Sunday, October 20, 2019

Subhāṣita Sunday: Episode 2: Sarvajna, Bhartruhari, and the Wandering Mason

We are delighted to present Episode 2 of the Subhāṣita Sunday on The Dharma Dispatch. Like always, we have curated a handpicked collection of articles drawn from the best and the most prized annals of Bharatiya tradition.

Happy reading!


The Pride of Little Learning


Like the previous episode, we begin this one too by Bhartruhari’s stinging verse where he blames his past self, where he was conceited thinking he knew everything. This occurs in both the Niti and the Vairagya Shatakam.

यदा किंचिज्‍ज्ञोSहंद्विप इव मदान्‍ध: समभवं
तदासर्वज्ञोSस्‍मीत्‍यभवदवलिप्‍तं मम मन: ।
यदा किंचित्‍किंचिद्बुधजनसकाशादवगतं
तदा मूर्खोSस्‍मीति ज्‍वर इव मदो मे व्‍यपगत: ।।

yadā kiṃcij‍jñoShaṃdvipa iva madān‍dha: samabhavaṃ
tadāsarvajñoSs‍mīt‍yabhavadavalip‍taṃ mama mana: ।
yadā kiṃcit‍kiṃcidbudhajanasakāśādavagataṃ
tadā mūrkhoSs‍mīti j‍vara iva mado me v‍yapagata: ।।

Explanation: When I acquired a little knowledge, I thought I now know everything and became extremely conceited and began to behave like a rogue elephant on rampage. But when I gradually came in contact with the truly knowledgeable and learned persons, it dawned upon me that I still remained a foolish person and my pride disappeared like a fever gets cured after taking the proper medicine.

A Puja Without Flowers


Next we move on to Sarvajna, the celebrated Kannada poet, philosopher, and wandering monk of the 16th Century, fabled for his extraordinary Vacanas (wise saying). He continues to remain a household name in Karnataka even today. Here, he writes about the nature of futility in his characteristic style.

ಪುಷ್ಪವಿಲ್ಲದ ಪೂಜೆ ಅಶ್ವವಿಲ್ಲದ ಅರಸ
ಭಾಷೆಬಾರದವಳ ಗೆಳೆತನವು
ವ್ಯರ್ಥಕಾಣ್ಣಯ್ಯ ಸರ್ವಜ್ಞ ||

puṣpavillada pūje aśvavillada arasa
bhāṣebāradavaḻa geḻetanavu
vyarthakāṇṇayya sarvajña ||

Explanation: A Puja without flowers, a king without a horse, friendship with a woman who speaks not your language…All these are futile, Sarvajna.

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Self-Reliance


Emerson, along with Thoreau and Walt Whitman to an extent, was one of the true philosophers that America has ever produced. Although he was considered a Transcendentalist, his writing and speeches show a heavy influence of Vedanta, which he has himself admitted. Self-Reliance is still regarded as one of his finest essays. Here is an excerpt.

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried… Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age.

Read the whole thing.

Sri Aurobindo on India as a Great Shakti


Undoubtedly, Sri Aurobindo is one of the greatest of saints of the previous century. His celebrated collection titled India’s Rebirth is a must-read for both lay people, scholars and thinkers alike for some of the original insights they offer. Apart from philosophy, Bharata Mata, the Sanatana civilisation and culture were some of the favourite themes of Sri Aurobindo on which he expounded copiously. Here is an excerpt from the work.

The deeper we look, the more we shall be convinced that the one thing wanting, which we must strive to acquire before all others, is strength – strength physical, strength mental, strength moral, but above all strength spiritual which is the one inexhaustible and imperishable source of all the others. If we have strength everything else will be added to us easily and naturally. In the absence of strength we are like men in a dream who have hands but cannot seize or strike, who have feet but cannot run….

If India is to survive, she must be made young again. Rushing and billowing streams of energy must be poured into her; her soul must become, as it was in the old times, like the surges, vast, puissant, calm or turbulent at will, an ocean of action or of force.

Many of us, utterly overcome by Tamas, the dark and heavy demon of inertia, are saying nowadays that it is impossible, that India is decayed, bloodless and lifeless, too weak ever to recover; that our race is doomed to extinction. It is a foolish and idle saying. No man or nation need be weak unless he chooses, no man or nation need perish unless he deliberately chooses extinction.

For what is a nation? What is our mother-country? It is not a piece of earth, nor a figure of speech, nor a fiction of the mind. It is a mighty Shakti, composed of the Shaktis of all the millions of units that make up the nation, just as Bhawani Mahisha Mardini sprang into being from the Shakti of all the millions of gods assembled in one mass of force and welded into unity. The Shakti we call India, Bhawani Bharati, is the living unity of the Shaktis…

Read the whole thing.  

Shivapicchai Mudaliar: The Karma Yogi Par Excellence


As they say, keep the best for the last. This essay is once again taken from D.V. Gundappa’s monumental work, Jnapaka Chitrashale. It is an extraordinary profile of a wandering mason. Do read this excerpt.

Such was the exceptional skill of Picchai Mudaliar in his chosen profession. Even from a distance, he was capable of estimating the correct placement of the door frame. That was the subtlety and precision of his eyesight; it came from years of experience. Keeping aside one’s conscience, even if one works for a hundred years, one cannot attain such precision on immediate sight. If one wishes to become skilled in a particular task, one has to execute it with integrity.

Picchai Mudaliar would never reveal his real name. “Picchai” in Tamil means ‘alms.’ He felt that his life was given to him as alms by Lord Shiva. Thus he was ‘Shivapicchai’ Mudaliar.

He spoke little. He spoke fluently in Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu; his words were friendly and humorous.

Picchai Mudaliar earned his living through masonry. There was no aspect of architecture or building construction that he wasn’t familiar with. From the mud roof of a poor person to a big bungalow of a wealthy man, he had the competence to build a house of any kind, which he would do with exceptional skill…

Picchai Mudaliar lost his family to plague. His two children succumbed to the disease. And within a year, his wife passed away. Mudaliar didn’t want to start a family again.

All of sudden one day—nobody knows what happened—he decided to donate his house and his lands to his only sister. He kept about fifteen rupees with him and decided to tour the country. His assets consisted of the clothes he wore on his person, a blanket, one or two old dhotis, two trowels, a heavy stone, a leveler, a small Mason’s square, and a measuring stick about a foot and a half in length. Taking these with him, he boarded a train.

When he got on the train, he would usually not determine the destination. He would discuss with his co-passengers and find out which places had the requisite facilities; then he would get off at a place that he felt he should visit. If there was a temple there, he would make a visit to see the deity.

His primary goal was to visit various pilgrimage centers and holy places. In order to support this, he worked as a daily laborer to the extent it was necessary.

Read the whole wonderful essay!


That’s it for Episode 2 of Subhāṣita Sunday. Stay tuned for the next week.

Writer, author, and translator. Author of the bestselling "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore," "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History," and "Seventy Years of Secularism." English translator of Dr. S L Bhyrappa's blockbuster Kannada novel, "Aavarana".

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