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The All Time Greatest Genius Teacher of Ancient India – Acharya Chanakya

प्रेरक: सूचकश्चैववाचकोदर्शकस्तथा| शिक्षकोबोधकोश्चैवषडेतेगुरव: स्मृता: ||

A Teacher is that who inspires, who gives appropriate instructions and guidance, who helps to search for truth, who imparts knowledge and who awakens and illuminates.

Bharat Ratna Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born on September 5, 1888, in a middle class family in Thiruthani, Tamil Nadu. Dr. Radhakrishnan had taught at University of Mysore and University of Kolkata. He was also the Vice Chancellor of Andhra University and Delhi University, as well as of Banaras Hindu University. He was the first Indian to hold a chair at the University of Oxford – the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics (1936-1952).

In the history of modern India, well known educationist, author, thinker and philosopher is Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. He is the former president of India. His Birth Anniversary is observed as Teachers’ Day in India. He was a philosopher, scholar and politician, who worked throughout his life for education and the youth of the country. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan had said, “Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege, if September 5 is observed as Teachers’ Day.” And from 1962, the tradition of celebrating Teachers’ Day started in the country, in honor of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

India, i.e. Bharat has a long tradition of Rushis and Maharshis, who are actually Mantradrashtas (मंत्रद्रष्टा), right from Vedic period, till almost post-Independence era. In Vedic period, well known Rishis are Atharva (Prithvi Sukta), Shaunak & Gutsmad (Rudra Sukt), Auchyadhya & Direghtamas (Aapri Sukt), Hiranyagarbh (Hiranyagarbha Sukt), Vishwamitra (Ushas Sukt), Angiras (Sandyan Sukt). We can find Rishis (Mantradrashtas) in various mandalas of Rigveda like, Maducchanda, Medhatihi, Gautam (Mandal-1), Gritasamada (Mandal-2), Vishwamitra (Mandal-3), Vamdeva (Mandal-4), Atri (Mandal-5), Bhardwaj (Mandal-6), Vashistha (Mandal-7), Kanva & Angira (Mandal-8), Soma Devata (Mandal-9) and Vinmada, Indra, Shachi (Mandal-10).   

Later, during Ramayan period, there were highly intellectual teachers like Vashishatha, Valmiki, Bhardwaj, Atri, Sharabhang, Sutiksna, Dharmabhrta, and Agastya with whom Lord Rama had one-to-one meetings with Lord Rama.

During the Mahabharata period, Maharshi Veda Vyas, Durvasa, Parashuram, Dronacharya, Makandeya etc. are found, who have played different roles at that time. After the Mahabharat, there must be countless rishis, but we shall not discuss more about them. 

Nature of Education:

It is difficult, indeed almost impossible, for a learner to learn and grow without any help form a teacher. A learner needs help when he or she faces difficulties in understanding properly, thinking logically, and acting morally. William Ayres points out that teachers try to lead people to think, question, speak, write, read critically, work cooperatively, consider the common good, and link  consciousness to conduct. In other words, teachers play an important role in facilitating the growth of individuals and the formation of a good community, in which the members behave democratically and morally.1 

It will be beneficial also to go through the educational philosophical concepts of some of the world’s eminent personalities like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, before discussing about the invaluable contribution of Aacharya Chanakya.

The Educational Theory of Aristotle

Aristotelian scheme of education is quite similar to that prescribed by his teacher, Plato, in his “Republic”: He also believes that the education of the early childhood period should be the responsibility of the parents. After this, further education is the responsibility of the state, but it does not mean that parents are free from the responsibility of their children. They are still responsible for the moral education of their children.

Aristotle examines teaching in general, and analyzes the objects, procedures, and order found in all students learning, furnishing the guidelines for the culminating section on the inductive and deductive procedures underlying all teaching. Aristotle believed that education was central to the fulfilled person was an educated person. His work is a testament to the belief that our thinking and practice as educators must be infused with a clear philosophy of life. There has to be a deep concern for the ethical and political behavior. We should act to work for that which is good or ‘right’, rather than that which is merely ‘correct’.

Aristotle placed a strong emphasis on all-round and ‘balanced’ development. Play, physical training, music, debate, and the study of science and philosophy were to all have their place in the forming of body, mind and soul. Like Plato, before him, he saw such learning happening through life, although with different emphases at different ages.

