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Readings from the Kural
A Loving Disposition An Open House The Soft Word
Background to the Tirukkural
There are three holy works by which the Tamil language has been made universal and immortal. These three are the Tirukkural, the Tiruvasagam and the Tirumandiram.
The Tirukkural is the life, the Tiruvasagam is the heart, and the Tirumandiram is the soul of Tamil culture.
In this article, we focus on Tirukkural, which means "Holy Kural". It is the work of the great saint of South India, named Tiruvalluvar. It is a book for all humanity and for all times. A world that lives by its teachings shall enjoy eternal peace, harmony, health, wealth, power, grace and bliss.
The Tirukkural contains treasures that lead to peace and harmony at home as well as the country. The Tirukkural, the Gita and Kalidasas Shakuntala have been regarded by wise men all over the world as the cream of Indian thought and culture.
The Tirukkural is a book written in the Tamil language more than two thousand years ago. The great saints of the time were very fond of discussing ethical ideals. In the streets, in the taverns and public places, men gathered to apply their concentrated minds on the great question of what ought to be considered as good and right, and what as evil and wrong. Many religions flourished in South India during this time. Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism were the most popular. The caste system had not yet taken root. There was freedom of thought, ideas were readily and easily exchanged, and men were willing to listen patiently to points of view that differed from their own.
It was in this flourishing environment that Tiruvalluvar lived. The Tirukkural, or Kural as it is also known, contains some of the greatest truths known to man, written in a style that has rarely been surpassed. Tiruvalluvar, or Valluvar as he was popularly known, was clearly familiar with all the great religions of his time. He also had knowledge of the philosophy of the Romans and the Greeks. But his Kural was not a patchwork of ideas borrowed from different sources.
Valluvar took up the first three of the Purusharthas or the fourfold objects of life, namely Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha (virtue, wealth, love and liberation), as given by the Vedic Rishis. He presented them in the three sections of the Tirukkural, known respectively as Arathuppaal, Porutpaal and Kaamathuppaal. He left out Moksha or liberation, for the simple reason that when the first three are set in order, the final state of God-realisation is attained naturally. He also recognised that Moksha or liberation is to be realised, not just discussed.
The word Kural refers to a short verse of only two lines. Ten such verses make up a single chapter of the book called the Tirukkural. There are 133 chapters, so that there are 1330 couplets or two-lined verses that make up the Tirukkural.
Each couplet contains a single complete idea. Although poets generally find it rather difficult to write in a couplet form, Tiruvalluvar handles this medium with remarkable skill and ease. He does not waste words. The ideas come to us quietly, in a style that is both graceful and beautiful at the same time.
Each of the 133 chapters is headed by one major idea such as Friendship, Wisdom, Justice, and so on. The ten verses under each major idea give the poet opportunity to expand on each idea fully.
The work is divided into three sections. The first section, entitled Aram (virtue) deals with ingredients of an ideal family life. It also gives guidelines to spiritual aspirants. The second section, broadly entitled Porul (wealth) deals with various matters pertaining to government, like royalty, the parliament, politics and alliance. The third section deals with Kamam (love) and is concerned mostly with marriage and love.
[Note: Aram is the Tamil equivalent of the Sanskrit word Dharma.]
The Tirukkural is thus a book of morals or ethics. It ranks high in the literature of Tamil Nadu. Certainly it is one of the most useful treatises on ethics ever written by man. It leads humanity to live, as it ought to live- in moral purity, in spiritual knowledge, and in perfect health, wealth and prosperity. It is a faithful friend to the family man, to the mother, to children, to workers, teachers, politicians, artists, scholars and rulers.
Part 1: On Virtue
In this section, known as the Arthuppaal, Tiruvalluvar makes comments on what is good and what is bad. He describes life and lays down a code of conduct or behaviour. The first ten verses are in praise of God.
At the very outset, Valluvar impresses on our mind the supreme aim of human life. It is the attainment of God. God is the basis of all peace, bliss and knowledge.
Likewise, God is the end of all knowledge. The goal of life, which is birthlessness and the end of all pain and suffering, can be reached only by those who have surrendered totally at His divine feet.
There are none so great as those who have renounced the world. They have knowledge of both worlds, the world of trials and hardships, which is the world we live in, as well as the world of peace and eternal bliss.
The ascetic controls the five senses, namely the senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. This is the first step to God-vision. It is the seed, which eventually flowers in heaven. The fully developed Yogi who has mastered the senses is truly a king. The rest of the world, who are slaves to their senses and passions, are obliged to bow to such a sage of wisdom.
In a beautifully simple way, Tiruvalluvar wastes no time in talking about what is good and what is not. Goodness is purity of mind, and that which ought to be done. Vice is that which has to be avoided.
Valluvar urges us to perform good action at all times. The Yoga of good action is also a path to God-realisation. Birth and consequent suffering are not for a true Karma Yogi who serves God.
The duties of a householder, who earns money and brings home an income, are just as important as those of an ascetic. It is he who supports the renunciate, the students and the needy.
He who lives virtuously as a householder, is sure to make progress Godward. A home in which love and virtue abound is truly heaven on earth.
A good wife is one who is virtuous and keeps control over the household budget. She is chaste and honourable, is the husbands helpmate in everything that he does. Children are their parents greatest treasures.
Receiving guests and extending hospitality to them was given great importance during Tiruvalluvars time. A householder should serve guests first before partaking of meals himself. Neglect of guests is considered as something mean. On the other hand, the Goddess of Fortune smiles on one who is hospitable.
The ideal householder is courteous in speech, does not lose his self-control, and is free from envy. He is full of love and gratitude to those who have helped him in any way.
Self-control is the mark that identifies a wise man. He has perfect control of the senses, and withdraws them just as a tortoise withdraws its limbs into its body. At a rash moment it is possible to do harm which would take time to heal. The tongue is a troublemaker. Valluvar urges its control. One who controls his tongue perfectly is free from anger. Anger is your worst enemy.
[Note: Swami Shivananda says that of all the spiritual practices the most difficult one in which to succeed is to be able to bear insult and injury. This is called forbearance. The poet (Valluvar) also beseeches us to forgive and forget.]
Do not return evil for evil. Not even the penance of fasting can compare with the penance of refusing to respond to the hurt caused by the cruel words of others.
Do not be envious of the success of others. Do not be greedy. It is better to confront someone directly; slandering and backbiting are wrong. He who speaks ill of others will find others speaking ill of him. Take stock of yourself for a few days and count the number of times you speak ill of others. You will be amazed how guilty all are of slander.
Idle, useless talk is the mark of the unwise. Hence, refrain from it at all costs. Gossiping, faultfinding and slandering should not be indulged in.
Give, give, give. It is a strange truth that the more one gives, the more one receives. You must have heard of this riddle- "The more one takes out, the bigger it grows". What is it? The answer is- a hole! Charity is very much like that. Give to others with a loving heart, and the world will one day be at your feet. Pure, loving charity is one of the greatest purifiers of the heart.
The renunciate or Sannyasin is one who has renounced the world and its pleasures of the senses. Such a person is also called an ascetic. The saint makes a distinction between domestic virtue (good deeds practised by a householder), and ascetic virtue. Even virtues come in degrees! For this to be understood, try to work out the difference in meaning between kindness and compassion.
Tiruvalluvar devotes thirteen chapters to the subject of ascetic virtue. He dwells on such subjects as non-killing, mercy, hypocrisy, truthfulness, curbing of desires, and the renunciation of objects.
Anyone- even the basest of men- can possess money. But only those who are truly kind are wealthy.
Successful people often forget that they, too, were once weak and sought the compassion of those stronger than themselves. We remember unkind acts done to us for years and years. Those who lack compassion and love have very few friends.
Be sincere at heart, judge men by their actions, not by their looks; a straight arrow causes pain, yet a bent lute brings joy into the hearts of the listener. Even amongst Sadhus (ascetics), there are some hypocrites- men who pretend to be what they are not.
Valluvar, as we have already seen, is interested mainly in the welfare of people and the happiness of mankind. He does not want needless misery and suffering for the sake of merely upholding a moral idea. Now he talks on truthfulness. Understand the second verse well (292). It is by no means a passport to widespread untruthfulness.
"If you should ask what truth may be,
"If it will yield pure, unmixed good,
[Note: Ahimsa or non-injury of any form is the highest virtue. Sri Swami Shivananda says: "Do not injure any being or creature in thought, word or deed". Valluvar also exhorts man to refrain from killing in any form.]
"All virtues aim is not to kill,
"You may lose your life but still,
Saints have repeatedly spoken of the unreal nature of this world. Can you name anything that will remain exactly the same after a million years? That is why we are told not to place our faith in the objects of this world. They can never give us true happiness. Valluvar says:
"Only the base and ignorant
"A day seems real but it is a knife
"The soul from body any day,
Tiruvalluvar deals with the subject of reincarnation. Reincarnation is one of the cardinal tenets of the Hindu religion.
"Death is sinking into slumbers deep
The goal of life is the attainment of the state of permanent happiness. For this, renunciation is necessary. Renunciation means giving up all wealth, pleasures of the senses, and the fruits of all actions. It does not mean running away to a cave or to an Ashram. The senses must be subdued and the ego crushed. Birth carries with it the seeds of suffering. Happiness comes only when we realise God and overcome both birth and death.
It is desire that is the source of all pain and suffering. If one can gain mastery over desire, one experiences true freedom and enjoys lasting peace and bliss. Desires can never be satisfied by fulfilling them. Trying to satisfy them by fulfilling them will be like adding fuel to the fire to extinguish the flame. Desires make the mind restless with all kinds of thoughts whirling about.
Part 2: On Wealth
A ruler must be well read. A wise ruler is a good ruler. He must be versed in both mathematics and the arts, that is, numbers and letters. These are the true eyes through which man sees the world.
There must be no hesitation in eradicating faults. A good leader corrects his own errors first, before pointing out those of others. The head of a state cannot afford to make any errors. The spirit of perfect humility, service of the people, and complete freedom from desire are the hallmark of a great king.
It is important for a king to have worthy friends. This applies, of course, to everyone. As water gets discoloured when a little soil is put into it, so also mans character, wisdom and reputation are all influenced by the company he keeps. Good friendship grows from strength to strength. A full moon is destined to lose its intensity, but good friendship can never weaken. A true and sincere friend is one who gently corrects your faults and helps you to improve. He is always true and frank in his relationship towards you. The face does not always reveal what lies in the heart. So, beware of false friendship.
"With soil changes the waters taste;
"Good mens friendship grows like crescent moon;
"Though the wicked should unbounded friendship show,
"Beware of men who are full of deceit,
Rulers, while exercising discipline, must be compassionate and kind, and refrain from harshness. Cruelty brings ruin.
"Harsh words and punishment beyond the right
"True modesty and kindly word combined,
Never give up trying. Have a strong will. These are the secrets of success. Without effort there is no gain. Tiruvalluvar exhorts us to be energetic. When troubles come, face them. Every failure is a stepping stone to success. He who refuses to be defeated by failure will overcome all grief and pain.
Those who speak to large audiences have a responsibility. They have to choose their words carefully, and should use the time allotted to them profitably. Book knowledge is empty if one does not have the ability of transmitting it to others effectively.
There is no harm, Valluvar goes on to say, in amassing wealth. But such wealth should be earned by the individual by honest means. Money gained by a person in a deceitful manner or by causing pain and suffering to others ought to be spurned.
Despite the seriousness with which Tiruvalluvar deals with lofty themes, there is a light-hearted side to his nature. His wit overflows in the chapter entitled Not Drinking". It is remarkable that even two thousand years ago, alcoholism and gambling were rife among the people of that time. The hilarity, with which the poet saint approaches these themes, ought to be sufficient to turn any drinker or gambler away from these vices.
"To buy with money ones unconsciousness,
The saint says that there is no such thing as drinking secretly.
" I do not drink, make no such foolish claim,
"To reason with a man who is dead tight
Alcohol, drugs and gambling are addictive. A single taste of any of these vices drives one to greed, and a desire for more. A fish, attracted by the bait on a hook, will find it nearly impossible to gain release after a bite at the baited hook. Likewise, an addict cannot escape easily from an addiction. This is especially true of gambling. Avoid these vices like one avoids a king cobra. You lose your wealth and your dignity and can gain nothing but poverty.
