To what good purpose can a cow That brings no calf nor milk, be bent?
Let’s take the big picture of a topic and narrow it down to one word. Choose one prompt below for your focus. In a short paragraph, share the word you chose and answer the following questions:
Why did you choose that word?
How does it cover the big ideas?
Use specific details from the readings from this class or your own experiences and knowledge to support your choice of your word.
In this lesson, you read an excerpt from The Panchatantra, a collection of fables from India. In Book V, “Ill-Considered Action,” you read about four impoverished Brahmans who go on a journey through the Himalayas to gain wealth by means of magic. As they journey, you learn about each of them through their actions. The first three Brahmans settle on the wealth they find on the way. The fourth Brahman, however, decides to continue on. He hopes to attain even greater wealth than the others, but he meets an unfortunate fate.
Choose one adjective to describe the fourth Brahman. Then explain your word choice.
No one knows for certain who the creator or creators of the Panchatantra were; however, it is clear that whoever they were, they had distinct perspectives about human nature and interactions among people. The fables of the Panchatantra were compiled into a Sanskrit collection sometime between 100 BC and AD 500, yet many of the truths and observations in the text still apply today.
In Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, Panchatantra means “five chapters.” The Panchatantra is a frame narrative, and the text is structured with a frame, or back, story going on concurrently with the telling of the fables. The frame narrative links the stories so they flow together and are easy to follow.
The Panchatantra begins with an introduction that explains how the Brahman Vishnusharman is engaged by the king to attempt to teach his three mindless sons how to make their way intelligently through life. Vishnusharman’s approach to teaching consists of telling stories through verse and through aphorisms designed to explain wise and appropriate conduct and to emphasize practicality, logical thinking, and self-reliance. The five chapters have titles based on the five principles Vishnusharman feels are critical to intelligent living: “The Loss of Friends,” “The Winning of Friends,” “Crows and Owls,” “Loss of Gains,” and “Ill-Considered Actions.” Each chapter has a number of fables with corresponding themes and lessons. The animals in these fables represent universal human qualities, such as strength with the lions, lack of intelligence with the bulls, craftiness with the jackals, and hypocrisy with the cats.
Throughout the Panchatantra, lessons are made particularly meaningful through aphorisms—short, humorous statements of truth or valid opinion. Aphorisms “say it like it is,” which makes them both appealing and universally acceptable, often being applied to philosophical, moral, and social principles. Aphorisms are terse, clever, and real, so they can convey a tone that is witty while making a serious point.
As you read the excerpts from the Panchatantra, be mindful of the aphorisms and specific word choices, and consider how these elements develop the tone of the text.
Translated by Arthur W. Ryder
[This section explains the story of how the Panchatantra came to be. ]
One Vishnusharman, shrewdly gleaning
All worldly wisdom’s inner meaning.
In these five books the charm compresses
Of all such books the world possesses.
And this is how it happened.
In the southern country is a city called Maiden’s Delight. There lived a king named Immortal-Power. He was familiar with all the works treating of the wise conduct of life. His feet were made dazzling by the tangle of rays of light from jewels in the diadems of mighty kings who knelt before him. He had reached the far shore of all the arts that embellish life. This king had three sons. Their names were Rich-Power, Fierce-Power, Endless-Power, and they were supreme blockheads.
Now when the king perceived that they were hostile to education, he summoned his counselors and said: “Gentlemen, it is known to you that these sons of mine, being hostile to education, are lacking in discernment. So when I behold them, my kingdom brings me no happiness, though all external thorns are drawn. For there is wisdom in the proverb:
Of sons unborn, or dead, or fools.
Unborn or dead will do:
They cause a little grief, no doubt;
But fools, a long life through.
To what good purpose can a cow
That brings no calf nor milk, be bent?
Or why raise a son who proves
A dunce and disobedient?
Some means must therefore be devised to awaken their intelligence.”
And they, one after another, replied: “O King, first one learns grammar, in twelve years. If this subject has somehow been mastered, then one masters the books on religion and practical life. Then the intelligence awakens.”
But one of their number, a counselor named Keen, said: “O King, the duration of life is limited, and the verbal sciences require much time for mastery. Therefore let some kind of epitome be devised to wake their intelligence. There is a proverb that says:
Since verbal science has no final end.
Since life is short, and obstacles impend,
Let central facts be picked and firmly fixed,
As swans extract the milk with water mixed.
“Now there is a Brahman here named Vishnusharman, with a reputation for competence in numerous sciences. Entrust the princes to him. He will certainly make them intelligent in a twinkling.”
When the king had listened to this, he summoned Vishnusharman and said: “Holy sir, as a favor to me you must make these princes incomparable masters of the art of practical life. In return, I will bestow upon you a hundred land-grants.”
And Vishnusharman made answer to the king: “O King, listen. Here is the plain truth. I am not the man to sell good learning for a hundred land-grants. But if I do not, in six months’ time, make the boys acquainted with the art of intelligent living, I will give up my own name. Let us cut the matter short. Listen to my lion-roar. My boasting arises from no greed for cash. Besides, I have no use for money; I am eighty years old, and all the objects of sensual desire have lost their charm. But in order that your request may be granted, I will show a sporting spirit in reference to artistic matters. Make a note of the date. If I fail to render your sons, in six months’ time, incomparable masters of the art of intelligent living, then His Majesty is at liberty to show me His Majestic bare bottom.”
When the king, surrounded by his counselors, had listened to the Brahman’s highly unconventional promise, he was penetrated with wonder, entrusted the princes to him, and experienced supreme content.
Meanwhile, Vishnusharman took the boys, went home, and made them learn by heart five books which he composed and called: (I) “The Loss of Friends,” (II) “The Winning of Friends,” (III) “Crows and Owls,” (IV) “Loss of Gains,” (V) “Ill-Considered Action.”
These the princes learned, and in six months’ time they answered the prescriiption. Since that day this work on the art of intelligent living, called Panchatantra, or the “Five Books,” has traveled the world, aiming at the awakening of intelligence in the young. To sum the matter up:
Whoever learns the work by heart.
Or through the story-teller’s art
His life by sad defeat—although
The king of heaven be his foe—
Is never tainted.
Book V, Ill-Considered Action
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.
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
‘Twas 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) farmwork, (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’ favor is a thing unstable;
Crows peck at winnings charitable;
You make, in learning the professions,
many wearisome concessions
To teachers; farms are too much labor;
In usury you lend your neighbor
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.
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?
Whate’er the cost, you sell it for
A thousand times as much.
“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. “
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.
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 traveled farther, they met a master-magician named Terror-Joy. And having greeted him in proper Brahman fashion, they all accompanied him to his monastery cell. There the magician asked them whence they came, whither 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.
In any feat
Is sure to bless
Man’s effort (sufficiently great)
Is just what a dullard calls fate.
“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:
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 traveled 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 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 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 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 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 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 foot- prints. And having gone but a little way, he saw 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 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 favor 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 favorable attention of kings by simple sense without scholarship. Therefore we will not share our earnings with him. Let him turn back and go home.”
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.