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The Fundamentals of Rajaneeti: Vedic approach to Politics

At a time when the “best” of political approach seems to be inadequate, it could certainly help to know about the Vedic approach to politics – Rajaneeti, where greater good was achieved by inspiring leaders to, first, better themselves. In today’s world where we’ve only narrow ideas of a “good politician”; Vedic principles offer insights with significant depth. This article by U. Mahesh Prabhu offers fundamentals of Vedic approach to Politics.

At a time when the “best” political method appears to be insufficient, learning about the Vedic approach to politics – Rajaneeti – where greater good was reached by persuading leaders to first better themselves – might undoubtedly be beneficial. In today’s world, when we only have limited concepts of what constitutes a “good politician,” Vedic ideals provide great depth. This article was written by U. Mahesh Prabhu explains the principles of the Vedic approach to politics.

To grasp the principles of the Vedic approach to politics – Rajaneeti – it is necessary to first understand five Vedic Sanskrit words related to the Artha Sutras found in Kautilya’s Arthashastra: Sukham, Dharma, Artha, Rajyam, and Indriya-Vijayi. This is because these words are frequently (or brutally) mistranslated, making comprehension of the broader knowledge nearly impossible.

Happiness is translated as Sukham. Religion is a mistranslation of Dharma. Economy is the literal translation of Artha. Rashtra is taught to be ‘Nation’ or ‘Nation-state’ and Rajyam is translated as ‘State’. As you can see, these translations are only half true. When you properly comprehend these five words, you will have a firm grasp on Rajaneeti’s key fundamentals, which also embody beliefs and ideals of good politics.

Kautilya recollets a number of Sutras in his Arthashastra. Rajaneeti is built on the first five sutras, which are listed below:

  1. Sukham is the goal of life.
  2. Sukham’s foundation is Dharma.
  3. Dharma is founded on Artha.
  4. Rajyam is the foundation of Dharma.
  5. Rajyam is well handled by people who are Indriya Vijayi (broadly, those who have obtained control of their sense organs).

1. Sukham is the goal of life.

Sukham translates to Happiness in English. To be happy implies to feel pleasure, to be pleased, to feel satisfaction, joy, delight, and felicity. Everyone has their own beliefs and perceptions of happiness. For some, it is significant riches, such as a huge house, a small car, or a piece of excellent jewelry. That which one believes will make him/her happy is pursued. There is nothing wrong with hoping for and working toward things that you believe will make you happy.

The political establishment and its leaders’ goal is to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to pursue their happiness. People who pursue their target of happiness by deceptive ways, by causing harm to others, are on a clear path to crime. Stopping such acts or bringing perpetrators to justice is the ultimate goal of leaders and people in government.

According to Niti Shastras, pure and joyful happiness is attained when one is free of the Arishadvargas, which are six natural barriers to happiness that are embedded in mankind. Kama (Lust), Krodha (Anger), Lobha (Greed), Moha (Infatuation), Mada (Ego), and Matsarya (Jealousy) are the six obstacles. If whatever one desires lacks these six characteristics, that desire qualifies as an object of true happiness. If not, that object is the personification of greed, capable of wreaking havoc if pursued.

Even now, if you look closely, all of humanity’s issues, both micro and macro, can be traced back to these Arishadvargas. In Arthashastra, Kautilya plainly indicates that one who has vanquished these Arishadvargas is better equipped to lead. He further declares that leaders with Arishadvargas are doomed to cause not only their own demise, but the demise of the organization they serve over time. Such leaders should be avoided.

Leaders who have mastered themselves are well prepared to deal with rivals and enemies. It is impossible to dominate others unless one has conquered oneself. This is the unchangeable truth.

After overcoming the six natural obstructions, it is the leader’s responsibility to lead his people in the direction of wisdom, health, riches, and success. Knowledge and information are important tools, but the strength of leaders comes from their wisdom. It is through this insight that a better person, family, society, city, state, nation, and world can be realized.

Leaders define their future for themselves and their people by realizing that the goal of life is to pursue happiness rather than greed.

2. Sukham’s foundation is Dharma.

Dharma is a Sanskrit word that, according to linguists, has no equivalent in any other language. To interpret Dharma as’religion’ would be a huge blunder. Bhishma describes Dharma in the Mahabharata chapter Shanti Parva as follows:

Dharma is extremely difficult to define. Dharma is defined as everything that aids in the upliftment of all living creatures. As a result, Dharma is unquestionably that which ensures the well-being of all living beings. Dharma, according to the knowledgeable rishis (sages), is that which endures.

Dharma is defined in the Mahabharata’s chapter Karna Parva as

… that sustains society, preserves social order, and promotes humanity’s well-being and advancement. Dharma, without a doubt, provides means to achieve these goals.

Purva Mimamsa and Uttaramimamsa author Jaimini explains:

Dharma is that which the Vedas indicate is beneficial to the greater good.