"Dress, wealth, food, fame and learning all depart,
On Noble Birth
Tiruvalluvar has written thirteen chapters on themes other than virtue, stately wealth and love. They are described as Miscellaneous. The first is on Noble Birth.
Nobility is a state of mind. Although the word is often used to describe people of royal birth, nobility is within the reach of all, even beggars. What then are the signs of nobility? Amongst other things, they are good conduct, modesty, truth, humility, cheerfulness, generosity, and kind and courageous words. One must have a charitable heart even though one does not have the means. He must show excellence in speech, be humble and treat everyone, be he a servant or king, with great respect. He should always speak sweetly and lovingly.
The high born will not stray from these things three:
"A smile, generosity, good words and courtesy:
"The high born, though they have no means for charity,
"Plants reveal the soil from which they grow,
Shun acts that will cast doubts on your honour. Success and failure can be used to advantage; success should make one more respectful and failure strengthen ones dignity.
Greatness is a quality of mind, not of birth. All are equal at birth. Our actions make us different from one another.
"Living beings are all alike at birth,
"High born, whose souls are mean, are never great;
While the road to perfection is a long, slippery and very difficult one, the mastery of a few virtues will take one there by leaps and bounds. Do not kill any being or creature. Even loftier than this is not to injure anyone in thought, word and deed. Ahimsa is one of the highest of virtues. Give up the detestable faultfinding habit. Always return good for evil.
"Not killing is the essence of penance;
"The strength of the noble ones is humility;
It is wrong to belittle others. Even highly intelligent people lose respect from everyone if they are not courteous.
"Though sharp as file, their intellect is good,
On Wasted Wealth
What is the use of money if it is not used for the common good? Imagine a fruit tree in a busy market place. If it bears tasty fruit, it brings joy to people, but if it bears poisonous fruit, it is of no use; its presence is a source of great pain. A wealthy miser is like such a tree. He has everything, but is in greater need than others, for he is not really happy and peaceful.
"Who neither spend their wealth nor give,
If you desire to attain perfection, you must not be afraid to have a genuine feeling of shame whenever you commit any mistakes. Those who have no feelings of guilt are usually unaware of their faults. Some people consider it a weakness to blush. On the contrary, blushing is not at all a weakness, but a virtue. It reveals a sense of shame and is a sign of modesty and humility.
Food, clothing and the rest are common to the race,
"Those who have no shame at heart, their stance
Part 3 : On Love
He roundly condemns accumulation of material wealth, but praises it if such wealth is acquired by honest means and used for the common good of society. In the same breath he encourages the growth of intellectual and spiritual development. He wants people to acquire learning and, having learnt, practise it. Yet, spirituality is superior to all else. As early as in the second verse of the Tirukkural, he says:
"Of what avail is learned scholarship,
The great saint has presented his thoughts in verses of extreme beauty and delicacy. The combination of ideas, language and metre is unique. The verses presented in this article are all translations from the original Tamil. Every translator, without exception, has admitted that it is not possible to capture the elegance of Tiruvalluvar's beautiful style and rhythm in a translation. It can, at best, be a pale reflection of the original work.
His teachings have had a warm place in the hearts of the Tamil people for many generations, and have become part of their culture and life. They might not have always followed the saint, but they have loved, cherished and revered him.
There are many translations of the Tirukkural. Maharishi Shuddhananda Bharatis translation is simple to follow. In his introduction he says: "The Tirukkural is the guiding light to humanity. It leads one to live in moral purity, in eternal wisdom, in spiritual knowledge, and in perfect prosperity, wealth and health. It is a faithful friend to the family man, to the mother, to children, to teachers, artists, scholars, rulers and politicians.
Tiruvalluvar was a saint who lived in Tamil Nadu over two thousand years ago. Very little is known of him. He lived in Mylapore, which today is a part of the city of Chennai (Madras). Many stories have been written about his greatness. However, most scholars today find it rather difficult to sift out fact from fiction.
Tiruvalluvar was married to Vasuki, who was a chaste and pious woman. She was an ideal housewife. Soon after they married, Valluvar was one day seated at his supper table and about to start his meal, when he said: "My dear Vasuki, kindly place alongside my supper a tiny bowl of water, as well as a toothpick. Will you please do this every day?"
Vasuki dutifully obeyed, asking no questions. Every day, without fail, she would place this tiny bowl of water and a toothpick alongside her husbands supper. But strangely, Valluvar seemed to have no use for either! Years went by, but neither the water nor the toothpick was used. Yet, Vasuki did not waver in her duty even once.
It was only on his deathbed that Valluvar, perceiving a troubled look on her face asked, "What is troubling you, dear Vasuki? Please tell me."
Vasuki said: "My dear lord, for many years now, I have pondered as to the reason behind my lords strange request that a toothpick accompanied by a little water be placed on your supper table. I am troubled that the secret may be buried along with my revered lord and husband.""
Valluvar smiled and said gently: "Dear Vasuki, you are a devoted wife and have served me very well all these years. Kindly forgive me for not explaining to you earlier the reason for my request to you. You see, if a grain of rice or a morsel of food accidentally fell onto the table while I was eating, it would be a great sin to let such food go to waste. With the toothpick available, I could easily pick up the fallen food, rinse it in the water you so kindly provided, and eat it thereafter. Food would thus not go wasted."
Is it not marvellous that the famous poet dropped not even a grain of rice in all the years that he was married to Vasuki! We too, can practise and master the art of eating correctly, if we put our mind to it. This delightful story tells us what kind of a person Tiruvalluvar was.
Also study the spirit of perfect obedience in the devoted Vasuki. If aspirants can have such unquestioning obedience to their Guru, they would soon crush the ego, which is the root of all pain and suffering. You too, should try hard to obey your teachers and parents at every opportunity. This is the key to success and happiness.
Valluvar was a philosopher, that is, a man of great wisdom. He gave the world a most wonderful gift in the form of the Tirukkural.
The great scholar and statesman, Sri Rajagopalachari said: "Tiruvalluvar was one of those rare and great men whose catholic spirit rose above all kinds of castes and creeds, and whose vision was not clouded by dogma or prejudice of any kind".
The saintly Tiruvalluvar and his devoted wife Vasuki have been held as perfect ideals
of the Hindu household life ever since they left this earth.
There is no great wealth one can acquire than Dharma and no misfortune greater than the forgetting of it
Forgetting Dharma is failing to perform ones duties according to Dharma.
[Note: Aram is the Tamil equivalent of the Sanskrit word Dharma, for which there is no single word- equivalent in English. Duty, virtue and other such words do not really cover the full import of either Aram or Dharma.]
Go as far as your strength and resources permit without swerving from the path of Dharma.
[Note: This is Tiru-Valluvars characteristic way of bringing everything down to the level of practicability without losing hold of the ideal.]
Keep the mind from evil thoughts. This is the whole of Dharma. The rest is only of the nature of sound and show.
The key to purity of action is purity of thought. The attainment of a mind free from evil thoughts is the aim of a religious life, and this is a silent process. External observances are sound and show.
[Note: The Tamil word Aakulam is sound and show.]
True religious life consists in the avoidance of four things: envy, the craving for pleasure, anger and harsh speech.
Do not say to yourself Let me see about it later when I shall be better fitted. Live the true religious life now. It will be the one unfailing support when all else will disappear and become of no use.
Only the joy that comes from right conduct is true happiness. Other pleasures are really sources of pain and causes of shame.
Pleasure will soon become shame and pain, if the act that procured it was unrighteous. Right conduct is therefore not only right but also wise.
The householder so-called helps the other orders in the proper fulfillment of their duties.
The unmarried student, he gives up active life and goes to the jungle, and the Sannyasin, can carry on as such, only because some others live as good householders. The householders therefore should not be looked upon as selfishly living for pleasures while the others are leading lives of abstinence. The householder works for the others who renounce work.
Love and right conduct give to the householders life its true character and purposefulness.
Family life is beautiful and purposeful only if it is marked by love and Dharma. Love makes it beautiful and Dharma is fulfillment of its purpose.
If a man goes through the householders life along the way of Dharma, nothing is left for him to attain by becoming a recluse or going to the forest.
Of all classes of aspirants to Dharma, the householder who lives up to the standard is the most estimable.
There is more penance in the life of a householder who does what should be done and avoids any lapse from Dharma, than in the privations of hermits.
He, who leads his life in this world, as he should, ranks with the gods in heaven.
She is a true-life companion who proves equal to the tasks of a householders life, adjusting herself to the breadwinners resources.
It is essential for happiness in family life that culturally and economically the wife should fall into line with the family of her adoption. The partnership will not work otherwise.
There is no true family life where the wife has not the qualities required for helping in the fulfillment of the duties of a good householder. If the mistress of the house has not these qualities, neither wealth nor other circumstances can be of any avail.
The husbands virtues cannot make up for it.
If the mistress of the house possesses the qualities of a true-life partner, nothing will be wanting. If the mistress of the house does not have those qualities, naught will avail.
What possession of greater value can one have than a wife, if she be firm in her loyalty to her partner in life?
[Note: Karppu is not mere physical chastity. It is unqualified loyalty to husband.]
The true wife thinks not of God when she rises in the morning. She offers her worship to the husband and that is enough. Even the clouds will obey and pour the rain at her command.
[Note: The Vedanta philosophy and Hindu practice recognize forms of worship, which enable the devotee to see the supreme Deity in every object of love or adoration. Husband-worship is not a neglect of God.]
Of what use is that purity which is brought about by physical restrictions and isolation to which women are subjected? Their own senses of a pure life is the best watch.
Of all things one may be blessed with, we can think of nothing equal to the joy of having begot children who have grown up to true enlightenment.
Far sweeter than heavenly ambrosia is the porridge in which ones child has dabbled with its little hand.
They speak of the sweet tones of the flute and of the harp, who have not had children and heard them lisp their newly learnt words.
The best inheritance that a father can provide for his son is an education that will fit him to take an honoured place among cultured men.
In bringing up sons, fathers should remember that not wealth but education conduces most to their happiness.
Hearing words of appreciation uttered by people about her son, the mother feels greater joy than what she felt on the day he was born.
The sons greatest filial service is so to conduct himself as to make men say in wonderment Great must have been the fathers good deeds to be blessed with such a noble son.
Those who have not the loving disposition, belong wholly to themselves. The tenderhearted belong to others even in their bones.
The love in their hearts makes them possession of the living world outside of them.
The enlightened hold that the saving joy of the soul when burdened with the body is the experience of human affection.
Human affection is possible only if the soul is clothed in flesh and blood, and it is worthwhile for the sake of the experience of such affection to suffer the miseries of life on earth. The soul would like to be born in flesh and blood for the sake of enjoying this incident of life on earth.
Affection is a training for bhakti (devotion), and out of bhakti will come unsought, true enlightenment, the goal of all religious endeavour.
Strewn with pleasure is the way to heaven, for it can be attained by well ordered family life.
This is contrasted by implication to the toilsome path of celibacy and penance.
Men of imperfect understanding think that a tender heart helps one only in the path of good morality. Love inspires the warlike deeds of the brave soldiers too.
[Note: It is well known that the bravest warrior is often the most tender hearted. Parimelazhagars interpretation of this Kural is different. Maram in his commentary is the contrary of Aram (Dharma) and he explains the verse to mean that love overcomes wrath and enmity, and helps a man not only himself to do the right, but also to overcome the wrong done by others. Maram in Tamil literature also has another meaning besides the one Parimelazhagar has explained. Maram stands for the virtues of the soldier (see Kural Ch. 39-4), and I think that is the sense in which the word is used in this verse.]
Inflexible law withers the soul of him that has no love in his heart, even as the sun shrivels up the bodies of boneless worms.
As the spine supports the bodies of vertebrates, love supports the soul. Without it, it shrinks and stops the spirits evolution.
Where there is no tenderness of heart, life is barren of purpose. Can a tree that is dried up in the desert sun put forth leaves?
Without a tender heart, of what avail are the externals of family life? Just as the outer ear or eye may be there, but it is of no avail to the deaf and the blind, so is the soulless routine of a householders life purposeless without tenderness of heart.
