I am so glad that finally I completed watching series of Chanakya on DVD. It was an interesting journey watching this saga after so many years again. This series was released more than 20 years back in India which I watched again after more than a decade. I could relate the same to the book I had studied during my university days and also found it relevant to today’s time as well. I am sure why readers would like to know who was Chanakya?
Chanakya was a great thinker and writer who wrote a brilliant treatise on statecraft called Arthashastra. The treatise is relevant even today because Chanakya gives practical lessons on statecraft, strategy and governance. Many people believe that he is the first among nationalists because he was interested in unifying his country and rule them under one sovereign king Alexander. His strategy and vision helped in the consolidation of power and setting up of the mighty Mauryan Empire.
Neetishastra is another great work written by Chanakya and contains golden maxims that can be used in the modern day too because of its relevance. The set of ethics laid down in the Neeti Shastra can be followed by anyone in conducting his daily duties. There are many other Neeti Shastras in our country written by great men of wisdom like Brihaspati, Shukracharya, Bhartrhari and Vishnusharma but what is it that makes Chanakya’s work stand out. Perhaps it is the way he has applied his teachings. He teaches us that high ideals can become practically possible if we work towards achieving our goal in a progressive and determined manner.
The maxims are relevant today as much as they were thousands of years ago. Maybe we just have to substitute organizations and modern equivalents for the ancient language used by Chanakya in these maxims. He begins by offering salutations to Lord Vishnu, the lord of the three worlds. He narrates that these maxims were given for the public good. Therefore with an eye to the public good, I shall speak that which, when understood, will lead to an understanding of things in their proper perspective.
In one sloka he says do not inhabit a country where you are not respected, cannot earn your livelihood, have no friends or cannot acquire knowledge. This is so true in this age of globalization where Indians keep migrating to other countries. We have to be careful to go to places where we are respected or where we know we can live honorably.
Save your wealth against future calamity. Do not say, “What fear has a rich man, of calamity?” When riches begin to forsake one even the accumulated stock dwindles away. Is this not true? World over we see people becoming bankrupt either due to wrong decisions or unethical practices which makes even the rich bite the dust. So never abuse wealth or think that we can survive after indulging in mal practices.
Test a servant while in the discharge of his duty, a relative in difficulty, a friend in adversity, and a wife in misfortune. Chanakya tells us of the ways of the world. Who is a true friend? A friend in need is a friend indeed. He is a true friend who does not forsake us in time of need, misfortune, famine, or war, in a king’s court, or at the crematorium (smasana). It is rare to find such loyalty and if we are lucky we should try to keep such loyal friends with us always because they are very rare in this world.
The most beautiful aspect of the neethi shastra is that it caters to all the four purposes of human life, that is dharma, artha, kama and moksha. So we can see the spiritual and the mundane sitting side by side in the maxims. Spiritual life is not something that has to be pursued in isolation. It has to run parallel to our daily duties or material pursuits. As long as your body is healthy and under control and death is distant, try to save your soul; when death is imminent what can you do? Here he exhorts us to spend our time in remembering spiritual things when we are strong and healthy and most important it should become a habit from a very young age. Because when death becomes imminent either due to disease or old age the last thing that will cross one’s mind is, thoughts on the higher self.
A few thoughts keep repeating in the neeti, this shows the importance Chanakya gives to these topics. One is learning. . Learning is like a cow of desire. It, like her, yields in all seasons. Like a mother, it feeds you on your journey. Therefore learning is a hidden treasure. All our life we should keep learning as it keeps our mind fresh. We should be open to new knowledge and be eager to learn something new every day. The same thought is stressed in this maxim- Let not a single day pass without your learning a verse, half a verse, or a fourth of it, or even one letter of it; nor without attending to charity, study and other pious activity. Thus, lifelong learning is something that he stresses for all of us, if our minds have to grow and not get embroiled in the mundane. All other forms of wealth may desert us but learning keeps company till the last according to Chanakya. A learned man is honoured by the people. A learned man commands respect everywhere for his learning. Indeed, learning is honoured everywhere. A person may be born in a noble family but it is only learning which makes him a complete human being. There is so much of stress given to learning and knowledge that the author has spent many verses in glorifying it. Those who are endowed with beauty and youth and who are born of noble families are worthless if they have no learning. They are just like the kimshuka blossoms (flowers of the palasa tree) which, though beautiful, have no fragrance. Who is a poor man? One who suffers from the poverty of ignorance. One destitute of wealth is not destitute, he is indeed rich (if he is learned); but the man devoid of learning is destitute in every way. Those who are destitute of learning, penance, knowledge, good disposition, virtue and benevolence are brutes wandering the earth in the form of men. They are burdensome to the earth.
Chanakya hits the nail bang on the head when he advises us on always choosing the best. No compromise, strive to reach for the best is his advice to us. It is better to be without a kingdom than to rule over a petty one; better to be without a friend than to befriend a rascal; better to be without a disciple than to have a stupid one; and better to be without a wife than to have a bad one.
Chanakya also writes about the importance of our Scriptures, yagnas, true wisdom and the benefits of leading a life of virtue. What are the qualities of a man who wishes to rise above the ordinary? Purity of speech, of the mind, of the senses, and a compassionate heart are needed by one who desires to rise to the divine platform. Here Chanakya speaks of inner purity not just saucham in the external sense. Compassion is a great virtue that has to be cultivated if a man has to elevate himself to divine stature. There is no austerity equal to a balanced mind, and there is no happiness equal to contentment; there is no disease like covetousness, and no virtue like mercy. Chanakya rates compassion as far greater than knowledge. For one whose heart melts with compassion for all creatures; what is the necessity of knowledge, liberation, matted hair on the head, and smearing the body with ashes? A compassionate heart is better than all other penance or austerities.
There are many references to food and water throughout the niti. Chanakya is a great advocate of vegetarianism. He has no patience for the dull heads and flesh eaters and brackets them all together. The earth is encumbered with the weight of the flesh-eaters, wine-bibblers, dolts (dull and stupid) and blockheads, who are beasts in the form of men. The wise who discern the essence of things have declared that the yavana (meat eater) is equal in baseness to a thousand candalas (the lowest class), and hence a yavana is the basest of men; indeed there is no one more base. Water taken at different times has different uses for the body. Ayurveda also prescribes which is the appropriate time when and how water should be taken. In the niti, Chanakya also remarks Water is the medicine for indigestion; it is invigorating when the food that is eaten is well digested; it is like nectar when drunk in the middle of a dinner; and it is like poison when taken at the end of a meal. Contrary to opinion which divides society into high caste and low caste, Chanakya remarks in many places that a man will be called as a chandala on account of his deeds not merely because of his birth. Caste based divisions entered society at a much later stage and has acted as a divisive force. This does not have the sanction of our scriptures. He is a chandala who eats his dinner without entertaining the stranger who has come to his house quite accidentally, having travelled from a long distance and is wearied.
Yet another strand of thought that runs through the niti is the true meaning of charity and benevolence. Like compassion, he treats these virtues also with great importance. We must use our talents or riches not just for ourselves but for the benefit of others too. One whose knowledge is confined to books and whose wealth is in the possession of others, can use neither his knowledge nor wealth when the need for them arises. He who nurtures benevolence for all creatures within his heart overcomes all difficulties and will be the recipient of all types of riches at every step.
Other topics are about a good and virtuous son, devotee of God, friendship etc. His thoughts on women are quite parochial and many may not agree to them especially in the modern age.