Aristotle looked to ‘education through reason’ and ‘education through habit’. By the latter, he meant learning by doing – ‘anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate ones, brave by doing brave ones.’ (Aristotle Niconachean Ethics, Book II, p.91). Such learning is complemented by reason, and this involves teaching ‘the causes of things’. We can see here a connection with more recent theorists that have emphasized experience, reflection and connecting to theories. Aristotle bequeathed to us the long-standing categorizing of disciplines into the theoretical, practical and technical.

Aristotle’s definition of education is the same as that of his teachers, that is, the “the creation of a sound mind in a sound body”. Thus, to him the aim of education was the welfare of the individuals so as to bring happiness in their lives.

His view about the aim of education was different from that of his predecessors, Socrates and Plato. He believed in the purposefulness of education. According to Socrates and Plato, ‘the aim of education is to attain knowledge’. To them, the attainment of knowledge was necessary both for the interest of the individual and the society; hence, it was virtue by itself. Aristotle has a different view. To him the aim of education was not only the attainment of knowledge but also the attainment of happiness or goodness in life. He believed that virtue lies in the attainment of happiness or goodness. He has divided ‘goodness’ into two categories ‘goodness’ of intellect and goodness of character. The former can be produced and increased by teaching and is the product of training and experience. The latter is the result of habit, and it can be attained by the formation of good habits.2

Plato

The educational goal, according to Plato, is the search for truth, thorough knowledge. In his famous work ‘Republic’, Plato says that there should be art in teaching, which facilitates the change. Its aim is not to generate a person’s power of seeing, but to correct the direction, in which he or she looks. Thus, Plato, through the allegory, intends to show that the role of teachers is required to lead to change their direction, that is, from ignorance or distortion to the reality or the truth. According to Plato, teachers should not infuse knowledge into students, but they should lead students to think consistently with supporting evidences.1 Plato’s contribution to education, teaching and role of a teacher is very important. Here, ‘Teacher’ does not mean only ‘School Teacher’, but it encompasses all those who teach, profess, facilitate, encourage and give rightful direction. In Indian parlance, we can say ‘Giving Drushitikon (दृष्टीकोण)’.

Effective teachers are those who are up to the aforementioned task of facilitation, but the burden falls on the student. There must be a reasonable measure of commensurability between student and teacher, where both seek to attain the same understanding and knowledge. Genuine learning requires the desire to know. The attainment of wisdom, then, should be the ultimate goal of education.

Plato distinguishes between education as pedagogy, the art of teaching, and the desire for learning. As far as education is concerned, truth (alētheia) is unveiled in a three-step process. First, there is the example of the person, whose soul boldly faces the sun, and to whom truth addresses itself. This person has no difficulty ascertaining the Good. This individual is a self-motivated seeker of truth. This mode of self-awareness is intuitive. Secondly, there is the person, who has their back turned to the “light,” and who, as a consequence, requires education to make them “see.” It is probably correct to assume that this is where Socrates’ analogy of philosophy, as a midwife, is best exemplified. Thirdly, there is the person who, for as long as they live, will remain a voluntary prisoner in the darkness of the cave. For such a person, education will merely amount to training. This is the rationally blind person, who cannot be helped, because no one can furnish his eyes with sight.

The point is that the role of teachers in initiating the teaching. Learning process is to let their students know that teachers are not omniscient and that they are not totally ignorant, and that teachers, therefore, should not imply pass knowledge to them but should investigate matters with them; that the students themselves should think and explain their own ideas and that teachers as well as their students should correct their views through the dialogue.  

Knowledge and virtue are dominant themes in Plato’s work. In the Meno, Socrates and Meno discuss the question, whether virtue can be taught. This question is important to Plato’s though, because he argues that knowledge and virtue cannot be separated. Knowledge and intelligence without virtue lead to despotism.3

Socrates

Socrates was really genius and a great thinker too. He had philosophized the education extremely well and differently. Let us study his concepts now. He was of the opinion that ‘The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.’