Madhvacharya, a prominent official in the court of the founders of the Vijayanagara EmpireHakka and Bukka – notes in his commentary on Parashara Smriti:

Dharma is that which sustains and assures the progress and wellbeing of all in this world… Dharma is proclaimed in the form of positive and negative instructions – Vidhi and Nishha.

Dharma, then, can be regarded as an individual’s moral obligation, acts of kindness to the deserving, and organizations and institutions dedicated to the eternal good of all beings without distinction. Dharma is also synonymous with universal compassion. As a result, Dharma is unquestionably the foundation of Sukham.

3. Dharma is rooted in Artha.

Artha appears in the early Vedic literature, including the Rig Veda, and denotes the purpose, objective, or aim of human life. During the Upanishadic era (about 1700 BCE to 500 BCE), Artha grew into a larger notion. It was originally included as part of Trivarga – the three goals of human existence (Dharma, Artha, and Kama), which evolved into Chaturvarga (Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha). Chaturvarga is also known as Purushartha, which translates as “Human Pursuit Objective.” Without comprehending one’s own Purushartha, no one can possibly live a meaningful or fruitful life. When it is followed, individuals, institutions, and nations achieve balance. When it is ignored, everyone becomes infested with confusion, disorder, and possibly anarchy.

Artha denotes social, legal, economic, and global affairs on a social level. As a result, all Vedic treatises on these areas are referred to as Arthashastra.

Artha is defined by Vedic elder Jaimini as a “quintessential element for sustainable growth…” The word Artha also translates to meaning, goal, purpose, and essence. However, Artha has a broader meaning in Vedic thinking. As a notion, it implies ways of living, activities, and resources that allow us to be in the position we desire. While wealth is a significant aspect of Artha, riches that is rarely used to benefit oneself, one’s family, or others is called Anartha (misfortune). Economists, too, agree, albeit subconsciously, with Kautilya that wealth can only be spent for the legitimate purpose, contributed to deserving individuals or institutions, misappropriated by spending on deceitful and malicious goods, or simply robbed. The first two deserve to be part of the Artha system since they respect Dharma. The last two, which are clearly anti-Dharma, fall under both Adharma and Anartha. Another meaning of Anartha in Sanskrit is disaster. It’s worth noting that Artha also means “fortune.” As a result, Artha can be better defined as the correct collection of resources and money for happiness and prosperity.

We all realize the value of wealth; without it, many things in life are impossible. However, in order to obtain riches lawfully (Artha), there must be a sound economy, and for a sound economy to exist, there must be job/entrepreneurial opportunities, as well as peace. Dharma makes peace possible. While they are interconnected in many ways, Vedic thinkers such as Kautilya consider Dharma to be larger than Artha.

As a result, leaders must grasp the value of economy (Artha) in carrying out their responsibilities and achieving their goals for the benefit of all (Dharma).

Without Artha, there can be no Dharma disciples, and without Dharma, there can hardly be Sukham – This is the Truth.

4. Rajyam is the foundation of Artha.

The Sanskrit word Rajyam is frequently mistaken with Rashtram or Rashtra. In addition, Rashtra is frequently translated as “Nation” or “Nation-state,” and Rajyam as “State.” Many people today understand the terms ‘nation’ and ‘nation-state’ from a European perspective. While a nation is defined as “a large body of people united by common descent, history, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory,” a nation-state is defined as “a state that self-identifies as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign entity for a nation as a sovereign territorial unit.” The phrase “Nation-State” indicates that the two are geographically adjacent. In a broader sense, a nation-state is any group of people who seek to form a common political state-like organization. It is also fundamentally built on division and superiority complexes.

It is worth noting that many people now believe that the concept of Nation or Nation-State was unknown to Vedic Indians and that the concept of Nation-State only emerged about two centuries ago. The British, who controlled India for nearly two centuries, frequently made such observations. Sir John Strachey, a member of the Council of Secretary of State of the British Government, made the following statement in a speech to the British Parliament in 1888:

The first and most important thing to understand about India is that there is and has never been an India or any country in India that has any kind of physical, political, social, or religious unity, according to European ideals. There is no Indian nation, no Indian people that we hear so much about.

For thousands of years, the concept of country existed in India in the form of pan-Indian spiritual-emotional identity. The word Rashtram was employed in the Rig Veda to express the national identity of the people of Aryavartha, as India was known at the time. Rashtram is a concept that is both unifying and developmentally oriented, as opposed to the prevalent concept of nation, which does not develop the basic drive to live together. In this context, Rajyam is properly translated as the government or rule – which comprises the ruler, judicial, banking, military, and other social welfare establishments – to ensure that the Dharma purpose is relentlessly pursued.

