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Friday, 29 January 2016

Prashnottara Ratnamalika - Four Rare Qualities for Man

The following is an excerpt from the anugraha bhashanam of His Holiness Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji - Sringeri Sharada Peetham.

There are many who question if the teachings of Sri Adi Shankaracharya apply to the 21st century. His teachings are so universal that they apply for all time. Sri Adi Shankaracharya wrote Prashnottara Ratnamalika, a series of questions and answers conveying deep philosophical truths. For instance, Sri Adi Shankaracharya raises the question - what is most difficult for man to attain.

Charity - What is appropriate?

Man has to first ponder over how his wealth can be utilized. How can wealth be distributed. Usually man spends wealth in worthless pursuits. Only wealth distributed to the appropriate person at the appropriate place and appropriate time deserves praise. Bhagavan says in the Gita

दातव्यमिति यद्दानं दीयतेऽनुपकारिणे ।
देशे काले च पात्रे च तद्दानं सात्त्विकं स्मृतम् ॥

A person who has studied the Vedas or the Shastras, one who has good Achara, one who is poor - all of these people are appropriate for charity. The place could be a holy town as Kashi or Rameswaram while the time best suited for charity could be a Parva Kalam or Punya Kalam such as Grahanam, Ardhodaya Punyakalam or Mahodaya Punyakalam

The Four Rare Qualities for man to attain

1. Wealth for Charity

That is why Adi Shankaracharya states that the first rare quality is वित्तं त्यागसमेतम् - wealth that is meant for charity. Hence when a situation suited for charity comes, do not think of your budget limits and for you may not get such an opportunity again.

2. Humility with Learning

There are also a class of people who engage in charity but insult the person receiving the charity. Such charity is useless. Today, there are people who go to the extent of insulting even Vaidikas when engaging in charity. Whatever one gives in charity, give it with a pleasant and affectionate attitude. This is why Sri Adi Shankaracharya states the second rare quality - दानं प्रियवाक्सहितम्

While there are many who are qualified and learned, few have the humility to go with their learning. If we look at our ancestors, we see humility at its best. It can be said that Kalidasa is such a poet who is unparalleled not merely in India but in the entire world. The Jagadguru then mentioned a shloka to talk of Kalidasa’s greatness -

पुरा कवीनां गणनाप्रसङ्गे कनिष्ठिकाधिष्ठितकालिदासः ।
अद्यापि तत्तुल्यकवेरभावात् अनामिका सार्थवती बभूव ॥

Once, when asked to mention the names of poets, the first name counted with the little finger (Kanishtika) was Kalidasa. However there was no second poet to name with the ring finger (such was Kalidasa’s greatness). Hence the name given to the ring finger in Sanskrit, “Anaamika” (that which cannot be named) is appropriate even to this day.

Such being his greatness, Kalidasa writes at the start of his Raghuvamsha Mahakavyam -

क्व सूर्यप्रभवो वंशः क्व चाल्पविषया मतिः ।
तितीर्षुर्दुस्तरं मोहादुडुपेनास्मि सागरम् ॥

Where is the greatness of the Raghuvamsha that descends from Surya and where is my puny intellect! Out of delusion, I desire to cross the vast ocean with a small boat (by attempting to describe the ancestors of Sri Rama).

Thus, despite his inimitable poetic skill, Kalidasa was so humble. We have to remember that how much ever we learn, there is always a lot more to learn. There is a story mentioned in the Vedas that Bharadwaja spent three lifetimes studying the Vedas and yet could not finish the study. Indra appeared at the end of his third lifetime and asked Bharadwaja what he would do if he were to get another life. Bharadwaja determinedly said that he will complete the study of the Vedas. Indra then pointed three mountains representing all Vedic knowledge and said to Bharadwaja that his knowledge acquired over three lifetimes was merely equivalent to three fistfuls of sand taken from the three mountains - वेदा वा एते। अनन्ता वै वेदाः। एतद्वा एतैस्त्रिभिरायुर्भिरन्ववोचथाः। अथ तम् इतरदननूक्तमेव।

3. Learning without Pride

The extent of the Vedas goes beyond all limits. Hence one must cultivate humility. If humility is absent, all learning is futile. Greater the learning, greater must be the absence of pride. Hence Sri Bhagavatpada describes the third rare quality as ज्ञानम् अगर्वम् - Learning without pride. One must realize that only the Lord is omniscient - सर्वज्ञः.

4. Power with Patience.

The fourth quality that Sri Adi Shankaracharya describes as rare is क्षमान्वितं शौर्यम् - Power must be tinged with patience. One must realize that there is no who is faultless - न कश्चिन्नापराध्यते । It is not uncommon to see people commit a mistake and when questioned, the reply would be “Does not everyone commit mistakes? Why do you get unduly angry with me?” However the same person would be intolerant when he sees another committing a mistake. Hence one must realize that everyone is prone to mistakes and cultivate tolerance, even if he is endowed with power.

Thus has Sri Adi Shankaracharya pointed out to us that these four qualities - wealth along with the disposition to engage in sacrifice, charity given with pleasing words, learning with humility, power coupled with patience and tolerance - are rare and must be cultivated.

People who question the relevance of Sri Adi Shankaracharya’s teachings must ask themselves, “Is there anyone for which these qualities are undesirable? Can anyone say that Sri Adi Shankaracharya’s instruction to cultivate these qualities is irrelevant in the present times?” Hence it is completely inappropriate to think that Sri Adi Shankaracharya wrote His works with only a few people in mind. He has in fact taken efforts to point out the way to attaining Shreyas for every man in the world. 

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