Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Advantage of Good Company: Whoa, getting modern now

Book 1, Chapter 4:

Just when I thought things were changing, Chanakya goes back to hammering home the issues of a king's education. Actually perhaps now its more accurate to say that we're back to a king's over all development.

This time he outlines the advantages of networking/socialising with influential people, as well as those with greater experience. And not surprisingly, makes a rather persuasive case for hanging out with those of greater experience, strength, intelligence and power. would this translate to social media?

After summarizing what has gone on in the previous chapters, Chanakya points out that only education and experience grant ability to a person (not making a case here for the king, but all citizens it appears). First mention then of meritocracy! Cool!

Interestingly he separates ability (although perhaps character would be a better term) into two aspects: one that is only for show and thus for profit, and the other which is part of oneself and developed over time through education and experience. He obviously thinks the second one is better.

This second form can be developed by those who (this gets interesting):

1. Are capable of hearing harsh, even unpleasant truths,
2. Wish to learn knowledge acquired by hard work and experience (I assume of others),
3. Want to acquire knowledge thus learned and make it their own,
4. Want to debate viewpoints they may hold, even with those who do not agree,
5. Take on truth they learn as knowledge,
6. Want to acquire knowledge after examining, debating, and testing its truth.

WHOA! I like this early articulation of the liberal mind!

But unfortunately the next sloka completely goes against this wonderful liberal thinking as it points out that a student has no right to pick his/her area of study. Instead it is the teachers who, after testing for aptitude, shall decide the field of study.

This weird contradiction reminds me of how often ancient texts appear to have contradictory elements. How much of it is due to the practice of including commentary or new text within an old one (historically proven, this fact)? This would suggest that not all of this particular text is also untampered. I will be keeping tabs on the anomalies, but this one is a real stand out so far.

The next part of the book gets specific on when education must begin: after the ceremony of shaving the child's head (mundan), the child should be taught the alphabet and numbers. The four areas of education (as pointed out earlier) are taught upon the "second birth/thread" ceremony. I think this makes it post-puberty. These advanced learnings include knowledge acquired at universities, from political and economic experts, and other necessary advanced knowledge.

Finally, Chanakya suggests a sort of internship where a student may learn about key practical aspects - truce, treaties, agreements - on a daily basis by observing important people in the various fields. How very modern!

Okay another whammy: apparently there is a time span specified for this advanced learning: a student must learn for 16 years, after the thread ceremony.

Looking at other texts (such as Manu), the thread ceremony is around ten or twelves years of age. This suggests that a person must study till an average of 24 or 25 years of age. This throws up a very interesting fact: if a person may not be married while a student (ie brahmacharya ashram), there appears to be a definite injunction against child marriages in India.

Indeed, in this case, even the current age of marriage for men and women in India according the Hindu Family law contravenes the age provided by Chanakya.

Oh wait: there is a even a varna-based chronology for the thread ceremony: Brahmans at the age of 8, Kshatriyas at 10 and Vaishyas at 12. This would mean that a banker/trader can only marry at the age of 27, which makes perfect logical sense in modern terms: university, masters, at least three years of initial work experience before marriage!

Okay now back to the king's schedule. I assume these final verses are about the "internship" and continued education that Chanakya recommends.

He suggests that a king must practice and learn military-linked matters: using weapons, control of elephants and horses in the morning.

After lunch and post-rest, a king must take up study of political and religious theory, biographies, histories, as well as stories from the past, present and faraway lands. I like the fact that stories get a mention: obviously ancient Indians were better than contemporary social scientist in realising the value of literature as a source of information.

Finally, a king must keep aside the night and the time after his duties to learn new subjects and facts. Here, Chanakya is very specific, pointing out that a king must make a real effort to learn new things, asking it to be explained by experts until its absolutely clear.

Concluding the chapter, Chanakya emphasises the importance of continued learning by explaining that new knowledge keeps the brain flexible and quick, develops intellect, provides confidence and stregth.

But beyond the advantages to the self, such continued learning ensures that a king is capable of responding to the realm's needs, can forward-plan the welfare of the people, serve as a model for the people, as well as encourage the populace to do the same.

Boy! The Americans need to read this section! See why Obama is better than Sarah Palin? Dumbing down of the political elite is a bad idea for the entire realm, or so Chanakya would say.