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.
To understand fundamentals of Vedic approach to politics – Rajaneeti – it’s important to understand five words in Sanskrit vis-à-vis Artha Sutras found in Kautilya’s Arthashastra, namely: Sukham, Dharma, Artha, Rajyam, and Indriya-Vijayi. This is because these words are often hastily (or bluntly) mistranslated thereby making understanding the greater wisdom – almost, impossible.
Sukham is translated as Happiness. Dharma is mistranslated as Religion. Artha is translated as Economy. Rashtra is taught as ‘Nation’ or ‘Nation-state’ and Rajyam is translated as ‘State’. As you’d see these translations are only partially correct – at best. The moment you truly understand these five words you’d verily know the core fundamentals of Rajaneeti – which also represents ideas and ideals of good politics.
In his Arthashastra, Kautilya enlists a series of Sutras. The first five of the sutras, mentioned below, forms the foundation of Rajaneeti:
- The objective of life is Sukham
- Dharma is the foundation of Sukham
- Artha is the foundation of Dharma
- Dharma’s foundation is Rajyam
- Rajyam’s are well administered by those who are Indriya Vijayi
1. The objective of life is Sukham
Sukham can be understood is English as Happiness. To be happy means to experience pleasure, be content, sense of satisfaction, joy, enjoyment, and felicity. Everyone has their own perception and ideas about happiness. For some, it’s having substantial wealth, a large house, a small car or a piece of exquisite jewelry. Whatever one thinks can make him/her happy that thing he/she pursues. There’s nothing wrong with expecting and working to attain things which you believe can make you happy.
To ensure everyone gets a fair chance to seek their object of happiness is the objective of the political establishment as well as leaders. But when people try to seek their object of happiness by devious means by hurting others they are on a sure path to crime. Stopping such crimes, or having it brought to justice when perpetrated, by using every legitimate approach within one’s purview is the supreme objective of leaders as well as those in government.
As per Niti Shastras true and blissful happiness is attained when one is bereft of Arishadvargas – six natural impediments to happiness ingrained in humans. These six impediments are Kama (Lust), Krodha (Anger), Lobha (Greed), Moha (Infatuation), Mada (Ego) and Matsarya (Jealousy). If everything one desires is without these six qualities; that desire qualifies to be called as an object of true happiness. If not, that object is the personification of greed, capable of leading to severe consequences when pursued.
Even today, if you observe closely, all the problems facing mankind at micro as well as macro levels are owing to these Arishadvargas. Kautilya in Arthashastra clearly states that one who has conquered these Arishadvargas is better qualified to be a leader. He also declares that Leaders with Arishadvargas are sure to cause not just their doom but the collapse of the institution they serve. Such leaders are to be shunned.
The leaders who’ve conquered themselves are well equipped to handle one’s adversaries and enemies. There’s no way one can conquer others until one has conquered oneself. This is the eternal truth.
Having conquered the six natural impediments, it also becomes the duty of the leader to guide his people in the path of wisdom, health, wealth and prosperity. Knowledge and information are key tools, but wisdom is the power of the leaders. It is with this wisdom that better self, family, society, city, state, the nation as well as the better world can be made possible.
By realizing the fact that Objective of life is the pursuit of happiness and not greed – leaders determine their destiny of themselves as well as their people.
2. Dharma is the foundation of Sukham
Dharma is a Sanskrit word which, as per linguists, has no corresponding word in any other language. To translate Dharma as ‘religion’ would be a gross mistake. In Mahabharata’s chapter called Shanti Parva, Bhishma speaks about Dharma thus:
It is most difficult to define Dharma. Dharma is explained to be that which helps upliftment of all living beings. Therefore, that which ensures the welfare of all living beings is surely Dharma. The learned rishis (sages) have said that that which sustains is Dharma.
In Mahabharata’s chapter called Karna Parva, Dharma is defined as that
… which sustains the society, it maintains the social order, ensures well-being and progress of humanity; Dharma is surely that which offers ways to fulfill these objectives.
Jaimini, the author of Purva Mimamsa and Uttaramimamsa, explains:
Dharma is that which is indicated by the Vedas as conducive to the greater good.
Madhvacharya, who was an important minister in the court of Vijayanagara Empire’s founders – Hakka and Bukka, notes in his commentary on Parashara Smriti:
Dharma is that which sustains and ensures progress and welfare of all in this world… Dharma is promulgated in the form of commands – positive and negative – Vidhi and Nishedha.