Without tenderness of heart, the body is but bones covered up with skin. In love alone is the secret of life.
Life functions really in love and not in the physical activities of the body.
The only justification for a man to remain in family life and for acquiring and keeping property (without becoming a Sannyasin) is that he may command the means by which help may be given to those who seek help.
Family life is not a right but a duty arising out of the obligations of the individual to society.
To seat for a meal by oneself, keeping out those who come expecting hospitality, is a thing to be abhorred even if the food were the elixir of immortality.
The goddess of prosperity will be gladdened in heart and linger in the house of the man whose smiling face welcomes those who seek hospitality.
Must he indeed sow seeds in his field, who eats what remains after feeding the guests?
The gods will look after the affairs of the man who feeds his guest before sitting down himself to eat. Hospitality is itself seed enough for his fields and the crops will rise.
"What have we gained spending all our lives in toil and care? Nothing avails now. There is nothing to lean upon." Thus on their last day will lament those who have failed to perform the sacrifice of hospitality and look after those who come for help.
Hospitality is equivalent to a religious sacrifice.
How stupid those misers are who fail to practise the law of hospitality! They succeed in being poor in the midst of plenty.
The delicate flower withers away if you take it to the nose to inhale its fragrance. But the guest who comes for a meal will shrink even at a distant look that indicates unwillingness to receive.
We should treat poor guests more delicately than the most delicate flower.
The speech of enlightened men consists of truth soaked in affection.
Gentleness of speech is not pleasant falsehood, but the truth that is spoken by men who know the whole of the law and are not misled by dry dogmas, who are full of affection for the person to whom the truth is addressed, and therefore find the words that save truth from harshness.
The kindly word and the glad and loving look accompanying a gift are appreciated even more than the gift itself.
To give is good. But the sweet manner accompanying the gift touches the heart of the receiver even more than the good gift itself.
The relief of distress consists in the glad face, the welcome look and speech that is marked by genuine consideration for the feelings of the man who is in distress.
The gift that is thrown at the distressed without these accompaniments does not really relieve suffering but hurts.
One need not fear poverty if he has gladdened the hearts of men by kind words.
The world will not leave such a man to suffer by reason of adversity.
Not jewels but courteous deportment and gladness of speech are the things that adorn.
Truly it is strange that people speak harsh words, when they have themselves felt and experienced the joy that kindly speech begets.
Every moment we have direct personal experience of the marvellous effect of kind words from others and yet, when we speak, we forget it and indulge in harsh speech.
[Note: The Kural technique of carrying conviction can be seen in this.]
When gentle words are available, why do men choose the words that hurt? Is it not foolish to pick unripe berries when ripe ones can be had for the plucking?
The good deed that is done not in return, but in the first instance, is more precious than anything is in this world or beyond. Nothing can repay that act.
What is done in return for something previously done can never be as great as the deed born out of sheer generosity, be it ever so small by itself. There is therefore nothing that can be considered an adequate repayment. It is above every other kind of goodness.
By itself the help rendered may be a trifle, but the hour of need when it was given makes it bigger than the whole world.
It is bad to forget a favour done to you. But if someone does you a wrong, it is good to forget it that very day.
Painful like death itself may be the evil that you suffer at a mans hand. But remind yourself of some good thing that he once did for you. It will help you to forget the present pain.
[Note: This is another fine instance of Tiru-Valluvars characteristic way of giving helpful practical hints to follow what may seem to be a mere counsel of perfection, showing what a great master of psychology Valluvar was.]
The acquisition of a man of rectitude goes down to his children without diminution and will protect them against adversity.
[Note: This is not a mere superstition invoked for supporting the moral rule. There is practical wisdom in the statement as to the stability of well-earned wealth and the instability of acquisitions got by methods that society condemns. Rectitude of means employed gives stability to what is acquired, whereas what is got by swerving from the straight path stands ever in danger of being lost again or serving as a snare. The most powerful motive for the householder is the desire to see that his children are assured of happiness after him. Upright conduct, says Tiru-Valluvar, ensures this.]
It may seem that no evil attaches to the acquisition that comes by swerving from the path of rectitude. But do not be tempted. Give up the thought at once.
Who lived a life of rectitude and who did not can be seen from how the children they have left behind fare.
[Note: Your life will impress itself on your childs character, and if you wish well for your child beware and walk in the path of rectitude, says the poet.]
The swerving of your mind can be perceived by you before anyone else sees it. Look upon it as an evil portent and beware.
If the man who walks firmly in the path of rectitude thereby loses his worldly possessions, his poverty does not lower him in the estimation of the world. He retains his status in society as if nothing had happened to him.
Let businessmen know that it is good business to protect the interests of others exactly as they do their own.
[Note: This is the Kural version of the formula that honesty is the best policy. Rectitude is not only Dharma but good economic policy also.]
Note: Self-control is as necessary a virtue for the householder as for the recluse. Adakkam in Tamil may mean either self-control or humility. Self-control, guarding against cupidity, pride and anger, is what is dealt with here.]
Self-control takes one to the gods. Want of it will push one into utter darkness.
There is no possession more precious than self-control. Watch yourself therefore as you would watch treasure.
It is well for everyone to be meek, but for those who have wealth meekness is added possession.
[Note: Learning, good birth, and wealth are not reduced but enhanced by a becoming humility of deportment. The word used here for humility of deportment is Panidal which literally means bowing to show respect.]
If a man lives a life of self-control and withdraws the five senses from tempting pleasures as a tortoise , upon sensing danger, draws its head and limbs into its shell, he shall have insured himself against evil in seven births thereafter.
You may neglect everything else, but be ever vigilant in restraining your tongue. Those who fail to do so meet with great trouble.
[Note: Not that in other things one may relax control; but the danger of careless or angry speech is constantly present, and requires special attention.]
The injury caused by a burn heals, but the pain caused by the thoughtless word is never forgotten by the man who is hurt. It remains forever in his mind like an ugly scar.
If a man knows how to control the rising anger in his mind and guards himself against losing his temper, all other virtues will seek him out and wait on his pleasure.
Discipline of life is more precious than life itself, for it is out of that discipline that life derives value.
One may study many philosophies and clear his doubts but it is the well-regulated life that ultimately avails and nothing else. Therefore, guard it whatever may be the difficulty involved.
The well-regulated life ennobles every rank of life. Where this fails, good or noble parentage will not save the man.
The Brahmin can study again what he has forgotten of the scriptures and make up for lost memory. But if he neglects regulation of life he forfeits forever the advantage of his birth.
A well-regulated life brings honour. Neglect of it will lead to utter disgrace.
The learned really betray ignorance when in spite of their learning they fail to regulate their lives in accordance with the principle of social cooperation.
[Note: Learning is worthless if one cannot exercise self-control in conduct and behaviour. Regulation of life and social cooperation are more important than scriptural or philosophical knowledge.]
It is stupidity to entertain amorous thoughts about one who belongs to another. Any one that knows either the way of Dharma or that of worldly wisdom will avoid this folly.
Among those who stray from the path of right conduct, there is none so stupid as the man who trespasses into another mans home.
It is better for one to be dead than to be tempted by thoughts of sin where one has been received with trust.
Of no avail will be a mans importance, however great it may be, if he is thoughtless and lacks the simple wisdom of not violating anothers home.
It may seem all too easy to err with anothers wife, but the disgrace will be irredeemable for all time.
Enmity, Sin, Fear and Disgrace will always dog the path of the man who violates the sacredness of anothers home.
He is not a true householder who lets his amorous thoughts dwell on those who belong to others. He may in conduct be a good husband and a good father and everything else, but the impure thought is enough to make it all unreal.
Manhood consists in being able to control ones mind and being proof against amorous thoughts towards one that belongs to another. It is good religion as well as social order.
Does not the earth support the man that is engaged in digging it? It is proper that we too bear with those who wrong us.
If one wrongs you, put up with it. But it is better still to forget it if you can.
It is not a very great achievement if one inflicts revenge for a wrong done. It is a golden achievement and will remain in the public memory as such, if a strong man shows forbearance in the face of wrongs done to him.
Retaliation gives but a days joy. Forbearance brings glory for all time.
Arrogance leads a man to do wrong to you. But your pride should be to defeat him by your forbearance.
[Note: Your forbearance will prove your greater worth and disillusion his pride. Forbearance is not a negative thing. It is an effective blow delivered to the wrong doers pride. This is the defeat referred to. It is not a platitude. The incisive rationalist approach is a common characteristic of Tiru-Valluvar and Marcus Aurelius.]
The man who shows forbearance in the face of insult has truly practised the discipline of the Sannyasin though he is a householder.
Ascetics go without food and do penance, but forbearance in the face of the foolish attacks of ignorant men is a greater penance than such fasting.
There is no greater wealth than the possession of a mind that is free from envy.
It is he that cares not for his own spiritual or material well being that allows his mind to entertain envious thoughts instead of feeling happy when he sees the well being of others.
Envy makes a man lose happiness without having a single enemy in the outer world. His own envy is enough to do all the mischief.
The goddess of good luck is impatient with men who cannot bear the sight of other peoples good fortune. She immediately entrusts such men to the charge of her elder sister.
[Note: In the folk mythology of India, which in its own way embodied Vedanta, the elder sister of the goddess of Fortune is Misfortune. Misfortune is the responsibility of the senior goddess, while the younger is in charge of good luck and well being. The two are sisters, and therein we can see the philosophy of Vedanta, which looks on pain and pleasure with indifference.]
You may be blessed with every good trait and all good fortune. But the one serious blemish of envy is enough to cast you into hell-fire.
Envy makes hell for the man who nourishes that feeling in his present life as well hereafter.
None has grown richer by envying. No one has lost anything by not envying.
[Note: Azhukkaaru is envy, an inability to feel happy at the sight of anothers well being. Vehhil, greed, is covetousness, the desire to obtain by illegitimate means what is anothers.]
If a mans mind turns to thoughts of abandoning rectitude and taking by illegitimate means what belongs to others, it will automatically lead him from error to error and bring disgrace on him and his family.
Those who desire to be happy in the real sense do not turn to what is not legitimate, which at the most can give but transient pleasure.
Those who have acquired true vision by keeping their senses under control never think of others possessions to make up for their want.
Of no avail is keenness of intellect, of no avail is wide knowledge, if greed seizes a man and leads him to folly.
[Note: Greed is a malady, which affects even men of keen intellect and wide learning. Hence this warning.]
If indeed you live a householders life in order ultimately to learn to look upon all beings with the eye of universal love and charity, how ruinous to that plan it is to let greedy thoughts enter your mind!
Do not covet others possessions. When you come to possess the things, which you laboured illegitimately to obtain, you will find no true enjoyment therein, such as you had desired. True enjoyment is possible only if the acquisition is lawful.
Greed is folly. It results only in misery equivalent to death. On the other hand, it should be your pride not to be tempted to look with covetous eyes on other peoples possessions. Cultivate this indifference. It will give you a sense of triumph.
You may sometimes speak the harshest things to a mans face, but do not indulge in the folly of attacking any one behind his back.
If men would see their own faults as they see the faults of others, verily evil would come to an end in this world.
He who indulges in purposeless talk causing disgust to his company earns universal contempt.
Indulging in indecent talk in mixed company does great mischief than even wrongs done to friends.
[Note: The title of the chapter giving this and the following couplets, is Trepidation at the thought of wrongdoing.]
The very thought of wrongdoing frightens good men, although bad men see nothing terrible in wrongdoing.
From evil springs fresh evil, like fire which regenerates itself. Men should shrink from sin as from a terror even worse than fire.
The highest and most precious of all arts consists in not returning evil for evil.
Even by inadvertence do not think of any act that would hurt another. If you plan evil for any one, Dharma will decree your own ruin.
The evil pursues the evildoer as a man finds his shadow pursuing him wherever his feet may take him. Those who commit evil cannot escape nemesis.
Do you love yourself? Then do not do to any one what falls in the class of wrongdoing, however small it may be.
[Note: The inexorable law will bring injury to one who behaves wrongly towards others.]
What good did the creatures of the earth do to the clouds that pour the rain? So indeed should you serve society, seeking no return.
Good men put forth industry and produce wealth, not for themselves but for the use of society.