It is necessary to realize that many ancient scholars provided us with the knowledge that has been far beyond our imagination for hundreds of years. In the beginning, it is necessary to mention that Socrates’ theories about education are mainly preserved in Plato’s writings, since Socrates did not write down any of his teachings. Socrates was somehow unique and different compared to his student Plato and Aristotle, because Socrates believed that the education not a process of learning. In the dialogue Meno, it is mentioned that Socrates believed that our souls are immortal and same can be applied to our knowledge, but each time we are born again, we lost all the knowledge, and therefore we must educate ourselves to remind us of our lost knowledge (Plato, Meno 85b, and c). Socrates emphasized that he is not teaching, but he is merely reminding {maieutics} us of the truth, which is already inside us (Plato, Theaetetus, 155d). To awaken the truth within us, we need to employ question and answers. Unlike Plato in his Academia or Socrates in Lyceum, Socrates did not teach people in an institution, school or one particular place. Socrates roamed through streets, gardens, squares and agora in Athens with his followers and debated about things such as justice, politics, and beauty, a way of life, law and so forth (Plato, Apology, 22c, d, and e). According to Socrates, everything is opened to question. Socrates was perhaps the most liberal and unconventional compared to his student Plato and Plato’s student Aristotle. Socrates claimed, we should question a law, religion, politics and so forth (Plato, Apology 39c, d). Consequently, it is evident that Socrates’ way of education was the most liberal one and without any further order, examinations or regulations. It was merely about individual’s willingness to join and participate in the debate. Socrates employed a new method called dialectic, which consists of the abovementioned questions, answers and critical thinking. Socrates encouraged his followers to think critically to expand their knowledge, because it allows us to understand better the world that surrounds us (Plato, Apology 30a, and b). According to Socrates, we can educate ourselves by thinking critically, questioning beliefs and finding answers. On the other hand, Socrates claimed that philosophy is the far-reaching quest for wisdom, though this quest is never-ending, because we simply cannot find all answers. Fortunately, Socrates’ ideas have survived in Plato’s Dialogs, although Plato later followed significantly less liberal opinion, when it comes to education.3 Socrates denied that he is a teacher, who imparts knowledge, but he limits himself to the one who investigates together whit the learner.

Confucius:

Confucius believes that enjoyment and the continuous passion to learn and to teach are the most important goals of life. Confucius says, “To learn and to mature through what we have learned, is this not a pleasure?” He also says, “To quietly review what we have learned, to continue studying without respite, to teach others without growing exhausted, is this not me?”

First, learning, I the Confucius context, is relevant to realizing one’s good nature. Second, we need models, who can guide us to realize our good nature. According to this view, the role of teachers is to become models or to introduce models, whom their students could emulate or who could help the latter find or realize their good natures. To be able to teach others, teachers should review what they have learned before. Then, they can discover what they did not know before and rediscover what they have already forgotten.1    

To teach is not to transfer knowledge, but to create possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge. The construction of knowledge results from the curiosity of the learners’ realization that they are the very open, who will examine a problem. If teachers will pour sets of information into their students, then, the later will lose their consciousness of subjectivity and consequently, their curiosity. On the contrary, if teachers will show their students that they will not teach them something directly, but will learn with them, then the students will realize their autonomous role if investing.1

Aacharya Chanakya

Now, let us look at the epoch-maker and the well-known, famous and genius personality in the Indian history, the Indian Giant, Aacharya Vishnugupta aka Chanakya aka Kautilya. Undoubtedly, Vishnugupta is The Greatest Teacher, Preacher, Theorist, Philosopher, Strategist, Law-maker, Economist and Jurist of Ancient India. His period is recognized as 350 BC to 275 BC. He was the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maury, who was established as a King of Magadha by Chanakya, a Founder of Mauryan Empire. Chanakya’s epitomic writing is ‘Arthshastra’.    

Aacharya Vishnugupta aka Chanakya was the advisor of Mahanand in Nanda Dynasty. Chanakya had completed his education, including Vedas, from Taxa Shila University. He was Brahmin and very intellectual. The precepts of the Arthashastra not only enabled Chandragupta to seize power, but to maintain it, passing it down to his son, Bindusara and then to his grandson Ashoka The Great.  

The Arthashastra continued to exert considerable influence after the rule of Asoka. However, it went into oblivion. It was then, discovered in 1905 AD, by the Sanskrit scholar Rudrapatna Shamasastry (1868 -1944 AD). He published the work in 1909 AD. Further, he translated it into English, which was published in 1915 A.D.

Chanakya’s amazing work has attracted many researchers in India and abroad. It is one of the greatest voluminous documentation on Political Science, ever written. Arthashastra, in its focus on the ‘Here-and-Now’, and how a king must decide effectively for good governance. The canons of Chanakya are absolutely practical, which acknowledges the existence of a higher power and also approves that the king is necessary. His actions must be in accordance with the principles of Dharma. Chanakya has also composed a nice work ‘Chanakya Niti’. 

The Arthshastra is not purely a treatise on Economics and Finance, as it appears from the title of the book. It contains various theories, principles, tenets and concepts of Economics, Jurisprudence, Civil and Criminal Laws, Political Science, Management & Administration, Diplomacy and Strategy, Family Laws, Property Laws, Laws of Succession and Inheritance, Revenue Laws etc. The epitomic book deals with Strategy, Spy System, Diplomacy, Foreign Affairs, Defense System, and Intelligence too.  

