Self interest
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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======

From The Mahabharata

Quotations from 'Self-interest'

"There is no condition that deserves permanently the name either of friendship or hostility. Both friends and foes arise from considerations of interest and gain. Friendship becomes changed into enmity in the course of time. A foe also becomes a friend. Self-interest is very powerful."

"The highest truth of all treatises on policy is mistrust. For this reason, mistrust of all persons is productive of the greatest good. However weak people may be, if they mistrust their foes, the latter, even if strong, never succeed in getting them under power."

"There is no such thing as a foe. There is no such thing in existence as a friend. It is force of circumstances that creates friends and foes."


Friend and foe

The course of Kshatriya duties – kingly duties
Duties that should be practised in seasons of distress

From The Mahabharata
Santi parva, Section CXXXVIII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Yudhishthira said: Thou hast, O bull of Bharata’s race, said that that intelligence which provides against the future, as well as which can meet present emergencies, is everywhere superior, while procrastination brings about destruction. I desire, O grandsire, to hear of that superior intelligence aided by which a king, conversant with the scriptures and well versed with morality and profit, may not be stupefied even when surrounded by many foes. I ask thee, o chief of Kuru’s race! It behoveth thee to discourse to me on this. I desire to hear everything, confirmable to what has been laid down in the scriptures about the manner in which a king should conduct himself when he is assailed by many foes.

When a king falls into distress, a large number of foes, provoked by his past acts, range themselves against him and seek to vanquish him. How may a king, weak and alone, succeed in holding up his head when he is challenged on all sides by many powerful kings leagued together? How does a king at such times make friends and foes? How should he, O bull of Bharata’s race, behave at such a time towards both friends and foes? When those that have indications of friends really become his foes, what should the king then do if he is to obtain happiness? With whom should he make war and with whom should he make peace? Even if he were strong, how should he behave in the midst of foes? O scorcher of foes, this I regard to be the highest of all questions connected with the discharge of kingly duties.

There are few men for listening to the answer of this question and none to answer it save Santanu’s son, Bhishma, firmly wedded to truth and having all his senses under control. O thou that art highly blessed, reflect upon it and discourse to me on it!

Bhishma said: O Yudhishthira, this question is certainly worthy of thee. Its answer is fraught with great happiness. Listen to me, O son, as I declare to thee, O Bharata, all the duties generally known that should be practised in seasons of distress.

A foe becomes a friend and a friend also becomes a foe. The course of human actions, through the combination of circumstances, becomes very uncertain. As regards, therefore, what should be done and what should not, it is necessary that paying heed to the requirements of time and place, one should either trust one’s foes or make war. One should, even exerting one’s self to one’s best, make friends with men of intelligence and knowledge that desire one’s welfare. One should make peace with even one’s foes, when, O Bharata, one’s life cannot otherwise be saved. That foolish man, who never makes peace with foes, never succeeds in winning any gain or acquiring any of those fruits for which others endeavour. He again who makes peace with foes and quarrels with even friends after a full consideration of circumstances, succeeds in obtaining great fruits.

In this connection is cited the old story of the discourse between a cat and a mouse at the foot of a Banyan tree.

Story of the discourse between a cat and a mouse

Bhishma continued: There was a large Banyan tree in the midst of an extensive forest. Covered with many kinds of creepers, it was the resort of diverse kinds of birds. It had a large trunk from which numerous branches extended in all directions. Delightful to look at, the shade it afforded was very refreshing. It stood in the midst of the forest, and animals of diverse species lived on it.

A mouse of great wisdom, names Palita, lived at the foot of that tree, having made a hole there with a hundred outlets. On the branches of the tree there lived a cat, of the name of Lomasa, in great happiness, daily devouring a large number of birds. Some time after, a Chandala came into the forest and built a hut for himself. Every evening after sunset he spread his traps. Indeed, spreading his nets made of leathern strings he went back to his hut, and happily passing the night in sleep, returned to the spot at the dawn of day. Diverse kinds of animals fell into his traps every night. And it so happened that one day the cat, in a moment of heedlessness, was caught in the snare.

