The great philosopher-poet, Bharthruhari, was the King of Ujjain. He was the elder step brother of the renowned Vikramaaditya. His life presents to us a living account of a person’s transformation from a pleasure-loving king to an ascetic. It was he who gave us the immortal Subhashita Trishati consisting the trilogy of Neeti Sataka, Sringara Sataka and Vairagya Sataka which truly reflect his life expeiences as a king, as a lover and as an ascetic.
Students of Sanskrit are sure to have read selections from Subhashita Trishati which encompasses almost every experience known to man and pours them forth in beautiful poetry. It provides philosophy to those interested in it. It provides metrical delight to lovers of poetry by the use of common meters such as Indravajra, Upendravajra, Vasantatilaka, Malini, Sikharini, Mandakranta, Sardulavikridita, Sragdhara etc. It teaches morality to those who would llike lead a moral life. It has some thing in it for every one who delves into its pages.
The ignorant one is easily convinced. It is easier to convince a really knowledgeable person. But even the Creator himself will not be able to convince a fool who, with his half-baked knowledge, thinks that he is the wisest person in the world.
Brahma has created a unique quality, which is available to any one, for covering one’s ignorance. This quality is silence. Especially in an assembly of all-knowing wise men, silence becomes the adornment of fools since it keeps their ignorance from coming to light.
When I had a little knowledge I was blind with conceit like a rutty elephant. I thought I was all-knowing and my vanity was great. Then, gradually, by virtue of my association with wise men, it dawned on me that knowledge was a vast ocean. My intoxication vanished like a fever and I realized that I was really a fool.
Fire can be put out by water. An umbrella can be used as protection from the sun. The rutty elephant can be controlled with an ankush (a weapon with a sharp hook at one end used by a mahout). A cow or donkey can be herded with a stick. A disease can be treated with medicines. Poison can be counteracted by chanting mantras. There is a remedy for everything prescribed in the shaastras. But there is no remedy for the fool.
It is not visible to the thief. It always bestows on the possessor joy and happiness. The more it is imparted to those who want it the more it increases. Even after ages it never perishes. It is vidya (learning, knowledge) which is an internal wealth. O Kings! Do not pride yourselves before those who possess such wealth of knowledge. Who can compete with them?
Glittering gold and diamond ornaments, bathing, sandal wood paste for the body, flowers and adornments for the head do not really embellish a person. The greatest adornment of a person is refined and soft speech. All other articles of adornment pale into insignificance before such speech.
If one has patience (endurance) what is the use of a shield? If one has anger what if enemies are there, anger being the greatest enemy. If a person has relatives he should not worry about fire because the relatives will generate enough heat for him. If one has a friend that friend will do the work of highly effective medicines. If one is in the company of evil men, such evil men will do the work of a poisonous snake. If one has unblemished learning there is no use of wealth as learning is inexhaustible wealth. If one has shyness (modesty) gold and diamond adornments are of no use. If one has beautiful and ennobling poems and literature, the resultant happiness is more than having a kingdom.
Those who are skilled in the art of interpersonal relationships show generosity towards relatives, kindness to servants, severity to evil men, devotion to saintly persons, diplomacy towards kings, straightforwardness where learned persons are concerned, valour towards enemies, patience towards elders and tactfulness with women. The world depends on the skill of such people.
There are three categories of persons who contemplate an undertaking. At the lowest level are those who never start off for fear of encountering obstacles. Those at the middle level start the project but, at the first sign of obstacles, withdraw themselves from the endeavour. At the top level are those who, in spite of repeated obstacles, persist in their endeavour until they take the undertaking to a successful conclusion.
The Lion, King of the forest, who breaks the head of the elephant and bites into its flesh to satisfy his hunger, will never stoop to the level of eating dry grass. He may be famished by hunger and weakened by old age. His limbs may have lost their flexibility and his condition may be miserable and even his life may be ebbing out of his body. But he will never do anything which is beneath his dignity and majesty as the King of the forest. Similar is the nature of men of substance and majesty.
The dog is satisfied with a piece of bare bone which is dirty with a little blood and fatty substance on it though it is not sufficient to satisfy its hunger. The lion, on the other hand, ignores the jackal within its reach and kills a mighty elephant for his meal. Men of majesty, though passing through a difficult period of their life, do not want to compromise their dignity and will accept only something befitting their dignity and strength.
In this world of constant change who does not take birth after one dies ? But one who takes his clan to greater heights is the one really born.
Even a lion cub attacks a rutty elephant and breaks its head. This is the nature of men of strength and majesty. Age does not affect their prowess.
Let the jaati (caste, occupation) sink to the nether world. Let all good qualities go down deeper still. Let good conduct fall from the top of a hill. Let all relatives be burnt in a fire. Let valour against the enemy be struck by thunderbolt. Let us have only wealth (money). Without money all good qualities are nothing more than a bundle of grass.
