Three Apostles of Universal Brotherhood
Thiruvalluvar-A Saint Confucius-A Scholar Marcus Aurelius-A Stoic
Om Prakash Sharma ,
I.P.S. ( Retd)
This is a study of the three ancient social philosophers, whose teachings have shaped the thought of a vast segment of humanity over last two millennia. Their philosophy closely reflects the message of the Vedanta of ‘Oneness of All’- brahameva idam sarvam, with universal brotherhood as its natural corollary. They were world’s first Human Rights activists. The preamble to the Declaration of Human Rights by the UN was in tune with their message, which affirmed ‘recognition of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.’
The ancient world had seen trade in goods and exchange of ideas, between India and China to the east, and Greece &Rome to the west. The ancient Indian thought had immensely influenced the Chinese as well as the Greeks. As pointed out by Wendy Doniger, “Greece imported the teachings of the ‘naked philosophers’, and many sects- Materialists, Ajivikas, ascetics, Jainas and Buddhists- publicly disputed major religious questions.” This study seeks to explore the affinity of the philosophic thought of three major ancient civilizations, with Vedanta as the reference point. The Vedanta, the philosophy of the Upanishads, upholds spiritual democracy, promotes universal humanism, and oneness of Universe. While some other systems present only one ideal and one path to their followers, the Vedanta offers an infinite variety of ideals and paths to choose from. The ideals of Judeo-Christian and the Islamic group of religions regarding “exclusive salvation,” “a jealous God,” “chosen people,” and “the only way”, are anathema to the Vedanta. Three social philosophers, who figure in this study, represented their times. They are: Tamil saint Thiruvallavur of South India, Confucius of China, and Marcus Aurelius the greatest of the ethical Roman stoics. Their chief concern was the man and the society. Their teachings converge in close proximity of Indian spiritualism. Thiruvallavur firmly stands by the Vedantic Message of loving all creation: “They are the Brahamans who are righteous and love all creation. (Kural 30)” Confucius observes: “My doctrine is of all-pervading unity.” Lao Tzu, his senior contemporary, observes: “The Tao (The Way) can be found in experiencing oneness in all things.” Marcus Aurelius affirms: “Even among animals, one intelligent soul is distributed. We see by one light, and breathe by one air. (IX.8).” Like the authors of the niti-Shashtras, the works of the three sages cover the entire spectrum of spiritual, social and political spectrum of human life.
Biographical Sketches of Three Apostles
Thirukkural (sacred couplets) of Thiruvallavur (literal-humble devotee), is an outstanding work on general ethics, political principles and happy married life. The author is generally allotted the period from 1st Century BCE to 1st Century CE, the period coinciding with the beginning of the Tamil Sangam poetry. He was a weaver at Mylapore, near Chennai. It is a testimony of his universal appeal that the Shaivites, Jains and the Buddhists claim him as a sage of their own. Thirukkural is a Book for the whole humanity. The universal message of Thiruvallavur is as valid today as it was 2000 years ago. His unique contribution was in bestowing the highest status to the householder in society. That has earned him the title of a ‘Philosopher of the Householder’. He observes: “The householder is the prop of the three orders of life in the conduct of their virtue. (Kural 41) ” And further, “He who lives the true life of the house holder on earth becomes one among the gods in Heaven. (Kural 50) ” Thirukkural has been translated into 60 languages. It is recognized as a classic in the literature of the world. It enjoys the status of Tamil Veda. The foreigners knew about the value of his work through English and Latin translations in the 19th century.
Confucius, born in 550 BCE, is considered one of the greatest philosophers. Confucius is the Latinised version of the name K’ung-tze, or K’ung-fu-tze. He was a scholar of repute who made a deep study of the ancient Chinese wisdom. His teachings were compiled many years after his death by his disciples who also deified him and erected temples for him, as the Zorastrians did for Zarathustra in Persia. He lived during the Chou Dynasty (1100BCE to 256 BCE). At this time, the land was divided among feudal lords. The moral and social order was in a state of decay. The never-ending warfare had degenerated a long way from the moral code of warfare into an undiluted horror of the Period of the Warring States. Huston Smith writes in The Religions of Man, (New York: Harper and Row), that instead of nobly holding their prisoners for ransom, conquerors put them to death in mass executions. Soldiers were paid upon presenting the severed heads of their enemies. Whole populations unlucky enough to be captured were beheaded, including women, children, and the aged. We read of mass slaughters of 60,000- 400,000. There are accounts of the conquered being thrown into boiling cauldrons and their relatives forced to drink the human soup.” Bharat also had warring states but the code of conduct governed the warfare. It was testified by no other authority than the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang who visited Nalanda University. He wrote that although there were enough of rivalries and wars in the 7th century CE, the country at large was little injured by them.
