Rajaneeti, Artha Shastra & Artha Sutras

Exclusive to Vedic Management Centre by U. Mahesh Prabhu

Everyone has their idealistic view on politics. When news breaks on any platform, trolls go ballistic across all social media – it appears as if everyone is a judge, jury, and executioner. They assume truths based on news reports or “leaks” made available by internet watchdogs. It appears as if nobody is content with how the world is being administered, and everyone has an opinion, suggestion, as well as a strategy to set things in order.

Despite the significant transfer of power to people in most parts of the world through democracy, there isn’t a single school that can claim to teach politics. Even the most exceptional schools of politics either teach the history of politics or economics, at best. There’s no viable course available anywhere in modern academic establishments to prepare an individual for a political career. How is it possible that, with so many political establishments around the world, there doesn’t exist a proper curriculum to teach people to understand politics?   

Despite the significant transfer of power to people in most parts of the world through democracy, there isn’t a single school that can claim to teach politics. Even the greatest schools of politics either teach the history of politics or economics, at best. There’s no viable course available anywhere in modern academic establishments to prepare an individual for a political career

A respected politician once commented, “Since politics and prostitution are the world’s oldest professions, people have assumed that anyone and everyone can enter if they are willing to let go of their dignity, privacy, and honor.”

Interestingly, in the Indian subcontinent, for thousands of years – starting with Bharadwaja, Vishalaksha, Parashara, Manu, Pishuna until Kautilya a.k.a. Chanakya – there have been many great minds who’ve contributed to a manual for political leaders, not just for kings, but also their counselors. Many believe that Kautilya was the author of Artha Shastra. He was, however, at best, an editor or compiler of the work. He was gracious enough to credit various other authors before disagreeing with them, whenever he thought was necessary. A part of the Artha Shastra that was overseen by readers over hundreds of years was the Artha Sutras.

In Hindi and many other vernacular Indian languages, Artha Shastra is often translated in English as economics and Rajaneeti as politics, this has compounded the confusion surrounding Artha Shastra, besides ignoring Artha Sutras completely. There is a reason why Artha Shastra was called so and not Rajaneeti Shastra.

In Hindi, and many other vernacular Indian languages, Artha Shastra is often translated in English as economics and Rajaneeti as politics. This has compounded the confusion surrounding Artha Shastra, besides ignoring Artha Sutras completely.

Neeti, in Sanskrit, implies conduct while Raja means king. The behavior of kings is therefore called Raja Neeti. However, Artha – often mistranslated as money – stands for wealth. Modern English defines wealth as “an abundance of valuable possessions or money” or “a plentiful supply of a particularly desirable thing.” The Father of Capitalism, Adam Smith, in his book The Wealth of Nations, described wealth as, “the annual produce of land and labor of society.” This “produce” is “that which satisfies human needs and wants of utility.” Wealth is as an abundance of items of transactional value. Unfortunately, in today’s world, wealth has become synonymous with currency and property. Wealth is that which empowers us to achieve many things in the material world, including money.

Consider a child born into astute poverty. S/he has no properties or currencies. How can s/he earn enough to sustain, grow and be prosperous? The modern education system doesn’t have a pragmatic solution to such a scenario. Vedic teachers of Artha Shastras presented generic as well as practical approaches to similar situations. If a person were born without any inheritance, he would have health, family, and knowledge. These fundamental things, often disregarded by people, formed the basis of wealth. Knowledge was considered the most significant wealth a person could ever possess, for it could seldom diminish and only grew through sharing. Without knowledge, nothing makes sense. Again, our modern approach to education has a convoluted view of knowledge.

If a person was born without any inheritance, he would have health, family and knowledge. These very basic things, often disregarded by people, formed the basis of wealth. Knowledge was considered the greatest wealth a person could ever possess, for it could seldom diminish and only grew through sharing. Without knowledge, nothing makes sense. Again, our modern approach to education has a convoluted view of knowledge.