If one has wealth he is considered born of a good family. He is learned, he recognizes good qualities, he is an orator, he is handsome etc. All these qualities are attributed to a man possessing wealth whether or not these qualities actually reside in him.
Giving to others, enjoying oneself or losing it – these are the only ways for utilising wealth. If one does not give to others or enjoy himself, it will result in the third course i.e. loss of wealth (either by theft, deceit, fire or squandering).
O King! The earth (land) over which you rule is like a cow. If you want to milk the cow you should nourish the calf, your subjects, with the milk of the cow. If you do this always diligently the earth will yield you all its resources in abundance like a wish-yielding creeper (kalpalataa)
Power, fame, care of brahmins, charity, enjoyment of the fruits of wealth and protection of one’s friends – if these six are not in a person serving the king, then what is the use of being in the service of the king?
O Friend chaataka! Listen carefully to what I am saying. There are so many clouds in the sky but all of them are not of the same character. Some of them drench the earth with precious rain. Some others do nothing but thundering. They do not yield a drop of water. Therefore do not beg for water before every cloud you seen in the sky.[ Note: The legenday bird chataka is supposed to quench its thirst only from water from the clouds. Here clouds are the kings. And the chataka birds are those who want to make a living by serving the king. Here is advice to such persons that they should not approach all and sundry. Only a few kings are generous, others only boast of themselves but are stingy.]
Cruelty, fighting with others for no reason whatsoever, desire for others’ wealth and women, jealousy at the prosperity of relatives and other family members – men of evil mind are naturally endowed with these bad qualities.
Evil men should be avoided though they may be learned. Is a serpent adorned with a jewel (naaga maanikya) less frightening? [Note: Legend has it that good serpents have a luminous stone (maanikya) on top of their hood]
If one has greed what is the need for other bad qualities? If one is a backbiter what is the need for evil deeds? If one has Truth what is the need for tapas? If one is pure of mind what is the need for teertha (holy rivers, lakes, sea etc.)? If one is of good conduct what is the need for friends ? If one has fame what is the use of ornaments? If one has right learning why does he need wealth? If one is infamous why does he need death? [ Note: The idea is that for one possessing the quality listed first, the quality listed second is redundant. The first quality is adequate without the second.]
Here the poet lists the difficulty of serving the King or other wealthy person. If the person serving is silent he is considered dumb. If he is a good orator he is dubbed a chatterbox or a babbler. If he stays near he is termed impudent. If he stays away he is called a fool. If he forgives he is timid. If he cannot endure he does not come from a good family. The duties of a servant are such that even yogis may find difficult to approach.
In the forenoon the shadow of a person is long as the Sun rises. It gradually becomes shorter until the Sun is at the zenith. In the afternoon the shadow is short to begin with but becomes gradually longer until the Sun sets. The friendship of evil men, like the shadow of the forenoon, is long to start with but gradually fizzles out. On the other hand, the friendship of good men is like the shadow of the afternoon. It is short to start with and gradually becomes longer(closer) over a period.
Deer, fish and good men live on grass, water and contentment respectively. But the hunter, the fisherman and the backbiter, respectively, are their enemies without any reason. This is the nature of evil men.
आपत्सु च महाशैल-
In good times the heart of great men is soft as the petals of the lotus flower. In bad times, however, it becomes as hard as the rocks of the mountain.
salutations to those great men in whom reside such sterling qualities as the desire for friendship with the good, appreciation of good qualities in others, humility before the guru, thirst for knowledge, find conjugal pleasure in one’s own wife, fear of scandals about one’s character, devotion to Lord Shiva, power to control one’s mind and avoiding the company of evil men.
Great men are naturally endowed with such qualities as courage in times of misfortune, patience when the times are good, oratory skills in an assembly, valour in battle, desire to earn fame and addiction to acquisition of knowledge.
A drop of water in contact with hot iron evaporates in no time and is lost. The same drop of water on a lotus leaf shines taking the shape of a pearl. If the drop of water gets into a pearl oyster it becomes pearl itself. This analogy can be applied to humans. The qualities one acquires depend on the quality of the person with whom one associates. The three illustrations given relate to association with people with levels of low, medium and high quality
A son is one who, by his good conduct and character, pleases one’s father. A wife is one who always thinks of her husband’s good. A friend is one whose behaviour remains constant in misfortune and good fortune. Only people who have earned merit (punya) by doing good deeds will be blessed with such a son, wife and friend.
Tress laden with fruits bend down (so that people may enjoy the fruits). Clouds laden with water come down (in the form of rain cooling the earth and watering plants and trees). In the same way noble men do not become conceited when fortune embraces them but use their wealth to help others. This is the nature of persons who are always eager to be of help to fellow humans.