O thou of great wisdom, when his foe the cat who was at all times an enemy of the mouse species was thus caught in the net, the mouse Palita (by name) came out of his hole and began to rove about fearlessly. While trustfully roving through the forest in search of food, the mouse after a little while saw the meat (that the Chandala has spread there as lure). Getting upon the trap, the little animal began to eat the flesh. Laughing mentally, he even got upon his enemy (the cat) entangled helplessly in the net. Intent on eating the flesh, he did not mark his own danger, for as he suddenly cast his eyes he saw a terrible foe of his arrived at that spot. That foe was none else than a restless mongoose of coppery eyes, of the name of Harita. Living in underground holes, its body resembled the flower of a reed. Allured to that spot by the scent of the mouse, the animal came there with great speed for devouring his prey. And he stood on his haunches, with head upraised, licking the corners of his mouth with his tongue.

The mouse beheld at the same time another foe living in the trees, then sitting on the branch of the Banyan. It was a night prowling owl of the name of Chandraka of sharp beaks.

Having become an object of sight with both the mongoose and the owl, the mouse, in great alarm, began to think in this strain: At such a season of great danger, when death itself is staring me in the face, when there is fear on every side, how should one act that wishes for one’s good? Encompassed on all sides by danger, seeing fear in every direction, the mouse, filled with alarm for his safety, made a high resolution. Warding off even innumerable dangers by hundreds of means, one should always save one’s life. Danger, at the present moment, encompasses me on every side. If I were to descend from this trap on the ground, without adequate precautions, the mongoose will surely seize and devour me. If I remain on this trap, the owl will surely seize me. If, again, that cat succeeds in disentangling himself from the net, he also is certain to devour me. It is not proper, however, that a person of our intelligence should lose his wits. I shall therefore strive my best to save my life, aided by proper means and intelligence.

A person possessed of intelligence and wisdom and conversant with the science of policy never sinks, however great the terrible danger that threatens him. At present, however, I do not behold any other refuge than this cat. He is an enemy. But he is in distress. The service that I can do him is very great. Sought to be made a prey by three foes, how should I now act for saving my life? I should now seek the protection of one of those foes, viz., the cat. Taking the aid of the science of policy, let me counsel the cat for his good, so that I may, with my intelligence, escape from all the three. The cat is my great foe, but the distress into which he has fallen is very great. Let me try whether I can succeed in making this foolish creature understand his own interests. Having fallen into such distress, he may make peace with me. A person when afflicted by a stronger one should make peace with even an enemy. Professors of the science of policy say that even this should be the conduct of one who having fallen into distress seeks the safety of his life.

It is better to have a learned person for an enemy than a fool for a friend. As regards myself, my life now rests entirely in the hands of my enemy the cat. I shall now address the cat on the subject of his own liberation. Perhaps, at this moment, it would not be wrong to take the cat for an intelligent and learned foe.

Even thus did that mouse, surrounded by foes, pursue his reflections. Having reflected in this strain, the mouse, conversant with the science of Profit and well acquainted with occasions when war should be declared and peace made, gently addressed the cat, saying: I address you in friendship, O cat! Are you alive? I wish you to live! I desire the good of us both. O amiable one, you have no cause for fear. You will live in happiness. I shall rescue you, if, indeed, you do not slay me, and by which you may obtain your escape and I may obtain great benefit. By reflecting earnestly I have hit upon that expedient for your sake, for it will benefit both of us. There are the mongoose and the owl, both waiting with evil intent. Only so long, O cat, as they do not attack me, is my life safe. There that wretched owl with restless glances and horrid cries is eyeing me from the branch of that tree. I am exceedingly frightened by it. Friendship, as regards the good, is seven paced.

[Note: The meaning is that as regards good men, they become friends in no time. By taking only seven steps in a walk together, two such men become friends.]

Possessed of wisdom as you are, you are my friend. I shall act towards you as a friend. You need have no fear now. Without my help, O cat, you will not succeed in tearing the net. I, however, shall cut the net for serving you, if you abstain from killing me. You have lived on this tree and I have lived at its foot. Both of us have dwelt here for many long years. All this is known to you. He upon whom anybody places his trust, and he who never trusts another, are never applauded by the wise. Both of them are unhappy. For this reason, let our love for each other increase, and let there be union amongst us two. Men of wisdom never applaud the endeavour to do an act when its opportunity has passed away. Know that this is the proper time for such an understanding amongst us. I wish that you should live, and you also wish that I should live. A man crosses a deep and large river by a piece of wood. It is seen that that the man takes the piece of wood to the other side, and the piece of wood also takes the man to the other side. Like this, our compact, also will bring happiness to both of us. I will rescue you, and you also will rescue me.