Confucianism is a mix of moral, social, political, and religious precepts, and the ancient Chinese traditions. Its goal is to make the man virtuous and learned. The notion of duty embraced the daily life. The Analects, Doctrine of the Mean, and the Great Learning are his prominent posthumous compilations. The philosophy of Lao Tzu, the senior contemporary of Confucius, provides spiritual depth to the philosophy of the pre-Buddhist China. Lao Tzu and Confucius were contemporaries of the Buddha.
In the Analects of Confucius, five great relationships constitute the moral code in a society:
Kindness in the father and obedient devotion in the son
Gentility in the eldest brother and humility and respect in the younger
Righteous behavior in the husband and obedience in the wife
Humane consideration in elders and deference in juniors
Benevolence in rulers and loyalty of ministers and subjects
‘Meditations’, the work of Marcus Aurelius Antonius, the Roman emperor in second century CE, written in Greek, has been a source of great inspiration during last two millennia. It is a compendium of moral and philosophical tenets of the Stoics. Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier, great admirer of Meditations claimed to have read it at least hundred times. Noted Historian Edward Gibbon, the author of ‘The Decline and the Fall of the Roman Empire’, described the philosopher king as one of the greatest of the five Roman emperors. He embodies in him the cumulated wisdom of the Greek and the Roman Stoics. Additionally, his philosophy bears a close affinity with the Vedantic philosophy of the Upanishads.
Stoicism arose in the Hellenistic period, the period after the conquests of Alexander the Great, and exercised great influence on many Greeks and non-Greeks. Zeno of Citium, who came to Athens from Cyprus was the founder of the new creed. He realized the Interconnection of ‘All Things’ in the Universe. This is one with the Puranic philosophy that lays down that lives in different types and grades of creation are mutually linked up. The individual owes a duty to himself and to those around him. For Greek Philosophers, including Socrates and Plato, ‘All is One’. The Stoics believed that a human being had a soul; God is the soul of the cosmos. Nature is synonymous with God. God not only made all things but is in all things. Plants and bodies are “bound up and united with the whole.” Cicero explains that for Stoics, virtue is sufficient for happiness. Epictetus gives an elaborate explanation:
“All people are manifestations of the one universal spirit and should, according to the Stoics, live in brotherly love and readily help one another.” The Stoics were noted for urging clemency toward slaves. Seneca exhorted; “Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies.” The Yajur Veda also pleads to view all living beings with the eyes of a friend- “mitrasayahm chaksusa sarvani bhutani sameekshe”- Yaj-36.18
Marcus Aurelius Antonius, a doyen among Stoics holds; “All is One. Nature, Universe and God are interconnected. Humans are Citizens of the Universe. All things are woven together and the common bond is sacred, and scarcely one thing is foreign to another, for they have been arranged together in their places and together make the same ordered Universe. For there is one Universe out of all, one God through all, one substance and one law, one common Reason of all intelligent creatures and one Truth. He observes; “We should not say ‘I am an Athenian’ or ‘I am a Roman’ but ‘I am a citizen of the Universe’.
The Stoics emphasize on self control, contentment and living simply in harmony with Nature. For them virtue is knowledge and ignorance a vice. The Mahabharata also observes: “He is a fool that practices truth without knowing the difference between truth and falsehood.” For Confucius the real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. Lao Tzu says; “There is nothing better to know than you don’t know.”
What follows is a review of the of the teachings of the three philosophers, henceforth called sages, under five sub-heads: 1. Spiritualism & Humanism; 2. General Ethics (Virtues); 3. Family & Society; 4. State and Government; and 5. Worldly Wisdom.
