The Vedas explain four principal goals-religious practice (dharma), economic development (artha), regulated sense enjoyment (kama), and liberation from the cycle of birth and death (moksa). They ultimately teach about a fifth goal (pancama purusartha), love of God, prema, but this is not commonly known. The Vedas assert that to achieve any of these goals, integrity is required.
Different Vedic literatures are classified as dharma, artha, kama, or moksa sastra, according to the particular goal promoted. Thus Hitopadesa, which gives moral instructions (niti), falls within the category of artha-sastra, advocating economic development within the parameters of morality. The main character in the book is asked to educate the simple-minded sons of a king and train them as rulers. The foolish princes are not inclined to study, so the ingenious teacher tells engaging fables to capture their attention, simultaneously waving in ethics, morality, and other character-building principles to elevate them.
Hitopadesa is popular with children because of these fables, in which animal characters are used to personify certain traits found in humans. The book is also popular with adults and even scholars because of its wisdom. Those who may have other editions of Hitopadesa should note that there are variant readings in different Sanskrit editions. The basis for this present translation is the Chaukhambha Sanskrit Series edition printed in 1982. Scholarly readers will appreciate the Devanagari script, transliteration, and word-for-word translation; and all readers will enjoy the translation and extensive commentary.
It will be obvious to readers that Sri Satya Narayana Dasa is not pursuing economic gain (artha), but is dedicated to achieving the pancama purusartha, or fifth and ultimate goal of life, prema-bhakti, or love of God. His commentary demonstrates how the predominating desire of the reader determines how the wisdom of Hitopadesa is applied. His explanations are especially valuable, for they demonstrate how these ethical principles can aid one to achieve the ultimate goal of life.
The crucial task for one striving for the ultimate goal is finding a bona fide teacher. Finding such a guide is not accidental; it requires integrity, sincerity of purpose, and good discrimination. The importance of recognizing a bona fide spiritual master is emphasized in several places. In the beginning of Bhagavad-gita Arjuna asks, "What are the symptoms of one who is fixed in transcendence?" The first chapter of Srimad-Bhagavatam defines the symptoms of one qualified for the post of spiritual teacher. The first chapter of the Caitanya-caritamrta minutely explains the different functions the different functions and qualifications of the various spiritual masters. The first verse in Sri Upadesamrta tells who is fit to accept disciples. Hitopadesa, though an artha-sastra, begins with the story called "The Tiger and the traveler", which teaches how to distinguish between a pseudo religionist and a mahatma, or a great soul, thus establishing the utility of the book for those seeking a guide to the ultimate goal of life.
A knife in the hand of a dacoit can take a life; the same knife in a doctor's hand can save a life. Similarly, Hitopadesa can be used to exploit others, or to assist in accomplishing the four common goals mentioned, or the topmost goal, love of God.
The basic principles of morality in Hitopadesa offer a firm foundation for developing character as well as spiritual advancement, as one who is dishonest, deceitful, duplicitous, violent, envious, lusty, greedy, and so on cannot make tangible spiritual progress. Practice of its moral principles helps one develop the mode of goodness and keen skill in discriminating, which is essential for dealing with the frauds in modern-day society, who are like the jackals of these fables.
Our sincere hope is that the commentary of this edition will help the reader realize the superiority of the pancama purusartha. Kali-yuga is characterized by laziness, hypocrisy, and quarrel, consequently modern man is uninterested in the ultimate goal of life. For this reason, Srila Vyasadeva wrote the Mohabharata, filled with fascinating stories which attract the attention of the common man. Yet at the climactic moment before the great Battle of Kuruksetra began, he presented Bhagavad-gita, which points to the actual goal of life.
Sri Narayana Pandita, while tutoring his frivolous students, whose goal is economic success, used the same technique as Vyasadeva. Inspired by the same compassion Vyasa showed, Narayana Pandita nestles the most essential teaching within his instructions of morality:
The poisonous tree of the material world yields only two succulent fruits-nectarean literature, and saintly association. (146)
In this useless material world there are only three valuable things: saintly association, devotion to Lord Krsna, and bathing in the Ganges (147).
Back of the Book
Hitopadesa, or "Good Instructions," is famous for its wisdom and is one of the most popular books on ethics and polity from Niti-sastra. Many verses cab be traced to the Puranas and Itihasas. It uses the story-within-a-story-format, with animals as the main characters. The first book, Mitralabha (Acquisition of Friends), defines the characteristics of real friends and shows the importance of having them. It is most relevant in this present age, Kali-yuga, where shams thrive in the guise of love and good will.
Hitopadesa is an especially helpful tool in decision-making, as it teaches one the valuable art of discrimination. During moments of decision fate is written. Even after studying vast literature, one may fail to make sound decisions; yet decisions are what change man's fate. In moments of indecision and change man's fate. In movements of indecision and doubt, Hitopadesa can illuminate one's intelligence, inspire one to face problems, as well as help one overcome obstacles on the path o enlightenment.
About 1,500 vears ago the King of Iran got a book with the secret of how to raise the dead by means of a rasayana, an elixir of life. The book explained how the elixir was extracted from herbs and trees growing on the high mountains of India. Eager to sample this elixir, the King sent his chief minister on a quest for the prescribed herbs and trees.
In India, the minister was well-received and aided by sages, he scoured the mountains for the herbs and trees to make the elixir. No mixture they made, however, could bring the dead back to life. Finally, the disappointed minister concluded that the information was false.
Greatly distressed about returning empty-handed and disappointing his king, the minister asked his hosts what he should do. They led him to a famous philosopher, who once searched in vain for the same elixir, and in the end discovered hat the elixir was actually a book. The philosopher explained that the story about the elixir was allegorical. The high mountains in the story represented the wise and learned men of lofty intellect; the trees and herbs, which are products of the mountains, indicated the various writings of those sages; the elixir indicated the wisdom extracted from the sages' writings, which revived the dead intelligence and buried thoughts of ignorant materialistic men. Relieved and elated, the minister begged a copy of the book from the philosopher, translated it, and returned to his king. That book we know today as the Pancatantra of Visnu Sarma; it is the basis of the Hitopadesa. As Visnu Sarma is the narrator in both books, he was thought the author of Hitopadesa. Study of old hand-written manuscripts reveal, however, that Narayana Pandit, who lived in Fourteenth Century Bengal, wrote the book on the request of King Dhavalacandra, drawing heavily from Pancatantra. Traditionally it was taught to beginning students in gurukula.
Hitopadesa, or "Good Instructions," being famous for its wisdom, is one of the most popular books on ethics and polity from Niti-sastra, Many verses can be traced to the Puranas and Itihasas. It uses the story- within-a-story-format, with animals as the main characters. It has four books or chapters: Mitralabha, Suhrdbheda, Vigraha, and Sandhi.
This edition presents book one, Mitralabha (Acquisition of Friends ), which defines the characterisitcs of real friends and shows the importance of having them. It is mast relevant in this present age, Kali-yuga, where shams thrive in the guise of love and good will. The other chapters are useful for monarchs. Consequently their practical value under democracy is limited, though not obsolete.
The Prologue stresses the importance of education. "Just as designs carved on a clay pot can never be changed after firing, so impressions created on the minds of young boys remain for the rest of their lives (8)." This bit of wisdom is the source of the modern adage that what is learned in the cradle is carried to the grave. Thus intelligent and responsible leaders should take great care what they impress on the minds of the youth.
It is common knowledge that beginning students learn more effectively by singing rhymes, since this evokes emotions and aids memorization. Though this method is employed today using nursery rhymes, these are generally inane and of no practical value. In contrast, ancient Vedic teachers taught simple, melodious Sanskrit verses. These hold invaluable wisdom, which blossomed as the child matured; indeed, as the years passed, the verses became more meaningful.
It should be noted that Sri Narayana Pandita uses a dialectic technique called purva-paksa-presenting a piece of conventional wisdom, which is actually detrimental to spiritual progress, and is the antithesis to what he wants to establish. After giving the antithesis, he systematically refutes it and presents the actual conclusion (siddhanta). This method is used in the Srimad-Bhagavatam and other Vedic literatures. I have pointed out these instances in the commentary so the reader may not mistake purva-paksa statements for siddhanta.
