Week 5: Hitopadesa (Hitopadesha)

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BOOK ONE: The Acquisition of a Friend

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

Now we return to the story of Hiranyaka the mouse, and the mystery of how he was able to eat the beggar Choorakarna's food. If the beggars can discover the secret of the mouse's strength, they can render him powerless.

back to FABLE 5: The History of Hiranyaka The Mouse
(a story told by Hiranyaka the mouse to Manthara the tortoise in FABLE 1, which is a story told by Vishnu-Sarma to the young princes in the frametale)

"And hence," (said Veenakarna), "there must be some hidden cause for the extraordinary strength of this mouse."

He considered for a moment, and at length determined that the reason must be in a hoard of wealth, for,

In this world the wealthy are, every one, everywhere, and at all times, powerful. Riches are the foundation of preferment, and an introduction to the prince."

Having said this, a spade was brought, and my hole being dug open by that mendicant, the hoard which I had been accumulating for many years was carried away!

After this, day by day, my strength decreased, and having little power to exert myself, I was unable to procure even sufficient to support life; and in this condition, as I was fearfully and feebly skulking about, I was observed by Choorakarna, upon which he repeated the following lines:

"With wealth all are powerful; from wealth a man is esteemed learned. Behold this wicked mouse! see how he is reduced to the natural level of his species!

"Deprived of riches, all the actions of a man of little judgment disappear, like trifling streams in the summer's heat.

Having heard all this, I looked about me, and resolved that it would not, by any means, be proper for me to stay here: neither, by-the-by, is it proper that I should communicate my affairs to others, for,

A wise man should not make known the loss of fortune, any malpractices in his house, his being cheated, nor his having been disgraced.

A man of nice feelings willingly encountered death, rather than submit to poverty. A fire meeteth extinction, before it will yield to be cold.

From poverty a man cometh to shame; and being overwhelmed with disgrace, he is totally deprived of power. Without power he is oppressed, and from oppression cometh grief. Loaded with grief, he becometh melancholy; and impaired by melancholy, he is forsaken by reason; and with the loss of reason, he goeth to destruction. Ah! the want of riches is the foundation of every misfortune!

Hence, after I had been struck with the broken piece of bamboo by Veenakarna, I began to consider, that the covetous were unhappy, and assuredly their own enemy. It is said,

He whose mind is at ease is possessed of all riches. Is it not the same to one whose foot is enclosed in a shoe, as if the whole surface of the earth were covered with leather?

What is religion? Compassion for all things which have life. What is happiness? To animals in this world, health. What is kindness? A principle in the good. What is philosophy? An entire separation from the world.

It is said:

A man may forsake one person to save a family; he may desert a whole family for the sake of a village; and sacrifice a village for the safety of the community; but for himself, he may abandon the whole world.

It is, either water without labour, or sweet bread attended by fear and danger. I have examined this; and I plainly see, that is happiness wherein there is ease.

So, having considered all this, I am come to an uninhabited wilderness, for

It is better to live in a forest haunted by tigers and lions, the trees our habitation, flowers, fruits and water for food, the grass for a bed, and the bark of trees for garments, than to live amongst relations, after the loss of wealth.

Wherefore, as long as the stock of virtue acquired by birth shall last, I will, with this true friend, be attached to thee by kind services; and by this single virtuous act, I may obtain that place in heaven which is consecrated to friendship. They say,

Of the poisonous tree, the world, two species of fruit are produced, sweet as the water of life: poetry, whose taste is like the immortal juice, and the society of good men.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what did the beggars discover was the secret of the mouse's strength?
  • what attitude did the mouse have to this change in his fortune?
  • why did the mouse decide to leave the city and come live in the wilderness?

Source: Fables and Proverbs from the Sanskrit, Being the Hitopadesa. Charles Wilkins (1787), with an introduction to the second edition by Henry Morley (1886). Reprinted by Kessinger Publishing (www.kessinger.net). There is no online edition of this text. IMPORTANT NOTE: The text has been substantially abridged. Where you see one or two proverbs in the text here, there are frequently four or five or more proverbs in the original edition.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM