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Book 5. Ill-Considered Action

Ill-Considered Action

[427} Here, then, begins Book 5, called "Ill-considered Action." The first verse runs:

Deeds ill-known, ill-recognized,

Ill-accomplished, ill-devised -

Thought of these let no man harbour;

Take a warning from the barber.

"How was that?" asked the princes. And Vishnusharman told the following story.

In the southern country is a city called Trumpet-Flower. In it lived a merchant named Jewel, who lost his fortune by the decree of fate, though his life was given to the pursuit of virtue, money, love, and salvation. The loss of property led to a series of humiliations, so that he sank into utter despondency. And one night he reflected: "A curse, a curse upon this state of poverty! For the proverb says:

Conduct, patience, purity,

Manners, loving-kindness, birth,

After money disappears,

Cease to have the slightest worth.

Wisdom, sense, and social charm,

Honest pride and self-esteem,

After money disappears,

All at once become a dream. [427}

To the wisdom of the wise

Constant household worries bring

Daily diminution, like

Winter breathed upon by spring.

After money disappears,

Keenest wisdom is at fault,

Choked by daily fuel and clothes,

Oil and butter, rice and salt.

Poor and paltry neighbours scarce

Waken sentiments of scorn,

Like the bubbles on a stream,

Ever dying, ever born.

Yet the rich have license for

All things vulgar and debased:

When the ocean bellows, none

Reprobate his faulty taste."

Having thus set his mind in order, he concluded: "Under these circumstances, I will abandon life by self-starvation. What can be made of this calamity - life without money?" With his resolve taken, he went to sleep.

Now as he slept, a trillion dollars appeared in the form of a Jain monk, and said: "Good merchant, do not lose interest. I am a trillion, earned by your ancestors. Tomorrow morning I will come to your house in this same form. Then you must club me on the head, so that I may turn to gold and prove inexhaustible."

On awaking in the morning, he spent some time pondering on his dream: "Let me think. Will this [429} dream prove true or false? I cannot tell. No doubt it will prove false, for I think of nothing but money all day and all night. And the proverb says:

Dreams that do not mean a thing

Come to sick and sorrowing,

Lovelorn, drunk, and worrying."

At this moment a barber arrived to manicure his wife's nails. And while the barber was busy with his manicuring, the Jain monk suddenly appeared. When Jewel perceived the monk, he was delighted and struck him on the head with a stick of wood that lay handy. Whereupon the monk turned to gold and immediately fell to the ground.

The merchant then set him up in the middle of the house, and said to the barber, after handing him a tip: "My good fellow, you must not tell anybody what has happened in our house." To this the barber assented, but when he reached home, he thought:

"Surely, all these naked fellows turn to gold when clubbed on the head. So tomorrow morning I, too, will invite a lot of them and club them to death, in order to get a lot of gold." And the day and the night dragged away as he meditated his plan.

In the morning he rose and went to a Jain monastery, arranged his upper garment, circumambulated the Conqueror thrice, sought the ground with his knees, laid his garment's hem over the gateway of his mouth, made a profound obeisance, and with an ear-piercing voice intoned the following hymn: [430}

"The saints victorious endure

Who live by saving knowledge pure,

Who sterilize the mind within

By mind, against the seed of sin.

And further:

The tongue that praiseth Him is blest;

The heart, in Him that seeketh rest;

The hands are blest, and only they,

That ever to Him due homage pay."

After chanting other hymns also to the same effect, but in great variety, he sought out the abbot and dropped on his knees and hands, saying: "Greetings, Your Reverence." From the abbot he received a benediction for the increase of his virtue, likewise instructions for a vow that involved the practice of celibacy. Then he said devoutly: "Holy sir, when you take your pious walk today, pray come to my house with your whole company of monks."

"My dear neophyte," replied the abbot, "you know the holy law. How can you speak so? Do you take us for Brahmans, that you invite us to eat? Nay, we wander each day just as it happens, and when we meet a pious neophyte, enter his house. Be gone. Never speak so again."