Having said these words that were beneficial to both of them, that were fraught with reason and on that account highly acceptable, the mouse Palita waited in expectation of an answer.

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Hearing these well chosen words, fraught with reason and highly acceptable, that the mouse said, the mouse’s foe possessed of judgment and forethought, viz., the cat spoke in reply. Endued with great intelligence, and possessed of eloquence, the cat, reflecting upon his own state, praised the words of the speaker and honoured him by gentle words in return.

Possessed of sharp fore teeth and having eyes that resembled the stones called lapis lazuli, the cat called Lamasa, gently eyeing the mouse, answered as follow: I am delighted with you, O amiable one! Blessings are upon you that wish me to live! Do that, without hesitation, which you think to be of beneficial consequences I am certainly in great distress. You are, if possible, in greater distress still. Let there be a compact between us without delay. I will do that which is opportune and necessary for the accomplishment of our business, O puissant one! If you rescue me, the services will go for nothing I do not place myself in your hands. I am devoted to you. I shall wait upon and serve you like a disciple. I seek your protection and shall always obey your behests.

Thus addressed, the mouse Palita, addressing in return the cat that was completely under his control, said these words of grave import and high wisdom: You have spoken most magnanimously. It could scarcely be unexpected from one like you. Listen to me as I disclose the expedient I have hit upon for benefiting both of us. I will crouch myself beneath your body. I am exceedingly frightened at the mongoose. Please save me. Kill me not. I am competent to rescue you. Protect me also from the owl, for that wretch too wishes to seize me for his prey. I shall cut the noose that entangles you. I swear by Truth, O friend!

Hearing these judicious words fraught with reason, Lomasa, filled with delight, cast his eyes upon Palita and applauded him with exclamations of welcome. Having applauded Palita, the cat, disposed to friendliness, reflected for a moment, and gladly said without losing any time: Come quickly to me! Blessings be upon you, you are, indeed, a friend dear to me as life. O you who are of great wisdom, through your grace I have almost got back my life. Whatever it is in my power to do for you now, tell me and I shall do it. Let there be peace between us, O friend! Liberated from this danger, I shall, with all my friends and relatives, do all that may be agreeable and beneficial to you. O amiable one, freed from this distress, I shall certainly seek to gladden you, and worship and honour you on every occasion in return for your services. A person by doing even abundant services in return never becomes equal to the person that did him good in the first instance. The former does those services for the sake of services received. The latter, however, should be held to have acted without any such motive.

Bhishma continued: The mouse, having thus made the cat understand his own interests, trustfully crouched beneath his enemy’s body. Possessed of learning, and thus assured by the cat, the mouse trustfully laid himself thus under the breast of the cat as if it were the lap of his father or mother. Beholding him thus ensconced within the body of the cat, the mongoose and the owl both became hopeless of seizing their prey. Indeed, seeing that close intimacy between the mouse and the cat, both Harita and Chandraka (the mongoose and the owl) became alarmed and filled with wonder. Both of them had strength and intelligence. Clever in seizing their prey, though near, the mongoose and the owl felt unable to wean the mouse and the cat from that compact. Indeed, beholding the cat and the mouse make that covenant for accomplishing their mutual ends, the mongoose and the owl both left that spot and went away to their respective abodes. After this, the mouse Palita, conversant with the requirements of time and place, began, as he lay under the body of the cat, to cut strings of the noose slowly, waiting for the proper time to finish his work. Distressed by the strings that entangled him, the cat became impatient upon seeing the mouse slowly cutting away the noose.

Beholding the mouse employed so slowly in the work, the cat wishing to expedite him in the task, said: How is it, O amiable one, that you do not proceed with haste in your work? Are you disregarding me now, having yourself succeeded in your object? O slayer of foes, please cut these strings quickly. The hunter will soon come here.

