Sunday, 14 March 2010

Guidance for a King's Behaviour: Getting to the Nitty Gritty Now

Book 1, Chapter 6:

Having covered a fair amount of ground on all a king must learn, Chanakya moves on to more practical matters. This chapter is quite succint, with only 6 verses although they are packed tight with advice and strictures.

He begins with referencing control over one's senses as outlined in the chapter before and recommends that a king avoid the losses resulting from succumbing to lust, greed etc, and attempt to live in a disciplined manner.

But after that general advice, the verse gets quite specific as to what a king must do (once again the key point is action and not thought or words). Chanakya reiterates out that the king should keep company of knowledgeable and wise people, selected on their basis of knowledge, age and experience.

With help of these sage advisors, the king must focus on the following: develop his/her own intellect and abilities, as well as use spies/intelligence networks to learn more about one's own realm as well as about neighbouring and enemy states.

Ah, here comes the best bit: a king must simultaneously work towards economic improvement and through this wealth creation, help social development, education and progress of the subjects. At the same time as helping the populace gain social stability and economic prosperity, the king should use the economic development to encourage education and intellectual activity as well as establish strict laws to ensure law and order. The king must reward prominent citizens for their contributions (intellectual and material) at regular intervals.

How very modern! Now comes the use of spin as a political tool: Intellectuals, sages, and prominent thinkers should be rewarded with status and cash as part of improving and maintaining the king's reputation! As always with Chanakya, he appeals most to self-interest rather than instincts of charity.

A final stricture in this verse is that a king must do all these tasks consistently in order to assure the populace that he/she is not only aware and interested in their welfare but also absolutely dedicated to that goal. Oh, our politicians could so learn from old guru Chanakya!

The next set of strictures are for all that a king must avoid. These include sex with women who are married to others (sounds logical!), taking others property or rights (again logical as this would create resentment), and finally, murder and/or wanton destruction of life. These seem to be actions that destabilise a king's reputation as well as control.

However the following strictures are also terrifically on the mark and very modern: a king must keep a regular sleep routine, not sleep too much, not be caught dozing during public acts (boredom was a problem even in ancient times); nor should a king behave in lewd manner, joke with officials, or tell untruths. Moreover, the king should not wear inappropriate clothing or behave in inappropriate way. This again is not for any great moral reason, but rather because these lead to the populace losing faith in a king's abilities and dedication to their interest, and hence to a loss of power and influence.

Almost as if afraid that the above list may put off any aspiring rulers, Chanakya softens his stance in the next verse explaining that a king is not prohibited from enjoyment. Material (and thus physical) pleasures are very much available to a king.

However, for purposes of maintaining power, a king must balance out the three key purusharthas: dharma, artha and kama. This is fascinating as he leaves out moksha as the fourth human goal in its entirety. This may be partly due to the material focus of his treatise, but also because he seems to implicitly assume that a balanced pursuit of the three others shall automatically lead to the fourth. This seems to an incredibly pragmatic approach and one that fits with the purposes of the text.

In the verse, Chanakya also warns against the privileging one of three over the others. Having dealt with the dangers of the excesses of artha and kama in the chapter before, he clarifies that dharma also is bad in excess. Although a king must be righteous, an excess of religiosity (or indeed virtue) is unacceptable and dangerous in a king (someone give a copy of this text to the US Republicans as well as the Taliban!). In fact any imbalance between the practice of these three purusharthas leads to political and social unrest and a loss of power (that carrot-and-stick again).

Here Chanakya inserts an aside, insisting that of the three: dharma, kama and artha, it is artha (or economic prosperity) that is most important. With money, one may act with virtue and according to religious requirements; one may also fulfill one's material and physical desires. Lack of wealth however means that neither kama nor dharma can be achieved. I am guessing that all those new age junkies who think of India as the great spiritual retreat obviously never got around to reading Chanakya!

A final set of injunctions: a king must grant the key ministers, advisors and teachers the right to stop him/her from behaving inappropriately. And he tops this with a brilliant example: Should a king lose control when drinking, these key advisors must step in to prevent such weakness being known widely, as well as warn the king against its dangers. There appears to be the implicit suggestion that the advisors should also act as checks to ensure the king's behaviour does not endanger him. Its a bit like having a royal designated driver! Here Chanakya is specific enough to point out that these advisors should check or critique the king in private, not public (very effective, logical and modern).

Should the advisors not have the right to intervene when a king behaves inappropriately, there will be no external check on a ruler, and this can only result in loss of status, power and eventually the realm.

Finally, Chanakya reminds the king (also a reminder to the reader that the text is meant for aspiring leaders), that a king cannot succeed alone. Indeed a king's success is in large part due to good advisors and ministers, who are able to guide as well as check a king's excesses.

He ends by pointing out that a king with good advisor should be considered fortunate. Moreover, a king should be able to reward an advisor who helps maintain his/her reputation and intervenes to check his/her excesses.