kauTilya on knowledge

The wise viShNugupta, who propelled the mauryan to meteoric heights, while uprooting the tree of the wicked nanda-s and cleansing the taint of the Macedonian barbarians on the land of the bhArata-s, uttered words that remain vivid even after 2300 years. The AchArya’s enumeration of the Hindu system of knowledge goes thus:

AnvIkShikI trayI vArtA daNDa-nItish cha^iti vidyAH ||

The branches of knowledge are: logical analysis, the three-fold ritual chants [the veda], business and political science.

trayI vArtA daNDa-nItish cha^iti mAnavAH || trayI visheSho hy AnvIkShikI^iti ||

The school of manu holds that [there are only three branches]: The three fold ritual chants, business and political science. Because logical analysis is only a special branch of the veda.

vArtA daNDa-nItish cha^iti bArhaspatyAH || saMvaraNa mAtraM hi trayI loka yAtrA vida iti ||

The school of bR^ihaspati holds that [there are only two branches]: Business and political science. Because the veda is only a cloak for those who are well-versed in worldly customs.

daNDa-nItir ekA vidyA^ity aushanasAH || tasyAM hi sarva-vidyA.ArambhAH pratibaddhA iti ||

The school of ushanas holds that there is only one branch: political science. Because the origins of all types of knowledge are [ultimately] united in it.

chatasra eva vidyA iti kauTilyaH ||

However, kauTilya holds that the branches of knowledge are verily only four [i.e. logical analysis, the veda, business and political science].

tAbhir dharma.arthau yad vidyAt tad vidyAnAM vidyAtvam ||

The defining feature of all branches of knowledge is that by knowing them one can learn of dharma and artha.

sAMkhyaM yogo lokAyataM cha^ity AnvIkShikI ||

Logical analysis is comprised of the systems of sAMkhya, yoga and lokAyata.

dharmaadharmau trayAm arthaanarthau vArtAyAM nayaanayau daNDa-nItyAM balaabale cha etAsAM hetubhir anvIkShamANA lokasya upakaroti vyasane .abhyudaye cha buddhim avasthApayati praj~nA-vAkya-kriyA-vaishAradyaM cha karoti ||

Logical analysis by means of proper arguments of dharma and adharma, which belong to the realm of the veda, profit and loss which belong to the realm of business, good and bad policies which belong to the realm of political science, [as also] the strengths and weaknesses of each branch of knowledge, benefits the people, keeps the intellect steady both in dire situations and good times, and generates expertise in the spheres of mental, verbal and physical activity.

pradIpaH sarva-vidyAnAm upAyaH sarva-karmaNAm | AshrayaH sarva-dharmANAM shashvad AnvIkShikI matA || AS 1.2.01-12

The systems of logical analysis [i.e. sAMkhya, yoga and lokAyata] are always the lamp illuminating all knowledge and the means of all actions. It is the foundation of all dharma-s.

* The loss and recovery of the arthashAstra: Based on the textual evidence, in the form of the mantra practice, deities, and urban layout we hold that the arthashAstra, as we have it, comes from a time close to that of viShNugupta. It is either his own text or that of his near successors. One of his near successors was viShNusharman, who composed the pa~nchatantra inspired by kauTilya. There were many later successors, like kAmandaki, who eloquently eulogizes chANakya in the beginning of his own tome on political science. Thus, the tale of chANakya and his knowledge was very widely known and practiced in the early medieval period. However, the text was lost in the later medieval period, and was only rediscovered in 1904 CE by Mysore Shama Shastry. He published the text along with a translation that marking one of the most momentous events in Indian philology.