[Note: Wealth is not to be earned for the purpose of self-indulgence or for satisfaction of greed. Wealth should be treated as the citizens instrument for helpfulness combined with a sense of duty.]
There is no pleasure in this or in the other world equal to the joy of being helpful to those around you. Do not lose the opportunity for this rare pleasure.
Man is born as a social being. He alone truly lives who functions as a social co-operator. He who does not recognize this duty is to be counted as one dead.
When prosperity comes to a man who has understanding and knows his duty to his fellowmen, it is like the village water tank that is filled by the rain.
When the village water tank gets filled by rain it is an occasion for joy for the whole community. The tank keeps the water from running to waste or being dried up, and serves to quench the peoples thirst throughout the year. So should the government feel when a good man prospers.
When wealth comes to a large hearted man, it is like the village tree coming to be in fruit.
If wealth comes to one who is blessed with a large heart it becomes the unfailing drug plant for societys troubles.
[Note: The village water tank stores the water from running to waste; so the wise citizen acquires and looks after his acquisitions in order to serve all. The village tree bears ripe fruit; so the liberal minded citizen freely gives of his wealth to help all around. The medicinal tree is the precious alchemist of nature. Its leaves, bark, fruit and root take out of the earth those essences, which relieve ailments of all kinds. So does the wealth of the great citizens serve to relieve suffering of all kinds. His knowledge and experience make up the alchemy that is needed to put the wealth to effective use for the benefit of the community.]
Poverty does not stop the social co-operation of those who have a clear understanding of the duties of life. They continue their social service undeterred by adversity.
[Note: It is not necessary to be rich to be helpful. There are ways in which in any position one can help. The essence of social service is in the mind. Under each changed circumstance, a new duty arises and the due fulfillment of it is what should be attended to. When, therefore, a man loses his material resources, he does not need to think that his capacity for social co-operation has ended.]
The worst misery that poverty brings to the large hearted man is the pain of not having resources enough to serve others in the manner he had been accustomed to.
If social co-operation appears to ruin you, it is indeed worthwhile to be ruined. You may sell yourself into slavery if that would enable you to serve the people around you.
[Note: There is no price too high to pay for being of service to society.]
That alone is a gift, which is given to the needy. Gifts to others are in the nature of business transactions wherein what is given is expected to be duly returned.
To depend on and receive charity, even when poverty permits it, invariably hurts. On the other hand, to give to the poor is good, even if there were no future world wherein merit is duly rewarded.
[Note: The very act of giving gives joy to the giver and receiving a favour causes pain to the receiver. This is inherent in human nature, apart from any consequences as promised in scriptures. This is a characteristic instance of the Tiru-Valluvar approach. He always reserves for emphasis some aspect, which is not bound up with religious beliefs.
You may find it unpleasant to be approached for charity. But that is only until you see the radiant face of the man whose distress you have relieved.
The ascetics strength of mind enabled him to bear hunger and out of it arises his power also. But the act of relieving anothers hunger is greater than suffering hunger oneself.
Fortunate is he who saves men from the devastating curse of hunger, for he has thereby deposited his possessions in a well-guarded vault.
Have not these men ever experienced the delight of giving? Else, why are they so hard-hearted and refuse to give and at the end of it all disappear from earth, leaving behind what they withheld from the needy?
Wretched is he whose poverty forces him to beg for alms. But more wretched indeed is he whose narrow heart makes him close the door against the hungry so that he may eat by himself.
Death is most painful. But even that becomes pleasant to the good man when he finds himself unable to help the wretched.
Poverty is wealth if it is brought about for causes that raise a man in the esteem of the world. Death under certain circumstances is life everlasting. Such poverty, which is not poverty, and such death, which is not death but life, comes only to those who understand true values.
When men have not lived so as to earn the esteem of good men, why do they not see and grieve over their own fault but blame the world that refuses to esteem them?
[Note: According to commentators, chapters 25 to 38 of the Kural from which the following selections have been taken, deal with matters of special significance to the order of ascetics and monastic life. When Kural was written, large numbers of people in South India of the Jain and Buddhist denominations were solemnly pledged to a monastic life. There was therefore a place for special chapters dealing with the monastic life in the comprehensive book that Kural was planned to be. But one cannot be certain that these chapters had only this specific purpose. Much of what is said in these chapters is applicable even to men leading family lives. Tiru-Valluvar, like the Bhagavad Gita, definitely takes the view that detachment in conduct is the essence of the principle of renunciation and that monastic life is not necessary for a mans salvation if he knows how to do his duties in ordinary life with detachment and equanimity.]
Diverse are the teachings of the religions of the world, but in all will be found that compassion is that which gives men spiritual deliverance. Hold on to it.
[Note; Arul is love for all creatures equal to what is associated with blood relationship.]
Soul-endangering sin flees from him who looks upon all beings with affection.
Even as happiness in this world depends on material possessions, compassion is that on which your happiness in the world beyond wholly depends.
Those who have lost their possessions may flourish once again. But there is no hope for those who have failed in the duty of compassion.
Can one who has no compassion in his heart practise Dharma through other virtues? It is no more possible than that one who has no understanding can teach the true meaning of things.
[Note: Men can see easily that clarity of understanding is essential for acquiring knowledge, but they do not see what is equally true, viz., that compassion is essential for goodness.]
When a man is inclined to be cruel to those over whom he has power, let him think of himself trembling before the cruelty of stronger men.
How can a man adopt the way of compassion, gorging on the flesh of other beings in order to fatten his own flesh?
Meat eating is inconsistent with tenderness to life or compassion. Nature cannot work a contrary whatever be the casuistry (clever but false reasoning) about it. If we must eat meat, let us not talk of compassion.
The butcher with the knife in his hand cannot turn his heart to compassion. It is just the same with one who has trained his mind to find pleasure in the eating of the body of another creature made tasty with condiments.
[Note: He who likes the taste of meat is a butcher, whose occupation one detests. It is no use distinguishing between meat eating and the slaughtering of animals oneself.]
Eating the meat that is obtained by killing is gross stupidity. It is the direct opposite of the doctrine of compassion to kill the doctrine of non-killing by eating meat and thereby encouraging others to kill.
[Note: To make other people break the law against killing life cannot be consistent with compassion. There is no sense, therefore, in those who would not themselves kill but eating the meat that is necessarily obtained by killing. This is obviously a protest against the eating of meat practised by persons professing to be adherents of the law of non-killing, and an answer to those who argue that dietary rules should not be mixed up with compassion of virtues of the mind.]
If men will decide not to kill for the sake of eating no one will make a trade or profession of slaughtering living creatures.
[Note: This is an answer to the argument that people live by selling meat and that if we buy meat already slaughtered there can be no sin in it or want of compassion.]
What is meat but a cruel and ugly ulcer or wound in the body of another creature? How can one who realises this make it an article of food?
[Note: It is strange, says the poet, that something so disgusting and so cruel can be regarded as food.]
More meritorious than a thousand burnt offerings is to give up the practice of killing a living creature and eating its carcass.
All the creatures of the world offer worship to the man who refrains from killing and abstains from meat.
[Note: The poet figures to himself the grateful adoration of dumb animals as to a god descended on earth to save them from their relentless enemies.]
Share you food with the hungry and help life in all forms. Refrain from causing death to any form of life. All the codes enjoin this.
Life is dear, but even to save your life, do not do that which would deprive another creature of its own dear life.
[Note: When Kural was written, the monastic life was common in South India. Tiru-Valluvar does not oppose it, but brings out the essence of the virtue in such life in a rational manner.]
Penance really consists in the fortitude with which the pain that falls to ones lot is borne and in the avoidance of causing pain to sentient beings. This is the substance of penance, nothing else.
[Note: All notions of supernatural benefits arising out of self-inflicted pain are quietly discounted here, and a rational and catholic doctrine of patiently suffering whatever pain falls to ones lot is indicated.]
Blessed is he who is qualified for penance. To those who undertake penance in the form of self-inflicted pain without being truly qualified, penance is mere profitless travail.
Those who have not renounced the worldly life must have kept out of the order of ascetics only to be able to look after those who undergo penance.
[Note: there is a delicately expressed warning here that the householders life is not to be deemed inferior.]
The gold in the furnace shines the more it is in the fire. So do they who suffer in order to chasten their spirit; they shine the more resplendently for the pain that they willingly bear.
He who has acquired mastery over his self is the object of universal worship.
[Note: i.e. he who holds his life in full possession and who does not let himself be held by his senses. Otherwise, instead of the spirit being master and the body its slave, the soul becomes slave to the body.]
If one has falsehood in his heart and secretly breaks the law of celibacy the five elements that watch from inside his body laugh at the futile fraud.
[Note: Remember that you have within you five witnesses watching your secret and shameful crime. Not God the All-immanent, but even the physical elements laugh in scorn, says the poet.]
Of what avail are the trappings of purity or sainthood when within him his conscience knows its inescapable guilt?
The feeble minded wearing the brave trappings of strength is like a miserable cow putting on the skin of a tiger to save itself from being impounded while feeding stealthily on the corn in a strangers field.
If a man hides himself in the externals of a saint and under that cover commits sin, he descends to the life of the mean bird catcher who hides in the bush to trap innocent birds.
Making public pretensions to purity of life, if you secretly act contrary to the law, soon you will be landed in numberless troubles and you will lament in exceeding measure.
There are some in this world who, like the kunri seed, are beautifully red all over, but have in their hearts a black spot like that seed.
[Note: kunri is a very hard and light and beautiful red seed used as the smallest unit in weighing gold. It has a black spot on its nose.]
There are many that pass for holy men who keep foulness in their hearts and go through the external ablutions of saints in order to hide their sins.
Is not the cruel arrow smooth and straight, while the curved lyre makes sweet music? Our judgment must depend not on appearance but on conduct.
Avoid what the world condemns. If you succeed in this, there is no need for the shaven head or the growing of long beards.
[Note: Some hermits shave their heads clean and others allow their hair to grow wild, according to the order to which they belong. Purity makes the saint, not these and other externals.]
Truthfulness is attained if ones speech is such that it harms no being in the world.
If one could speak an untruth, which brought good without the least blemish of evil, it might be classed with truth.
Of all things confirmed in our experience, the rule of truthfulness stands out most firmly established. There is nothing more precious than truth.
If you are truthful in thought and word you are superior to one who undergoes penances and gives gifts.
Truthfulness earns the esteem of the world besides bringing in its train the merit of every other virtue without the physical privations of penance.
Water makes external cleanliness. Truthfulness is the detergent of the heart.
Lamps do not give the light that holy men desire. It is the light of truth that illuminates their path.
He truly is without anger who does not give vent to anger when the wrongdoer is under his power. Where his anger cannot hurt, that is when he cannot effectively retaliate, what matters is whether he guards against anger or not.
Everyone knows that it is bad for oneself to lose temper in dealing with superiors. But where anger is directed against persons in ones power it is the worst of all offences.
From anger is born all evil. Let us forget the cause for provocation given by anyone.
Can there be any greater enemy to mankind than anger, which kills laughter and joy (which indeed are the greatest of blessings on earth)?
Let him who would save himself guard against anger. The anger that is not held back is disastrous to oneself.
He who thinks anger is a profitable or worthy thing and yields to it is bound to suffer the evil thereof, even like the fool that hits the ground with his hand.
Great may the wrong done to you; like many tongued fire it may burn, but it is worthwhile yet to struggle and rein back ones anger, if at all possible.
There is nothing lost by not entertaining anger. On the contrary it will be seen that what is sought to be attained comes quicker if the mind is kept free from it.
The best punishment for those who do evil to you is to shame them by returning good for evil.
Is there anything in much learning if it does not make a man feel the pain of others as keenly as the pain in his own body and avoid causing it?
When a man has experienced pain and knows what it is, how can he bring himself wantonly to cause pain to others?
The pain that a man causes to another in the forenoon returns to him that very afternoon.
Like the crowd that gathers to see a play comes dazzling wealth. It disappears like the gathering, which melts away when the play is over.
We imagine the day is something by itself. But to those who can see the truth, the day is in reality nothing but the relentless movement of the saw that unremittingly saws through life.
Do that which is good without delay, for you must do it before the tongue fails and the last hiccup seizes you.
Wondrous indeed is this world where one who was here yesterday may not be found today.
