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Eastern Ethics and Chanakyanism by Wai Wai Ko

As we discussed about Western Ethics in our previous lecture, this week lecture led us to the topic of “Eastern Ethic” introduced by one of our lecturers Dr. Hamid and we focused on ethical thoughts of three great Asian civilizations which are China, Persia, and Japan. We started with China with the dominant thinker, Confucius. Confucius is known as a Chinese teacher, politician and philosopher. His philosophy emphasized more on personal morality, proper human relationships and sincerity. Most of the today’s Chinese traditions and beliefs are based on his principles. One of the most important teachings of Confucius is the superiority of personal exemplification over the rules of behavior. His moral teaching emphasized self-cultivation and for that, he is known as an exemplar of human excellence in terms of ethics and virtues.

Moreover, during his time, there was no distinction between ethics and politics to solve problems of bringing peace. There is one of his saying that I admire most, “what you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others”. With this statement it is obvious that if we don’t want others to treat as badly, we have to treat them nicely. Some people may treat you badly but it is always good not to revenge, instead show them love and they will realize their wrong doings and they will get tired of bringing you down. According to the teachings of the Confucius, if you want to be pure then “do not look at anything improper, do not say anything improper, do not listen to anything to improper and do not do anything improper”.

Then we continued our lecturer discussing about “Persian Ethical Thought”. Persia, currently known as Iran, also had its own ethical thoughts just like China. Around 6000 BC, a prophet named Zoroaster emerged in Persia. He was the founder of a book titled Avesta, meaning praise, which is about history and ethical thoughts. Persia, had three ethical principles of Zarathustra, which were; good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. They believed in good and evil.

After that, we moved on with the topic discussing “Japanese Art of Ethics”. We have been talking and discussing about Japan for the past few weeks so I already have got some ideas of visiting Japan to witness the truth behind our lecturer’s story. I am quite astonished in terms of Japanese discipline, cleanliness and politeness. Moreover, Japanese people have a positive attitude about how they work whether it’s collective or individual work, they take it seriously and give it their best due to their hard working nature. Our lecture ended with a very interesting question; “If Japan has been able to enter modernity, be a leading center of technology, and at the same time retain its ethical essence, how did it achieve that?” In my point of view, they achieved that with their good moral behavior. Japanese people are known as open minded, united, educated and well trained on how to react and handle problems. Most important of all is their collectiveness and respect. That’s why they manage to enter modernity without casting out their ethical essence.

During our tutorial session of this week, we had a very fascinating topic which is about religion, culture and tradition. Religion for many people can be considered as a system of beliefs based on humanity’s attempt to explain the universe. In my own understanding, religion plays a vital role because it shapes a culture’s view of reality. Religion also shapes tradition. We cannot say that tradition shapes religion because there are traditional practices that are not allowed in the religion. Although we discussed many topics under religion, the one that caught my mind is “Chanakyanism”.

When we talk about this, we start with who was Chanakya. No one exactly knows. All we know is that he was the author of the ancient Indian political treatise called Arthashastra and the founder of Maurya Empire. Some call him evil , some hail him as hero. Chanakya is well known for the fact that he was a cunning man and all his speech, action and thought will always lead people to do things his way. Then, what is Chanakyanism? Chanakyanism is a neologism which although derived from Chanakya and is used for diverse but interrelated ideologies of political conduct and personal power. There is no strict definition but the term accords with Chanakyan principles.

Chanakyanism in general is an honest acceptance of this unethical element of Human Nature. It is in fact beyond ethics and morality .The overall approach is pragmatic, practical and aimed at acquiring and maintaining power and material wealth. It does not concentrate on any abstract moral values, but focuses upon how people behave and what strategies work in actual practice. One of the strongest thoughts of Chanakya is that; “God is not present in idols. Your feelings are your god. The soul is your temple.” They also say that; “One should save his money against hard times, save his wife at the sacrifice of his riches, but invariably one should save his soul even at the sacrifice of his wife and riches.” Overall, as a person, Chanakya has been described variously, as a saint, as a ‘ruthless administrator’, as the ‘king maker’, a devoted nationalist, a selfless ascetic and a person devoid of all morals. This great philosopher has been often compared to Machiavelli, Aristotle and Plato, exemplifying his potentiality and influential status.


Week 4

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