"Holy sir," said the barber, "I know it well. I will do as you say. However, you have many neophytes engaged in pious labours; while I, for my part, have made ready strips of canvas adapted to the wrapping of manuscripts. And for the copying of manuscripts and the payment of scribes, sufficient money is [431} provided. In view of this, pray do what seems proper." And so he started home.

When he arrived there, he got ready cudgels of acacia wood, placed them in a corner behind the door, then toward noon he returned to the monastery gate and waited there. Then as they all came forth in order of dignity, he besought them as teachers, and led them to his house. For their part, in their greed for book-covers and money they passed by their familiar neophytes, even the pious ones, and joyfully flocked behind him. Well, there is sense in the verse:

Behold a wonder! Even he

Who lives alone, from kindred free,

With hand for spoon, and air for dress,

Is overcome by greediness.

Then the barber conducted them well into the house and clubbed them. Under the clubbing some died, others had their heads broken and began to bawl. But when the soldiers in the citadel heard the howling, they said: "Well, well! What is this tremendous hubbub in the middle of town? Come along!" So they all scampered and saw the monks rushing from the barber's house, blood streaming over their bodies. And being asked what it meant, they told exactly how the barber had behaved.

So the soldiers fettered the barber and carried him off to court together with such monks as had survived the slaughter. There the judges questioned him: "Come, sir! What means this shameful deed by you [432} committed?"

And he replied: "Gentlemen, what else could I do?" And with this he related the behaviour of Jewel.

The judges therefore despatched a summoner, who returned with Jewel. And they questioned him: "Merchant, why did you kill a certain Jain monk?" And he in turn gave a full account of the original monk. Whereupon they said: "Well, well! Let this villainous barber be impaled. For his act was ill advised."

When this had been done, they observed:

Deeds ill-known, ill-recognized,

Ill-accomplished, ill-advised -

Thought of these let no man harbour;

Take a warning from the barber.

And there is sound sense in this:

Let the well-advised be done;

Ill-advised leave unbegun:

Else, remorse will be let loose,

As with lady and mongoose.

"How was that?" asked Jewel. And they told the story of

The Loyal Mongoose

There was once a Brahman named Godly in a certain town. His wife mothered a single son and a mongoose. And as she loved little ones, she cared for the mongoose also like a son, giving him milk from her breast, and salves, and baths, and so on. But she did not trust him, for she thought: "A mongoose is a [433} nasty kind of creature. He might hurt my boy." Yes, there is sense in the proverb:

A son will ever bring delight,

Though bent on folly, passion, spite,

Though shabby, naughty, and a fright.

One day she tucked her son in bed, took a water-jar, and said to her husband: "Now, Professor, I am going for water. You must protect the boy from the mongoose." But when she was gone, the Brahman went off somewhere himself to beg food, leaving the house empty.

While he was gone, a black snake issued from his hole and, as fate would have it, crawled toward the baby's cradle. But the mongoose, feeling him to be a natural enemy, and fearing for the life of his baby brother, fell upon the vicious serpent halfway, joined battle with him, tore him to bits, and tossed the pieces far and wide. Then, delighted with his own heroism, he ran, blood trickling from his mouth, to meet the mother; for he wished to show what he had done.

But when the mother saw him coming, saw his bloody mouth and his excitement, she feared that the villain must have eaten her baby boy, and without thinking twice, she angrily dropped the water-jar upon him, which killed him the moment that it struck. There she left him without a second thought, and hurried home, where she found the baby safe and sound, and near the cradle a great black snake, torn to bits. Then, overwhelmed with sorrow because she [434} had thoughtlessly killed her benefactor, her son, she beat her head and breast.

At this moment the Brahman came home with a dish of rice gruel which he had got from someone in his begging tour, and saw his wife bitterly lamenting her son, the mongoose. "Greedy! Greedy!" she cried. "Because you did not do as I told you, you must now taste the bitterness of a son's death, the fruit of the tree of your own wickedness. Yes, this is what happens to those blinded by greed. For the proverb says:

Indulge in no excessive greed

(A little helps in time of need) -

A greedy fellow in the world

Found on his head a wheel that whirled."