Data and information are often confused with knowledge. Most of the courses taught relay data or information at best. There are even people who declare that information, not knowledge, is power. However, it is only through knowledge that people can utilize information or data available to make it productive, or destructive.

Wealth is the basis of the material or “real” world. For the wealthy, the political stability is necessary to sustain wealth, whereas the poor need it to earn some. Wealth in the wrong hands can corrupt people and destruct others. To ensure that the ‘haves’ do not harm the ‘have-nots,’ efficient governance is a must. Efficient governance can be provided only through a competent economic and political system. Economics is verily the reason for politics. Politics cannot be sustained in the absence of economics.

For the wealthy, political stability is necessary to sustain their wealth, whereas the poor need it to earn some. Wealth in the wrong hands can corrupt people and destruct others. To ensure that the haves do not harm the have-nots, efficient governance is a must. This can be provided only through a competent economic and political system. Economics is verily the reason for politics. Politics cannot be sustained in the absence of economics.

A competent political system can only be set up by competent people. This is yet another travesty: no political school of thought or ideology in the “modern” world can provide a definition of a “competent” or “good” politician. Most of the ideas are based on the structure of government and governance – not on the essence of its leadership.

Artha Shastra and Artha Sutras, particularly, offer a pragmatic view. For example, the first Sutra reads Jeevansyamartham Sukham – the objective of life is happiness. But, then, what is happiness? There are sadists in the world who seek happiness by inflicting pain on others. Would it then be permissible for a ruler to let such people have their way? Of course, not! Dharma Shastras, upon whose values Artha Shastra as well as Artha Sutras, are based give a detailed description of what qualifies to be as ‘happiness.’

Unfortunately, the mistranslations of a great many translators of Vedic books have crippled the effectiveness of the prevailing books in English to understand the depth of these thoughts. For example, the second Sutra reads Sukhasya Moolam Dharmaha – the root of happiness is dharma.” Since dharma is mistranslated as religion, numerous people have rubbished these sutras for ages. If it was properly translated as “good conduct based on good thoughts and actions”, sages the world over would have paid greater attention to the Sutras.

Artha Shastra and Artha Sutras also lay the foundation to define a good leader, or the qualities necessary to rule. It’s not easy to rule any realm. Life is not easy, governance even more so. A leader must have his sanity intact at all times. But how is one to achieve that? Again, modern political academia has nothing to offer – whereas Artha Shastra and Sutras have commensurate paths.

Artha Shastra and Artha Sutras also lay the foundation to define a good leader, or the qualities necessary to rule. It’s not easy to rule any realm. Life is not easy, governance even more so. A leader must have his sanity intact at all times. But how is one to achieve that? Again, modern political academia has nothing to offer – whereas Artha Shastra and Sutras have commensurate paths.

There is another reason why Artha Shastra isn’t taken seriously. The Artha Shastra currently available to us was edited by Kautilya approximately 3000 years ago. It details the life and times during the Mauryan Empire. It covers the subjects of intelligence – internal, military, and foreign affairs. Of course, these things have little relevance today, but the principles behind them remain pertinent.

For example, Artha Shastra has always maintained, “the neighboring kingdom is always a threat and its’neighbor a strong ally.” Is this true? India has problems with Pakistan and China but is friendly with Afghanistan and Iran. United States of America has issues with Canada and Mexico but is cordial with the UK and Europe. Saudi Arabia has problems with Iran but is evidently in discreet association with Israel and Egypt. China has troubles with Mongolia and Taiwan while maintaining a friendship with Pakistan and Sri Lanka (to a certain level).

Artha Shastra also provides deep insight into internal politics. Artha Shastra states: “The greatest threat to a king is from his counselors. The greatest threat to its citizens can be posed only by their king.” Replace “king” with the “ruler,” “president” or “prime minister,” the argument holds good even to this day. Take, for example, the former Soviet Union. During the peak of the cold war, the world assumed that the two superpowers of the era – the Soviet Union and the USA – would nuke the world. But the Soviet Union collapsed, not due to external aggression, but internal disputes.