I. Spiritualism & Humanism
Spiritualism of the sages is synonymous with humanism. The teachings of saint Thiruvallavur are overwhelmingly ethical. He observes: “Be pure in mind. That is Dharma. All else is but pompous show. (Kural 34) ” He believes: “To do good and avoid evil must be the law of our being. (Kural 40) ” His Deity is: “Lord, the sea of Righteousness (Kural 8)” Compassion is at the bottom of his creed; “Be compassionate; for compassion is the pivot of all tenets. (Kural 242) ” His compassion extends to the animal world; “If one realizes that meat is nothing but the wound of another creature, one refrains from the flesh of the slaughtered animal. (Kural 257) For nobler than a thousand oblations on fire is an act of abstinence from flesh. (Kural 259) ” For Aurelius the animals are at par with humans. Jain Saman Suttam further expands this view: “All the living beings wish to live and not to die; that is why unattached saints prohibit the killing of living beings.” —Suman Suttam, verse 150
Renunciation is not a priority for the sage; “If persons abstain from deeds condemned by the world, there is no need either for tonsure or for matted hair. (Kural 280)” On renunciation he says: “He enters the abode of the gods who lays the axe at ‘I’ and ‘mine’. (Kural 346) ” Compare this with the Upanishadic verse translated by Shri Aurobindo: sarvam yat kincha, jagatyaam jagat, tena tyaktena bhunjeetha maa gridhah, kasyasvid dhanam.– ‘God pervades all this that we see in the Universe. Therefore we must give up the idea of ‘I’ and ‘Mine’, accept gratefully whatever is given to us by God and use it sharing it with our fellow beings. Eschew all feelings of greed and selfishness. Remember that everything really belongs to God alone.’ Alvars, the ancient saints of Tamilnadu also taught that the idea of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ must be given up; one should surrender completely to God.
Confucious and Lao Tzu use Heaven for the Absolute or the moral code. The Stoics use Nature for the same. Confucius declares; “He who offends against Heaven, has none to whom he can pray.” For Lao Tzu, ‘Tao’, the Path; conforms to the great Norm, ‘rita’, the dharma of the Rig Veda. According to him, sincerity is the way of Heaven. He affirms that it is only he who is possessed of the most complete sincerity that can exist under Heaven. Sincerity is the end and the beginning of things. The Tao also conforms to the Vedantic Braham. According to Lao Tzu, the Tao is, the reality that exists naturally prior to, and gives rise to every thing such as the physical universe and all things in it. This echoes the definition of Braham in the second sutra of the Braham-sutra; janmadasya yatah- He, who is the source of creation etc.
Ideas were flying fast and free from one country to another contributing immensely to the concept of Godhead. The Egyptian religion was a confused mass unrelated folk beliefs, never systematized as a system. It is surprising to find the concept of a Creator, echoing the Nsadiya Sukta, the hymn of creation, of the Rig-Veda as further developed by the Upanishads. According to Egytologist Wallis Budge, the Egytians, despite their crowded labyrinth, “believed in one great god, self-produced, self-existent, almighty and eternal, who created the “gods”, the heavens and the suns, moon and stars in them, and the earth and everything on it, including man and beast, bird, fish and reptile… they thought that no man could depict or describe him (nirguna), and that all his attributes were beyond man’s comprehension.” It is a familiar passage for a Vedantist, from a civilization, that did not go beyond the garbled world of spirits, magic and horrible rituals, like the king being slain after 30 years of reign so that his soul could enter his successor.
Reverting to Lao Tzu he also states that the name that can be named is not the Eternal Name. The nameless is the origin of Heaven and earth. He echoes Vedant when he says, ‘The Tao is so vast that when you use it, some thing is always left. It is so full, it seems to have remainder. Empty it, it is not exhausted; squeeze it and more comes out.” This is nearly a paraphrasing of the famous verse from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:
poornamadah poornamidam; poornaat poornamudachyate; poornasya poornamaadaaya; poornamevaavashishyate; om shanti shanti shantih.
It Translates: “That (brahman) is whole; this (creation) is also whole; from that whole (i.e. brahman only); this whole (creation) has come out; but even though this whole has come out of that whole; yet that whole remains whole only.”