Dharma, therefore, can also be understood as an individual’s moral duty, acts of kindness to the worthy, rightful punishment to the deserving, organizations and institutions that are committed to the eternal welfare of all beings without any divide. Dharma is also universal compassion. Therefore, Dharma is verily the foundation of Sukham.
3. Artha is the root of Dharma
The word Artha appears in the earliest of Vedic scriptures, including Rig Veda, where it connotes purpose, goal or aim of human life. Over a period Artha evolved into a broader concept during the Upanishadic era (approx. 1700 BCE to 500 BCE). It was first included as a part of Trivarga – three objectives of human life (viz. Dharma, Artha, and Kama), which evolved into Chaturvarga (viz. Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha). Chaturvarga is also known as Purushartha – literally meaning ‘Objective of human pursuit’. No individual can ever lead a purposeful as well as productive life without understanding one’s own Purushartha. When it is followed there’re balance within individuals, institutions as well as nations. When it is disregarded everyone is infested with confusion or chaos, possibly anarchy.
At the social level, Artha implies social, legal, economic and worldly affairs. Therefore, all Vedic treatises relating to these subjects are called Arthashastra.
Vedic sage Jaimini defines Artha as a “quintessential element for sustainable growth…” The word Artha also translates to meaning, goal, purpose as well as essence. But Artha also has a broader concept in Vedic thought. As a concept, it implies means of life, activities as well as resources which enable us to be in a position we want to be. While wealth is an important part of Artha – that wealth which is seldom used for the betterment of oneself, one’s family or others are considered Anartha (misfortune). Economists too agree, although unconsciously, with Kautilya that wealth has only either of four ends, namely: be spent for the rightful purpose, be donated to the deserving individuals or institutions, misused by spending for devious & nefarious objects or simply be robbed. The first two of the end deserves to be part of Artha system; since it respects Dharma. The last two, since verily against Dharma are called Adharma as well as Anartha. Anartha has yet another meaning in Sanskrit – misfortune. Important to note that Artha also means Fortune. Therefore, Artha can be better understood as the rightful accumulation of resources and wealth for happy and prosperous well-being.
We all understand the importance of wealth; without wealth, a great many things in life aren’t possible. However, to attain wealth rightfully (Artha) there needs to be a sound economy, for the sound economy to happen there needs to be job/entrepreneurial avenues and for this peace is necessary. Peace is made possible by Dharma. While they are interrelated in many ways – Vedic thinkers, including Kautilya, hold Dharma to be greater than Artha.
Therefore, leaders must understand the importance of economy (Artha) for their doing their duties and achieve their objective for everyone’s wellbeing (Dharma).
Without Artha, there cannot be followers of Dharma and without adherence to Dharma there can seldom be Sukham – This is the Truth.
4. Foundation of Artha is Rajyam
The Sanskrit word Rajyam is often confused with the word Rashtram or Rashtra. Also, the word Rashtra is often translated as ‘Nation’ or ‘Nation-state’ and Rajyam as ‘State’. The word ‘Nation’, as well as ‘Nation-State’, is understood today by many from a European perspective. While Nation is defined as ‘a large body of people united by common descent, history or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.’ ‘Nation-state’ is understood 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 state is a political and geopolitical entity; the nation is a cultural and/or ethnic entity. The term “Nation-State” implies that the two geographically coincide. In a subtle sense, Nation-state is any group of people aspiring a common political state like organization. It is also essentially based on divisive and superiority sentiments.
It’s important to note that, even today, many people believe that the idea of Nation or Nation-State was seldom known to Vedic Indians and, that, the idea of Nation-State came into existence hardly two centuries ago. British, who ruled India for over 2 centuries, often made such observations, repeatedly. One often quoted statement is by Sir John Strachey – a member of the Council of Secretary of State of British Government – in his speech to British Parliament in 1888:
This is the first and most essential thing to learn about India that there is not and never was an India or even any country of India possessing, according to European ideas, any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious. No Indian nation, no people of India of which we hear so much.
In India, the concept of nation existed for thousands of years in the form of pan-Indian spiritual-emotional identity. In Rig Veda, the word Rashtram was used to describe the national identity of people of the land called Aryavartha – as India was known then. Rashtram is a unifying as well as overall development oriented concept as against the prevailing concept of nation, in which the basic urge to live together is not developed. Rajyam, in this context, is better translated as the government or rule – which includes the ruler, judiciary, banking, military as well as other social welfare establishments to ensure that objective of Dharma is relentlessly pursued.
Rajyam is a spiritual, all-inclusive, welfare of all system based on the idea of Dharma. The foundation and the meaning behind it are never divisive. Rajyam can evolve, adapt or even collapse, but the idea of Rashtra, which originates from the benign wish for eternal welfare – Dharma – continues to exist until there’s an urge to live and co-exist in the hearts of the people.