"How was that?" asked the Brahman. And his wife told the story of

The Four Treasure-Seekers

In a certain town in the world were four Brahmans who lived as the best of friends. And being stricken with utter poverty, they took counsel together: "A curse, a curse on this business of being poor! For

The well-served master hates him still;

His loving kinsmen with a will

Abandon him; woes multiply,

While friends and even children fly;

His high-born wife grows cool; the flash

Of virtue dims; brave efforts crash -

For him who has no ready cash. [435}

And again:

Charm, courage, eloquence, good looks,

And thorough mastery of books

(If money does not back the same)

Are useless in the social game.

"Better be dead than penniless. As the story goes:

A beggar to the graveyard hied

And there 'Friend corpse, arise,' he cried;

'One moment lift my heavy weight

Of poverty; for I of late

Grow weary, and desire instead

Your comfort: you are good and dead.'

The corpse was silent. He was sure

It was better to be dead than poor.

"So let us at any cost strive to make money. For the saying goes:

Money gets you anything,

Gets it in a flash:

Therefore let the prudent get

Cash, cash, cash.

"Now this cash comes to men in six ways. They are: (1) begging for charity, (2) flunkeyism at a court, (3) farm-work, (4) the learned professions, (5) usury, (6) trade.

"However, among all these methods of making money, trade is the only one without a hitch in it. For

Kings' favour is a thing unstable;

Crows peck at winnings charitable;

You make, in learning the professions.

Too many wearisome concessions

To teachers; farms are too much labour;

In usury you lend your neighbour [436}

The cash which is your life, and therefore

You really live a poor man. Wherefore

I see in trade the only living

That can be truly pleasure-giving.

Hurrah for trade!

"Now profitable trade has seven branches. They are: (1) false weights and balances, (2) price-boosting* (3) keeping a pawnshop, (4) getting regular customers, (5) a stock company, (6) articles de luxe such as perfumes, (7) foreign trade.

"Now the economists say:

False weights and boosting prices to

An overshameless sum

And constant cheating of one's friends

Are fit for social scum.

And again:

Deposits in the house compel

The pawnshop man to pray:

If you will kill the owner, Lord,

I'll give you what you say.


The holder of a stock reflects

With glee, though one of many:

The wide world's wealth belongs to me;

No other gets a penny.


Perfumery is first-class ware;

Why deal in gold and such?

Whatever the cost, you sell it for

A thousand times as much. [437}

"Foreign trade is the affair of the capitalist. As the book says:

Wild elephants are caught by tame:

So money-kings, devising

A trap for money, capture it

With far-flung advertising.

The brisk commercial traveller,

Who knows the selling game,

Invests his money, and returns

With twice or thrice the same.

And again:

The crow, or good-for-nothing, or deer,

Afraid of foreign lands,

In heedless slothfulness is sure

To perish where he stands."

Having thus set their minds in order, and resolved on foreign travel, they said farewell to home and friends, and started, all four of them. Well, there is wisdom in the saying:

The man whose mind is money mad,

From all his kinsmen flees;

He hastens from his mother dear;

He breaks his promises;

He even goes to foreign lands

Which he would not elect

And leaves his native country. Well,

What else do you expect?

So in time they came to the Avanti country, where they bathed in the waters of the Sipra, and adored the great god Shiva. As they travelled farther, they met a master-magician named Terror-Joy. And having [438} greeted him in proper Brahman fashion, they all accompanied him to his monastery cell. There the magician asked them where they came from, where they were going, and what was their object.

And they replied: "We are pilgrims, seeking magic power. We have resolved to go where we shall find enough money, or death. For the proverb says:

While water is given

By fate out of heaven,

If men dig a well,

It bubbles from hell.

Man's effort (sufficiently great)

Can equal the wonders of fate.

And again:

Success complete

In any feat

Is sure to bless

True manliness.

Man's effort (sufficiently great)

Is just what a dullard calls fate.

There is no toy

Called easy joy,

But man must strain

To body's pain.

Even Vishnu embraces his bride

With arms that the churn-stick has tried.