Thus addressed by the cat who had become impatient, the mouse possessed of intelligence said these beneficial words fraught with his own good unto the cat who did not seem to possess much wisdom: Wait in silence, O amiable one! Expedition is not necessary. Drive all your fears. We know the requirements of time. We are not wasting time. When an act is begun at an improper time, it never becomes profitable when accomplished. That act, on the other hand, which is begun at the proper time, always produces splendid fruits. If you were freed at an improper time, I shall have to stand in great fear of you. Therefore, please wait for the proper time. Do not be impatient, O friend! When I shall see the hunter approach towards this spot armed with weapons, I shall cut the strings at that moment of fear to both of us. Freed then, you will ascend the tree. At that time you will not think of anything else save the safety of your life. And when you, O Lomasa, will fly away in fear, I shall enter my hole and you will get upon the tree.

Thus addressed by the mouse in words that were beneficial to him, the cat, possessed of intelligence and eloquence, and impatient of saving his life, replied unto the mouse in the following words. Indeed, the cat, which had quickly and properly done his own part of the covenant, addressing the mouse that was not expeditious in discharging his part, said: I rescued you from a great danger with considerable promptness. Alas, honest persons never do the business of their friends in this way. Filled with delight while doing it, they do it otherwise. You should do what is for my good with greater expedition. You are endowed with great wisdom, please exert a little so that good may be done to both of us. If, on the other hand, remembering our former hostility you are only suffering the time to slip away, know, O wicked wight, that the consequence of this act of yours will surely be to lessen the duration of your own life!

[Note: Virtue prolongs life, and sin and wickedness always shorten it. This is laid down almost everywhere in the Hindu scriptures.]

If I have ever, before this, unconsciously done you any wrong, you should not bear it in remembrance. I beg your forgiveness. Be gratified with me.

After the cat had said these words, the mouse, possessed of intelligence and wisdom and knowledge of the scriptures, said these excellent words unto him: I have, O cat, heard what you have said in furtherance of your own object. Listen, however, to me as I tell you what is consistent with my own objects. That friendship in which there is fear and which cannot be kept up without fear, should be maintained with great caution like the hand of the snake charmer from the snake’s fangs. The person that does not protect himself after having made a covenant with a stronger individual finds that covenant to be productive of injury instead of benefit. Nobody is anybody’s friend; nobody is anybody’s well-wisher; persons become friends or foes only from motives of interest. Interest enlists interest even as tame elephants catch wild individuals of their species. After, again, an act has been accomplished, the doer is scarcely regarded. For this reason, all acts should be so done that something may remain to be done.

When I shall set you free, you will, afflicted by the fear of the hunter, fly away for your life without ever thinking of seizing me. Behold, all the strings of this net have been cut by me. Only one remains to be cut. I will cut that also with haste. Be comforted, O Lomasa!

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While the mouse and cat were thus talking with each other, both in serious danger, the night gradually wore away. A great fear, however, penetrated the heart of the cat. When at last morning came, the Chandala, whose name was Parigha, appeared on the scene. His visage was frightful. His hair was black and tawny. His hips were very large and his aspect was very fierce. Of a large mouth that extended from ear to ear, and exceedingly filthy, his ears were very long. Armed with weapons and accompanied by a pack of dogs, the grim looking man appeared on the scene.

Beholding the individual who resembled a messenger of Yama (god of death), the cat became filled with fear. Penetrated with fright, he addressed Palita and said: What shall you do now?

The mouse very quickly cut the remaining string that held fast the cat. Freed from the noose, the cat ran with speed and got upon the Banyan. Palita also, freed from that situation of danger and from the presence of a terrible foe, quickly fled and entered his hole. Lomasa meanwhile had climbed the high tree. The hunter, seeing everything, took up his net. His hopes frustrated, he also quickly left that spot. Indeed, O bull of Bharata’s race, the Chandala returned to his abode.

Liberated from that great peril, and having obtained back his life which is so very valuable, the cat from the branches of that tree addressed the mouse Palita then staying within the hole, and said: Without having conversed with me, you have suddenly run away. I hope you do not suspect me of any evil intent. I am certainly grateful and you have done me a great service. Having inspired me with trustfulness and having given me my life, why do you not approach me at a time when friends should enjoy the sweetness of friendship? Having made friends, he that forgets them afterwards, is regarded a wicked person and never succeeds in obtaining friends at times of danger and need. I have been, O friend, honoured and served by you to the best of your power. It behoves you to enjoy the company of my poor self who has become your friend.