We cannot be certain of living the next minute. But we are not content with even a million plans.
The souls connection with the body is just like that of the birds connection with the eggshell. The bird leaves it joyfully to fly in the air.
The soul is indeed a homeless wanderer. It stays for a brief time in the body, as the homeless wretch who takes shelter under some roof, only to leave it at the earliest call.
As one by one you detach yourself from the things of the world you are saved from pain in respect of it.
The absence of something to that extent makes it easier to give it up wholly, i.e., even the thought of it. Possession tends to hold the mind in delusion and therefore is a hindrance to true knowledge.
If ones heart is set on ending the round of births, there is no purpose in keeping any attachments alive. Even the body is a burden to be got rid of soon.
Pain of all kinds holds him in its relentless grip who fondly holds on to the things of the world.
Those who renounce wholly, i.e., who give up even the thought of things to be desired, have saved themselves. The rest are deluded and are still in the net.
Deliverance comes only with the abandonment of attachments. Else the fleeting world must be ones home again and again.
[Note: Mere privation enforced on oneself will not help. What is required is the giving up of attachment and desire.]
Let attachment to the Lord be your one attachment. That attachment will help you to free yourself from other attachments.
Those who have learnt to perceive the Real, will surely take the path leading to deliverance from rebirth.
Root out the three evils, Desire, Anger and Delusion, and all grief shall end.
The miseries of life are born of error that deems the worthless as things of value.
The cause of all our grief is that we base life on false values. Life based on true values ends in deliverance.
Heaven is nearer than the earth they stand on, to the enlightened that have freed themselves from the entanglements of doubt.
If there is no true understanding all the knowledge that the five senses give is of no avail.
True understanding is that which uncovers and shows the reality behind the apparent and diverse exteriors of all things.
[Note: The desirelessness recommended in Indian philosophy does not appeal to the modern mind, which depends upon hope and faith in human effort. Religious dogma apart, detachment is recognised as a great and necessary virtue in all human endeavour. The philosophy of non-desire is intimately associated with detachment in work.]
Desire is the seed out of which is born the unending cycle of birth and death.
There is no worthier object to be desired than deliverance from births, and this worthy desire can be fulfilled if we renounce desires.
There is no possession so great as Non-desire either in this world or in the worlds beyond.
Purity is attained by freedom from desire. And this freedom from Desire can be attained if one sincerely desires to attain the Real.
It is only those who along with the thing given up have given up the desire for it that can be said to have renounced. Those who have not done this have not truly renounced.
[Note: Mere external giving up is not enough. The emphasis on the renunciation of desire was very relevant in the days of Tiru-Valluvar when large numbers took up celibacy and Sannyas. Compare Gita 2-59. ("The objects of the senses turn away from the abstinent man leaving the longing behind; but his longing also turns away on seeing the Supreme" Gita.]
Desire is the greatest deceiver. Dread and guard against it. This vigilance is the whole of the moral code.
If the pain of pains called Desire were kept out, one can, even in this life attain unbroken happiness.
[Note: The doctrine of Karma as enunciated in Hindu scriptures is accepted in toto and without any modification in the Kural. Oozh is the Tamil word for the Law of Karma, by which the sum of mans thoughts, desires and actions in one birth becomes his start in the next birth or re-embodiment of his soul.
Neither Karma nor its Tamil equivalent oozh is to be mistaken for belief in blind luck. The Hindu doctrine of Karma links all good and bad luck to what was done or thought in previous births. Men reap the just and natural reward of every act and build their natures and tendencies as a result thereof. The law is unfailing in its rigour. The account is not closed by death, but carried forward from one birth to another. Causes not traceable to oneself now must be traced to oneself in past births. That we do not remember the pat is irrelevant.]
The industry that produces wealth and the indolence that brings about adversity in this life are brought about by how you lived in the previous life. Past deeds produce the industry and indolence, which are the apparent causes of the acquisition and the loss of wealth in this life.
[Note: The doctrine of Karma is made consistent with the inescapable relation between work and wealth. This is further clarified in the next couplet.]
Folly seizes even the wise when it is decreed by the law that they must lose their possessions, and the dull become shrewd when their past good deeds are ripe for being rewarded by prosperity.
Men are of two categories. Some are decreed by the law of Karma to be prosperous and some are decreed to be wise.
[Note: i.e. the wise need not necessarily be prosperous and the prosperous need not be intellectually very capable.]
Prosperity comes by the decree of the law of previous good and bad deeds. The best efforts in this life may not produce good results where it is not so decreed and the least may yield prosperity when it is so ordained.
The possessions that do not belong to one according to the unchangeable decree of Karma cannot be retained in spite of the most vigilant care, and that which belongs to a man by that decree cannot be lost even if he were most careless about it.
Even those who have no possession to renounce will not give up the world and earn the fruits of renunciation, because they have not earned that wisdom by previous good deeds.
[Note: It may be easy for the poor and the homeless to become hermits, but they do not, and struggle with poverty and continue wallowing in worldly attachments and misery, because they have not earned by their past deeds a mind inclined to renunciation.]
When men have good luck as a result of good deeds in past births, they accept it without raising any question and enjoy the full benefit of it. But when they get bad luck, they complain and vex themselves. Truly men are unreasonable!
The negligence that is apt to arise out of the intoxication of achievement is more harmful than even inordinate anger.
Those who are not vigilant cannot attain greatness. This applies to all the orders of life; and all codes accept this conclusion.
To the languid and negligent, wealth can give no benefit, even as fortification cannot give security to cowards.
There is nothing so good as vigilance in dealing with everyone and at all times without any lapse.
Watch beforehand. He who is not vigilant will repent later in vain.
There is nothing that is impossible if one brings to bear on ones work the instrument of a vigilant and resourceful mind.
When you are feeling elated by your prosperity, think of those who in the past were ruined by lapse of vigilance.
Every aspiration may indeed be achieved if one knows to keep his aim ever before his mind.
Family virtues (i.e., inherited qualities) naturally persist, but are apt to disappear unless kept up by unflagging industry, even as a temple light will go out unless the wick is properly snuffed and looked after.
When men are fated to be destroyed, procrastination, forgetfulness, languor and sleep are festive boats that wait to tempt and take them.
He who falls a victim to inaction, and does not labour strenuously, first meets with censure from friends, but will finally have to put up with every ones contempt.
One can make up for many natural defects through industry.
The king who is fired by the spirit of ceaseless effort will find the whole world under him.
Let not the magnitude of any task unman you. Strenuous effort ever brings victory.
Guard against inaction in respect of your allotted task. Man is born to action. He who fails in this is lost to the world.
The pride of being useful to others can be enjoyed only by those who are blessed with the spirit of ceaseless effort.
The wish to be useful to society entertained by one who is not prepared for a strenuous life is like the fond desire of a weakling to wield weapons of war.
He who is in love with work, and spurns pleasure, can remove the troubles of his friends and relatives and stand as a pillar for their support.
The dark elder Sister dwells with idleness. She of the lotus dwells in human effort.
[Note: Sri or Lakshmi is the younger of the two sisters; the elder sister is the goddess of misfortune.]
No one can blame you if nature has not endowed you with superior intelligence; but to have knowledge and to fail to put forth your best effort is blameworthy.
Even if through misfortune the object aimed at is not attained, the effort pays its own wages.
[Note: That is, honest effort is its own reward. This means that every honest endeavour raises the man a step higher in the course of his evolution. In the measure of the energy put forth, there is improvement in strength and character.]
Sustained and courageous effort enables man to see Fate turn its back and flee from the field.
[Note: These three couplets lay down that the world may justly blame you for not making the best of your talents and putting forth your utmost effort, that sustained and courageous effort will overcome the course of past karma. And even if you fail to attain your object, the effort raises your character and takes you forward in the course of soul-evolution.]
[Note: Ones spirit should not be broken down by misfortune, adversity or defeat. What is dealt with in these verses is not the serenity of the mind of the ascetic, but the unperturbed spirit of the man of action.]
Laugh when you meet misfortune. There is nothing like this to overcome it and pass on to victory.
Misfortune may come like a flood. But it vanishes in the wise mans mind by a thought.
[Note: i.e., misfortune operates on the mind; resolute thought can overcome it and proceed to the next step to be taken.]
Man is born to be the target of misfortune. The wise man knows this and will be unperturbed by it.
He who does not allow the craving for pleasure to grow in him, and who understands that it is the lot of man to meet with trouble, will not feel it difficult to face misfortune.
If when enjoying good fortune, you keep your mind free from excitement, you will be proof against grief in misfortune.
[Note: The first thing laid down in Kural dealing with learning is the duty of relating ones conduct to ones knowledge. Knowledge thus translated becomes culture.]
Acquire a sound knowledge of things that should be learnt, and then act accordingly.
Learning is divided into two simple divisions, mathematics and literature or numbers and letters. They are like two eyes to human life.
The uneducated mans life, whatever his station may be, is no better than that of a man cursed with blindness.
Only the literate can be said to have eyes. The unlettered have but two openings in the face, not eyes.
Learning has to be acquired in fear and humility. The seeker of knowledge must stand before the learned even as a man in want stands before the rich giver, eager and trembling. He who is proud and does not care to undergo this must remain ignorant and is doomed to inferiority in life.
Study brings knowledge in proportion to the industry bestowed, even as water oozes into the sandpit in the riverbed in the measure of the digging.
[Note: The peculiar characteristic of learning is that it is a double source of pleasure, an intrinsic joy to him who has the knowledge, and a source of happiness to others who benefit by it.]
While really the learned man finds in his learning his own pleasure, he sees that others look upon him as a benefactor, conferring pleasure on them. Hence the truly learned are in love with knowledge.
[Note: The Tamil classics lay very great emphasis on education. It is indeed often considered as important as the moral virtues.]
Uneducated men are like alkaline soil. Their existence is worthless and nominal.
Even if unlettered man displays great good sense, it will not be recognized by the learned.
[Note: This is not a remark against learned men, but is intended to insist on the importance of education.]
An unlettered mans conceit will find its end when the occasion for speech arrives.
The size and personality of a man who is externally grand but has not an intellect improved by learning is like the grandeur of large clay images made beautiful with coloured paste.
Wealth in the hands of ignorant men, and poverty that afflict learned men, cause grief to them as well as to the world at large. But between the two misfits, the latter is not so great a misfortune as the former; for, while poverty cannot cause real harm to the spirit of the learned, wealth in the hands of the ignorant is a danger to the world.
The unlettered though born in a higher social class are inferior in status to those who though born low have acquired learning.
[Note: Arivu is nearer to Discrimination and Wisdom than to mere knowledge.]
True knowledge is an inner fortification that enemies cannot destroy, and is the ultimate impregnable defence.
True knowledge controls thought and conduct and keeps both away from evil, and helps one to keep in the right path.
True knowledge enables one to understand the true import of things from whomsoever one learns them and not to be misled by the circumstances in which they appear.
It finds easy and convincing expression for ones own thoughts, and enables one to grasp the essence of what is said by others, be it however complicated.
Knowledge befriends the world. It fosters a spirit of equanimity saving one from both excitement and depression.
The man of True Knowledge understands how the world moves, and moves accordingly.
[Note: Ulagam occurs often in Tamil didactic poetry. Though it literally means the world, it is used here to describe the elite among the people and not the mass of the people.]
Unlike the ignorant man, the man of True Knowledge knows beforehand what will befall. Thereby he escapes even stunning grief.
He fears what is truly to be feared, and refrains from it. It is a folly not to fear what should be feared.
A discriminating mind is the greatest of possessions. Without it, all other possessions will come to nothing.
[Note: Knowledge acquired or confirmed by listening to the teachings and expositions of learned men was a major division of learning in our ancient system, apart from knowledge acquired study. This is called Kelvi in Tamil and the phrase Kalvikelvi expresses the complete accomplishment of a learned man.]
Listening as a means of learning is particularly prescribed for the illiterate. It will be a staff to lean upon when beset by weakness.
[Note: But the teacher should not only be learned but also be one who leads the right life. Indeed, the latter is more important.]
The oral precepts of a teacher who leads a good life help one as a staff helps the weak to walk.
[Note: The poet realises the feeling of despair that must sometimes come over men who seek to learn by merely listening, and says, as if for consolation:]
Be it but little, listen and assimilate. It will produce great good.