Aacharya served Chandragupta, till the time, he adopted the Jainism. Chandragupta, then, abdicated his kingdom and made his son Bindusara his successor. Aacharya Vishnugupt ensured the stability of the rule of Bindusara and then, proceeded to the forest. He was illustrious and pragmatic philosopher.

Acharya Chanakya was firm believer of ‘Dharma’ [His enunciation did not mean ‘Dharma’ as a ‘Religion’.] If we carefully read his books, it reveals that he has deployed the term ‘Dharma’, as an indicator of ‘Prescribed Duties by Law, Ethics, Morality and Society’. Dharma not only signifies an absolute and indisputable concept of righteousness, but also includes the idea of duty, which every human being owes to oneself, to one’s ancestors, to society as a whole and to universal order. Dharma is law, in its widest sense…..Spiritual, Moral, Ethical and Temporal.4

‘Artha’ has much wider connotation than mere wealth, as per Chanakya. The wealth of nation is both the land (territory) belonging to the nations; and its people, who may carry on different professions and vocations [15.1.1]. The government has to play a very important role in maintaining the wealth of people and nation. The balance between the welfare of people and enhancing the resources of the nation has to be ensured. And this is possible, only if, maintenance of law and order and appropriate administrative machinery is designed, created, established and maintained. Maintenance of law and order does not mean only to find out the criminals and punishing them. Chankaya professed that the state has to ensure the obedience of laws, such as, relations between husband and wife, inheritance, the rights of women, servants and slaves, contracts and similar matters of civil nature.

The word ‘Artha’ is used by Chanakya to encompass variety of things. It is used from the perspective of material well-being [15.1.1] and Livelihood [1.4.3]. His views were that Arthashastra is ‘The Science of Politics [1.1.1 & 1.4.3].

Arthshastra is mainly written in prose form. It contains 380 Shlokas (Poetry form).The actual number of verses (Sutras and Shlokas) are 5348. The Arthshastra contains fifteen (15) ‘Adhikarans’ or books. The first chapter of Book-1 has detailed table of contents and in Verse-1.1.18, it is mentioned that the text contains 150 Chapters, 180 ‘Prakranas’ and 6000 verses in all, but some verses are not traceable and available today. A ‘Prakaran’ is a section devoted to a specific topic. The number of chapters is not the same, as the number of sections; because sometimes, a chapter deals with more than one topic, and sometimes a topic is spread over more than one chapter.5     

Arthshastra, is primarily a compendium about the ‘Art of Governance’, and is instructional in the form. It advises, preaches and gives commands to kings. A famous book ‘Manusmruti’ on similar subjects was written 1200 BC; whereas Arthshastra is much later, i.e. 350 BC to 275 BC. Aacharya Chanakya must have referred ‘Manusmruti’; in the same way like Rishi Manu must have referred earlier work of Yadnyavalkya, Vashishthas Samhita, etc. Maharishi Manu had more emphatically stressed upon observance of ‘Religion’; whereas, Aacharya was keen that the king must ensure the observance of laws of the state, namely “Dharma’. Though the Arthshastra was written more than 2000 years ago and the political, cultural and social architecture prevailing at that time was different altogether and had undergone tremendous transformation; still, even today, many principles and advises stipulated at that time are equally applicable and adoptable. Especially, what looks relevant is ‘Inter-State Relations’, ‘International Law’ and ‘Jurisprudence’. The system of ‘Spy’, which is very well described in Arthshastra, is even today relevant and can be followed unhesitatingly in this modern era of ‘Geo-Politics’.6    

The Chanakya Nitee is another wonderful treatise, about canons of balanced life. They are interesting and useful for everybody’s life. Let us see some examples from Chanakya Nitee.

Education:

रूपयौवनसम्पन्ना विशालकुलसम्भवाः।
विद्याहीना शोभन्ते निर्गन्धाः किंशुका यथा॥ ०३०८||

Even if somebody is blessed with beauty and youth and birth in noble family, still without education people are like Palash flower which does not have any sweet fragrance.

कामधेनुगुना विद्या ह्यकाले फलदायिनी।
प्रवासे मातृसदृशी विद्या गुप्तं धनं स्मृतम्॥ ०४-०५ ||

Learning and knowledge is like a Kamdhenu (Cow of Desire), which gives as per your wish anytime what is desired for. Therefore, acquisition of knowledge is very important.   