Lao Tzu says: “The sage abides in the condition of the unattached action.” He advises to act without expectation; it reiterates the message of Gita: “Karmany eva adhikaras te, ma phalesu kadachin– thy right is to thy work alone, but never to the fruits of the work.Gita 2.47”
Here is anther observation with all spiritual depth of Vedanta: “There is nothing more visible than what is secret, and nothing more manifest than what is minute.” He further says that the Tao is hidden deeply in all things. Compare this with Bhagavata Purana VIII.1.10 (Atmavasyamidam sarvam- It –the universe- is all permeated by the Atman). The Tao is; “The formless form; the image of nothing; this is called the most obscure. “Dharma is subtle”, sayas Mahabharata. It (Tao) is so subtle, it has no taste. Look at it you cannot see it. Listen, you can not hear it. Use it. The great form has no shape. The Tao is hidden and nameless.” It reminds of Avadhoot Gita that describes Braham as: “na shuddha roopam na vishuddh roopam– neither the pure image nor the impure image.” The sage says; “Knowing this Constant is called illumination- Brahma-gyana.” He describes immortality of soul thus: “Though you lose the body you do not die.” Aurelius puts it a bit differently; “The act of dying is one of the acts of life.” According to Vedanta, death is an illusion.
Lao Tzu continues with the Vedantic thought in Tao Teh Ching; “While there are no stirrings of pleasure, anger, sorrow or joy, the mind may be said to be in state of Equilibrium.” It is one with Gita: ‘Sidhyasidhyoh samo bhutva, samatvam yoga uchayat’; 2.48 (be balanced in success or failure, such evenness is called yoga). The Gita (6.7) continues; “The Supreme Spirit is rooted in that man, who has achieved the calm of self-mastery; ever serene is he in the face of cold and heat, pleasure and pain, honour and dishomour.” Lao Tzu continues; “Let the states of equilibrium and harmony exist in perfection, and a happy order will prevail throughout Heaven and earth, and all things will be nourished and flourish.” Further; “A superior man, when occupying a high position, he is not proud; and in a low position he is not insubordinate.” Lao Tzu considers man as one of the four Greatnesses. It is in contrast to the Bible treating man as a sinner. Lao Tzu concludes on the optimistic note; “The way of Heaven is to help and not harm.” It is in contrast to Gods, created in their own belligerently intolerable images, by tribes, hurling hellish curses and pronouncing doom on ‘non-conformists’.
Marcus Aurelius is on the familiar Vedantic course. He observes: “Constantly think of the Universe as one living creature, embracing one being and one soul.” Reiterating the core philosophy of the Stoics, he elaborates; “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” He advises; “Dig within. Within is the wellspring of Good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.” He continues; “Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.” He makes the seminal observation; “Everything harmonises with me which is harmonious to thee.” Self-conquest is crucial to Stoics as well as to the Vedanta; “Though one should conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, he who conquers his own self, is the greatest of all conquerors.” Dhammapada v. 103, 104, also holds; “Self-conquest is, indeed, far greater than the conquest of all other folks.”
Aurelius suggests; “Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too.” He cautions, “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” Paulo Coelho, philosophically observes: “Thinking about death will help you lead a more enhanced life.” Aurelius gives a helpful advice: “”Execute every act of thy life as though it were thy last.” Albert Camus observes; “Don’t wait for the last judgment; it takes place every day.” Aurelius emphasizes the purity of thoughts; “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” He further adds; “Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.” Kural asserts; “A man’s five senses will laugh within at the false conduct of a deceitful mind.” (Kural 271) Aurelius’s mantra for happiness in life is: “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” He continues; “Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with which destiny have ordained that you shall live. He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.” For Kural, “To be one with the world is wisdom. (Kural 426) Those who cannot move in harmony with the world are learned fools.” (Kural 140)”
II. General Ethics (Virtues)
According to Confucius, “Riches adorn a house, and virtue adorns a person. The way of the superior man may be found, in its simple elements, in the intercourse of common men and women.” Kural observes; “What availeth one’s garment if one’s defects lie naked to the world? (Kural 846) It is not birth but deeds that mark men. (Kural 972) Greatness is all humility; littleness is all arrogance. (Kural 978)”
Confucius assures: “Virtue is not left to stand alone. He, who practices it, has neighbours. The man of perfect virtue wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others, wishing to be enlarged himself seeks also to enlarge others. What I do not wish men to do to me, I also do not wish to do to them. “
Philosophers over the ages have extolled the Golden Rule, of treating others the way you would like to be treated. The Bible picked it up along with other bits and pieces, from mature civilizations of greater antiquity. The Stoics believe that ‘men exist for the sake of one another.’ Earliest references to the Golden Rule exist in the Mahabharata and the Jain literature with great spiritual depth. Acharya Brihaspati counsels in Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8); “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.” He further warns; “One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.” Jain Suman Suttam , verse 148, observes: “Just as pain is not agreeable to you, it is so with others. Knowing this principle of equality, treat others with respect and compassion.”