"So disclose to us some method of getting money, whether crawling into a hole, or placating a witch, or living in a graveyard, or selling human flesh, or anything. You are said to have miraculous magic, while we have boundless daring. You know the saying: [439}

Only the great can aid the great

To win their heart's desire:

Apart from ocean, who could bear

The fierce subaqueous fire?"

So the magician, perceiving their fitness as disciples, made four magic quills, and gave one to each, saying: "Go to the northern slope of the Himalaya Mountains. And wherever a quill drops, there the owner will certainly find a treasure."

Now as they followed his directions, the leader's quill dropped. And on examining the spot, he found the soil all copper. So he said: "Look here! Take all the copper you want." But the others said: "Fool! What is the good of a thing which, even in quantity, does not put an end to poverty? Stand up. Let us go on." And he replied: "You may go. I will accompany you no farther." So he took his copper and was the first to turn back.

The three others went farther. But they had travelled only a little way when the leader's quill dropped. And when he dug down, he found the soil all silver. At this he was delighted, and cried: "Look! Take all the silver you want. No need of going farther."

"Fool!" said the other two. "The soil was copper first, then silver. It will certainly be gold ahead. This stuff, even in quantity, does not relieve poverty so much."

"You two may go," said he. "I will not join you." So he took his silver and turned back. The two went on until one quill dropped. When [440} the owner dug down, he found the soil all gold. Seeing this, he was delighted, and said to his companion: "Look! Take all the gold you want. There is nothing beyond better than gold."

"Fool!" said the other. "Don't you see the point? First came copper, then silver, and then gold. Beyond there will certainly be gems. Stand up. Let us go farther. What is the good of this stuff? A quantity of it is a mere burden."

"You may go," he replied. "I will stay here and wait for you."

So the other went on alone. His limbs were scorched by the rays of the summer sun and his thoughts were confused by thirst as he wandered to and fro over the trails in the land of the fairies. At last, on a whirling platform, he saw a man with blood dripping down his body; for a wheel was whirling on his head. Then he made haste and said: "Sir, why do you stand thus with a wheel whirling on your head? In any case, tell me if there is water anywhere. I am mad with thirst."

The moment the Brahman said this, the wheel left the other's head and settled on his own. "My very dear sir," said he, "what is the meaning of this?"

"In the very same way," replied the other, "it settled on my head."

"But," said the Brahman, "when will it go away? It hurts terribly."

And the fellow said: "When someone who holds in his hand a magic quill such as you had, arrives and speaks as you did, then it will settle on his head."

"Well," said the Brahman, "how long were you [441} here?" And the other asked: "Who is king in the world at present?"

On hearing the answer, "King Vinavatsa," he said: "When Rama was king, I was poverty stricken, procured a magic quill, and came here, just like you. And I saw another man with a wheel on his head and put a question to him. The moment I asked a question (just like you) the wheel left his head and settled on mine. But I cannot reckon the centuries."

Then the wheel-bearer asked: "My dear sir, how, pray, did you get food while standing thus?"

"My dear sir," said the fellow, "the god of wealth, fearful lest his treasures be stolen, prepared this terror, so that no magician might come so far. And if any should succeed in coming, he was to be freed from hunger and thirst, preserved from decrepitude and death, and was merely to endure this torture. So now permit me to say farewell. You have set me free from a sizable misery. Now I am going home." And he went.

After he had gone, the gold-finder, wondering why his companion delayed, eagerly followed his footprints. And having gone but a little way, he saw a man whose body was drenched with blood, a man tortured by a cruel wheel whirling on his head - and this man was his own companion. So he came near and asked with tears: "My dear fellow, what is the meaning of this?"

"A whim of fate," said the other.

"But tell me," said he, "what has happened." And in [442} answer to his question, the other told the entire history of the wheel.

When the friend heard this, he scolded him, saying: "Well, I told you time and again not to do it. Yet from lack of sense you did not do as I said. Indeed, there is wisdom in the saying:

Scholarship is less than sense;

Therefore seek intelligence:

Senseless scholars in their pride

Made a lion; then they died."