A great thinker George Bernard Shaw has said that ‘Knowledge is not for knowing more but for behaving differently.’ It means education should lead to ‘Maturity’ and not make a person ‘Intelligently Arrogant’. And when, a person acquires real knowledge and becomes learned in real meaning, he become more humble in thoughts and all his actions. Aachyarya Chanakya, in his Arthashastra in Adhikaran, Chapter-207, at the end, says,

पूज्या विद्याबुद्धिपौरुषाभिजनकर्मातिशयतश्च पुरुषा: || ३.२०.२३ ||

Kautilya advises Judges, responsible for imparting justice that they (Judges) should treat those people with respect, who are intelligent, valour, good family background, and good deeds.

एवं कार्याणि धर्मस्था: कुर्युरच्छलदर्शिन: | समा: सर्वेषु भावेषु विश्वास्या लोकसंप्रिया: || ३.२०.२४ ||

Judges should not take resort to ill intention, be equanimous with everybody, and become popular by developing trust in the minds of people. Actually, this advice for Judges is, in fact, for all human beings in their all actions with others.    

Undoubtedly, Aacharya Chanakya aka Vishnugupta aka Kautilya was a class apart, very intelligent, genius, well learned, acclaimed and influential Brahmin Guru. He was an excellent Teacher, Philosopher, Counselor, Preacher and Raj Guru. Chanakya’s contribution to Administration, Justice, Governance, Economics, Finance, Jurisprudence, International Relations and Internal Security is outstanding and unparalleled in Indian history. India, owes to this great thinker for his invaluable teaching, which had survived for almost 2500 years and shall continue to influence, inspire, motivate and enthuse many generation, not only in India but the whole World Community8.

On this background, undoubtedly, Aacharya Chanakya aka Vishnugupta aka Kautilya possessed outstanding intelligence and was a class apart. He was very intelligent, genius, well learned, acclaimed and influential Brahmin Guru. He was an excellent Teacher, Philosopher, Counselor, Preacher and Raj Guru. Chanakya’s contribution to Administration, Justice, Governance, Economics, Finance, Jurisprudence, International Relations and Internal Security is outstanding and unparalleled in Indian history.

Aachyarya Chanakya, unlike Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, does not emphasize only on peculiar ‘education’, as understood in normal parlance; but he intends to define ‘education’ in entirely different way. He considered it necessary to teach disciples, as well as kings etc. He had inspired, taught, led and facilitated his great student Chandragupta Maurya to take over the throne of Magadha. It was a long process, full of various strategic decisions. He was very assertive, affirmative and had accentuated the ‘Rule of Law’. His astute skills of ‘King-Making’ are just unparalleled in the world history. The threat hurled towards him in the open court of King Dhananand, was converted into opportunity by him, for establishing the righteous kingdom, by dethroning Dhananand. Probably, the vow taken by him in the open court that he will not tie his ‘Shikha’, until, he dethrones the King Dhananad, is second such vow, after the world famous vow of “Pitamah Bhishm”. By the way, both Pitamah Bhishma and Aacharya Chanakya were towering personalities, who had given a different turn to the history of India.  

India, owes to this great thinker for his invaluable teaching, which had survived for almost 2500 years and shall continue to influence, inspire, motivate and enthuse many generation, not only in India but the whole World Community. I pay my highest regards and respect to this Great Guru and Teacher of India, on this Teachers’ Day, 5th September 2021, Sunday. 


References:

1. A Philosophical investigation of the Role of Teachers: A synthesis of Plato, Confucius, Buber and Freire by Seung Hwan Shim, Teaching and Teacher Education 24 (2008) 515-535, Page-1, 520, 521 & 528.
2. Aristotle–On Education, Dr. V.K. Maheshwari, Ph. D., (vkmaheshwari.com)
3. Plato’s Idea of the Teacher, The Russell Kirk Center
4. SocratesPlatoAristoleEducation-Martin_Mares.pdf
5.Kautilya – The Arthshastra, Edited , Rearranged, Translared and Introduced by   L. N. Rangarajan, Published by Penguin Books, New Delhi, ISBN 9780140446036, Page-1
6. The History and Culture of Ancient India (Up to 1000 A.D.) by M.R. Wadhwani, Published by Sheth Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, Second Edition, 1997, Page-167
7. Kautiliya Arthshastra, Translated by Dr. R. P. Kangale, Published by Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Sanskruti Mandal, Pune.
8. Ancient India, by R. C. Majumdar, Published by Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, ISBN: 978-81-208-0436-4 (Paper), 1oth Reprint, Delhi, 2017


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