Indian Wisdom on How to Deal with Disobedience

How to Deal with Disobedience

According to the principles of ancient Indian politics, there are four way to deal with disobedience:

1) sāma – harmonize / compromise
2) dāna – empower / bribe
3) bheda – break / terminate
4) daṇḍa – beat / punish

These have to be applied by an expert leader as they befit the right circumstance.

Sāma — Harmonizing / Compromize

If the disobedient person is an intellectual (“brahmana”) the best strategy is sāma (harmony / compromise). This means rationally explaining why they should do the particular thing you want them to do, hearing why they haven’t already done so, and being willing to negotiate a compromise. (Since the person is intellectual, they usually have a good reason not to want to do what you want them to do, therefore compromise is advised.)

Dāna — Empowering / Bribery

If the disobedient person is an entrepreneur (“vaiṣya”) the best strategy is dāna (empowering). This means granting the person some power, to be used under your jurisdiction, thus making it lucrative for them to become more cooperative with you. (Since the person is profit-oriented, make it profitable for them to be obedient.)

Bheda — Breaking / Firing

If the disobedient person is merely an employee (“śudra”) with no remarkable leadership initiatives the best strategy is to threaten them with termination (bheda). (Since the person just cares about their paycheck or whatever other tangible benefit they get from you, they will respond to a threat to cut off that remuneration if they continue to disobey)

Daṇḍa — Beating / Punishing

If the disobedient person is another charismatic, powerful leader, (“kṣatriya”) you should first try the above three options, and if they fail you will have to resort to “using the stick” (daṇḍa).

You’ve got two options with using the stick, which depend on whether or not the disobedient person is equally powerful as you, or less powerful. If they are less powerful Punishment means putting them in jail and all that other tyrannical stuff. If they are equally powerful, Punishment means having a contest of strength. This might be a physical fight, but more likely it might be something like holding an election in which the two of you compete for votes.


Say you are running an āśrama, and you make a policy that every resident must attend the functions in the temple at 4:30 am. After a month there are four residents who usually do not attend. How should you deal with them?

One of them is an intellectual, so they probably have a good reason for not attending. You should talk to them respectfully, explain your reason for wanting them to attend, hear their reason for not attending, and reach a compromise that they can obey. That’s an example of how sāma should be used.

Another one is an ambitious up-n-comer who wants to be an āśrama manager one day, open his own āśrama, etc. In this case you should use dāna. “Every time you come to the function in the early morning, I will make note of it. When you’ve maintained an average of attending 4 days a week for 10 weeks I will promote you to [insert title of āśrama position here].”

Another of the four disobeyers is the guy who mops the floor and cleans the pots. He doesn’t have a good reason for not attending, he’s just lazy. And he isn’t interested in getting anything you have to offer (he’s lazy). All he wants is the comfort of living in a pretty nice āśrama with relatively nice people. So, you have to threaten him with termination (bheda). “If you are absent from the morning function more than 4 times in a month you will be terminated and no longer allowed to stay in the āśrama.

The fourth disobeyer is a guy who has been an āśrama resident since forever, and for this and other reasons has considerable respect from a lot of the āśrama residents. First try to reach a compromise (sāma). If that doesn’t work offer some type of bribe for sharing the power (dāna). If that doesn’t work, threaten with termination (bheda) and if that doesn’t work, prepare for a battle (daṇḍa). You will not be able to just throw him out or revoke his privileges (because the rest of the residents will become outraged since he has been around forever and they respect him), so you will have to do open battle with him, taking his vision of how the āśrama should run and pitting it against yours, in some sort of combat arena like a higher court, or a communal debate / vote.

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