Exclusive to Vedic Management Centre by U. Mahesh Prabhu
Sanskrit is a language of profound knowledge and deep wisdom. Although very ancient, many original ideas medicine, mathematics, science and technology were documented in this language for thousands of years. Unfortunately, many of these words, particularly in older texts, are mistranslated, which causes every sort of misinterpretation. It’s important to note here that Vedic Sanskrit is much different than the Sanskrit that is being taught by most revivalist schools. We know this for sure when we find that those who claim to speak in Sanskrit fluently, today, fail to translate or understand various Sanskrit texts efficiently.
Among the most mistranslated and abused terms in Sanskrit are Tantra and Mantra. The word Tantra is often mistranslated as “occult” or as referring to sensational practise, and Mantra often misunderstood magical sounds that grant mystical or magical powers. Mantra is also misunderstood as a ‘secret formula’.
Around 300 BC a nonagenarian Brahman named Vishnu Sharma wrote a web of stories to explain dynamics of human relationships and entitled it as Panchatantra. The title of consists of two words, namely Pancha and Tantra. While Pancha denotes “five” – the Tantra is about Strategies and not occult.
Minister or Counsellors to the king were often called Mantri. This consists of two words namely Mana and Tri. Mana is best understood as mind, whereas Tri (which could also be confused with number three) denotes protector. Mana in Mantri is the mind of the ruler. The mind of a ruler contains vision, plans, secrets and strategy. Therefore, the person who protects this valuable data and information in the mind of the king was called Mantri. Mantra in this case signifies things that affect that which is in mind – essentially objective(s). The focus of a Mantri is to remain objective while providing right counsel to the ruler.
Given this we can safely translate Tantra as Strategy and Mantra as Guidance.
Mantra and Tantra were regarded by Kautilya as two crucial elements in the art and science of Vedic approach to politics – Rajaneeti. Without a plan and a strategy to execute it Shakti (read Power) is of no use. In Arthashastra, he declares “Power by itself is useless” and that “Person who seeks power without sound Mantra (objective) and Tantra (strategy) is verily consumed by it.”
In the fourth sutra of Artha Sutras, Kautilya suggests “The root of good governance is Conquering of Senses.” Meaning the person who is not drifted by desires and vanities of mind is the person who’s most capable to serve in administration.
Many earlier translators of Artha Sutras never understood this well. How is one to conquer one’s senses? There are no specific texts or description on this topic elsewhere in the Artha Shastra. This is because Rajaneeti as a subject was built on earlier Vedic texts which taught essence of life and living. Dharma Shastras like Mahabharata (including Krishna’s Bhagavad-Gita, Bhishma’s Shanti Parva and Vidura’s Neeti), Ramayana (including Yoga Vashistha), Aranyakas and Upanishads provide substantial discourses on the topics like Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha etc.
Attempting to translate Kautilya’s Artha Shastra without substantial grounding in Vedic knowledge and wisdom is like trying to understand the rocket science without understanding fundamentals of physics.
Unfortunately, as many translations that are available today also mistranslate Dharma as religion, Artha as money, Mantra as hymn, Tantra as occult etc. This not just distorts the core ideas that form the foundation of Vedic knowledge including Rajaneeti, but also renders them useless from a practical standpoint.
It’s interesting to see how many people translate Mantra as hymn but Mantri (which means “one who protects mantra”) as minister.
Mana in Sanskrit can be understood as mind. Mind is that which is intangible yet makes and breaks a great many things in this world. According to the Rishis (Vedic sages) the one who thinks himself as his mind is the one who’s driven by it and eventually crippled by it. Various rishis across texts, from Rig Veda to Yajur Veda, from Ramayana to Mahabharata, from Aranyakas to Upanishads and from Niti until Dharma Shastras speak repeatedly that “we aren’t the mind”. And that “we are beyond mind”. The word Aatmana, can be interpreted at a deeper level as what is Aat (beyond) and Mana (mind), essentially means Beyond Mind.
In Rajaneeti, Manas is collective mind of those in administration or Rajyam.
The objective of Rajyam is to sustain Dharma (also understood as greater good). To sustain Dharma, it is important to achieve specific objectives (as set forth as Mantra) and a sound strategy (or Tantra) from time to time. Therefore, without Mantra and Tantra there can be no Rajyam.
Rajyam is essentially led by a Raja or king or ruler assisted by Mantri (minister or counsellor) and Tantri (strategist(s)). There’s also a fourth player, who’s often invisible yet commands respect of all the three – the Rajaguru.