"How was that?" asked the wheel-bearer. And the gold-finder told the story of

The Lion-Makers

In a certain town were four Brahmans who lived in friendship. Three of them had reached the far shore of all scholarship,, but lacked sense. The other found scholarship distasteful; he had nothing but sense.

One day they met for consultation. "What is the use of attainments," said they, "if one does not travel, win the favour of kings, and acquire money? Whatever we do, let us all travel."

But when they had gone a little way, the eldest of them said: "One of us, the fourth, is a dullard, having nothing but sense. Now nobody gains the favourable attention of kings by simple sense without scholarship. Therefore we will not share our earnings with him. Let him turn back and go home." [443}

Then the second said: "My intelligent friend, you lack scholarship. Please go home."

But the third said: "No, no. This is no way to behave. For we have played together since we were little boys. Come along, my noble friend. You shall have a share of the money we earn."

With this agreement they continued their journey, and in a forest they found the bones of a dead lion. Thereupon one of them said: "A good opportunity to test the ripeness of our scholarship. Here lies some kind of creature, dead. Let us bring it to life by means of the scholarship we have honestly won."

Then the first said: "I know how to assemble the skeleton."

The second said: "I can supply skin, flesh, and blood."

The third said: "I can give it life."

So the first assembled the skeleton, the second provided skin, flesh, and blood.

But while the third was intent on giving the breath of life, the man of sense advised against it, remarking: "This is a lion. If you bring him to life, he will kill every one of us."

"You simpleton!" said the other, "it is not I who will reduce scholarship to a nullity."

"In that case," came the reply, "wait a moment, while I climb this convenient tree."

When this had been done, the lion was brought to life, rose up, and killed all three. But the man of sense, after the lion had gone elsewhere, climbed down and went home. [444}

"And that is why I say:

Scholarship is less than sense, . . .

and the rest of it."

But the wheel-bearer, having heard the story, retorted: "Not at all. The reasoning is at fault. For creatures of very great sense perish if stricken by fate, while those of very meagre intelligence, if protected by fate, live happily. There is a stanza:

While Hundred-Wit is on a head,

While Thousand-Wit hangs limp and dead,

Your humble Single-Wit, my dear,

Is paddling in the water clear."

"How was that?" asked the gold-finder. And the wheel-bearer told the story of

Hundred-Wit, Thousand-Wit, and Single-Wit

In a certain pond lived two fishes whose names were Hundred-Wit and Thousand-Wit. And a frog named Single-Wit made friends with them. Thus all three would for some time enjoy at the water's edge the pleasure of conversation spiced with witticisms, then would dive into the water again.

One day at sunset they were engaged in conversation, when fishermen with nets came there, who said to one another on seeing the pond: "Look! This pond appears to contain plenty of fish, and the water seems shallow. We will return at dawn." With this they went home. [445}

The three friends felt this speech to be dreadful as the fall of a thunderbolt, and they took counsel together. The frog spoke first: "Hundred-Wit and Thousand-Wit, my dear friends, what should we do now: flee or stick it out?"

At this Thousand-wit laughed and said: "My good friend, do not be frightened merely because you have heard words. An actual invasion is not to be anticipated. Yet should it take place, I will save you and myself by virtue of my wit. For I know plenty of tricks in the water." And Hundred-Wit added: "Yes, Thousand-Wit is quite right. For

Where wind is checked, and light of day,

The wise man's wit soon finds a way.

One cannot, because he has heard a few mere words, abandon his birthplace, the home of his ancestors. You must not go away. I will save you by virtue of my wit."

"Well," said the frog, "I have only a single wit, and that tells me to flee. My wife and I are going to some other body of water this very night."

So spoke the frog and under cover of night he went to another body of water. At dawn the next day came the fish-catchers, who seemed the servants of Death, and enclosed the pond with nets. And all the fishes, turtles, frogs, crabs, and other water-creatures were caught in the nets and captured. Even Hundred-Wit and Thousand-Wit fell into a net and were killed, [446} though they struggled to save their lives by fancy turns.