The front-line thinker of the modern Hindu revival, shrI Sitaram Goel, however, took a dim view of the political tradition of the arthashAstra. He attributed the inability of the Hindu rulers to ultimately stanch the Mohammedan catastrophe to them adhering too closely to viShNugupta’s maNDala theory of allies and foes. Thus, Goel reasoned that, acting as per the maNDala theory, they were unable to see the beards knocking at the gates of India as an existential threat; instead they simply saw them as residents of the outer maNDala, who could be used against the neighboring maNDala by the central mahA-maNDaleshvara and his mahA-sAmanta henchmen. We are not sure that Goel’s thesis is justified. In fact, we simply hold that the genuine wisdom of viShNugupta was lost at some point in the medieval period and replaced by a lesser version of the maNDala theory (incidentally this is the very version parodied so humorously by the great daNDin in his avantisundarI kathA). We see the decline in the “higher” knowledge of chANakya as being the cause of the demise of the Hindu power under the Mohammedan ravages, rather than what was proposed by shrI Goel (for example, the above discussion of knowledge would have helped any one). This, along with the inability to accommodate the reality of the Aryan invasion (unlike Veer Savarkar), happens to be one his rare lapses. Ironically, even the Mohammedans appreciated the wisdom of chANakya in the form conveyed by viShNusharman. We are informed that his was part of the curriculum of the education of Osman sultans like Kanuni Sultan Suleyman.

* trayi: The term trayi stands for the three types of vedic mantra-s not the the three veda-s – the R^ik-s or the metrical chants; the yajuSh-s or the prose chants and the sAman-s or the musical chants with 6-7 tones.

* The view of the bR^ihaspati school that the veda is merely a cloak of the world-savy seems to be reminiscent of the view espoused by the chArvAka school whose founder is also known to be bR^ihaspati. We suspect that this is not entirely coincidental.

* The ushanas school, which emphasizes the importance of daNDanIti, appears to have been the basis of much of the exposition on this topic (also rAja-dharma) in the mahAbhArata. The text clearly echoes the view of the primacy of daNDanIti. Indeed, the opinion expounded there is that all human endeavor and knowledge resulting therefrom is merely an offshoot of political activity. While this statement might sound either odd or cynical, it is not entirely without merit. While human knowledge for knowledge’s sake and various other aspects of life might be praised, they can all be seen as being only social constructs, which can exist only as a consequence of political organization.

Later in the arthashAstra, chANakya explains his position on daNDanIti, while not according it the status of being the sole knowledge system, he accepts the basic tenet of the importance of daNDanIti as per the aushanasa school in the maintenance of knowledge, dharma and business:

AnvIkShikI trayI vArtAnAM yoga-kShema-sAdhano daNDaH | tasya nItir daNDa nItiH | alabdha-lAbhaarthA labdha-parirakShaNI rakShita vivardhanI vR^iddhasya tIrthe pratipAdanI cha || 1.4.03

The daNDa [is the power] by which the application and the growth of the systems of logical analysis, the veda and business are upheld. Its management is known as political science. It is the means by which new acquisitions are made, profits are gained [in business], the acquisitions are kept secure, security and growth [are achieved] and the fruits of growth are re-distributed among the deserving.

Nevertheless, with respect to the actual application of daNDa, viShNugupta advocates what might be termed the path of moderation:
“tasmAl loka yAtrA .arthI nityam udyata-daNDaH syAt || na hy evaM vidhaM vasha^upanayanam asti bhUtAnAM yathA daNDaH|” ity AchAryAH ||

“Whoever is desirous of progress of the world shall always do so with the upraised rod of chastisement. Never can there be a better instrument to bring beings [implying people and other animals] under control than the application of chastisement.” So the earlier teachers expounded [i.e. they advocated a police state].

na^iti kauTilyaH || tIkShNa.daNDo hi bhUtAnAm udvejanIyo bhavati || mR^idu daNDaH paribhUyate || yathA .arha daNDaH pUjyate || 1.4.05-10

“Not so,” says kauTilya; for whoever imposes severe chastisement becomes tyrannical to the beings [a police state]; while he who is mild in chastisement is despised/disrespected [a soft state]. But he who imposes punishment as deserved is respected [the ideal Hindu state].

