Reviving the Intellectual Tradition – An Interview with ‘Chanakya’ Pillai


Radhakrishnan Pillai, a well-known author for his several ‘bestseller’ books on Chanakya, from the University of Mumbai, Department of Philosophy is the founder-director of Chanakya Institute of Public leadership (CIPL) a research based organisation that is working to promote Indian concepts in management. His books on Chanakya are used as a text book in various Business schools in India and abroad. With nearly 20 years of combined working and business experience he is a well known management speaker, trainer, author and consultant having represented India in various national and international conferences. He is a visiting faculty in prestigious institutes in India and aborad including the IIT, IIM, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) among others. He has been awarded the prestigious Sardar Patel International award 2009 for his research and contribution in field of management & Industrial development.

In a candid chat with Jay Pandya, he shares some of the critical issues with Hinduism from an academic and social view-point and the role of Chanakya in reviving the culture of ‘Intellectual Tradition.’

What is your inspiration and motivation behind not just the name but whole concept of Chanakya which you have taken up?

I have worked in the corporate world, run businesses and of course now I am in academics and teaching. However, I’ve always had a strong thought in my mind since childhood – India as a Nation has always been knowledge-driven culture and so I would differentiate this with a ritual-driven culture. Thanks to my parents, the whole study of scriptures like Bhagavad Gita, Ramayan and Mahabharata were part of my upbringing, being connected to a spiritual organization, the Chinmaya Mission.

I learnt that India has created so much of literature and so much in field of arts, science, technology, philosophy, spirituality. And specifically that our traditions and values are driven by knowledge and not merely sentiments. The thinkers of Vedic times were known as rishis. They were the social, political, economic and spiritual thinkers. They created a culture which is based on thinking and Knowledge. Therefore India is called as Bharata – as in Sanskrit word means Bh (Bhaskara) – Knowledge and Rata – One who is revered in Knowledge. The two broader definitions of types of knowledge are Paramatmika, the Spiritual knowledge, and Vyavaharika, transactional knowledge for worldly dealings.

Today the Indian culture is more dominated by the Adhyatmika part, (spiritual and its associated rituals), which is the most important part, but we have also forgotten that our culture is very strong in the Vyavaharika (social, worldy) part too. That’s what drove me towards studying Chanakya. So when I discovered it, I was amazed! I  felt that here is a knowledge of how our society should operate. It talks about economics, warfare strategy, crime and control, law and Order, gemology, Ayurveda, management, leadership and more than 180 total topics. The more I studied, the more I was mesmerised at the practical insights by that great person. And Kautilya Arthashatra has got 6000 sutras in Sanskrit. I went to Kerala and then learnt under a great scholar and a teacher called Dr. Gangadhar Naik. He taught me all 6000 sutras one to one. At that particular time He was a Dean of Adi Shankaracharya Sanskrit University.

Now this part has been totally neglected. India lacks the Vyavharika strength due to its own neglect and ignorance of its own knowledge. This is how I began to work on it.

Which business you were running?

I have a company called as AtmaDarshan which is into spiritual tourism. In my youth days I travelled across the country in a sales job. I also visited temples, ashrams, and spiritual organizations meeting mahatmas. And I found that this is great country with lot of spiritual wealth but never has been showcased. Then I realised here is an opportunity where I can showcase my country in an Indian spiritual way that is better.

It was a great inspiration from within. My heart was riddled with conflict in the begining. Was I trying to sell India or showcase India in a better and honest way? Then I decided not to commercialise business but to spiritualize commerce. Although I began with western methodologies of business, I thought that if my company, which is centred in India, and deals with heritage and culture then it must also have an Indian thought process.  

I came across this book called ‘Kautilya Arthashastra’. It was an epitome of and great book on good governance explaining how we trained Chandragupta Maurya, how we made whole kingdom come together, etc. But nobody debates on Chanakya as he is historical character. Not an imaginary character. There are still debates whether Ram existed or not but that debate does not exist with Chanakya. So I have found Chanakya’s works in Germany in German languages. Academic and intellectual communities across the globe accept that he was a historical character.

He is accepted in western countries but how is he received by all sections of Indian intellectuals?

Yes, they all accept him. I have been teaching this for the last 18 years. I am here as a Deputy Director of a University that is unbiased and non-religious. You will be surprised to know that even the Pakistan armed forces are taught Chanakya!

Really! How is it so?

