Major Teoh’s Blog

July 3, 2007

Kautilya’s Aphorisms in Management

Filed under: Guest Writers,M. Balakrishnan — Major (Rtd) Teoh @ 11:55 am

Kautilya’s Aphorisms in Management By Balakrishnan A/L Muniapan[1]

 

  Management is an interdisciplinary field with contributions from various fields such as psychology, social psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, economics and finance (Muniapan, 2005:b). Contemporary management also includes issues related to cross-cultural management and international management. Increasingly the understanding of management is coming to depend on understanding, analyzing and predicting organizational behavior, which is the basis for human resource management.  

The theories and concepts of modern management from the west have dominated management literatures over the last two centuries. This dominance is largely due to the colonization and the widespread use of English language. This dominance is evidenced through several management curriculum in universities, textbooks, training and consultancy programs and also articles in management journals. However, a careful analysis of many of the western management theories and concepts reveals that it has been in practice in Asian countries especially in India and also in China for centuries although these practices however were not in the context organizational management but in the context of state or political governance.

 

Management is culture specific. Sharma (2001) argues that for a management system, to be effective, it has to be rooted in the cultural soil of the country, where it is practiced. Many communities and countries in the world are now trying to discover and explore their own system of management. In the Malaysian context, the current Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is promoting an approach called Islam Hadhari or civilization Islam, in which management is also included. 

 

The exploration of the Asian context of management for managers began with wider understanding of Japanese management three decades ago (Maruyama, 1994). The discussion and the studies on the Chinese management are also growing in recent years especially based on the literatures on Confucianism and Sun Tzu Art of War. Today, the Sun Tzu’s Art of War and the teaching of Confucius and is used widely in the management and several studies have been conducted to integrate Confucianism in human resource management and the war strategies of Sun Tzu in the context of strategic management. We should also note that besides China, a large part of tradition in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore drive from Confucian heritage. Similarly the Indian management also has a strong tradition which continues to sustain the interpersonal world in Indian organizations (Chatterjee, 2007).

 

The Indian civilization, with recorded history of more than 5000 years is one of the oldest civilizations in the world and the contribution of India and Indians to this world is enormous in various fields of knowledge. Several ancient Indian classics such as the Valmiki Ramayana, the Mahabharata (includes the Bhagavad-Gita), the Puranas, etc offers several management lessons which can be useful even in the modern context. Many of these literatures are more than 5000 years ago and were written in Sanskrit. In this article the Arthashastra by Kautilya (also known as Chanakya or Vishnugupta), originally written in Sanskrit is analyzed in the context of organizational management.