* AnvIkShikI: What is chANakya’s AnvIkShikI? Tradition holds that generally by the term AnvIkShikI the systems of nyAya and vaisheShika are implied. This is consistent with the fact that these are the systems that provide the foundation of Hindu logical analysis. However, viShNugupta clearly defines it for us as being sAMkhya, yoga and lokAyata. Now, tradition has a clear understanding of what is meant by these three darshana-s. But it is interesting to note that the traditional systems that pertain to logical analysis have not been mentioned here. The great scholar of Hindu logical analysis, Kuppuswamy Shastri, has argued that actually chANakya meant the nyAya- or vaisheShika-like systems by the term yoga. What is classically considered yoga is merely a version of sAMkhya. This, is certainly a possibility. The point of greatest interest is that chANakya does not disparage lokAyata. He sees it as a solid tradition of logical analysis that forms one of the foundations of knowledge. This, attitude is rather distinct from that held by the theistic schools, though it might be remarked that some pashupata shaiva-s and the kaula tAntrika kavI dharma from the lATa country appear to have preserved the lokAyata system and used it in demolishing arguments of their nirgrantha rivals.

Unlike delusive modern liberal expositors, chANakya is clear that learning analytical devices is not for all and sundry, and outlines who can do so:

shushrUShA shravaNa grahaNa dhAraNa vij~nAna^Uhaapoha tattvaabhiniviShTa buddhiM vidyA vinayati na^itaram || 1.5.05

The acquisition of knowledge can only culture those whose intellect is endowed with the abilities of discipline, learning from verbal instruction, grasping concepts, memory, discrimination, inference and applying falsification, but not others [those who lack these].

In conclusion, we find viShNugupta’s analysis of the knowledge to be one of the most appealing among those we encounter in early history. We have held the opinion that the AnvIkShikI approach has been the most successful of the Hindu approaches to knowledge, though it eventually declined compared to some of the other schools. It is not something widely inculcated in modern education of Hindu-s. Verily, this is manifest in a generally poor grasp of evolutionary thinking and philosophy in the realm of the general physical universe, biological systems, societies and languages. This is also compounded by the general disinterest in acquisition of vast amounts of readily retrievable, well-classified, and usable information in the mental disks through some discipline. This relates to topic we broached in the last epistle, where we emphasized the primacy of information. Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear in the modern education systems that information is merely clutter, and that rather they strive to impart logical thinking. Of course today one can extend mental hard disks with silicon, but even to use the latter effectively, one needs to have the discipline of information acquisition and storage. Only then is logic of any value. It is clear that viShNugupta realized and emphasized the importance of being widely informed. He stresses the point of how the kShatriya needs to constantly acquire new knowledge and revise what he learns.

He states :
shrutAd hi praj~nA^upajAyate praj~nAyA yogo yogAd AtmavattA^iti vidyAnAM sAmarthyam || 1.5.16

Verily from hearing (i.e. gathering information) emerges knowledge; that knowledge allows its application; from its application one becomes prudent. This is the power of knowledge.

We shall end by remembering how viShNugupta emphasizes the role of the educated king and protection of knowledge by the king:
vidyA vinIto rAjA hi prajAnAM vinaye rataH | ananyAM pR^ithivIM bhu~Nkte sarva-bhUta-hite rataH || 1.5.16

The king who is educated in the fields of knowledge, verily interested in administration of his people, and inclined to benefit all beings will enjoy the earth unopposed.

gAndharvaM nR^ittam AlekhyaM vAdyaM cha gaNitaM kalAH |
arthashAstraM dhanurvedaM yatnAd rakShen mahIpatiH || chANakya-rAjanIti 75

Music, dance, painting, discourse, mathematics, technologies, economics and military science, a king should painstakingly protect.

These concluding points are largely lost in the contemporary rulers of jambudvIpa.

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