Study marked by searching enquiry and much listening to learned men will save one from foolish statements even if labouring under error.
Listening to the expositions of learned men gives one the humility of speech that appertains to true learning. Mere study is apt to leave one conceited.
The friendship of men of character is like the young moon, which grows as the days pass, but friendship with fools diminishes with familiarity like the moon after her full phase.
With deeper study one sees more and more beauty in a book and derives enhanced pleasure. Likewise good mens friendship does not lose its freshness but gives increased pleasure every day.
True friendship is that which comes swiftly to the rescue in the hour of trouble, even as the hand goes instinctively to hold the dress, when it chances to slip down in company.
Identity of feelings makes friendship; it is needless for friends to meet often or be long together.
The face may wear a smile at the sight of one, but only he is a friend whose sight brings about an internal joy, which fills the whole soul.
The triple service of friendship is to take the friend out of the wrong path, to lead him into the right path, and to share in his misfortune.
There is nothing so harmful as friendship contracted without discrimination, because the quality of friendship is that friendship once made cannot be given up.
Let friendship be contracted only after knowing the mans good points, his birth, his defects and his connections (relatives and friends).
It is worthwhile making sacrifices to acquire the friendship of one who is well born and is sensitive to public opinion about him.
Go out in search for those in whom you find the capacity to censure you and if necessary make you weep without flinching when you go wrong, and of leading you into the good path. Make friendship with such men.
Misfortune has its use in that it serves as a yardstick for you to spread out and measure the constancy of friends and relatives.
Do not entertain thoughts, which must lead to the shrinking of enthusiasm. Do not make friends with those who instead of giving you strength weaken you in difficult situations.
It is a gain by itself if one gets away from the friendship of fools.
Do not take trouble to keep up the friendship of worthless men. It is well to allow it to die out, be they ever so honey-like (sweet).
What does it matter whether we gain or lose the friendship of selfish men who when it is profitable to them befriend us and leave us when it is not?
[Note: Oppilaar means men whose conduct is not shaped to further the life of the community, i.e., selfish, the reverse of Oppuravu.]
The friendship that weighs advantages is of the same class with the affections and courtesans and partnership among thieves.
It is better not to befriend than to depend on friends who when you face trouble desert you, as it is better to go on foot than ride to battle on an unbroken horse.
The opposition of wise and good men does infinitely greater good than the closest friendship of a fool.
One gets a million times more benefit from enemies than from the friendship of mere jolly good fellows and jesters and the like.
Allow your friendship silently to die out with men who fail to help where they could.
It is bad even in dream to associate with those whose words and deeds differ.
There are some who seek to befriend you at home and in private, but attack your fair name on public occasions. Avoid all advances on the part of such people.
Learning and culture have no effect on hatred. They do not help to remove enmity.
[Note: How true! The mind has a capacity in dividing itself into compartments, so that unreasoned hatred persists along with learning and philosophy.]
Do not be misled by politeness or courtesy of language on the part of enemies. The enemy bends his words as he bends his bow, which is not for your good.
An enemys hands clasped in salutation may conceal a weapon. So also are his tears (of pretended grief or sympathy) not to be trusted, i.e., be on your guard and do not be deceived by external signs of friendship.
The biggest folly among follies is to cherish a desire for a prohibited object.
[Note: When your reason or conscience tells you that a thing is unworthy of you, it is a folly to waste your mental energy indulging in thoughts about it.]
There is no bigger fool than the man who has acquired much learning and preaches the same to others, but who does not control himself.
A fool getting hold of wealth is like a lunatic taking intoxicating liquor, i.e., it was bad enough being mad but liquor is added to make it from bad to worse.
The friendship of fools is perhaps the best, for in this case separation brings no grief!
[Note: Tiru-Valluvar often uses sarcasm for enforcing an idea. It is a distinctive style of his.]
A fools entry into an assembly of wise men is like unwashed feet on a clean bed. One fool ruins the character of a whole assembly.
The self-inflicted miseries of ignorance are greater than what can be inflicted by enemies.
There is no folly so great as the folly that makes men proud of their own wisdom.
Pretending knowledge of things not learnt, one loses credit for even such faultless knowledge, as one really possesses.
It is a folly to imagine that by wrapping oneself in cloth, one has covered ones indecency, when the greater indecency of a bad character is still exposed.
Protection against the heat of the sun is good. So also is water good. But sometimes even these become harmful and then they are to be avoided. Relatives, when they become evil-minded, are a danger to be guarded against.
There can be no real union in a community when there are mutual hatreds concealed in the mind, just as a lid of a vessel serves only to cover and does not become one with it.
Those who are governed by their wives are unable to act generously and boldly in respect of large interests of friends and society in general. Domination by ones wife leads to narrowness of outlook and initiative.
Inordinate attachment to ones wife is not only an impediment to the attainment of spirituality, but in the world of action even it is to be avoided.
Again, he who neglects his duties on account of his attachment to his wife will find himself overwhelmed by public scandal.
[Note: Thirty Kural couplets are devoted to warning men against lust, wine and gambling.]
The false embrace of a woman who sells her body for money is like trying to find pleasure in the embrace of the dead body of an unknown person in a dark room.
[The evil of indulgence in the false sense of well-being obtained from spirituous drinks, is in Kural, a subject matter for emphatic condemnation.]
To show reason to one who has indulged in liquor is like taking a light to search for a man who has drowned in deep water.
Will one in his free moments watch someone else who is drunk and realise what happens to one when under the mischief of the potion?
Those who drink in secret soon become the laughing stock of the locality, for the effects of the indulgence cannot for long remain unknown.
Gambling, even if you win, is a thing to be avoided. The winning is like the fish swallowing the hook.
[Note: Pon is now used to denote gold was originally a word to denote metal in general and in this couplet it refers to the iron hook used in fishing.]
Even when losing, gambling is sweet and holds the victim in its grip, resembling in this the attachment to life in spite of excruciating physical agony, which would be relieved by death. The sick victim avoids death and holds on to life
[Note: the point is more emphatically enforced by the couplet reversing the comparison:]
Attachment to life is like the grip that the game (gambling) gets on its victim.
Make a careful diagnosis, discover the true cause of the disease, think out the proper remedy and apply it effectively.
In prescribing the treatment, the good physician takes into consideration the strength of the patient, the progress of the disease and the season.
Four elements go to make effective treatment: the patient, the doctor, the remedy and the attendant.
[Note: The co-operation of the patient and the skilled service of an attendant were considered no less important than the doctor and the drugs, even as in modern medical treatment.]
[Note: The following verses recognise restraint in eating as the great secret of good health. Modern science has confirmed the importance of the advice.]
If we eat only after making sure that what has been already eaten has been digested, no drugging will be required to keep the body in good health.
Make sure that the previous meal has been digested, and wait till you are quite hungry. Then eat what you have found to agree with your health.
Even then, the food should be taken in right measure. Moderation in eating is the secret of longevity.
The man, who stops just a little before he feels he has had enough, retains the joy of eating; on the other hand, the big eater invites disease.
Much pain is saved if one learns to eat only what has been found to suit ones health and to say no i.e., exercise self-restraint in respect of quantity.
The ignorant man, who eats beyond the measure of the fire or beyond his power of digestion, must be prepared for all sorts of ailments.
The three humours postulated by those learned in the science of the human body cause disease if there is superfluity or deficiency, i.e., if excess or deficiency in food or work upsets the balance.
When you have wealth, cultivate humility. When your means are strained, then it is that you should hold your head high.
The hair on the head is a thing of beauty. Removed from its place, it becomes filth. The same is the fate of men who descend from their own level of honourable conduct and demean themselves.
[Note: many verses in the Kural are devoted to describing the wretchedness of a life of dependence on the wealthy with the consequent loss of self-respect.]
Death by starvation is preferable to the maintenance of comfort and show of respectability by dependence on those who look down upon you and do not take you as one of them but only render help as to one inferior.
The world will admire and worship the glory of men who give up life when overtaken by dishonour.
Glory consists in wealth of spirit. To decide to live though devoid of it is inglorious.
Equal are all in birth. Distinctions are the result of greatness in action in some and the absence of it in others.
As a virgin guards her own purity, men should guard their unsullied greatness.
The high-minded man hides the faults of others from view, but the little ones busy themselves only about the faults of others.
The crow does not hide it when it finds something to pick and eat, but calls its fellows and then starts eating. Prosperity comes only to men who develop this disposition.
Those relatives that go away for some reason will come back as soon as you have discovered in yourself the cause of their desertion and the defect is removed.
If any go away but come back not for affection but for a known selfish object of their own, the king should not on that ground summarily reject them.
He should do what they want, but before taking them back into confidence test them.
When wealth is neither enjoyed by oneself nor given to deserving persons, the possessor becomes a disease to society.
[Note: Disease, because instead of being healthy units, such men block circulation.]
Wealth that is not utilised for helping the distressed is like a maiden who is possessed in abundant measure of all the qualities a wife and a mother should have, being barren to remain and die unmarried.
[Note: The quick and instinctive shrinking from wrong and improper actions is one of the essential elements of good character.
We use the same word naan or naanam in Tamil to denote the repugnance to wrongdoing which a good man feels as to describe the good womans shrinking from immodesty.]
Eating, covering oneself against the weather and the rest are common to all, but the distinction of good men is the spontaneous repugnance to impropriety.
Even as life finds its abode in the body and separation from it means death, so is honour inseparably lodged in a sensitive conscience, without which it cannot but die.
A sensitive conscience is a jewel that sets off the virtue of good men. Without it pride becomes a disease of the flesh.
Honours true home is the conscience of the man who shrinks from causing dishonour to others even as he does from soiling his own reputation.
Men of honour would give up life for honours sake, but never abandon honour even to save life.
If you break the rules of religion, you are lost to your caste, but if you act against the dictates of honour, you are lost to virtue itself.
The movements of a man who has not a sensitive conscience are like the simulation of life by marionettes (puppets) moved by strings.
Strange indeed is the complete physical resemblance of the unscrupulous to the human species. It is the best example of mimesis we know of.
[Note: Oppaari, mimesis is close external resemblance of one animal species to another though of an entirely different nature amounting almost to mockery.]
Blessed indeed are the unscrupulous, for they do not suffer from the anxieties and troubles of those who have scruples.
The unscrupulous resemble the gods, for, like gods, they do what they please and are bound by no restraints of conduct.
[Note: These three couplets illustrate Tiru-Valluvars irony.]
Fear of punishment is the only code for unscrupulous men. They observe restraints only under the pressure of fear. Sometimes a little good may be got out of them by operating on their greed.
Good men serve at the mere call to serve. But the worthless serve only when crushed, like the sugarcane.
What is the use of unscrupulous men in this world? When occasion arises they hasten to sell themselves.
Many other industries may be taken up, but ultimately the world depends on agriculture. So despite its troubles, it is the worthiest occupation.
The tillers of the soil are the axle-pin of the revolving world. On them depends the sustenance of life for those that, unable to take up the plough, follow other occupations.
They only live by right that till the soil and grow their food. The rest are parasites.
The state that has fields waving with full-eared corn will see the sovereignty of many princes resting under the shade of its munificence.
If the tillers of the soil withdraw their labour, even the serenity and concentration of spirit of those who have renounced the world will cease to be.
If the ploughed soil is left to dry to a fourth of its bulk there will be a plentiful crop without even a handful of manure being put in.
[Note: Adequate aeration of the soil is necessary for raising a good crop. Thodi and kahsa are measures of weight related as 4 to 1.]
More important than ploughing is manuring. Then, after weeding the field, more important than even watering is the guarding of the crop.
If the good man fails to bestow personal attention on his field, then like a neglected wife it turns its face away in loving anger.
[Note: Oodal is the reaction of anger to any real or supposed lapse of attention on the part of the lover or husband. The farmers field too, like the wife or sweetheart, will forgive and forget as soon as affection and attention are shown again.]
The goodwife Earth laughs at the foolishness of men who sit idle, bemoaning their poverty.
Every morning opens with the blighting thought of the struggle for existence that must again be faced.
[Note: Nirappu is extreme poverty.]