Of course yes. Because it is not about religion but strategy. And now we are waking up. Chanakya strategy is beyond religion, colour, race, generation. Chanakya is very mysterious person. Everybody knows he is very different kind of a sadhu. He is someone whom everyone would want to decode and understand his thinking pattern. If you look at it there are very popular things about Chanakya such as Sama-Dama-Danda-Bheda, enemy’s enemy is a friend etc. All this is there in Indian culture but nobody is knows a depth of it.

Can you tell me how the Arthashastra helped your economic growth? I’m intrigued.

(Smilingly) Before I went to Kerala to study Arthashastra my turnover was 20 lakhs a year. After my study it became 2 crores the very next year! It works. Its not like some old story of a bygone generation.

That’s phenomenal! How did it spread socially?

So friends started calling me to have a discussion, which later made sense to them. They invited me in their companies to give seminars. I delivered around 100 lectures. All course free of cost. Not as a professional. Just sharing of my knowledge. I wrote a research paper called “Management Fundamentals and Kautilya’s Arthashastra.” It became very popular online. Times of India Group read it and asked me to be a columnist. In the Mumbai Mirror, I wrote more than 170+ articles for 4.5 years. That’s how many people came to know about me. Then Jaico, my publishers, said that you speak well on Chanakya, can you write a book for us? I wrote a book ‘Corporate Chanakya’ for them. I have written 6 books on Chanakya and I am writing 18 more books.

18 books in writing along with University responsibilities – how do you get the time?

I enjoy the flow so currently I am doing many projects in parallel. This is Chanakya Kripa (laughs), Gurukripa. The first thing what I did is applied Chanakya’s teaching in my own life. When you teach, you have to make it a part of your life first and then only you can lead by example. Otherwise I have seen so many so called motivational speakers, who have talked a lot and the moment they are out of their speech, you will find the conflict in their personality. They go, they drink and get wild. As Swami Vivekananda quoted, “In the west a tailor makes a gentlemen, in India character makes a gentlemen.”

The best part is I feel the journey has only begun.

That’s an amazing experience when one is doing what suits his svabhav, isn’t it ?

Absolutely! Sometimes you find the way, sometimes the way finds you! In a way I am on a journey that I never planned.

Can you explain the role of this department you are serving in Mumbai University?

I am serving here as a Deputy Director of the newest department of Mumbai University this year. We have set a benchmark globally and we are the first university in the world offering a two year’s Masters full time programme dealing with Leadership as a science which includes Chanakya’s principles. I have designed the program with my Ph.D guide, Dr. Shubhada Joshi.

After studying one personality for over two decades is there anything still intriguing and mysterious, that you haven’t been able to discover or you are mystified by?

Yes. His study of Jyotish shastra. It’s very interesting because Chanakya was a strategist and he did not have a single failure. As one scholar put it nicely, ‘If you understand Chanakya, you will not understand what failure is’. So this is what is intriguing. Traditionally, in India, strategy was not built on western models of permutation and combination of data. I am involved in research on this.

I have started realizing that there is a human mind and there is something called as a universal mind. So through Jyotish, Chanakya is connecting to some higher sources that becomes the part of his strategy. So Chanakya had very deep understanding of forces that work – the seen and the unseen. And that’s mysterious. When you say mysterious, it not something we can’t understand. It’s a science.

The story that all we know is only one part of it. Chanakya found Chandragupta Maurya and he trained him. But why only found Chandragupta Maurya? He was a teacher of political science in Takshashila University and had many students. Some of them became Kings of smaller kingdoms, some of them became ministers, some of them became bureaucrats. Since you cannot invest all your knowledge in a wrong person, he did the calculations and trained Chandragupta Maurya. A farmer makes sure that the seed is right. This is why Chanakya doesn’t fail. I am decoding certain subtle aspects of Chanakya in a scientific way so that we can apply and get benefit in this generation. For me Chanakya is an ongoing mystery!

Would it morally be right to use Chanakya’s strategies in a generation where the entire economics and governance is greed driven? I personally feel that it would be a defeat of the personality of Chanakya. Could Chanakya be relevant today?

Wealth based on spiritual values is what chanakya preached. He says that it is important to make your society wealthy, within and without. You can be ambitious as an industrialist. You can be a wealth creator yet the concept can be of service. Artha shashtras also speak of concept of a world conqueror but not with the method of killing or defeating. It can be with dharmic values too.

Chanakya recommends getting success from outside and inside and yet not getting attached. We talk about Janak Maharaj who was a scholar and also a leader in his own space. Ravana was very successful outside, scientifically, technologically well-developed at that point of time but not developed inside. So the concept by Chanakya for success is a person who balances materialism and spirituality together.

Why do you think that India with such a great tradition has neglected such great personalities in schools?