Pre-Christian Greek philosophers extensively popularized the Golden Rule. Here are examples:
“Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him.” – Pittacus
“Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.” – Thales
“What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others.” – Epictetus
Socrates went a step further: “One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.” – Plato’s Socrates “Not to return evil to those who do evil unto you is, they say, the crown of wisdom.” (Kural 203) One Chinese philosopher expresses the sentiment with great force: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” The Dhammapada, has a golden solution for conflict resolution: “Conquer the angry man by love; Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness; Conquer the miser with generosity; Conquer the liar with truth.” Confucius states his ideal thus: “The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful.” To this the sage adds: “I treat the good as good, I also treat the evil as good. This is true goodness.”
Kural widens the ambit of righteousness: “That body where love dwells is the seat of life; all others are but the skin-clad bones. (Kural 80) Those who nourish hatred will never see the triumphant light of truth. (Kural 857) Greatness is all humility; littleness is all arrogance. (Kural 978) An equity which knows no partiality is in itself a unique virtue. (Kural 111) The truly great scorn the riches acquired through slaughter. (Kural 328)” This is in utter contrast to the Islamists’ view, as pointed out by Alain Danielou in Histoire de l’ Inde; “The magnitude of the booty looted even from the bodies of the dead, was a measure of the success of a military mission. And they did all this as mujahids (holy warriors) and ghazis (kafir-killers) in the service of Allah and his Last Prophet.”
Confucious admits five virues as, Benevolence/humanity, Righteousness, Propriety, Wisdom and fidelity/sincerity. Mahabharata lists a set of virtues as: Truth, self control, asceticism, generosity, non-injury, constancy in virtue, these are the means of success, not caste or family. In Confucianism, dharma conforms to what he calls ‘the ordinances of Heaven’, without which it is impossible for the character to be established. He declares that ‘to see what is right and not to do it’, that is cowardice. The superior man is not contentious. He contends only as in competitions of archery; and when he wins he will present his cup to his competitor. “A man without charity in his heart, what has he to do with ceremonies (religion)”, Confucius questions. More of ennobling thoughts of Confucius: “If we may learn what is right in the morning, we should be content to die in the evening. The superior man seeks what is right, the inferior one what is profitable. A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself. Sincerity is a great virtue. Lao Tzu observes; “If you lack in sincerity, no one will believe you. Cultivate it in the country and virtue will be abundant. Cultivate it in the world and virtue will be everywhere.” According to Confucius, the superior man is catholic and not partisan; the mean man is partisan and not catholic. He further exhorts; “You have power over your mind-not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength,” and he advises; “The noblest kind of retribution is not to become like your enemy.”
