Friday, 20 November 2009

Self knowledge: What a King Must Learn:

Chapter 1; Section 1:

Chanakya begins this chapter by pointing out that a king must develop four kinds of knowledge:

1. Anvikshaki or self-knowledge,
2. Knowledge contained in the three Vedas (Rg, Sama and Yajur) for the understanding of philosophy, culture and rituals.
Interestingly enough, at this stage, apparently the Atharva Veda was not considered a "Veda."  Any history student who can shed some light on this?
3. Knowledge of economic issues, especially farming and animal husbandry (key factors in agrarian times).
4. Knowledge of statecraft - curiously termed as "dand niti" (or politics of punishment/power).

However, Chanakya notes that other scholars have disagreed and takes their views into account, pointing out that earlier texts (possibly Manu - although this may be debatable in terms of the historical timeline. Or is there an earlier Manu?) consider only the last three: Vedic, Economic and Statecraft as necessary for a king.

In contrast, the Devaguru Brihaspati believes that "understanding" or reason is necessary but only knowledge of economic organisation and statecraft are necessarary for a king.  Indeed he considers that since Vedic knowledge is used by cunning individuals for their own political and material goals, the knowledge of the Vedas serves little purpose.

Interesting to realise that obviously even in those times, there was an awareness of the use of "spin" in political action, and the use of religion for purposes of power.  

Meanwhile, the Daityaguru Shukracharya holds that only statecraft has to learned by a king. All other forms of knowledge arise from an understanding of statecraft and are motivated by it.  May this be considered as an early articulation of power for the sake of power?

Chanakya returns to his point that the four forms of knowledge are necessary, despite earlier scholarly claims. He holds that good and evil, right and wrong, truth and deception, profit and loss can only be determined by knowledge.  However he places anvikshaki, self knowledge, as the most important, explaining that this self-knowlege comes from study, discipline and scepticism (my paraphrasing and translation here of a rather complex sloka).

Scepticism or a "lack of faith" is not necessarily linked to divinity, but seems to approximate the Greek definition of the term.  Instead it appears to be the ability to be guided by logic, consideration of good/evil, profit/loss, right/wrong on a completely intellectual level and not relying on divinity or indeed social norms and religious texts for guidance. (I could be completely off base here but this is what I get out of it).  I can understand how the combination of the three can lead to self-knowledge.

It appears that Chanakya's text links in at this point to other cultural concepts: of the four purusharthas, but also of the idea of the remorseless action taken without consideration of fear or greed which the Bhagwad Gita declares is the appropriate behaviour for a warrior.

Indeed I am reminded of the Dhammapada at this stage which explains a worthy follower of Buddha is created only by entering the deepest forest, finding a cave with a dead body in it; the follower must then spend time with the cadaver, laughing, fearing, desecrating it; the follower must learn to love and hate and abhor the cadaver; hold it in disgust and horror. And all at the same time. Once the follower reaches the stage of being unmoved by the corpse, then he/she is ready follow the path set by Buddha.

The Dhammapada echoes some of the earlier Hindu thought on reaching balance and peace necessary for unflinching action that is untainted by fear, greed, love or hate.

It appears to me that Chanakya's idea of anvikshaki is quite similar to this, except applied specifically to the training of a king.  He declares that only with this self-knowledge can a king determine the issues of state. More importantly, it is only this self-knowledge that can allow a decisionmaker to remain calm in times of loss and upheaval, to remain balanced despite happiness or sorrow, and thus ensure the best decisions for the state.

Indeed, for this reason, Chanakya declares that anvikshaki is the lone stable and consistent factor in statecraft.

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