 The Arthashastra (4th Century B.C) is treatise on political economy which was written by Kautilya in the ancient India. Kautilya was the prime minister and adviser for Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, who was the contemporary of Alexander the Great. Kautilya’s Arthashastra is often compared to Machiavelli’s The Prince (15th century A.D), with which it shares many common philosophical and practical views. The Kautilya’s Arthashastra deals with different aspects management which includes strategic management, financial management, accounting, human resource management, corporate governance, social responsibility, etc. Kautilya analyses the entire management issues in following ways and lets look at it from the contemporary organizational management: – Why do you have to do business? To generate wealth (artha) and to earn profits. For what purpose wealth and profits are generated? To share the wealth and profits earned among the shareholders. Why? Wealth and profits makes the shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, distributors and also the government happy. However Kautilya stated that happiness is obtained not by wealth and profit only but by doing things rightly and doing right things (sukhasya mulam dharma). Dharma without wealth according to Kautilya is toothless (dharmasya mulam artha), and wealth without dharma is useless because a poor person cannot support the entire society.  The Indian culture has always emphasized that sukhasya mulam dharma and dharmasya mulam artha taken together – namely wealth does not lead to directly happiness. Happiness for self and others results through ethical behavior: wealth or resources make ethical behavior possible. This also means that one must strive to generate wealth – resources, money – share it equitably to create happiness for oneself and others. Such generation of wealth must also be through ethical means, which alone would lead to overall happiness (Garde, 2003).  Kautilya further stated to generate wealth you require an enterprise or an organization or an asset (arthasya mulam rajyam). He then stated the support for organization is the organs (rajyasya mulam indriyajayah), the functions, processes, activities, etc. The victory over organs of the body, which is the literal meaning of the word indiyajayah, is a well-known concept in the Indian culture and this refers to the control over the five organ of sense (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and skin), an on five organs of action (hands, feet, mouth, genitals, and anus). Conquering the body organs are manifested through control over the six enemies of the mind – desires (kama), anger (krodha), greed (lobha), arrogance (mada), infatuation (moha), envy (matsara). Only the governor or CEO who has conquered the organs of his body would be able to put the goals of the organization first, especially when in conflict with self-interest (Muniapan and Shaikh, 2007). Kautilya maintained that a leader (king) should have no self-interest, happiness and joy for himself, his satisfaction lies in the welfare (happiness) of his people, i.e. he has to submerge his personality into the larger personality of his people. Kautilya states in the happiness of his subject lies the happiness of the king; and in their welfare lies his welfare. He shall not consider as good only that which pleases him but treat as beneficial to him, whatever pleases his subjects (Prajasukhe sukham rajnah Prajanam cha hite hitam; Natmapriyam hitam rajnah Prajanam tu priyam hitam) or the welfare of the many and the happiness of the many (Bahujana sukhaya bahujana hitayacha). In fact, this concept of the happiness of the many need integrated into the area of corporate management as the basic principle.This wisdom is also reflected two thousand years ago by Thiruvalluvar in Tamil Nadu who spelt out in 1,330 verses of Thirukkural the three purusharthas of existence, dharma, artha and kama. In the chapter on artha, like Kautilya’s Arthashastra, he also dealt with the characteristics of a well-run administration or shall we say the ethics of good administration. For instance, when talking about the responsibility of a king, Thiruvalluvar says: “the king who administers justice and protects his people will be considered of divine quality” (Murai saithu kapatrum mannavan makkalkku iraiyentru vaikkapadum) (Vittal, 2004).

The same advice can also be found in Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, wherein the public interest (welfare) is to be accorded precedence over his (leader’s) interest. A leader (king) should, without doubt, look upon the subjects as his children. In determining their disputes, however, he should not show compassion.  In performance of his duties he is enjoined to be impartial. In the ancient India, the leader (king) is often compared to the rain clouds, which bestow benefit, through rain (actions), to all and sundry, equally Kodandaramayya (2004).

 

Thus the Kautilyan principle of management takes an inside-out approach to management, which is self management first before management of every other thing. The manager needs to be trained to discipline the self by cultivating humility, and following the ethical path (dharma) and this is also consistent with the philosophy of Confucius in the Chinese context.

  References Chatterjee, S. (2007), Challenging the Dominance of Western Managerial Models: Reflections from the Wisdom and Traditions of Asia, International Conference on Integrating Spirituality and Organizational Leadership, University of Delhi, India, February 8-10, 2007 

Garde, A.R. (2003), Canakya’s Aphorisms on Management, Ahmedabad Management Association, Ahmedabad

 Kodandaramayya, J.P. (2004), The Message of Mahabharata: The Nation’s Magnum Opus, Bharatiya Vidya Bhuvan, Mumbai 

Maruyama, M. (1994), Mindscapes in Management: Use of Individual Differences in Multi-Cultural Management, Aldershot, UK

 Muniapan, B. (2005), HRM Education: The Role of Malaysian Universities and Institution of Higher Learning in Alex Yong, K.B, Strategic HR: Invent and Innovate, Genuine Circuit, Kuala Lumpur Muniapan, B., Shaikh,J., (2007), Lessons in Corporate Governance from Kautilya’s Arthashastra in Ancient India, World Review of Entrepreneurship, Management and Sustainable Development (WREMSD). Special Issue on: “Accounting Standards Convergence, Corporate Governance and Sustainability Practices in East Asia”, Volume 3, Number 1, 2007, p. 50-51 

Sharma, G.D. 2001, Management and the Indian Ethos, Rupa and Company, New Delhi

 Vittal, N. (2004), Ethics in Public Administration: Classical Insights and Current Practices. Available at: http://www.boloji.com/opinion/0124.htm 


[1] Balakrishnan A/L Muniapan currently lectures Human Resource Management at Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia. He can be contacted at mbalakrsna@yahoo.com. His at: http://www.curtin.edu.my/sch_dept/SOBusiness/SOB_SProfile.asp?wr=SOB004

 

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