthashastra of Kautilya documents many details of administration and government during the Mauryan era. This knowledge and wisdom continue to provide unparalleled insights even to this day to those who seek them.

Citing the development of modern political systems, election practices, mass media, social media and the like, some may dismiss these ancient texts and question their relevance. But that would be a big mistake. True, in the past few hundred years much has changed. Democratic systems of governance have come into being along with the development of technology. But has there been any change with respect to the people’s approach to power?

Has the human mind changed? Desire, anger, greed, infatuation, ego, and envy continue to infest people in power – be their position democratic, socialistic, or dictatorial. Great leaders are rarely born, and most of the “greatness” attributed to modern leaders are mere propaganda. Even today, we are unable to define or differentiate between “good” and “bad” politics.

What is good? Is that which may appear to be good now, at this moment, good in the long run? Is that which is regarded by the many as bad, truly wrong? Must politicians speak words that appeal to the majority to win them power? What are the qualities a good leader must possess? What qualities differentiate a good leader from a bad leader?

Crucial questions like these have been asked but seldom answered by modern political thinkers, writers or even visionaries. Compared to rapid developments in technology our political mindset has progressed abysmally. Hence it behooves us to relook at ancient Vedic texts on political science, including Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

According to Kautilya, power is first a manifestation of the mind. According to him, any person, with the ability to think and a body to work, can gain power. According to various authors of the Arthashastra, including Kautilya, there are three types of power, namely:

  1. Sattvic (Good)
  2. Rajasic (Mediocre) and
  3. Tamasic (Evil).

Sattvic Power mandates eschewing a personal position of power. Instead, its acquisition begins by bettering one’s own self first. It comes to fruition when the six main detrimental qualities of the human mind are overcome; namely Kama (desire), Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Moha (infatuation), Mada (Ego) and Matsarya (Envy), also called as Arishadvargas or the group of six enemies. Unless they are conquered Sattvic power can seldom be attained. All the Rajagurus are believed to have been in possession of Sattvic powers. This is also called as Brahmabala – the power of wisdom. Possessors of this power, therefore, were also called Brahmans. Sattvic power is the power of deeper intelligence and is regarded as the greatest power, and exceeds physical power in its ability to overcome others, but without using brute force.

Rajasic power is acquired by those whose intent is right but who have no control over their Arishadvargas. People, by sheer persistence, can achieve great things. Achievements are often a reflection of intent. Most kings and rulers were slaves of their minds and infested with one or more of the detrimental qualities of the Arishadvargas. As a result, they felt a significant amount of stress, strain, and pain. Therefore, when things became too difficult to handle, and were beyond their abilities – they would seek the guidance of their Rajaguru, who held the power of Sattva. Power of Sattva can calm not just one’s own mind – but also the minds of the others – another manifestation of subtle but powerful influence. It is also referred to as Tapo Bala or the Power of self-control.

Tamasic power is coveted and acquired by those whose mind is full of selfishness. It holds the full manifestation of Arishadvargas. Tamasic powers reign supreme through ruthlessness, deception, violence, and absolute determination. They even have the potential to restrain Rajasic powers. But they have a major flaw – such power cannot reign supreme for long. Tamasic powers can be overpowered either by purely Sattvic energies or by a combination of Rajasic and Sattvic energies.

Corrupt politicians today usually fall into the category of Tamasic power wielders, and those leaders who hold good intent, but have no power of introspection, into Rajasic. For the people of Sattva, their inner intelligence is their primary source of power; for Rajas, it is their material power and wealth (also called Bahu Bala or Muscle Power); and for Tamas, it is their ruthlessness and deception. The intelligence that is pure can see through everything and destroy anything. It is capable of creation and sustenance that is just.

It is the mind that has made humans to create civilization. It is the mind that started the concept of currency and money. But since the mind was let free to reign supreme, it began to be ruled by its own creations, desires, and delusions. Money and physical force are but tools. They are worthless when unused and can be a trouble when misused or, even, abused. To use them well it is important to have a balanced mind.

The mind cannot be balanced without wisdom. Wisdom is not knowledge, information or data. For the mind to properly work, it needs understanding. To understand, the mind needs to think deeply; to think deeply it needs time; such time that is not shadowed by worry or demands.

According to the great Rajagurus, the mind is our main source of power as well as peril. Understanding this mind according to Dharma is the key to power that is not only just or Sattvic but also enduring. Since we fail to understand this power, we often find our minds burdened by stress, strain and, even, chaos.

Every person has at least one weakness, according to conventional wisdom. That weakness varies from person to person; it also depends on people’s perspective. What one may perceive as weakness may be considered strength by others. Yet, we have no substantial definition of “weakness” per se. It won’t be wrong to suggest that this lack of understanding “weakness” is itself our greatest weakness.

Weakness is essentially an emotional state which cripples our ability to deliver on our duties and external functions effectively. Therefore, weakness is a result of a sad state of mind. So, what makes our minds sad?