Some may say that Britishers destroyed us but now its 70 years after britishers left. We too must accept some responsibility for neglecting and thereby destroying Indianism in Indian education system. We must see that every society is responsible for success or failure. Not just outsiders.

It begins with language. I have seen parents of this generation are not even teaching their own children their Matru Bhasha (mother tongue). Their Rashtra Bhasha (national language) forget Deva bhasha (Sanskrit). So I think every child in the education system, but starting from home, should begin the education in four languages including English.

We have to integrate Chanakya, Mahabharat and Ramayana in schools and colleges. Government must incorporate it in its mechanisms. IDSA (Institute of Defence Studies & Analysis) in Delhi is now consulting as to how Artha shastra could be used in war. There are some models here and there in some colleges and schools but it will take a while to spread it.

What role do you see for spiritual organizations in this revival?

I think spiritual organizations currently are in the mode of catering to demand supply of the society. That’s not exactly what they are meant to be.

We see a lot of hero worship, mass hysteria in India. Its ok sometimes for the cultural part of it. But there are different philosophies: the bhakti traditions, intellectual traditions, the karma yoga traditions and there are yogic traditions also. When the followers are in the hysteria and hero worship mode it causes exclusivity. We need to understand the need for each other.

Unfortunately today questioning the Guru, who is supposed to be a teacher, is considered something bad. This is not the true spirit of a Parampara or tradition. A debate and a discussion for the betterment must always take place. This culture is compromised and that is a cause of many problems. However some spiritual organizations are doing lot of work like bringing out great publications, holding seminars and lot of intellectual discussions, debating and all those things. Ideal combination is bhakti and intellect.

That is the difference between shraddha and faith. Shraddha allows you to debate and disagree and present your points, whereas the faith systems do not allow that.

Yes. I may not agree with what my teacher says but that does not mean I am disrespecting him or her. And if you look all Upanishads they are discussions, debates right?

Even Gita is Samvaad. It’s not a katha, story.

Exactly. We need good teachers and teachers require good students. I always tell in my class, ‘Don’t come to my class to listen to me. First do your research, understand and learn and then come to my class for a healthy discussion. I will give you insights. I can’t read the book for you, you have to read it, you need to question it. Question every answer that I give. And then you have to go back and see if it makes sense.’

In today’s time, many spiritual discussions are becoming prophetic rather than being inspirational or logic driven. Becoming Islamized, Christianised in essence. That’s how abrahamic traditions function. Lord said so…Ram said so… Krishna said so… or our Guru said so…so just close all doors of discrimination. What are your views on this?. 

That’s a huge concern. There are commandments in Sanatan Dharma but they are logic driven. ‘Acharya devo Bhava, Atithi devo Bhava, Matru devo Bhava, Pitru devo Bhava’. But you don’t get stuck to commandments only. You look at intellectual growth. Some people have to be given rituals.  Some people have to be given to-do list. And as you evolve higher & higher, you mature saying that it stepping stone which is required but there are things beyond that.

So my challenge has been or rather every teacher’s challenge has been to give knowledge to student in the right amount. So if your level of growth is intellectual, I should be able to give you intellectually convincing questions. I should not cheat you. Sanatan Dharma parampara says that, ‘If you think that your questions are not answered by me, Please go to the next teacher. I’ll recommend you to the next teacher.’ If we don’t like our students going to search, investigate beyond ourselves we are trying to create a cult.

It is always more comfortable to be cultish than to be spiritual. Spirituality takes a lot of courage. In following a cult an individual has no or very little responsibility. Its all about following and not evolving.

We cannot write off the rituals else there will be no traditions. And a tradition must not become a cult. So I think spiritual organizations will also have to evolve. We have started with basic levels but I have seen that to survive 100-500 years you have to adapt to the questions of the intellectual crowd else you will get wiped off. If you have to mature an institution from a school level, to a college level, to a university, then you also have to evolve. Ultimate goal of any spiritual organization is not to create devotees for themselves but to create more knowledgeable people for the society.


About Author

Jay Pandya

Jay Pandya is the founder and editor-in-chief of the magazine Dharma Today ( He is also co-founder and mentor to Dharma Gurukul (, the cultural program for teens. Jay is an advisor to International Applications of Vedic Concepts (iaVediC) that works to apply Vedic concepts in contemporary ways ( He is a graduate in Engineering and held the role of Director of Special Effects for Films and TV before he took to monastic life. He routinely conducts programs and seminars focused on Dharma, Leadership, and Practical Vedic Application for various organizations and NGOs across the US, Europe, Middle East and South East Asia, Africa.

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