Saintly persons say that the mark of a true friend is preventing one from committing sinful actions, putting one on the path that will lead to good only, keeping one’s secrets, bringing out the innate qualities in one, not forsaking when one is in trouble and giving one whatever is required at the appropriate time.
Those are the greatest souls who, for the sake of helping others, forsake their own interests or comforts. Those are among the ordinary run of people who, without compromising their own interests, engage themselves in helping others. Those are verily demons in the shape of men who, for the sake of their selfish ends, put obstacles in the way of others and spoil their endeavours. What can be said about those who, without any purpose, come in the way of others’ welfare? We do not know.
Milk gave all its qualities to water that was mixed with it. When milk was being heated on a fire water, unable to bear the suffering of its friend, sacrificed itself in the fire (i.e. water in the milk evaporated). Milk, in turn, finding water in trouble, itself comes up in the boiling pot to offer itself to the fire. But, mixed with water again, it settle downs to the previous level. The friendship of good people is like this. Each is prepared to sacrifice himself to save the other.
There are only a handful of good people in this world who, in thought, word and body (deed) are full of the sweetness of nectar. Such people please the three worlds by their continuous efforts for helping others. Their hearts fill with joy when they find even an iota of good in others and shower high praise on such good qualities.
The Devas, while churning the milky ocean, got invaluable jewels but they were not content with that. Even poison from the churning could not deter them from their goal. They were determined not to stop until thery obtained the nectar. Those of strong will and determination never stop until they realize their objective.
Those of courage and determination may sleep on the hard earth or on a soft bed, may eat a meal of vegetables or enjoy the taste of fine rice, clothe themselves in tatters or put on fine clothes. These diametrically opposite states do not deter them from their objective. They are focused on their goal and do not care for pleasure or pain.
Affluence is adorned by goodness, valour by not boasting, knowledge by control of the senses, scholarship by modesty, wealth by giving to the deserving, tapas by the absence of anger, power by forgiveness and dharma by Truth. All good qualities of men are embellished by good conduct.
Those of courage and determination will not ever deviate from the righteous path whether knowers of codes of conduct (neeti nipunaah) praise or blame them , whether Goddess Lakshmi (wealth) comes to them or leaves them, whether death comes immediately or after ages.
A snake, caught by a snake charmer, was put in a round casket made of cane. It was lying inside the casket coiled and afflicted by hunger. All its senses had become weak and it had no hope of getting out. Then, during the night, a rat made a whole in the casket and got into it. The snake caught the rat and satisfied its hunger. It then escaped through the very hole the rat had made. It is clear that only fate (destiny) is behind the fortunes or misfortunes of men.
A tree sprouts again after it is cut, the moon waxes again after waning. Contemplating thus and consoling themseleve that is their fate, good men do not grieve in times of misfortune.
Indra has Brihaspati as his guru, vajraayudha as his weapon, , devas as his army, Heaven as his fort and Airawata as his elephant. He has also the blessings of Hari. In spite of all this he is defeated by the powerful asuras. It is clear that it is better to take refuge in fate (daivam). Fie on human effort.
A wayfarer, his bald head exposed to the heat of the sun, hastened to take shelter under a palmyrah tree. No sooner had he come under the shade of the tree, his head was broken with a great sound by the big fruit falling from the tree. Wherever an ill-fated person goes misfortune follows him.
Salutations to karma which has made Brahma a potter (creator) in the universe, which has put Vishnu in difficult circumstances through His ten incarnations, which has made Shiva beg for alms with a container made of the human skull and at the bidding of which the Sun wanders in the sky every day.
An attractive form, noble lineage, good conduct, scholarship, efforts made to serve kings or wealthy persons – all these are of no consequence. Only the merit earned and accumulated by the meritorious deeds (tapas) of the previous births will yield the desired results like trees which yield their fruits at the appropriate time.
Only the fruits of meritorious acts done in the past can save a person lost in a forest, fighting a battle, facing enemies, engulfed by water or fire, in the vast ocean or on the mountain top while sleeping, inadvertent or facing difficult situations.
A dense forest becomes the capital city, all people become friends and the whole world becomes full of valuable treasures for the one who has accumulated in previous births fruits of meritorious actions (punya).
What is gain? Company of good people. What is pain? Company of fools. What is loss? Wastage of time. What is skill? Passion for the principles of dharama. Who is valiant? One who has conquered his senses. Who is dear to the husband? A wife who follows in the footsteps of the husband. What is wealth? Learning. What is happiness? Not being in a far away land. What is kingdom? The power to command people.
One who does not burn in the fire of passion generated by the eye-arrows of beautiful women, who is not subjected to the heat of anger, whom the pleasures of the senses do not drag with ropes of greed – that person of adamantine heart conquers all the three worlds.