Rajyam is a spiritual, all-encompassing, all-systems welfare system based on the concept of Dharma. The foundation and its significance are never contentious. Rajyam can change, adapt, or even collapse, but the concept of Rashtra, which stems from the benign desire for eternal welfare – Dharma – endures until there is a desire to live and coexist in the hearts of the people.

Government (Rajyam) is a crucial antecedent for the economy (Artha) to grow. Good governance leads to good economics (Artha); good economy leads to good possibilities for people (Artha); such good opportunities nourish Dharma, and Dharma nourishment ensures Sukham.

5. Indriya Vijayi’s administration of Rajyam is excellent.

Indriya Vijayi has mastered his Indriya (Sense Organs). Indriya is frequently rendered as “belonging to or agreeable to Indra.” Vijayi, on the other hand, connotes supremacy, dominion, control, power, and strength. Other pertinent words include ‘predominant influence,”sovereignty,’ ‘power,’ ‘organ,’ ‘faculty,’ ‘ruling faculty,’ ‘controlling principle,’ and ‘directive force as well as function’.

Although respected by Buddhist monks, the Abhidharma kosha was originally composed in Sanskrit and has its roots in Dharma Shastra. This document, written in the third century BCE, lists 22 Indriyas. They are as follows:

    1. Chakshushendriya – Sight organ, eye
    2. Shrotendriya – Hearing organ, ears
    3. Ghranendriya – Smell organ, nose
    4. Jihvendriya – Taste organ, tongue
    5. Kayendriya – Touch organ, body
    6. Manendriya is a mental organ or brain.
    7. Strindriya – Female reproductive organ
    8. Purushendriya – A mental state of dissatisfaction or grief.
    9. Jivitendriya – Life, vital organs
    10. Dukhendriya – A feeling of annoyance, discomfort, or suffering. Bodily.
    11. Sukhendriya – Sensation of physiological pleasure
    12. Daurmanasendriya – A mental feeling of dissatisfaction.
    13. Saumanasendriya – The faculty of mental contentment or joy.
    14. Upekshendriya – The faculty of indifference, both bodily and mental.
    15. Shraddhendriya – Faith and Confidence Faculty
    16. Virendriya – Energy, vigor, and enthusiasm
    17. Smritendriya – Memory and mindfulness faculty
    18. Samdhindriya – Absorption and meditation faculty
    19. Prajnendriya – Dharma discernment faculty, Wisdom
    20. Anajnatamajnasyamindriya – Learning Faculty
    21. Ajnendriya – Knowledge faculty, ultimate knowledge, having learned
    22. Ajnatadvindriya – The faculty of someone who has previously learned, of flawless knowledge.

The first five of these 22 Indriyas are the most significant in materialist life. If a person is unable to control his own Indriyas, he will always be a slave to them. These Indriyas cause delusion in men when they are slaves. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita, “Through delusion comes anger, this anger causes bewilderment of memory, through bewilderment of memory wrong decisions are taken, and through wrong decisions the person verily meets his end.” As a result, controlling these Indriyas is critical for political leaders as well. The Vedic rishis have provided six paths for accomplishing this:

    1. Vichara – Deliberation, Contemplation, or Inquiry into Oneself
    2. Icchashakti means “inner will.”
    3. Kumbhaka – Breath retention by Pranayama
    4. Dama means “restraint.”
    5. Vichara is seen as the most viable path for individuals primarily interested in material pursuits of life, such as Politics.

Vichara, like many other words, has no English equivalent; the closest words may be Deliberation, Contemplation, or Self-inquiry. ‘To think’ (verb) or ‘thinking’ (noun) could be used. It is the ability to distinguish between what is right and wrong. It is a discussion of cause and effect (Karma), as well as the conclusion. Vichara, according to Ramana Maharshi, can be done at any time. However, according to his teachings, “Vichara should not be regarded as a meditation practice that occurs at specific times and in specific positions; it should continue throughout one’s waking hours, regardless of what one is doing.” Working and Vichara do not clash, and with a little practice, anyone can incorporate it into their lives.”

People take up one or more types of employment to satisfy their desires, needs, or greed. Many people give little thought to whether what they are doing is correct, effective, or worthwhile. Then there are those who spend a large amount of time thinking in order to check if their self-serving objectives are met. Worse, there are some who only think and never accomplish anything. Neither of these are capable of comprehending Vichara.

Vichara is always thinking about herself and the greater good. Vichara is that which is on the Dharma path. Vichara is the absence of Arishadvargas.

Through the practice of such Vichara, a person will eventually realize how to vanquish oneself and become Indriya Vijayi.

As a result, an Indriya Vijayi is well suited to ensure competent government (Rajyam). Economic well-being is accomplished through well-served Rajyam (Artha). Everyone follows Dharma through Artha. As a result of Dharma, universal welfare is achieved (Sukham). This is the fundamental tenet of Rajaneeti’s Vedic approach to politics.


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