Even truth gets depreciated in value by reason of indigence (poverty). The exposition of truth coming from the mouth of the needy man carries no weight and proves ineffective.
A mothers love is the one thing that can be expected to stand unaffected by the exigencies of fortune. Even this is likely to grow lukewarm when the son is a poor man.
[Note: Aramsaaraanalkuravu indigence not associated with religious duty; or indigence which generally renders even the performance of mans essential duties impossible.]
If there were no poor people to seek help, this beautiful world would be only like a temporary stage for a marionette (puppet) show.
[Note: i.e., life would be mere physical motion without any stirring of the soul within.)
If a man approached has an open heart and knows his debt to society, then, indeed, to be in need and to receive help becomes a beauty and a pleasure.
If the world were so ordered that some of its inhabitants must live in dependence and on the mercy of others, the Creator would indeed deserve the curse of becoming a wandering beggar himself.
There is no dish so sweet as that earned by ones own labour, be it but the thinnest gruel.
The No of the unwilling man is poison and death to the suppliant. But it is strange that such mortal poison did not hurt the man through whose mouth it passed and with whom it was in primary physical contact.
A prince will be a lion among princes whose state has an adequate army, whose people are industrious, whose country has ample food resources, who has wise and vigilant ministers, who commands the friendship of foreign princes, and whose forts are dependable. The prince who commands these six essentials is a lion among rulers.
They are fit to rule who possess in unfailing measure fearlessness, liberality, wisdom and enthusiasm in action.
The necessary good characteristics of a good ruler are diligence, learning and courage.
A good government never swerves from dharma (righteousness), it puts adharma out of the kingdom, and its military honour is unsullied.
The duties of the ruler are production of wealth, conservation of resources, defence of the state and right expenditure. In a good government these duties are well performed.
If the ruler is accessible and is not harsh in speech, the state will attain fame.
If the king acts according to the law and protects his people, he will be regarded as a god.
[Note: the law in ancient India was not made by legislators, but was to be culled from the scriptures and established custom. The king was also to obey the law.]
The people will rest happy under the umbrella of a prince who has the quality of listening to the advice of his ministers even when it is unpleasant.
In every action there are the three elements of loss, acquisition and value. The quality and measure of each of these three elements should be weighed before undertaking any action.
The prince whose undertakings are carefully launched after deliberation with a body of tried counsellors will find no impediment in the achievement of his objects.
The wise do not launch an undertaking by which, for a possible future gain, they will lose what is already got.
Ill-considered aggressive operations serve only to mobilise and strengthen an enemy.
But it should be remembered that a merely passive attitude is ruinous if the occasion calls for action.
Plan fully before launching out on action. To think of devising ways and means in the course of the action is fatal.
The energy that is spent on action without being first adequately spent on planning it out, will be empty of results, whatever may be the manpower placed in the field.
The means adopted should be such as would not be condemned by an enlightened world which never approves of unworthy means.
[Note: The world in Indian classics, Sanskrit as well as Tamil, means enlightened people. It is not the mere majority of the population.]
Many are those whose ambition has led them into aggressive campaigns without properly estimating the strength at their command, taking them to destruction.
He meets his end speedily who does not behave wisely towards alien powers and who does not realise the limitations of his own strength but loses himself in self over-estimation.
Too great a load of even peacock feathers will break the axle-tree of the cart.
[Note: It may be a surprise to many that the words achchu, chaakaadu, pandam, whose shape suggests a pure Tamil origin are Sanskrit words Aksha, Shakat and Bhanda respectively.]
The tree climber can negotiate the branches up to a limit. If his enthusiasm takes him beyond the limit, he falls and meets with death.
It is not a great misfortune for a state if its revenues are limited, provided the expenditure is kept within bounds.
The seeming splendour of a career carried on without adjustment to means, will suddenly disappear leaving no vestige behind.
Is there anything impossible if the right means are adopted and the right hour is chosen?
[Note: Tamil absorbed some Sanskrit words thousands of years ago and so thoroughly that one may not even note them as such; Karuvi, tool is an example of this kind: Kri do.]
The kings who desire to conquer wait calmly for the right time to arrive for striking.
[Note: Kalangaadu, without losing their heads, without being tempted into premature action.]
The restraint of the energetic is like the rearward (backward) steps that the fighting ram always takes before charging.
[Note: Ram fighting was an amusement common among the Tamils of Tiru-Valluvars day.]
The anger of the wise does not exhibit its heat immediately on provocation, but smoulders within until the time arrives for action.
Do not stint in courtesies, but show obsequious humility before your humility before your enemy; when the time arrives for action, you will be able to make him bow his head before you.
[Note: Kizhakkaamtalai- the head will go down. This may mean, as the commentator interprets, will roll down, i.e., by death. But it is perhaps more in keeping with the spirit of Tiru-Valluvars teaching to take it as bowing in subordination.]
Occasion comes but rarely. When it comes, seize it promptly if you are intent on a great aim.
Imitate the stork in bidding your time; but when the time is ripe, act with swift and sure aim as the stork does.
Till you find the place suitable for surrounding the opposing force, do not begin your attack, and do not commit the fatal mistake of underestimating the enemys strength.
Even if your force is numerous and eager, defensive fortifications are not to be neglected, as that advantage helps in many ways.
Though you are weaker in your army, if you choose the right place to give battle and your operations are conducted with care, you may win as if you had a bigger army.
The enemys plans will be upset if you attack choosing an advantageous place, and if your forces are well protected.
If full (adequate or proper) thought is spent over the plan of operations and you are able to choose your own place of action, there is no need for other support; the courage of your men will carry victory.
With a large army you should not engage in battle in a place fit only for a smaller force; for then your full force will not have room for action and is likely to be demoralized.
Even though their fortifications and army may be weaker, it is not easy to attack and overcome those who have the advantage of operating in their native country.
[Note: The importance of favourable time is stressed by the simile of the owl being defeated by the crow if the fight is during daytime. The difference wrought by a right choice of place is brought out by the analogies of the crocodile and of the boat.]
In deep waters, the crocodile triumphs, but out of the water it is powerless.
The crow defeats the owl in daytime. The kings who intend to defeat the operations of their strong enemies must choose the right time.
The strong-wheeled chariot cannot be driven on the sea, and the boat that moves swiftly on the water cannot be used on land.
Before entrusting a man with power, test his loyalty by putting him through trials in respect of his attachment to life, religion, wealth and pleasures.
[Note: i.e., see whether his loyalty or efficiency breaks down under the stress of his attachment to these several objects that govern mens actions. Wuyirachcham is the fear of losing life, and the test is to see whether he is loyal to the king even when under fear if imminent death.]
Birth in a good family, freedom from defects- moral and intellectual- and sensitiveness to public censure; these are the necessary qualifications for being chosen for high office.
Even those who have successfully acquired rare learning and are known to be free from defects may betray some incompetence under close examination.
[Note: That is, probation should finally confirm the choice even if every other test is satisfied.]
[Note: But as perfect men are not available in the world, a very practical prescription is given.]
Test and find out the good and bad points and see, which predominate, and decide.
The touchstone for discriminating the qualified from the unqualified is conduct.
[Note; There are other indications but the conclusive test is a mans conduct.]
Do not choose men who have no relatives. Having no social ties, they do not fear social blame and are therefore not to be depended upon.
Choosing by affection, without making sure that the necessary qualifications are possessed, will bring every form of disaster.
Entrust work to men only after testing them. But after they have been so appointed, accept their service without distrust. It is wrong to choose men without care and equally wrong to distrust men whom you have chosen.
[Note: Those who have had to do with the organisation of unofficial national work, where the bond that holds leaders together in service is non-coercive and voluntary, will recognise the comprehensiveness and accuracy of the analysis of the qualifications mentioned below for the selection of men.]
Loyalty, a discriminating mind, clear-headedness, freedom from the lure of property, are four essential qualifications.
Again, in spite of every other test being satisfied, there are some who are not suitable by reason of the nature of the particular work to be entrusted to them.
Men should be appointed to duties, who have the ability needed for their performance and the resourcefulness to meet the situations arising therein. Everything will go wrong if you nominate one out of mere friendship or admiration.
Transfer full responsibility to the man, once you fix upon him. We cannot get the full value of a man if we do not trust him fully.
[Note: Wuriyanaagachcheyal bring out the complete entrustment of responsibility.]
Fortune will desert him who does not love and trust his diligent and efficient agent.
If the king unceasingly looks after the upright conduct of his executive, the people will not go wrong.
The kings ministers are his eyes. So he should choose them with circumspection.
Who can hurt the prince that commands the loyalty of advisers who do not hesitate to give unpleasant counsel and to point out to him when he goes wrong? The prince who has not this priceless protection of advisers that have the courage to tell him when he goes wrong will find his ruin even if there be no enemies to attack him.
To be born in a good family is a useful qualification. Consistency in thought, word and deed and a quick reaction against anything mean or improper are natural to persons well born.
[Note: A kind of instinctive resistance keeps them from doing anything mean.]
Old families though poor and unable to be munificent (generous) maintain their standard of right conduct.
They have something to lose though possessed of no wealth, viz., the credit of their families, which keeps them from deceit and impropriety.
Any fault of theirs, however small, is observed by the world and shows out clearly even like the spots in the moon.
The sprouts indicate the nature of the soil. So does softness of speech indicate a good family.
Harshness raises doubts as to good birth.
An instinctive aversion to evil is the secret of a happy and virtuous life. Courteous behaviour is the essential characteristic of good birth.
[Note: Kulam venndin = if you desire the advantage of good birth, which means, if you desire not to lose it: Yaarkkum panivu brings out the need of the spirit of true humility, which is the essence of courteous conduct, towards not only those placed above, but equals and those below. A proper humility is the best adornment of aristocracy of any kind. Nalam is good, in both the moral and Shylockian sense of good. Naanam is a sensitive conscience whereby the repugnance to evil is made part of the physical organism and the reaction is quick and spontaneous.]
All dharma and all the codes of teachers are ultimately dependent on the kings good government.
The world lies at the feet of the king who rules with benevolent regard for his people.
[Note: Kudithazhiyi denotes great living concern for the people and government in accordance with their just wishes.]
It is not the strength of arms that give success to the king, but his rule and its uprightness.
The king will fall and destroy himself who is not easy of access or does not give the fullest consideration to representations made to him or does not follow established procedure and decide justly.
It is not a matter for blame, but the office and duty of a king, who should protect his subjects against external foes and look after their welfare, to be severe with those that are found to offend against the law.
Capital punishment for grievous offences is like the weeding of fields, necessary for the protection of the crops.
The oppressive king who misgoverns is a worse sinner than the murderer
The tyrants request for gifts from his people is like the armed highway robbers demand couched in the language of politeness.
As the rainless sky dries up the earth, so does a king devoid of compassion destroy the people living thereon.
Under a ruler who does not follow the law, it is a greater misery to be possessed of wealth than to be poor.
The king shall impartially enquire and award punishment, which should be deterrent but not disproportionate to the offence. Let there be a severe gesture, but let the blow fall lightly. Thus shall the king maintain the prosperity of the state.
The king who oppresses and rules by frightfulness will find a speedy and certain end.
His days are over and he will soon meet his destruction, who lets his people have a cause to say Our king is cruel!
Though a man possesses great wealth, if he is difficult of access and when approached puts on a harsh countenance, his great wealth is only like haunted treasure.
Harsh speech and excessive and cruel punishments steadily reduce the kings power of resistance against his enemies, even as a file files off iron.
A cruel king gathers round him the most ignorant and worthless men and he becomes a burden to the good earth.
A minister should be resolute in action, have the welfare of the people at heart, possess learning and be ever active.
[Note: The Sanskrit word for minister is amaatya. The minister of those days were advisers to the king and also responsible for executing orders.]
He should be skilled in the art of dividing enemies, of conserving alliances made, and of regaining lost friendships.
There is no such thing as a situation too intricate for the minister to solve, if he possesses both natural intellect and learning on the subject of statecraft.
Even if well versed in the accepted theories of action, one should also understand the current ways of the world, and act suitably.
There are some who, though they are good in thinking out and preparing plans, are not adept in practical action.
The king may be one who, though ignorant himself, also refuses to listen to wisdom from others. But it is the duty of the minister to speak out what he deems to be true and good.