Niti is constructed from the root nin prapane, "to carry" by applying the kt suffix. It means "guidance" or "that which carries one to his desired goal." Kautilya Arthasastra states that niti is a body of knowledge which offers guidance, direction, ethics, polity, science of morality, and so on. Hitopadesa was specifically studied by kings and is thus also known as Raja-niti or Dharma-niti . Though it is especially relevant for kings or government heads, it is useful for everyone, since we are all leaders in some capacity, even if only in the family unit. Hitopadesa gives realized knowledge, not theoretical speculation. If followed in good faith, one will realize its validity, and experience the ultimate good. Careful study of Hitopadesa enlightens one regarding human nature and makes one competent.
Lord Krsna says,nitir asmi jigisatam, "I am morality of those desiring victory" (Bg. 10.38). Of course, Lord Krsna knows how to use Niti-sastra best, and His pastimes practically demonstrate the rules to be followed. At the conclusion of Bhagavad-gita (Bg. 18.78), Sanjaya declares:
yatra yogesvarah krsno yatra partho dhanur-dharan
tatra srir vijayo bhutir dhruva nitir matir mama
Wherever there is Krsna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality (niti). That is my opinion.
Generally, good instructions are like an arrow in the heart, because they put us in conflict with our desires, and only a true well- wisher will risk offering beneficial but unappealing advice. The wise Vidura says, Oh Maharaja Dhrtarastra, flatterers who speak sweet- sounding words arc abundant. Rare arc those who utter bitter but helpful words, and rare are those who listen. Only sincere persons heed such advice. Others are offended." (Vidura-niti 5.16)
Hitopadesa is an especially helpful tool in decision-making, as it teaches one the valuable art of discrimination. During moments of decision fate is written. Even after studying vast literature, one may fail to make sound decisions; yet decisions are what change man's fate. In moments of indecision and doubt, Hitop adesa can illuminate one's intelligence, inspire one to face daily problems, as well as help one overcome obstacles on the path of enlightenment.
Some principles of Hitopadesa may not appeal to the modern intellect, as in this day people arc blind to the superior goals of life. The average person aspires for material prosperity, power, and popularity. Indeed possession of material objects, name, and fame are accepted as the hallmarks of success. Modern man considers economic equality, along with political and social freedom, the ultimate achievements. These are not bad goals, but even a casual reading of the Vedic literature shows that they are not the ultimate aims of human life.
Another misconception is that all knowledge is acquired by the scientific method, based on direct perception and inference. Unfortunately this is far from the truth. The Vedic sages rely on the foremost process for acquiring knowledge, sabda pramana, or study of the Vedas and Vedic literature, for they offer knowledge which cannot be gained from any other process. The seventh century Vedic scholar, Kumarila Bhatta confirms this in Sloka-varttika:
pratyaksenanumitya va yas tupayo na vidyate
enam vidanti vedena tasmat vedasya vedata
That solution which can neither be attained through direct perception, nor by inference, is known through the Vedas: Indeed, this is the special characteristic of the Vedas.
Vedic sages lived by a different set of norms and values than what guides us today. Vedic society aimed at achieving goals beyond economic development and political freedom. Material necessities were not neglected, but the social system was oriented towards achieving a spiritual reality not accessible by sense perception and inferential reasoning.
Contrary to the misconception that gross and subtle sense gratification is the ultimate source of pleasure and peace, Vedic seers offer happiness via renunciation, tyagac chantir anantaram. The import is that unless one gives up material desires, there is no possibility of peace:
A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, who lives free from desires, who has given up all sense of proprietor- ship and is devoid of false ego-he alone can attain real peace. (Bg. 2.71)
And such a state can be attained by recognizing the Supreme Person: A person in full consciousness of Me, knowing Me to be the ulti- mare beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods. and the benefactor and well- wisher of all living entities, attains peace from the pangs of mate- rial miseries (Bg. 5.29)
Thus we see that Vedic society is based on a different paradigm than contemporary society. Even today, those who observe Vedic tenets are more satisfied and peaceful than graduates of the educational system, which. in the name of creating a secular society, makes no attempt to train one in the higher principles of life. As explained at the end of the Preface, such training is the purpose of Hitopadesa. Therefore, though it may not agree with modern ideals, the reader is advised, after due consideration, to accept the wisdom of Hitopadesa.
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