04.02 – The divorce of the raja from the rishi perverts the ruler into an exploiter
Monarchy. The idea of one person monopolizing political power alarms us. So, when the Bhagavad-gita (04.02) refers to monarchs positively as the primary recipients of its message, we may doubt Gita wisdom itself.
Our reaction is understandable given that our historical memory of monarchs usually conjures up images of oppressive dictators. However, humility will allow us to admit that our historical memory doesn’t encompass all of history and certainly not all of possibility.
If we don’t let our preconceptions prejudice our perception, we will discover that the Gita talks about monarchs dramatically different from power-hungry autocrats. It refers to these monarchs by the compound word “rajarishi” comprising raja, the material ruler, and rishi, the spiritual seer. Normally, these two words raja and rishi refer to two different classes of people – the first, a worldly king; the second, a other-worldly sage. Both work cooperatively for social wellbeing – the raja arranges for material wellbeing; the rishi, spiritual wellbeing.
However, some exceptional individuals, rajarishis, embody the defining attributes of both classes. They have the material competence to rule this world and the spiritual conviction to seek the next world. Because they know joys far greater than those promised by this world, worldly power can’t corrupt them.
In today’s society, such rajarishis are nearly absent. Worse still, the rajas have largely divorced the rishis; the rulers don’t care for those who care for society’s spiritual health. Having thus deprived themselves of spiritual vision, the rulers seek worldly power as life’s ultimate success. They abandon morality, even human civility, in their pursuit of power. No wonder they end up becoming exploiters.
Democracy can’t change human nature; only spirituality can. By offering its spiritual message to rulers, thereby empowering them to become seers, Gita wisdom fosters all-round wellbeing.
This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.