[Note: He who slays knowledge is the phrase used to describe the man who rejects words of wisdom.]
A minister who remains by the kings side and harbours treacherous thoughts, has the potentiality of seventy crores (seven hundred million) of opposing enemies.
[Note: Ookkam is the quality of mind that shows itself in eagerness for action without weakening or wavering.]
Real wealth is ones will to action. Without it all possessions are worthless.
A vigorous mind is a true asset, material possessions are fleeting and cannot be depended upon.
Think ever of rising higher. Let it be your only thought. Even if your object were not attained, the thought itself will have raised you.
Success finds its own way like a dependent to go in advance and honour the man of will.
[Note: adarvinaai = enquiring the way, i.e., meting halfway in advance.]
The lotus plant grows up to the height of the water. So does man rise just up to the height of his will.
Huge is the elephant and possessed of sharp pointed tusks, but it trembles before the tiger.
An aspiring mind is the quality of manhood: without it men are wooden images of men.
[Note: The department of spies was in the old days considered one of the most important branches of the public service. Spies were employed not only to bring intelligence about the movements of enemies but also to assist in internal affairs.]
The spy service and authoritative books on statecraft should be deemed as the two eyes of the king.
The duty of a king is to learn at once all that happens at all times to all people.
The intelligence-men should watch closely all the executive officers of the state and the relatives of the prince as well as those that were known to be not well disposed towards the prince.
To be admitted into this service, a man should be skilled in putting on disguises that raise no suspicion. He should not be disturbed or unnerved by the scrutinizing looks of those he observes. He should be able, under all circumstances, to guard secrets and not give himself away.
The garb of sannyasin (monks) and of religious orders were favourite disguises to obtain admission into places usually inaccessible.
[Note: iranda is stepping over boundaries ordinarily prohibited. The spy exposes himself to severe castigation on this account. But he should be able to stand all this and preserve the secret of his business.]
The information brought by a spy should not be accepted implicitly, but should be tested through another member of the service.
The spy service should be so managed that the members do not know one another. Let there be corroboration through three sources of information.
Do not confer any public marks of appreciation on the members of the intelligence service because thereby you would be disclosing what should be kept from the knowledge of people.
[Note: Tiru-Valluvar lays down that power of expression is an essential qualification for a successful councillor. The emphasis on the art of persuasive speech and what are stated in the verses about councillors show that decisions were taken after debate in assemblies.]
One may possess every other qualification; the gift of persuasive speech is a thing apart.
The councillors should take great care about their speeches as they may make or mar the prosperity of the whole state.
What is good speaking?
It should be such as would hold fast the convinced and it should be pleasing even to the unconvinced.
Speak after making sure that what you say cannot be refuted by any argument on the other side.
Neither right conduct nor any worldly good can result from talking above the heads of those who are addressed. Speak suitably to the capacity and attainments of the audience.
Speak pleasingly and welcome the good ideas in what is urged on the other side. This is the way of good councillors.
What makes a councillor invincible in debate is a convincing style, a good memory and fearlessness.
The world loses no time to follow the rare councillor who speaks weighty things with orderly coherence and sweetness of expression.
It is only those that have not learnt to speak briefly and correctly that indulge in much speaking.
There are flowers that blossom in plenteous clusters but bear no sweet fragrance. Like to these are those who, though learned, have not the mastery of expression to convey their knowledge to others.
[Note: The minister had to deal not only with the king but also with a council that sat to deliberate on affairs. The importance of tailoring ones speech to the mood and disposition of the assembled councillors is dealt with.]
Those are masters of the art of speaking who take note of the disposition and mood of the assembly and choose their words and adopt a style of speech to suit them.
Good and successful speech requires a careful understanding of the disposition and receptivity of the audience and a clear understanding of the subjects talked about.
[Note: idai is the receptive mood of the audience.]
Be radiant before those who are radiant. But before the white assume the colour of slaked lime. If the audience is composed of simple folk, hold back your learning and be a simple and unlearned man.
In an assembly of seniors (in age and accomplishments) it is a wise rule to restrain yourself and avoid preceding them with your speech.
It is easy to find men ready to face death in battle, but more difficult to find men free from nervousness when having to face assembly.
Of what use is it for a man who has no physical bravery to carry a sword? So is mere learning of no use to the man who is nervous before an assembly of men of keen intellect.
[Note: Kural insists on the moral law being followed in acts of state.]
Avoid at all times action that is not in accordance with the moral law.
[Note: pugazh nanri denote, respectively, commendation by the good people of the world and conformity with the moral code.]
Those who seek to be great should refrain from everything that might tarnish their good name.
Do not do that which good men would condemn even if it means your helplessly looking on without finding food for your starving mother.
Success achieved without minding the prohibitions of the moral law brings grief in the wake of achievement.
To seek to further the welfare of the State by enriching it through fraud and falsehood is like storing water in an unburnt mud pot and hoping to preserve it.
Do not do that which your better sense tells you that you will afterwards regret. But if you have done such a thing, it is well that you at least decide to refrain from such folly again.
[Note: These are precepts for those whose work keeps them near kings, telling them how to escape the dangers of courts.]
A courtier should not absent himself too often, nor indulge in too great proximity to the king. Not too far, not too near, like one who warms himself near a fire, this is the rule of conduct for those who have to be near princes whose minds are changeful and undependable.
Avoid casting your desire on things desired by the prince himself, if you wish to prosper.
Once suspicion enters the princes mind, it is hard even for the cleverest to set himself right with him. So avoid all cause for it if you desire to be safe.
Avoid, in the presence of your prince, whispering to someone else or smiling to someone as if you and he understood something between yourselves.
Do not display any inquisitiveness about the princes secret conversations with others, however important the matter may be. Wait until he says it to you if at all.
Ever avoid talk concerning things that do not matter, even if the prince shows interest in them; but concerning things that touch his interest materially, speak to him what you know without waiting to be asked.
Do not look on your prince as your junior in years or as related in such and such wise to you; but let your behaviour be as it should be to him whose divine privilege and duty is the protection of men.
[Note: i.e., junior in age and ties of blood should disappear and be of no effect once the sacred office of king devolves on a prince. Oli is splendour, i.e., the authority and duties of a king.]
The wise minister ever acts as if he were still on probation. He does not take the princes confidence for granted.
It would be disastrous to presume on the familiarity born of long connection and act contrary to etiquette.
[Note: One is strongly reminded of Bacon when reading these and some other couplets of Kural. But Bacon came many centuries after Tiru-Valluvar.
Great stress is laid on the ability of those serving in the kings cabinet to read his mind. This is as it must be in serving under autocratic princes or in the cabinets of modern dictators.]
The requisites for a prosperous State are industrious producers, good and learned men forming the elite, and high-minded men of wealth.
[Note: An industrious labour force, knowledge and wealth are the elements that make a prosperous State.]
A State should be free from too many groups and divisions and from anti-social, destructive elements, and from murderous offences that disturb the kings peace.
A State may have everything mentioned in this chapter, yet if it has not the right kind of ruler, they will all come to nothing.
Fortifications are as important for the prince who, confident of his strength, sets out on an aggressive operation, as to the cautious who are satisfied with self-defence.
A good fortress should have a moat with water during all seasons, and an esplanade, with hills and dense forests around.
The fortress wall, it has been laid down, should be high, broad, strong, and built so as to be difficult of attack by enemys machines.
[Note: there is a long list of defence machines to be found in Silappadikaaram, Adaikkalakkadai chapter.]
The length to be defended must not be too great, but there must be ample space inside, and the fort must in all respects be such as to dishearten the enemy.
The fortress must have good natural defences, and plenty of food resources inside, and afford scope for the garrison to attack the enemy from inside without exposing themselves.
Though good in every respect, a fort is yet not dependable unless it has a good garrison that will rise to the occasion and knows how to fight in its defence.
A fort should be built so as to be difficult of being taken by siege, or by storm, or through the betrayal of traitors.
[Note: The importance of a good commander is pointed out]
All the excellences of the fort come to nothing if the commander is not a man of ability.
There is nothing so effective as wealth, which has the quality of giving worth even to worthless men.
Wealth leads to dharma as well as happiness in this life if it is acquired with discrimination in the right way and without doing evil.
Wealth that can be got by discarding compassion (on the part of the acquirer) and without love (on the part of those who part with it) is not to be sought, but should be spurned.
[Note: Arul and Anbu are here used to express respectively, tenderness of feeling proceeding from and towards the acquirer. Applied to the king, this verse condemns cruel exactions.]
Besides the fraction, often stated as a sixth, that is levied as a tax by the king from out of produce or income, the following belong to the royal coffers: ownerless property such as treasure-trove and escheat, transit duties on imports and on internal traffic, and what is gained in war.
The chief advantage of wealth is the security it gives.
A man of wealth may venture on any action, in that splendid security with which a man looks on an elephants battle from the top of a hill. He enjoys all the pleasures of adventure and of triumph without anxiety as to possible reverses.
Make wealth, for there is no other munitions of war so effective. There is no sharper sword with which to cut the pride and confidence of the enemy.
[Note: We have here couplets dealing with the principles to be observed by an efficient minister.]
Efficiency essentially consists in a resolute mind; other things come thereafter.
Two principles of action have been authoritatively accepted in politics. One, do not undertake action that cannot be successful; the other, if anything goes wrong in the course of an undertaking, do not be perturbed, but face difficulties boldly.
Success in a great undertaking lies in so ordering ones action that the disclosure of the plan coincides with its fulfilment, i.e., before it is disclosed it should have been accomplished. Premature disclosure leads to the creation of insurmountable impediments.
Anyone can formulate plans, but it is only exceptional men that are able to carry their plans to fulfilment.
Some men there are in whom an imposing appearance is coupled with great strength of mind and action even like the little axle-pin that keeps the wheels of the great chariot in place. Appearances can be deceptive. Do not judge men by the unimpressiveness of their external form.
Plan with a clear brain, and when once you have decided and launched on an undertaking, be firm and unmoved by difficulties, and dilatoriness in action.
Other things are of no avail, if one does not aim at efficiency in action. He who does not cultivate this cannot make his mark in the world.
[Note: This chapter of Kural devoted to aggressive action by princes displays remarkable practical wisdom, and indicates a long history of operational experience.]
Decisions should be taken after thorough consideration. But once a decision is taken there should be no hesitation in action.
There are some operations that should be lengthened out in time; prolong them accordingly. There are some that demand promptness; do not be dilatory in such.
Aggressive action, wherever it is feasible, is good. Where it is not likely to be successful, try other means to attain your object.
To undertake an aggressive operation and to abandon it without completing the discomfiture of the enemy is most harmful. Both ineffectual aggression and the incomplete removal of causes of enmity are unsafe, like fire that is not fully extinguished. You may expect trouble to grow in course of time.
Before launching an operation, all the five elements that will make for success or defeat should be thoroughly considered and not left untackled, i.e., equipment, strength of forces, the favourableness or the opposite of time and place, and the nature of the operation.
[Note: irul theera denotes that the consideration should be so thorough as to remove all doubts. Literally the phrase means until all darkness is dispelled.]
What has to be done to attain the end in view, the difficulties that may arise in the course of the operation and the measure of lasting gain that will finally accrue by success in the operation, should all be considered before undertaking it.
[Note: It is well not to be aggressive if you doubt your strength to carry it out or to overcome the difficulties likely to arise; also, if on dispassionate consideration no great ultimate advantage appears to follow from it. Weigh the ultimate gain as against the cost of the attempt and the amount of opposition to be met with before resolving on such operations.]
Even after all these considerations, one should consult those who have actually gone through such operations themselves and who therefore possess intimate knowledge of them.
As one elephant is used to capture another, the experience of one action should be used to achieve success in another.
Be quicker to compose differences with enemies than even in rendering good offices to allies.
[Note: This is interpreted alternatively thus: make alliances with your opponents enemies even more promptly than securing confirmation of friendships already gained. The other interpretation is: whenever you have to declare war, while it is necessary promptly to strengthen existing alliances, it is well to give even greater attention to making alliances with your enemys enemies. vottaar is here interpreted as the enemys enemies.]
If your forces are weak, you should take the first opportunity to yield and make peace
before letting your men taste defeat and demoralization.