Artha Shastra also provides deep insight into internal politics. Artha Shastra states: “The greatest threat to a king is from his counsellors. The greatest threat to its citizens can be posed only by their king.” Replace “king” with the “ruler”, “president” or “prime minister”, the argument holds good even to this day. Take, for example, the former Soviet Union. During the peak of the cold war, the world assumed that the two superpowers of the era – the Soviet Union and USA – would nuke the world. But the Soviet Union collapsed, not due to external aggression, but internal squabbles.

Artha Shastra highlights the need for an efficient spy network to boost national security and lays significant emphasis on building a soft power for national security. Israel is the best example. Having built by far the most respected and feared spy agency, Mossad, this tiny nation has managed to survive amid hostile Arab neighbors. Israel has also succeeded, owing to their “soft power”, through innovation and transfer of technical and other humanitarian missions globally.

Another prophetic lesson from the Artha Shastra is about education. It’s vehemently argued that education should be of “significant importance” to the government because, without substantially educated people, wealth can seldom be created. Thus, governments’ emphasis on education is not a modern concept. These have been practiced in the Indian sub-continent during the Vedic period over millenniums.

Presently, the most significant threats to the world are the destruction of the environment and terrorism. There are no real systems in place the world over to thwart terrorism. Artha Shastra has many pointers to this effect. Artha Shastra refers tothorn by the thorn.” What it means, in principle, is that a terror network can only be undone by another terror network. A more in-depth analysis of this suggests that creating discord among terrorists and making them fight within themselves rather than overtly attacking them through military might, is a valid measure. Strife is only possible by infiltrating through spy networks. In Artha Shastra, Kautilya particularly warns of the costs of handling devious operatives by conventional means. The West has already paid a hefty price for their poor strategies used in the war on terror.

Presently, the greatest threats to the world are the destruction of the environment and terrorism. There are no real systems in place the world over to thwart terrorism. Artha Shastra has many pointers to this effect. Artha Shastra refers tothorn by thorn”. What it means, in principle, is that a terror network can only be undone by another terror network. A deeper analysis of this suggests that creating discord among terrorists and making them fight within themselves rather than overtly attacking them through military might, is an effective measure. Discord is only possible by infiltrating through spy networks. In Artha Shastra, Kautilya particularly warns of the costs of handling devious operatives by conventional means. The West has already paid a heavy price for their poor strategies used in the war on terror.

Given these brief, yet intriguing insights from Artha Shastra as well as Artha Sutras, understanding their relevance and applying them to modern day challenges could be ground-breaking.

August 18, 2018

1 responses on "Rajaneeti, Artha Shastra & Artha Sutras"

  1. Nicely explained and thanks for sharing the information.My view is that terrorism can be solved only through talks and aggression.If today terrorists are resorting to extremism, then the only alternative is aggression and nothing else.If i understand correctly what was said in artha sastra Thorn by Thorn means, when one party is resorting to use of weapons, then we cannot have peace with them by dialogues, i feel only alternative is use of weapons by other party also after giving an opportunity to hear to opponent..Since resorting to aggression will only result in destruction and loss of lives, it was stated in artha sastra that instability among the terror group can be an alternative as this will result in destruction and lives of people with malafide intentions only and public at large will not be effected.But today terrorism network has expanded to all parts of the world.The only alternative way i feel is to destroy it as we become aware of it.This is purely my personal view and comments are welcome.Second point about non availability of a perfect political school is that adminstration of public is a dynamic concept.Living creatures are creative and there is a transformation in their lifestyles both physically and mentally.A method which was relevant in dwapara yuga may not be relevant today as people lifestyles have changed completely.Therefore there can be only basic principles like artha sastra and artha sutras, which can guide us even today.This is again my personal view.Comments are welcome.

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