The Rajarshi (Sage – Emperor) Model of Leadership

The Rajarshi (Sage – Emperor) Model of Leadership

The Bhagavad-Gita has been a source of inspiration to many great leaders in India, Gandhi being one of them. His indebtedness to the teachings of the ancient text is reflected in the following quote:

‘When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone, I see no ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad-Gita. I find a verse here and a verse there, and I immediately begin to smile in the midst pf overwhelming tragedies – and if they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita’
(quoted in Chinmaynanda, 2008: IX).

Niskama Karma, i.e., action without motive or desire which has been touched upon earlier, leads to niskama bhavna (selfless feeling) which leaders should embrace.

The Bhagavad-Gita sheds light on many facets of spiritualised leadership. It inspires leaders to live for others - sarva bhuta hite ratah or lokasamagraha (engaged in the well-being of everyone and everything). Verses II.39 & 48 stress that a leader must posses intellect purified of mental infirmities and pollutions. He must be buddhaya yukto (endued with wisdom). It further lays emphasis on even mindedness, that is, an imperturbable and cool mind, which is not swayed by inevitable upheavels caused by non-controllable external variables – samatwa yoga uchyate, which would lead to samatwa (state of balance), a core quality that a true leader must exhibit in his conduct.

These insights provided by the Bhagavad-Gita can serve as an edifice on which spiritualised leadership can be premised. In its words one can find a true source of inspiration and strength. If we were to look for a detailed rule book and a practical guide to leadership, a text that stands out is Kautilya’s Arthashastra1.

In his pioneering and classic work Kautilya2 deals with political and other aspects of efficient administration. The text prescribes practical guidelines for the grooming of a leader, and establishes the Rajarshi Model to be followed by kings. Its keynotes and principles are as valid for leaders in business and other human institutions also (Chakraborty & Bhattacharya, 2001) as they were for kings during the ancient times.

Section III.ii. of the Arthashastra contains ‘categorical imperatives’ for the ‘good conduct’ of a ‘wise’ and ‘just’ king (Rangarajan, 1992). At the very start Kautilya prescribes the exercise of vigilant control over the six internal enemies in all humans (shadaripus) – lust, anger, greed, delusion, vanity and envy.

Kautilya’s insistence on self-control does not stand in isolation. The basic self-governance mandate receives wide recognition in the vast corpus of shastras or sacred literature, substantiate Chakraborty, S.K. & Chakraborty, D. (2008). Although this emphasis on self restraint may appear negative on surface, it is realistic nevertheless. One has to clean up the stinking mess on a plot of land before planting fragrant flower saplings upon it, the authors argue. (Ibid., p. 183).

‘Only such a disciplined king gains true knowledge, becomes wise, and treats justly all his people. Thus he becomes a rajarshi (sage emperor). He is an organic, intrinsic synthesis of the sage and the emperor. The greatest asset and reward of such a rajarshi is the loyalty and trust of his people’ (Ibid., p.183). These ideals can constitute the core of leadership in all spheres

Kautilya stresses the need for a king (read leader) to be energetic and not lax. He writes a detailed prescription to be followed by the king. The 24 hour cycle for the king is divided into 16 slots of 1½ hours each, and specific duties, enumerated for each slot.

The Arthashastra furnishes comprehensive lists of do’s and don’ts that a rajarshi must follow to check impoverishment, greed and disaffection among his subjects. Here are a few of the don’ts (Rangarajan, 1992:159)

  • Don’t ignore the good people and favour the wicked
  • Don’t neglect the observation of proper and righteous practices
  • Don’t suppress dharma and propagate adharma
  • Punish those who ought to be punished, but don’t punish those who do not deserve to be punished
  • Don’t indulge in wasteful expenditure or destroy profitable undertakings
  • Don’t antagonize the wise by lying and doing mischief

Kautilya had the dual role of being the King’s mentor and a teacher of the society. His maxims are rules and principles which are capable of nurturing the continued emergence of rajarshi leaders in all walks of life (Subramanian, 1980). One of his maxims states, ‘…The ruler should not be like subjects. The people should, however, be like a good ruler. The ruler powerfully influences the entire people towards righteous action or the opposite’ (ibid., p. 4). Modern day leaders in organizations will do a world of good if they measure up to these benchmarks.

Kautilya compares an ideal king (Rajarshi) with a gardener (Sil, 1985:95). He says:

‘That ruler stays long in power who acts like a gardener: rehabilitating the uprooted, nursing the blossoming, stimulating the weak, bending down the excessively tall, enervating the excessively strong, dividing the united, pruning those with thorns, and protecting those who come up by themselves.’

Self discipline is the hub of an ideal king’s virtue, as Kautilya explains in the following words: ‘… Discipline is of two kinds – inborn and acquired. There must be an innate capacity for self-discipline … Instructions and training can promote discipline only in a person capable of benefiting from them; people incapable of natural self-discipline do not benefit … one who will be a king should acquire discipline and follow it strictly in life …’ (Rangarajan, 1992:142).

True to this rajarshi law of self-discipline, Kautilya himself returned to the forest after ensuring that Chandragupta had established himself in power.

The Rajarshi Model constitutes an impeccable blue print for grooming leaders who can deliver artha-kama, subject to dharma-moksha. If monarchical governance, based on such principles as Kautilya laid down, could nurture princes like Chandragupta, why not turn to them today, ask Chakraborty, S. K. & Chakraborty; D, 2008:189). This needs to be taken note of by leaders in today’s organizations.

1 Arthashastra literally means – ‘the science of material gain’ or ‘science of polity’

2 Kautilya was the mentor of King Chandragupta. Together they had founded the Maurya dynasty, and had built the first empire in Bharatvarsha). He wrote the classic ‘Arthashastra’, known as the ‘Kautilya’s Arthashastra’, which is usually dated around the 4th century B.C.

(The above short article is an extract from a paper titled – ‘Reawakening of Spirit - seeking answers from ancient Indian scriptures’ by Chandrashekhar Pandey. This formed a part of the seminar given at the University of Paderborn in the summer of 2009)


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