Kautilya’s axiom to peace, power and prosperity

Exclusive to Vedic Management Centre by Dr David Frawley & U. Mahesh Prabhu

“Kautilya” or “Chanakya” inspires a great many of his admirers even to this day. A legend who played a pivotal role in building a great empire that unified India under a single rule – is often compared with 16th century renaissance author Niccolo Machiavelli. Although it could be considered– Kautilya was a genius way ahead of his time and had a vision beyond the statesmanship of the western world. It becomes evident when we read his version of Artha Shastra.

As strange as it may sound Kautilya was not author of Artha Shastra – he was a compiler, editor and commentator. His version of Artha Shastra was accidentally rediscovered in 1905 by R. Shamsastry who promptly published it in 1909. The first English translation came out in 1915.

Power – a subject which most authors today fail to explain – is meticulously taught in the Artha Sutras. “Lust, anger, greed, infatuation, ego and envy are the six elements if found in those who wield power, will fail to retain it.” Says Kautilya’s Artha Sutras. Also, “The person without these six elements is capable of manipulating power – unlike those who are manipulated by it.”

Yet the translations that are available do not do justice to the work. Perhaps the most influential as well as engaging section of this magnum opus work is found at the end – Artha Sutras. Strange but true – scholars have failed to translate it effectively. Those who read them without substantial knowledge of Sanskrit or dharmic wisdom find them to be naïve.

This is because of mistranslation of Sanskrit words like Sukha, Dharma, Artha, Rajyam and Indriya Vijayi. The first four axioms, or sutras, are as below:

  1. Sukhasya Moolam Dharmaha
  2. Dharmasya Moolam Arthaha
  3. Arthasya Moolam Rajyam
  4. Rajyasya Moolam Indriyaanaam Vijayaha

 

When translated subtly they read as below:

  1. Foundation of Happiness is Dharma
  2. Foundation of Dharma is Artha
  3. Foundation of Artha is Raajyam
  4. Foundation of Rajyam is Indriyaanam Vijayam

 

Unfortunately, since Dharma is oft translated as “religion”, Artha is mistaken to be “money”, Raajyam is mistaken for “state” people often translated it as below.

  1. Foundation of Happiness is Religion
  2. Foundation of Religion is Money
  3. Foundation of Money is State
  4. Foundation of State is winning over everyone’s senses

 

With such translations, their deeper meaning is lost! And as they are the foundation of all the following axioms, or Sutras, they are often disregarded.

Such mistranslations happen because all Vedic texts, including Artha Shastra are looked from western perspective even by Indian “scholars” and not Vedic perspective – as they should be.

These short Sutras, or axioms, form the most comprehensive formulae to understanding, working with as well as retaining power for the greater good. Interestingly, these sutras can be applied for even destabilizing ruthless rulers. “Ruthlessness in rulers ensures their certain demise.” says Artha Sutras before mentioning, “If a self-restrained individual without qualities of lust, anger, greed, infatuation, ego and envy decides to take on such ruler – he’s bound to win sooner than later.”

Dharma is not religion. Dharma is anything that is just – not only from an individual perspective but from the perspective of a greater good. Dharma is good Karma or deeds. Artha is wealth – not just money. Rajyam is governance – not state. Indriya Vijayam isn’t winning of everyone’s sense – but controlling one’s own senses.

Given these right translations the hidden wisdom become clearer:

  1. Foundation of Happiness is Good Deeds
  2. Foundation of Good Deeds is Wealth.
  3. Foundation of Wealth is Governance.
  4. Governance is best administered by those who are self-controlled.

 

With deeper examination and by revisiting history, the deeper meaning of these axioms is obvious. Interestingly, Kautilya’s Artha Shastra was written around 2nd Century BCE. Over 2,000 years before today. The earlier versions of Artha Shastra, which were edited by earlier teachers of Rajaneeti, including Bharadwaja, Vishalaksha, Parashara, Manu and Pishuna, are long lost. However, Kautilya first mentioned them, before agreeing or disagreeing with them. Artha Sutras were not invented by Kautilya; but rewritten for greater clarity and relevance It means that some of these Sutras could more than 4,000 years old. This is important because modern education has failed to bring in a proper system of teaching politics to aspiring students.