For Economy (Artha) to flourish – Government (Rajyam) is an important precursor. With good governance comes good economy (Artha); through good economy comes good opportunities for people (Artha); through such good opportunities Dharma is nourished and through nourishing of Dharma – Sukham is ensured.
5. Rajyam is well administered by those who are Indriya Vijayi
Indriya Vijayi is one who has won over his Indriya. Indriya is often translated as “belonging to, or agreeable to, Indra”. However, Indriya essentially connotes supremacy, dominance, control, power, and strength. Other relevant words could also be ‘predominating influence’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘power’, ‘organ’, ‘faculty’, ‘controlling faculty’, ‘controlling principle’, ‘directive force as well as function’.
Abhidharma kosha, although a well-revered text by the Buddhist monks, was originally written in Sanskrit and has its root in Dharma Shastra. Written in 3rd century BCE this text list 22 Indriyas. They are:
- Chakshushendriya – Organ of sight, eye
- Shrotendriya – Organ of hearing, ears
- Ghranendriya – Organ of smell, nose
- Jihvendriya – Organ of taste, tongue
- Kayendriya – Organ of touch, body
- Manendriya – Mental organ, brain
- Strindriya – Female organ
- Purushendriya – Sensation of dissatisfaction or sorrow, mental
- Jivitendriya – Vital organs, life
- Dukhendriya – Sensation of displeasure, pain or suffering. Bodily.
- Sukhendriya – Sensation of pleasure, bodily
- Daurmanasendriya – Sensation of dissatisfaction, mental.
- Saumanasendriya – Faculty of satisfaction or joy, mental
- Upekshendriya – Faculty of sensation of indifference; bodily as well as mental
- Shraddhendriya – Faculty of faith, Confidence
- Virendriya – Faculty of energy, zeal, enthusiasm
- Smritendriya – Faculty of memory, mindfulness
- Samdhindriya – Faculty of absorption, meditation
- Prajnendriya – Faculty of discernment of Dharma, Wisdom
- Anajnatamajnasyamindriya – Faculty of learning
- Ajnendriya – Faculty of knowledge, of highest knowledge, of having learned
- Ajnatadvindriya – Faculty of one who has already come know, of perfect knowledge
Of these 22 Indriyas, the first five are the most important in the materialist life. If a person cannot control his own Indriyas; that person will ever be a slave to them. While being a slave these very Indriyas create delusion in men. As said by Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita “Through delusion comes anger, this anger causes bewilderment of memory, through the bewilderment of memory wrong decisions are taken and through the wrong decisions the person verily meets his end.” Therefore, controlling these Indriyas are extremely important for political leaders as well. For achieving this the Vedic rishis have offered six paths, namely:
- Vichara – Deliberation, Contemplation or Self-inquiry
- Icchashakti – Inner will
- Kumbhaka – Retention of breath through Pranayama
- Dama – Restraint
For those essentially in material pursuits of life like Politics Vichara is considered the most viable path.
Vichara as many other words don’t have a corresponding word in the English language, the closest word could be Deliberation, Contemplation or Self-inquiry. It’s a faculty of discrimination between the right and wrong; it is deliberation about cause and effect (Karma) as well as the final analysis. Vichara as per Ramana Maharshi can be practiced always. However, as per his teachings, “Vichara should not be regarded as a meditation practice that takes place at certain hours and in certain positions; it should continue throughout one’s waking hours, irrespective of what one is doing. There is no conflict between working and Vichara and with a little practice everyone can inculcate it in their lives.”
People take on or the other kind of work to fulfill their desires, need or greed. A great many people give little thought as to whether what they are doing is correct, effective or worthy of the efforts. Then there are those who take significant time to think in a way as to see if their self-serving objectives are satisfied. Worse, there are also such people who only think and never do a thing. Neither of these is capable of even understanding Vichara.
Vichara is a constant thought for self as well as universal welfare. Vichara is that which is on the path of Dharma. Vichara is that which is free of Arishadvargas.
Through the practice of such Vichara a person – in due course of time – will ultimately realize ways to conquer oneself and become Indriya Vijayi.
This Indriya Vijayi is well equipped to ensure competent governance (Rajyam). Through well served Rajyam, economic welfare is achieved (Artha). Through Artha – Dharma is followed by all. And, thereby, through Dharma universal welfare is achieved (Sukham). This is the core foundation of Rajaneeti – Vedic approach to Politics.