Like disciples worshipping their preceptor, all the friends I have, all my relatives and kinsmen, will honour and worship you. I myself too shall worship you with all your friends and kinsmen. What grateful person is there that will not worship the giver of his life? May you be the lord of both my body and home. May you be the disposer of all my wealth and possessions. May you be my honoured counsellor and do rule me like a father. I swear by my life that you have no fear from us. In intelligence you are Usanas himself. By the power of your understanding you have conquered us. Possessed of the strength of policy, you have given us our life.

Addressed in such soothing words by the cat, the mouse, conversant with all that is productive of the highest good, replied in these sweet word that were beneficial to himself: I have heard, O Lomasa, all that you have said. Listen now as I say what appears to me. Friends should be well examined. Foes also should be well studied. In this world, a task like this is regarded by even the learned as a difficult one depending upon acute intelligence. Friends assume the guise of foes, and foes assume the guise of friends. When compacts of friendship are formed, it is difficult for the parties to understand whether the other parties are really moved by lust and wrath. There is no such thing as a foe. There is no such thing in existence as a friend. It is force of circumstances that creates friends and foes. He who regards his own interests ensured as long as another person lives and thinks them endangered when that other person will cease to live, takes that other person for a friend and considers him so as long as those interests of his are not clashed against.

There is no condition that deserves permanently the name either of friendship or hostility. Both friends and foes arise from considerations of interest and gain. Friendship becomes changed into enmity in the course of time. A foe also becomes a friend. Self-interest is very powerful. He who reposes blind trust on friends and always behaves with mistrust towards foes without paying any regard to considerations of policy, finds his life to be unsafe. He who, disregarding all considerations of policy, sets his heart upon an affectionate union with either friends or foes, comes to be regarded as a person whose understanding has been unhinged. One should not repose trust upon a person undeserving of trust, nor should one trust too much a person deserving of trust. The danger that arises from blind reposing of confidence is such that it cuts the very roots (of the person that reposes such confidence). The father, the mother, the son, the maternal uncle, the sister’s son, other relatives and kinsmen, are all guided by considerations of interest and profit. Father and mother may be seen to discard the dear son if fallen.

[Note: i.e., if ex-casted for irreligious practices.]

People take care of their own selves. Behold the efficacy of self-interest, O Lomasa, you who are possessed of great wisdom, his escape is very difficult who immediately after he is freed from danger seeks the means of his enemy’s happiness. You came down from the treetop to this very spot. You could not, from levity of understanding, ascertain that a net had been spread here. A person possessed of levity of understanding, fails to protect his own self. How can he protect others? Such a person, without doubt, ruins all his acts.

You tell me in sweet words that I am very dear to you. Hear me, however, O friend, the reasons that exist on my side. One becomes dear from an adequate cause. One becomes a foe from an adequate cause. This whole world of creatures is moved by the desire of gain (in some form or other). One never becomes dear to another (without cause). The friendship between two uterine brothers, the love between husband and wife, depends upon interest. I do not know any kind of affection between any persons that does not rest upon some motive of self-interest. If, as is sometimes seen, uterine brothers or husband and wife having quarrelled reunite together from a natural affection, such a thing is not to be seen in persons unconnected with one another. One becomes dear for one’s liberality. Another becomes dear for his sweet words. A third becomes so in consequence of his religious acts. Generally, a person becomes dear for the purpose he serves.

The affection between us arose from a sufficient cause. That cause exists no longer. On the other hand, from adequate reason, that affection between us has come to an end. What is that reason, I ask, for which I have become so dear to you, besides your desire of making me your prey? You should know that I am not forgetful of this. Time spoils reasons. You seek your own interests. Others, however, possessed of wisdom, understand their own interests. The world rests upon the example of the wise. You should not address such words to a person possessed of learning and competent to understand his own interests. You are powerful. The reason of this affection that you show for me now is ill timed. Guided, however, by my own interests, I myself am firm in peace and war that are themselves very unstable.