The mind is the key to everything. It’s the mind which seeks things, which makes our bodies pursue actions and feels joy or pain depending on the result of these actions. Therefore, the mind is the source of all strength as well as weakness.

But what is mind? In earlier Vedic texts, sages revered five gross elements, or Pancha MahabhootasAgni (Fire), Prithvi (Earth), Vayu (Air), Toyam (Water) and Aakash (Ether). Then, they mention the senses, or Indriyas, whose manifestation is Indra (lord of senses). However, their inquiry into these topics may not have led them to understand the greater questions and their answers. They realized there was something greater than Indriyas – senses that make our body function. Thus, came the subject of Manas or mind.

The Mahabharata, in various Parvas or chapters, explains this in great length. Krishna, in the BhagavadGita, describes Mana as intelligence. To understand it, Krishna insisted on the need to understand one’s true self – Aatmana. Interestingly, Aatmana comes from the word Mana – that which is beyond (or Aat) Mana.

Mana or Mind is like a CPU (Central Processing Unit) in a computer. It can only ascertain that which it can see and feel through Jnanendriyaas (organs that provide input like eyes, ears, nose, skin, etc.), process and then execute it through Karmendriyas (organs that help us to do our work – legs, mouth, hands, etc.) For the mind to understand its own self, it needs greater wisdom (Jnana) and effort (Saadhana). These efforts are intrinsic in nature. Understanding Aatmana or Atman, which is considered the supreme objective by modern “gurus,” was the fundamental objective of Vedic people, including Kautilya.

“Just like by understanding clay, we can understand things made of clay; by realizing Aatmana, we can understand everyone in whom it pervades,” states the Brihadaranyaka Upanishads. Unless we understand our own true self, Atman, there is nothing substantial for us to understand or achieve in the material world.

Atman is conscious energy within us – that which is neither born nor can die. Unlike other energies, this energy is always conscious. When the Atman loses its grip on the body, the body goes into a state of unconsciousness.

Important works by Kautilya simplified Vedic texts for practical purposes – Neeti Shastra, Artha Shastra, and Artha Sutras. He did not author the Artha Shastra or any of these sutras; he merely compiled and edited them. Yet, his genius explanation of the dynamics of the world was simple and effective.

In Panchatantra, Vishnu Sharma says:

“It’s neither the horse nor the elephant and never ever the tiger; it’s the poor goat that is offered in sacrifice; even gods slay the weak.”

But weakness according to Kautilya, “Is the result of an ignorant mind” and “ignorant mind is that which is infested with Arishadvargas.”

Unfortunately, our “modern” education and culture almost hail these qualities as sources of joy. Vedic seers, including Kautilya, do just the opposite and even mention their momentary nature.

As already discussed in earlier chapters complexities of Vedic texts have led to substantial misnomers. When people were unable to understand concepts, their interpretations were fictional – leading to scores of mythological tales. These misnomers and mythological ideas confused people further and away from Vedic knowledge and wisdom. Such misconceptions and misinterpretations resulted in either renunciates or extreme materialists. Although there were many Vedic seers who insisted on balance to be the perfect path – or Yoga – their logic was too confusing. Politics, therefore, became a domain of extreme materialists and greed-filled individuals.

Sex, anger, greed, infatuation, ego or jealousy can never make us happy. It does give us momentary pleasure but also gets you addicted. Once addiction creeps in, you are compelled for more. When you do not get enough, you try with everything in your power, often resulting in detrimental actions leading to certain pain and destruction. Once you let go of these six negative qualities, you will be on a path bereft of fear – i.e., free from weakness and on the path to strength and power.

Once a person is free of Arishadvargas, happiness is immediate, and also perpetual. It is not that kind of pleasure which is momentary in nature. This perpetual happiness also leads to a clear mind and a state of perfect equilibrium. With a perfect state of mind, one can figure out solutions even in a hostile or stressful situation. The mind, undeterred by petty feelings, is soon able to provide solutions to the most complex problems and it empowers the body to achieve all desires.

According to Charaka:

“When the mind is healthy, the body is healthy; when the mind is unhealthy, even a healthy body begins to deteriorate.”

Modern science also confirms this idea, to some extent. If the mind is not at peace, your body suffers. It is the restless mind that often lands us in trouble. If, while in trouble, the mind is at peace, we are sure to get out of it undeterred.” Kautilya argues that by just letting go of these Arishadvargas and its resulting thoughts, a mind can be brought back to health.

Therefore, from the Vedic as well as Kautilyan perspective, Arishadvargas are the source of weakness in men. To be powerful it is important to overcome these six detrimental qualities.

This article is part of the latest book by U. Mahesh Prabhu – Kautilya: Understanding the Colossal Genius. The book is available on as well as

1 responses on "Vedic roots of absolute power"

  1. How to overcome the six detrimental qualities?

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