III. Family and Society
An ideal family life is of serious concern to the sages. Replicating the Rig Vedic concept of ‘vasudha-eva kutambkam- the whole world is one family, Kural observes: “The world becomes kin to one who leads an unblemished householder’s life” (Kural 1025)” He views the husbandsmen as the sheet-anchor of the world; for on them depend lives of others. (Kural 1032) Even an anchorite ceases from penance if husbandmen sit with folded hands. (Kural 1036) The saint exhibits a strong distaste begging mendicants: “May the Creator of the world perish, if he has ordained the life only through begging. (Kural 1062) ” For Aurelius poverty is the mother of crime. Thiruvalluvar declares, “There is no greater evil than poverty (Kural 1041)”, saying, “One may sleep in the midst of scorching fire. But the poverty-stricken knows no sleep. (Kural 1049) ” Bhartrihari tersely remarks in Niti-Shatkam (27), “All the virtues are sheltered in gold.” But, Thiruvallavur hastens to warn: “Let none do wrong on account of poverty; if he does so he becomes poorer still. (Kural 205) Though you found your mother starving; do not do anything which will be condemned by the great. (Kural 656)” He rejects sham charity; “The gift to the poor alone is true charity. Everything else is of the nature of barter.” (Kural 221)” He stands for frugality in daily life; “More squalid, than the life of begging is a life of self-indulgence. (Kural 229) ”
Confucius holds a noble family as the base on which other institutions stand. His typical observations are: “The ancients who first ordered well their states, first regulated their families, first cultivated their persons, first rectified their hearts, first sought to be sincere in their thoughts, first extended their utmost knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things. Let there be daily renovation of the self; if the person be not cultivated, he cannot regulate his family. From the loving example of a family, the whole state becomes loving.” For Confucius, filial piety and fraternal submission, are a key to harmonious social life. In Doctrine of the Mean, Confucius states that benevolence is the characteristic element of humanity. A Chinese scholar advises: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”
IV. State and Government
Like the authors of the Indian Niti-Shashtras, the sages delve in matters of state and the society in general. The ideal kingdom for Thiruvallavur is which has un-diminishing produce, righteous people and fadeless riches. According to him, “That alone is a kingdom which accommodates immigrants and whose king receives taxes willingly paid. (Kural 733). That is a kingdom where there are not many (disloyal) association, destructive internal dissensions and disturbing murderous chieftains. (Kural 734) Vain is the kingdom which may have all the excellence except harmony between the ruler and the ruled. (Kural 740)” Since, these were the days of monarchical governments, he talks of kings and kingdoms. His observations universally apply to all types of governments. According to him, the king should be benevolent. “The world falls at the feet of a great king who wields the scepter for his subjects’ welfare. (Kural 544) Kautilya affirms that only a just king commands the loyalty of the people. An ultimate authority on statecraft, he also elaborates: “There cannot be a country without people and there is no kingdom without a country.” The unrighteous king who oppresses his subjects is more cruel than the one who leads the life of a murderer. (Kural 551) That country will perish any day whose monarch does not administer justice day by day. (Kural 553)” He has a word of advice for the king: “The ruler of the earth must never be bereft of his sleepless watchfulness, learning and courage. (Kural 383) A treacherous minister by the king’s side is equal to seventy crore enemies. (Kural 639) The King, who is not guarded by men of firm counsel of his ministers, though bitter, will perish even if he has no enemies.” (Kural 447)”
According to Confucius in an ideal state, the trust of the people in the ruler is far more important than the army and even the food. To rule a country, there must be reverent attention to business, and sincerity; economy in expenditure, and love for men; and the employment of the people at the proper seasons. Advance the upright and set aside the crooked, then the people will submit. Advance the crooked and set aside the upright, then the people will not submit. When a prince’s personal conduct is correct, his government is effective without issuing orders. If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders, but they will not be followed. Good government obtains when those who are near are made happy, and those who are far are attracted. If the people have plenty, their prince will not be left to want alone. If the people are in want, their prince cannot enjoy the plenty alone. When a country is well-governed, poverty and mean condition are to be ashamed of. When a country is ill-governed, riches and honour are to be ashamed of. Mencius, next in importance to Confucius, observed that the good-will of the people was essential in government; “The people are the most important element in a nation; even the sovereign is the lightest.”
Lao Tzu, the great spiritualist had tremendous impact in china and abroad. Here are a few of his egalitarian views about a ruler: “The royal domain of a thousand li is where the people rest. As a sovereign he is rested in benevolence. As a son he is rested in filial piety. As a father he is rested in kindness. In communication with his subjects, he is rested in good faith. When the ruler, as a father, a son and a brother, is a model, then the people imitate him. Never has there been a case of sovereign loving benevolence, and the people not loving righteousness. If you used the Tao (dharma) as a principle of ruling, you will not dominate the people by military force. How could the ruler of a large state, be so concerned with himself as to ignore the people? The ruler attains wholeness in the correct governance of the people. (Raj-Dharma) If you do not use cleverness to rule the state you are a blessing to the state. If you want to be the rulers of the people you should speak humbly to them. Governing the country and serving the Heaven there is nothing like frugality. The more picky the laws are; The more thieves and gangsters there are.” Tacitus puts it differently; “The more corrupt the state, the more laws”.
