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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

This doctrine is inculcated with many apt illustrations


But these poets go even beyond the limits of humanity and inculcate sympathy with the joys and sorrows of all creatures:--

To harm no living thing in deed, In thought or word, to exercise Benevolence and charity: Virtue's eternal law is this (Mahabh. xii. 5997).

Gentleness and forbearance towards good and bad alike are thus recommended in the Hitopadeca:--

Even to beings destitute Of virtue good men pity show: The moon does not her light withdraw Even from the pariah's abode (i. 63).

The Panchatantra, again, dissuades thus from thoughts of revenge:--

Devise no ill at any time To injure those that do thee harm: They of themselves will some day fall, Like trees that grow on river banks.

The good qualities of the virtuous are often described and contrasted with the characteristics of evil-doers. This, for instance, is how Bhartrihari illustrates the humility of the benevolent:--

The trees bend downward with the burden of their fruit, The clouds bow low, heavy with waters they will shed: The noble hold not high their heads through pride of wealth; Thus those behave who are on others' good intent (i. 71).

Many fine thoughts about true friendship

and the value of intercourse with good men are found here, often exemplified in a truly poetical spirit. This, for instance, is from the Panchatantra:--

Who is not made a better man By contact with a noble friend? A water-drop on lotus-leaves Assumes the splendour of a pearl (iii. 61).

It is perhaps natural that poetry with a strong pessimistic colouring should contain many bitter sayings about women and their character. Here is an example of how they are often described:--

The love of women but a moment lasts. Like colours of the dawn or evening red; Their aims are crooked like a river's course; Inconstant are they as the lightning flash; Like serpents, they deserve no confidence (Kathas. xxxvii. 143).

At the same time there are several passages in which female character is represented in a more favourable light, and others sing the praise of faithful wives.

Here, too, we meet with many pithy sayings about the misery of poverty and the degradation of servitude; while the power of money to invest the worthless man with the appearance of every talent and virtue is described with bitter irony and scathing sarcasm.

As might be expected, true knowledge receives frequent and high appreciation in Sanskrit ethical poetry. It is compared with a rich treasure which cannot be divided among relations, which no thief can steal, and which is never diminished by being imparted to others. Contempt, on the other hand, is poured on pedantry and spurious learning. Those who have read many books, without understanding their sense, are likened to an ass laden with sandal wood, who feels only the weight, but knows nothing of the value of his burden.

As the belief in transmigration has cast its shadow over Indian thought from pre-Buddhistic times, it is only natural that the conception of fate should be prominent in Sanskrit moral poetry. Here, indeed, we often read that no one can escape from the operation of destiny, but at the same time we find constant admonitions not to let this fact paralyse human effort. For, as is shown in the Hitopadeca and elsewhere, fate is nothing else than the result of action done in a former birth. Hence every man can by right conduct shape his future fate, just as a potter can mould a lump of clay into whatever form he desires. Human action is thus a necessary complement to fate; the latter cannot proceed without the former any more than a cart, as the Hitopadeca expresses it, can move with only one wheel. This doctrine is inculcated with many apt illustrations. Thus in one stanza of the Hitopadeca it is pointed out that "antelopes do not enter into the mouth of the sleeping lion"; in another the question is asked, "Who without work could obtain oil from sesamum seeds?" Or, as the Mahabharata once puts it, fate without human action cannot be fulfilled, just as seed sown outside the field bears no fruit.


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