Learning by Comparison – Alexander – Aristotle Vs Chandragupta – Chanakya

By: | Published: August 11, 2016 5:09 PM

400 B.C. to 280 B.C. was the most exciting period on this planet. During that time, four of the biggest names who had constructed the significant part of warrior history of this planet were alive.

Looking at History with Passion: 400 B.C. to 280 B.C.  was the most exciting period on this planet. During that time, four of the biggest names who had constructed the significant part of warrior history of this planet were alive. Names of those four were – Aristotle – Alexander and Chandragupta – Chanakya. I loved these four marvelous human beings and their master-mentor relationships. Moreover, I adored the way they have fought their battles and created a name in the history of humanity. The life of these four is an inspiration, even after more than twenty centuries. And whenever I read about these four, I was amazed by their way of thinking, living and redefining the way human life can be lived.

Generally, I don’t prefer comparison traps, however; occasionally, you don’t understand the subject in detail unless you compare it with something. For illustration, you won’t realize the beauty of cold water until you put the hand in hot water. Therefore, for the sake of bigger insights of human living, let’s compare Aristotle and Alexander Vs Chandragupta and Chanakya on the important human aspects and master- mentor relationships. I think a Chanakya and Aristotle’s teaching was the common ground between these four and let’s start from there.

The common ground – The teachings

Aristotle was the first teacher and was first one to be called as “The Philosopher” on this planet. Aristotle was the founder of “happiness theory” and tutor to Alexander. He did taught fundamentals of war, strategy and as well as happiness and love related aspects to Alexander. Aristotle was always in touch with Alexander however never participated in war strategy directly.

If you look at Chanakya, he was the teacher, philosopher, economist, and royal advisor. He was famous for his wisdom and “Arth-niti” (Concepts of economics). Chanakya mentored Chandragupta for big battles as well as small tactics. He played a larger role directly in defeating the Nanda. This attribute was the significant difference between Chanakya and Aristotle.

Furthermore, Aristotle and Chanakya did nurture their students on the aspect of war and leadership and living a happy life. I don’t want to rate Aristotle or Chanakya in the aspect of philosophy as both of them had so many identical qualities and had the substantial influence on their countrymen. On the contrary, Chanakya had positions of strength whereas Aristotle always remained a teacher and philosopher who provided guidance without direct involvement in the war. Chanakya may score little more in this segment as apart from philosophy, he was directly involved in war tactics while defeating Nanda.

However, let’s see how their mentee’s lived a life and used their teachings, and that will help us understanding the mentor’s as well.

First criteria for comparison — Warrior nature

Warrior mature involves ambition, a sense of purpose, ability to fight in battle and define strategy. Furthermore, it’s about results and winning the battle. Let’s talk about Alexander first and how he performed on warrior scale.

The significant part is Alexander persona was his Ambition. He had phenomenal ambition and he was master strategist.  Alexander developed himself the world’s most renowned military leaders. Born into an era of violence, Alexander the Great used the exceptional education he received from Aristotle to marshal his forces in nearly impossible battle and managed to win them.  He emerged victorious over the course of 13 years of battles from which was forged one of the largest empires the world has ever seen.

Alexander defeating the Persian army which had five times bigger size than his army is a lesson in the “literature of war”. Alexander and his aura used to kill the enemy’s mind before the start of the war, and they used to surrender to his technique.  Additionally, his ability to raise the morale of his soldiers whenever required was exceptionally brilliant by any standards. Above all the else, Alexander had great belief in his own superiority. One of his firm beliefs was that he was direct descendent of Achilles.(God).

After his death, several Greek cities ordered that Alexander should be recognized as the “invincible god.”  I think, this was the biggest honor any warrior would have ever received until now.

If you look at Chandragupta, he fought battles, but their magnitude was not as great Alexander wars. Chanakya had great ambition. However, that was to defeat King Nanda and not of winning the world. Later on, Chandragupta managed to win the land of today’s Punjab or even part today’s Kashmir. In the nutshell, Morays Empire ruled India and part of Afghanistan.

On the warrior nature, I think, Alexander and Aristotle were better than Chanakya and Chandragupta. I understand, few may not agree with this because nature of war’s in India and outside India. Chanakya relied more on tactics and less of violence driven face-to-face battles. However, a total number of battles and real aggressive strategist role was executed multiple times by Alexander compared to Chandragupta.  Also, the size of battles and territory they manage to win differ significantly.

Second criteria — Leadership

Alexander and Chandragupta both were incredible leaders. However, the soldiers of Alexander followed him for around ten years or even more and giving their entire life to him. Alexander had the convincing vision; he walked his talk; he was master executer, and he even planned for his succession. He was the tallest leader and great inspiration for generations to come.

Chandragupta’s leadership had the vision of unifying India. However, his leadership has the larger influence of Chankya’s thoughts. He did walk his talk and had master execution skills and ability to raise morale when needed.

There are no direct numbers to compare but considering way Alexander’s soldier’s given entire life to him makes him bigger than anyone in the leadership area. I think, Alexander and Aristotle were marginally ahead in this area as well.

Third Criteria — Sense of Achievement

Human life is about, how much you achieve what matters to you most? Alexander has the entire world in his mind, and he wanted to conquer fear and win the world, and he almost did it.

Chanakya was very clear about life’s goals and achieved almost what he wanted to achieve by defeating Nanda and creating a unified India. Both are roughly equal in this area if compare them without data. However, if you look at the land they possessed, Alexander will defeat Chandragupta by a large margin.

Fourth Criteria – Sense of Fulfillment

Human life is not only around achievement but about love, happiness and respecting mind, body, spirit, compassionate relationships and having faith. Alexander did love his battles, his accomplishments, and his wife but then all were happening in the war-zone. There was no peace in his life after his childhood, as the major portion of his life spent on the battlegrounds. Even his mentor, Aristotle became livid over him when he was continuing battles and chose to prioritize his ambition over everybody else.

If you look at Chandragupta on this aspect, you will be amazed to see that Chandragupta fought battles, however, lived a complete life. He had family, loving wife and sons and he managed to give them enough time and love. Chandragupta lived a fulfilled life compared to Alexander. Chandragupt is ahead in this area of life. This is the significant insight that we have captured due to the logic of comparison.

Summary and learnings —

Well, both Chandragupta and Alexander were extraordinary leaders and exceptional human beings.  However, one of them achieved and lived a fulfilled life and one of them continuously behind the ambition of conquering the world.  I love Alexander for his many qualities, but his ambition immobilized him from celebrating a few gifts of human life. (For Illustration – Larger Sense of fulfillment, mental peace, etc.)

The biggest lesson that one can derive by comparing Alexander x Aristotle and Chandragupta x Chanakya is the sense of achievement, as well as the sense of fulfillment, are equally important. You cannot run behind your goals all the time without spending time with people you love. Developing the bond of love, being happy, having faith is an essential part of human life.

For me, history remains relevant as long as we keep learning from it. So live a life where you balance sense of achievement and sense of fulfillment both..! This insight is the major lesson that Alexander era has taught us!


Virendra Dafane: The author is the IIT-B alumnus and working in software field.

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