Vedic roots of absolute power

This column by U Mahesh Prabhu was first published by BW Businessworld 

Power is usually looked upon in an external sense. It is defined as the capability of accomplishing something with some permanence, it is sometimes referred to as a political or executive ability, or the marked ability to do or act with decisiveness, might and force. It is the possession of control or command over others – authority. Power is also political control of a government, which often delegates authority to a person in a particular office or capacity. It isn’t necessarily something tangible. It isn’t even something one can buy exclusively with money.

Today, what most people consider a seat of power—or, power by position—is the most feeble and temporal. Yet, it is an addictive type of energy that takes a lot, both from those who aspire to it as well those who occupy its status. It is a purely outward power that may not include any power over oneself. If it is a position of power that is won or given, it can always be quickly lost or taken away.

One of the revered Vedic seers, Bhartrihari, who was a king before becoming a hermit by choice, said that fear is everywhere and in every person in the absence of supreme wisdom. While the weak fear the powerful, the powerful fear the loss of power. In Bhartrihari’s own words, “In enjoyment, there is fear of disease. In social position, there is fear of disgrace. In wealth, there is fear of taxation. In honour, there is fear of humiliation. In power, there is fear of foe. In beauty, there is a fear of old age. In erudition, there is fear of criticism. In virtue, the fear of slander. In body, fear of death…”

So if you think that the chair of the president of United States is the most powerful in the world, you might want to consider that it can be occupied by a person for not more than eight years and requires regular approval from other branches of government, the media and the voters. Given this fact, even the chair of the president of United States of America isn’t with absolute power. There have been times when sitting presidents have had to step down in disgrace, have been killed and, even humiliated. Like all powers, such political prominence is transitory. But then, is there really something called absolute power, having which a person could take on the mightiest?

Absolute power, that which Vedic seers like Chanakya, Bhoja, Bhartrihari and Bhardwaj taught, is that which makes a man brave and fearless. In the presence of fear, there can seldom be any enduring power. In life, all fears have to be uprooted before we make place for power. Whether power is to be used in material or spiritual pursuits, uprooting the fear is the key.

Fears are caused by six passions, called ‘Arishadvargas’, which come to people naturally because of the excess of the mind. These are kaama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (infatuation), madaa (ego) and matsara (envy, jealousy). In lust, we fear not having or, when having, losing the object of our desire. We are infested with anger owing to our fear of losing what we have and those who would try to take it from us. Greed occurs when we fear too much about the future. In fear of the future ,we seek to accumulate material things beyond our present needs through devious means. Infatuation is often a cause of emotional pain, and anticipation of pain is the cause of fear. Egoistic people often seek too much appreciation, acceptance and publicity, most of the time undeservingly, and therefore fear not having it or losing it. Envy and jealousy too make way for fear. When someone has something we don’t possess, we envy them in fear that we may never get that which they have or that they may outdo us.

All the so-called ‘most powerful people’, labelled by media publications, are infested with these Arishadvargas. Yet, we are made to believe that they are powerful owing to these very limitations which are actually roots of peril. Vedic seers  declared that in the presence of any or all Arishadvargas, a person is only weak on the inside. So, according to them, to be powerful, a person has to first overcome his fears by overcoming those six perils. This is a matter of developing self-control and cannot be achieved by controlling others or external resources.

The Vedic word for power is shakti. Shakti comes from the root word ‘shak’, which means ‘to be able’. There are five manifestations of this shakti, which truly makes a man powerful. They are:

  1. Chit Shakti: the power of consciousness
  2. Ananda Shakti: the power of unconditional bliss
  3. Iccha Shakti: the power of unimpeded will
  4. Jnana Shakti: the power of intuitive knowledge
  5. Kriya Shakti: the power of acting according to one’s will

These are inner powers that cannot be gained through manipulating others. They arise from Yoga Shakti or Power of Yoga. It is through appropriate use of the aforesaid shaktis that a person becomes powerful enough for:

  1. Srushti: manifestation
  2. Stithi: sustenance
  3. Samhara: dissolution
  4. Tirodhana: concealment
  5. Anugraha: benevolence

No person is truly powerful unless he has the ability to carry on these five tasks. Yet these are universal functions, not something any person can own or dispense of their own accord.

Once people achieve worldly power, they are addicted to it and are eventually overwhelmed by it. They seek enjoyment by abusing them, even while in the grip of fear of losing it. This causes their downfall. Many seers of Vedic origin have propounded that getting power is far easier than holding on to it.

Power, according to Vedic wisdom, has three major limitations. They are: dukhamishritham (it’s filled with sorrow), atriptikaratvam (it leads to dissatisfaction) and Bhandhakatvam (it makes the possessor its slave). All these limitations make a person more prone to anger. From anger, comes delusion. From delusion arises failure of judgement. From failure of sense of judgement, loss of understanding. And from loss of understanding comes destruction.

Modern history is replete with stories of leaders who have often been overwhelmed by the power they possessed and eventually lost everything to it.

Therefore, Vedic scriptures recommend that a shakta (possessor of power) must seek silence, vows of austerity, wisdom, study, solace, meditation and retrospection. When these seven aren’t adhered to, his shakti leaves him thereby causing his peril.

Shakti is also regarded the mother or maatrika. There are essentially seven maatrikas (or saptamaatrikaas) in the Vedas:

  1. Brahmani: power of creation
  2. Vaishnavi: power of sustenance
  3. Maheshwari: power of destruction
  4. Indrani: power of self-control
  5. Kaumari: power of wisdom
  6. Varahi: power of wealth
  7. Chamunda: power of fearlessness

These saptamaatrikaas have been revered by Vedic people since time immemorial in pursuit of a power to overcome human pains, propagate truths, sustain wisdom as well as achieve liberation.

Therefore, it is clear that without inner power, outer power is just an illusion and brings as much danger as prestige. Inner power may not require outer power, but outer power is dependent on the inner power of an individual to sustain itself. True power comes from one’s good karma, in which one becomes a conduit of nature’s energies. Abuse of power is bound to cause peril, not just to the person but to his position as well.

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