Interestingly, Kautilya’s Artha Shastra was written around 2nd Century BCE. Over 2,000 years before today. The earlier versions of Artha Shastra, which were edited by earlier teachers of Rajaneeti, including Bharadwaja, Vishalaksha, Parashara, Manu and Pishuna, are long lost. However, Kautilya first mentioned them, before agreeing or disagreeing with them. Artha Sutras were not invented by Kautilya; but rewritten for greater clarity and relevance It means that some of these Sutras could more than 4,000 years old. This is important because modern education has failed to bring in a proper system of teaching politics to aspiring students.

Most of the colleges and schools on “Political Science” teach political history – at best. Ancient Indian or Vedic people were ahead of times in terms of administration and leadership succession. This is not surprising if we remember that India was once called the “golden dove” owing to its prosperity. This colossal prosperity attracted Islamic maunders, Arab merchants, European trading enterprises and the like to India. If not for its prosperity – there would have no reason for their fatal attraction to this land. Prosperity seldom happens by itself – it’s a result of efficient governance. And those in the governance across various kingdoms in the subcontinent followed the principles of Artha Sutras.

These Sutras were the fundamental axioms that students of Rajaneeti were made to memorize at a time when lasting instruments of recording words weren’t present. Smriti (memorising) and Shruti (hearing) were the two ways by which these texts were handed down over generations for centuries.

Because they are ancient – some people question their viability to work in the present day globalized economic scenario. The question is fair. While there definitely are significant advances in technology in terms of information transmission and reception – fundamentally the quality of people thoughts, desires and actions have remained the same.

There were diseases then – there are diseases now; there was greed and corruption then – it’s there now too. People were violated by ruthless rulers then – so they are now. While the outer quality of life may have improved – the inner sufferings hasn’t changed much. In the end politics is still a game of resilience, strength, patience, persistence and, importantly, power manipulation. These are best taught by the Rajaneeti of Artha Shastra and Artha Sutras in particular.

Because they are ancient – some people question their viability to work in the present day globalized economic scenario. The question is fair. While there definitely are significant advances in technology in terms of information transmission and reception – fundamentally the quality of people thoughts, desires and actions have remained the same.

With over 500 axioms – many more than the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – it presents a clear picture as to how happiness is understood, attained and retained through appropriate application of knowledge and skills to access power and employ it appropriately.

Power – a subject which most authors today fail to explain – is meticulously taught in the Artha Sutras. “Lust, anger, greed, infatuation, ego and envy are the six elements if found in those who wield power, will fail to retain it.” Says Kautilya’s Artha Sutras. Also, “The person without these six elements is capable of manipulating power – unlike those who are manipulated by it.

One of the most significant challenge of a leadership is putting a right team in place. “The king should only employ those who are second best to him.” says another axiom. “If a king employs someone better than himself, then he must take care to find a counterweight to that person for there will be a threat to his seat of power.” The following axiom declares “The greatest threat to a king is through his own people –  ministers.” Also, “King is as competent as all of his ministers.” And “A king is only stable until his ministers feel insecure in their position.”

These short Sutras, or axioms, form the most comprehensive formulae to understanding, working with as well as retaining power for the greater good. Interestingly, these sutras can be applied for even destabilizing ruthless rulers. “Ruthlessness in rulers ensures their certain demise.” says Artha Sutras before mentioning, “If a self-restrained individual without qualities of lust, anger, greed, infatuation, ego and envy decides to take on such ruler – he’s bound to win sooner than later.”

On realizing the greater wisdom hidden in these Sutras, a person can feel enlightened about the means and nature of power before applying it for peace and prosperity – not just for himself – but for the world, at large. It therefore becomes important that we revisit, learn and propagate this knowledge of Kautilya’s Artha Sutras for the better world we so desire to create.

October 10, 2017

2 responses on "Kautilya’s axiom to peace, power and prosperity"

  1. Excellent explanation . These principles can be applied to corporate sectors. I can term it as “Principles of Management”.

    • Thank you for your kind words. Management of the self and, then, the world outside the self is the essence of Vedic knowledge and Wisdom. That’s the reason why Management as a course or a subject wasn’t necessary during the Vedic times.

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