Lao Tzu is an apostle of peace. His observes; “Victory is never sweet. For whom victory is sweet, are those who enjoy killing. If the people do not fear death, how will you scare them with death? In the wake of a great army, come years of famine. The more people own lethal weapons; the more darkened are the country and clans.” The Bible touted as a scripture of peace and love conveys a different message; “The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” (Psalms 58:10) Koran’s messge is different too; “Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it.” (Surah 2:216) Swami Vivekananda rightly observed: “You know that the Hindu religion never persecutes. It is the land where all sects may live in peace and amity. The Mohammedans brought murder and slaughter in their train, but until their arrival peace prevailed.”
V. Worldly Wisdom
The social philosophy of the sages is soaked in worldly wisdom. Learning enjoys a high place in their estimation. Thiruvallavur opines; “Of all the forms of poverty, poverty of intellect is the most serious; other forms of poverty are not regarded serious by the world. (Kural 841) Saint Vidura says in Mahabharata: “A grey head does not make an elder. Not by years, not by riches or many relations did the seers make the Law; He is great to us who has learning.” A man of learning, in ancient perception is a god – vidvanso hi devah. Chanakya gives over-riding preference to wisdom: “An archer letting off an arrow, may or may not kill a single man, but a wise man using his intellect can kill even reaching into the very womb.” (10.6.51) His startling advice to the losing king on giving a hostage is: “When there is a choice between a wise son and a brave son, it is better to give the brave son, who, though valorous, lacks wisdom.” (7.17.27-30)
On practical side, there is much in the teaching of the sages that relates to modern system of management. Kural advises; “Begin your task after much deliberation. To think after launching action is to court a grievous blunder. (Kural 467) An ill-organised scheme though supported by many goes to pieces. (Kural 468) Exertion alone is one’s wealth; inconstant material wealth will pass away. (Kural 591) Procrastination, carelessness, sluggishness and sleep are the four boats fondly entered into by those who go to ruin. (Kural 605) Do not give up your task in the middle; for the world will abandon those who leave their tasks unfinished. (Kural 612) Niti-shatkam concurs; “Base men do not undertake any work apprehending obstacles. Mediocre men make a start, but cease working when they encounter hindrances. The men of excellence, however, after commencing a job do not give up despite recurrence of impediments.” Kural continues; “There is no greater good than to be ever on the vigil. (Kural 536) Men of foresight who guard themselves against coming events know no distress. (Kural 429) Chanakya (350 BCE-275BCE) also advised: “Once you start working on something, don’t be afraid of failure and don’t abandon it. People who work sincerely are the happiest.”
Confucius agrees in the Doctrine of Mean, that in all things success depends on previous preparation. He exhorts; “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall. Aurelius advises; To begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.” He gives a sound advice on a healthy attitude to life; “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” Lao Tzu forewarns that problems always start off being small. His most famous motivational observation is; “A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.”
The foregoing study offers a stimulating retrospect of ancient wisdom of three civilizations with comparative illustrations. The three philosophic pillars of the ancient China, India and the Greco-Roman civilizations, represent an era unpolluted by the sectarian and extremely narrow outlook of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic group of theologies. These sages stated universal spiritual and ethical principles with harmony at the core of their thought. They were the forerunners of the modern humanitarian and egalitarian movements, ahead by two millennia. The humanity can benefit immensely with the revival of the teachings of these ancient civilizations of the world.
- Thirukkural by Thiruvallavur
Translation by V.R. Ramchandra Dikshitar
- Works of Confucius: Analects, Doctrine of the Mean and great Learning.
Translated by Legge
- Teh To Ching by Lao Tzu
Translation by Legge
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius Antonius
The Harvard Classics
- Niti Shatakam by Bhartrihari
- The Bhagwad Gita
- Selected portions of Upanishads quoted in the text
- The Hindus by Wendy Doniger
Ancient Egypt, Myth and History by Gedes and Grosset