The circumstances under which peace is to be made or war declared are changed as quickly as the clouds change their form. This very day you were my foe. This very day, again, you were my friend. This very day you have once more become my enemy. Behold the levity of the considerations that move living creatures. There was friendship between us as long as there was reason for its existence. That reason, dependant upon time, has passed away. Without it, that friendship also has passed away. You are by nature my foe. From circumstances you became my friend. That state of things has passed away. The old state of enmity that is natural has come back. Thoroughly conversant as I am with the dictates of policy that have been thus laid down, tell me, why I should enter today, for your sake, the net that is spread for me.

Through your power I was freed from a great danger. Through my power you have been freed from a similar danger. Each of us has served the other. There is no need of uniting ourselves again in friendly intercourse. O amiable one, the object you had has been accomplished. The object I had has also been accomplished. You have now no use for me except to make me your meal. I am your food. You are the eater. I am weak. You are strong.

There cannot be a friendly union between us when we are situated so unequally. I understand your wisdom. Having been rescued from the net, you are applauding me so that you may succeed in easily making a meal of me. You were entangled in the net for the sake of food. You have been freed from it. You feel now the pangs of hunger. Having recourse to that wisdom which arises from a study of the scriptures, you seek verily to eat me up today. I know that you are hungry. I know that this is your hour for taking food. You are seeking for your prey, with your eyes directed towards me.

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You have sons and wives. You seek still friendly union with me and wish to treat me with affection and do me services. O friend, I am incapable of acceding to this proposal. Seeing me with you, why will not your dear spouse and your loving children cheerfully eat me up? I shall not, therefore, unite with you in friendship. The reason no longer exists for such a union. If, indeed, you do not forget my good offices, think of what will be beneficial to me and be comfortable. What person is there possessed of any wisdom that will place himself under the power of a foe that is not distinguished for righteousness, that is in pangs of hunger, and that is on the lookout for a prey? Be happy then, I will presently leave you. I am filled with alarm even if I behold you from a distance. I shall not mingle with you, cease in your attempts, O Lomasa! If you think that I have done you a service, follow then the dictates of friendship when I may happen to rove trustfully or heedlessly. Even that will be gratitude in you.

A residence near a person of strength and power is never applauded, even if the danger that existed were regarded to have passed away. I should always stand in fear of one more powerful than myself. If you do not seek your own interests (of the kind indicated), tell me then what is there that I should do for you. I shall certainly give you everything except my life. For protecting one’s own self one should give up one’s very children, and kingdom, and jewels, and wealth. One should sacrifice one’s all for protecting one’s own self. If a person lives, he can recover all the affluence that he may have to give unto foes for protecting his life. It is not desirable to give up life like one’s wealth. Indeed, one’s own self should always be protected by, as I have already said, giving up one’s wives and wealth. Persons who are mindful of protecting their own selves and who do all their acts after a proper consideration and survey, never incur danger as the consequence of their acts. They that are weak always know him for a foe that is possessed of greater strength. Their understanding, firm in the truths of the scriptures, never loses its steadiness.

Thus rebuked soundly by the mouse Palita, the cat, blushing with shame, addressed the mouse and said the following words.

Lomasa said: Truly I swear by you that to injure a friend is in my estimation very censurable. I know your wisdom. I know also that you are devoted to my good. Guided by the science of Profit, you said that there is cause for a breach between you and me. I do not behove you, however, O good friend, to take me for what I am not. I cherish a great friendship for you in consequence of your having granted me my life. I am again, acquainted with duties. I am an appreciator of other people’s merits. I am very grateful for services received. I am devoted to the services of friends. I am, again, especially devoted to you. For these reasons, O good friend, it behoves you to reunite yourself with me.

If I am commanded by you, I can, with all my kinsmen and relatives, lay down my very life. They that are possessed of learning and wisdom see ample reason for placing their trust in persons of such mental disposition as ourselves. O Palita, you who are acquainted with the truths of morality, it behoves you not to cherish any suspicion in respect of me.

Thus addressed by the cat, the mouse reflecting a little, said these words of grave import unto the former: You are exceedingly good. I have heard all that you have said and am glad to hear you. For all that, however, I cannot trust you. It is impossible for you, by such eulogies or by gifts of great wealth, to induce me to unite with you again. I tell you, O friend, that they who are possessed of wisdom never place themselves, when there is not sufficient reason, under the power of a foe. A weak person having made a compact with a stronger one when both are threatened by foes should (when that common danger passes away) conduct himself heedfully and by consideration of policy. Having gained his object, the weaker of the two parties should not again repose confidence on the stronger.

One should never trust a person who does not deserve to be trusted. Nor should one repose blind confidence upon a person deserving of trust. One should always endeavour to inspire others with confidence in himself. One should not, however, himself repose confidence in foes. For these reasons one should, under all circumstances, protect his own self. One’s possessions and children and everything are so long valuable as one is alive. In brief, the highest truth of all treatises on policy is mistrust. For this reason, mistrust of all persons is productive of the greatest good. However weak people may be, if they mistrust their foes, the latter, even if strong, never succeed in getting them under power. O cat, one like myself should always guard one’s life from persons like you. Do protect also your own life from the Chandala whose rage has been excited.

While the mouse thus spoke, the cat, frightened at the mention of the hunter, hastily leaving the branch of the tree ran away with great speed. Having thus displayed his power of understanding, the mouse Palita also, conversant with the truths of scriptures and possessed of wisdom, entered another hole.

Bhishma continued: Even thus the mouse Palita, possessed of wisdom, though weak and alone, succeeded in baffling many powerful foes. One possessed of intelligence and learning should make peace with a powerful foe. The mouse and the cat owed their escape to their reliance upon each other’s services. I have thus pointed out to thee the course of Kshatriya duties at great length.

Listen now to me in brief. When two persons who were once engaged in hostilities make peace with each other, it is certain that each of them has it in his heart to over-reach the other. In such a case he that is possessed of wisdom succeeds by the power of his understanding in over-reaching the other. He, on the other hand, who is destitute of wisdom, suffers himself, in consequence of his heedlessness, to be over-reached by the wise. It is necessary, therefore, that, in fear one should seem to be fearless, and while really mistrusting others one should seem to be trustful. One who acts with such heedfulness never trips, or tripping, is never ruined. When the time comes for it, one should make peace with an enemy; and when the time comes, one should wage war with even a friend. Even thus should one conduct oneself, O king, as they have said that are conversant with the considerations of peace (and war).

Knowing this, O monarch, and bearing the truths of scripture in mind, one should, with all his senses about one and without heedfulness, act like a person in fear before the cause of fear actually presents itself. One should, therefore, before the cause of fear has actually come, act like a person in fear, and make peace with foes. Such fear and heedfulness lead to keenness of understanding. If one acts like a man in fear before the cause of fear is at hand, one is never filled with fear when that cause is actually present. From the fear, however, of a person who always acts with fearlessness, very great fear is seen to arise.

[Note: The sense, of course, is that such a man, when filled with fear, becomes unable to ward off his dangers and calamities. Prudence requires that one should fear as long as the cause of fear is not at hand. When, however, that cause has actually presented itself, one should put forth one’s courage.]

"Never cherish fear" – such a counsel should never be given to any one. The person that cherishes fear moved by a consciousness of his weakness always seeks the counsel of wise and experienced men. For these reasons, one should, when in fear, seem to be fearless, and when mistrusting (others) should seem to be trustful. One should not, in view of even the gravest acts, behave towards others with falsehood. Thus have I recited to thee, O Yudhishthira, the old story (of the mouse and the cat). Having listened to it, do act duly in the midst of your friends and kinsmen.

Deriving from that story a high understanding and learning the difference between and friend and foe and the proper time for war and peace, you will discover means of escape, when overwhelmed with danger. Making peace, at a time of common danger, with one that is powerful; you should act with proper consideration in the matter of uniting yourself with the foe (when the common danger has passed away). Indeed, having gained your object, you should not trust the foe again. This path of policy is consistent with the aggregate of three (viz., Virtue, Profit, and Pleasure), O king! Guided by this Sruti (scripture), do win prosperity by once more protecting your subjects, O son of Pandu, always seek the companionship of Brahmanas (Brahmins) in all your acts. Brahmanas constitute the great source of benefit both in this world and the next. They are teachers of duty and morality. They are always grateful, O puissant one! If worshipped, they are sure to do you good.

Therefore, O king, you should always worship them. You will then, O king, duly obtain kingdom, great good, fame, achievements and progeny in their proper order. With eyes directed to this history of peace and war between the mouse and the cat, this history couched in excellent words and capable of sharpening the intelligence, a king should always conduct himself in the midst of his foes.
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