On the following day the fishermen gleefully started home. One of them carried Hundred-Wit, who was heavy, on his head. Another carried Thousand-Wit tied to a cord. Then the frog, safe in the throat of a cistern, said to his wife: "Look, darling, look!

While Hundred-Wit is on a head,

While Thousand-Wit hangs limp and dead,

Your humble Single-Wit, my dear,

Is paddling in the water clear."

"And that is why I say that intelligence is not the sole determinant of fate."

Then the gold-finder said: "It may be so. Yet a friend's advice should not be disregarded. But what happened? Spite of my dissuasion, you would not stop, such was your greed and pride in your scholarship. Yes, there is sense in the stanza:

Well sung, uncle! Why would you

Not stop when I told you to?

What a necklace! Yes, you wear

Music medals rich and rare."

"How was that?" asked the wheel-bearer. And the other told the story of

The Musical Donkey

In a certain town was a donkey named Prig. In the daytime he carried laundry packages, but was at liberty to wander anywhere at night. One night while [447} wandering in the fields he fell in with a jackal and made friends. So the two broke through a hedge into cucumber-beds, and having eaten what they could hold of that comestible, parted at dawn to go home.

One night the egotistical donkey, standing among the cucumbers, said to the jackal: "See, nephew! The night is marvellously fine. I will contribute a song. What sentiment shall my song express?"

"Don't, uncle," said the jackal. "It might make trouble, seeing that we are on thieves' business. Thieves and lovers should keep very quiet. As the proverb says:

No sleepyhead should pilfer fur,

No invalid, rich provender,

No sneezer should become a thief -

Unless they wish to come to grief.

"Besides, your vocal music is not agreeable, since it resembles a blast on a conch-shell. The farmers would hear you from afar, would rise, and would fetter or kill you. Better keep quiet and eat."

"Come, come!" said the donkey. "Your remarks prove that you live in the woods and have no musical taste. Did you never hear this?

Oh, bliss if murmurs sweet to hear

Of music's nectar woo your ear

When darkness flees from moonlight clear

In autumn, and your love is near."

"Very true, uncle," said the jackal. "But your bray is harsh. Why do a thing that defeats your own [448} purpose?"

"Fool, fool!" answered the donkey. "Do you think me ignorant of vocal music? Listen to its systematization, as follows:

Seven notes, three scales, and twenty-one

Are modulations said to be;

Of pitches there are forty-nine,

Three measures, also pauses three;

Caesuras three; and thirty-six

Arrangements of the notes, in fine;

Six apertures; the languages

Are forty; sentiments are nine.

One hundred songs and eighty-five

Are found in songbooks, perfect, pure,

With all accessories complete,

Unblemished in their phrasing sure.

On earth is nothing nobler found,

Nor yet in heaven, than vocal song;

The singing Devil soothes the Lord,

When quivering strings the sound prolong.

"After this, how can you think me lacking in educated taste? How can you try to hinder me?"

"Very well, uncle," said the jackal. "I will stay by the gap in the hedge, and look for farmers. You may sing to heart's content."

When he had done so, the donkey lifted his neck and began to utter sounds. But the farmers, hearing the bray of a donkey, angrily clenched their teeth, snatched cudgels, rushed in, and beat him so that he fell to the ground. Next they hobbled him by [449} fastening on his neck a mortar with a convenient hole, then went to sleep. Presently the donkey stood up, forgetting the pain as donkeys naturally do. As the verse puts it:

With dog, and ass, and horse,

And donkey more than most,

The pain from beatings is

Immediately lost.

Then with the mortar on his neck, he trampled the hedge and started to run away. At this moment the jackal, looking on from a safe distance, said with a smile:

Well sung, uncle! Why would you

Not stop when I told you to?

What a necklace! Yes, you wear

Music medals rich and rare.

"Just so, you would not stop when I advised it."

After listening to this, the wheel-bearer said: "O my friend, you are quite right. Yes, there is much wisdom in the verse:

He who, lacking wit, does not

Hearken to a friend,

Just like weaver Slow, inclines

To a fatal end."

"How was that?" asked the gold-finder. And the wheel-bearer told the story of the weaver Slow (next page).


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