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Quite recently, I read a translation of the Arthashastra by L.N. Rangarajan.
This book was on my reading list for a while.
There are several parts of the book that just do not fit in with modern life. There are others that can be tweaked a little and adapted to the 21st century. But, there is some advice in it that is timeless in nature.
This post is not a critique of the book ( or the translation ), nor is it in praise of either. This post if simply about stuff that a friend and I found interesting in a reading of the translation. In some ways, some of this is my interpretation of the contents/me trying to derive transferrable value from the book.
I plan to make this a series as time goes by.
This post is about the concept of the King and the Rajarishi.
Kautilya/Chanakya talks about seven different aspects of the ideal king. autilya also details the daily activities of the ideal king.
The seven aspects are:
- Duties of a king
- The King’s Security
- Revolts and Treachery
- Abnormality of Kingship All of these things have analogies to the modern leader. I actually think there’s some sagely advise in all of this that is still applicable.
I will be limiting myself to the first two sections in this post.
Part 1 is about Training and Self-Control
Part 2 will be about Duties of a king
Part 3 will cover The Kings Security, Revolts and treachery and succession
I will not be covering Abnormality of Kingship.
In this part, I will simply be laying the groundwork by detailing what the Kautilyan king must be like, the next part will get into how we can draw analogies to modern life, specifically in the context of a company.
As I said earlier, there are large portions of the content that do not directly translate to our times. However, this portion focuses primarily on the importance of self-discipline.
Self-discipline is of two kinds, Inborn and acquired.
Inborn discipline, according to the book, is important because learning and instruction can benefit and improve discipline only in those who already have some innate discipline.
There are a few qualities( the translation calls them mental faculties ) to any person who can benefit from learning:
- Obedience to the teacher
- Desire and ability to learn
- Capacity to retain what is learnt
- Understanding what is learnt
- Reflecting on it
- Ability to make inferences by deliberating on the knowledge acquired It also makes a bold claim by saying that those devoid of such mental faculties are not benefited by any amount of training.
The last bullet point I think is what I have heard most often as a problem with our current education systems in general. An inability to deliberate on acquired knowledge or the lack of motivation to do so is pretty common based on my observations.
After this it talks about specifics about what the prince should learn, I’m going to skip that, I want to stay on a high enough level where the content is still applicable.
This part has a subtitle, which I think has a lot of relevance, especially with what I’ve been doing to cut out noise.
Renouncing the six enemies. The sole aim of all branches of knowledge is to inculcate restraint over the senses.Self-control, which Kautilya contends is the basis of knowledge, is acquired by giving up lust, anger, greed, conceit, arrogance and foolhardiness.
This is where Kautilya first defines the Rajarishi
Kautilya defines the Rajarishi as one who:
- has self-control, having conquered the above listed senses
- cultivates the intellect by association with elders
- keeps his eyes open through spies
- is ever active in promoting the security and welfare of the people
- ensures the observance of their dharma by authority and example
- improves his own discipline by learning in all branches of knowledge
- and endears himself to his people by enriching them and doing good to them I think a lot of this is timeless advice, I can think of quite a few examples where a majority of the above listed qualities are given as characteristics of an ideal leader.
While this reflects on the quality of the work, it also speaks to the degree of the similarity between society then and now.
This part ends here. I hope you’ve got a taste of what the Kautilyan king is like.
A lot of this post is an almost direct reproduction of the contents in the translation while leaving out the parts that I did not find relevant, the next part will be far more original in nature. I wanted to stay true to the original work because this post deals with definitions more than interpretations.
Look out for Part 2 sometime next week.
This post was written with the help of Srikanth.