The Panchatantra – Apareekshita Karyam

[This is the beginning of Part-5 of Panchatantra, also called ‘Apareekshita Karyam’ or ‘ill-considered action’.]


“Let no one do an ill-considered action in haste and repent of it at leisure, said Vishnusarman. The story of the Barber and the Monks is a lesson for all. ‘What is that story?’ asked the princes. Then he narrated it. Manibhadra was a big merchant of the city of Pataliputra (Modern Patna). He spent enormous sums on charities and religious ceremonies and on his household. He used to carry on a gigantic trade with Kalingapatam, Kayal, Korkai (Ancient ports on the east coast of India. Kalingapatam is in Ganjam district and is still a port. The others are in Tinnevelly district and are now abandoned owing to silting), and other ports of the south in big ships going across the Bay of Bengal.

Once, when all his ships were on the waters, there was a terrific cyclone in the Bay. Not a single ship of his escaped. Manibhadra was ruined. From a millionaire he became a pauper. All the rich men who had till then courted his favour suddenly cut him and would not even deign to speak to him or invite him to caste dinners. Endless were the insults he and his wife had to endure. His noble soul was filled with sorrow and anguish at all this. What made his poverty specially unbearable to him was that he and his wife had become accustomed to a most luxurious life and could not adjust themselves to the changed conditions. His sufferings at least he could somehow endure. But he could not bear to see his beloved suffer the hardships and indignities of extreme penury. She had been accustomed to wear costly silks, give daily charities, and have baskets of flowers every day in all seasons. Deprived of the means for these, she was feeling as miserable and heartbroken as a caged elephant. Her pathetic attempts to conceal her sorrow in vain endeavours to cheer her husband up only revealed the truth even more poignantly. 

One night, when Manibhadra was lying alone on his bare cot and his wife was attending to some household work, he thought thus, ‘shameful is this poverty. An amiable disposition, a spotless character, forbearance, kindness, a sweet temper, a noble birth, none of these will shine in a poor man. Honour and pride, knowledge beauty and intelligence, all will perish with the advance of poverty. The daily anxiety of how to earn the where- withal to maintain the family for that day freezes the talents of the most talented even as the frostladen winds of Spring wither the beauty of the Sirisha(A most beautiful flower but extremely delicate add susceptible every change of weather and especially to chilly weather) flower. The brilliant talents are frittered away and wasted in this constant preoccupation with the prosaic acquisition of the rice, salt, oil, ghee, and firewood necessary for the sustenance of the family. The house of a pauper, however capable of potential joy, appears ugly, depressed and desolate like the sky bereft of its stars, like a lake devoid of water, and like a dreadful burning ground. 

Poor men may live in thousands near a rich man’s house but are never known to the outside public while the rich man is famous. They are just like bubbles on the face of the waters, never noticed because they have no substance, and are always appearing and disappearing The multitude leaves a noble-born, intelligent and kind master as soon as he becomes poor and attaches itself to a rich man though he may be devoid of noble birth or virtue or even an amiable disposition. Wealth is the one thing it cares for. Good actions done in the previous birth or in this are apparently of no use whatever in determining the fate of a man. Even learned men of noble birth have to dance attendance on a man who is a mere money-bag and have to depend on his favour. The wealthy may do with impunity what will be accounted to- be a crime in the poor. The ocean may roar as it pleases, and not a soul will think of accusing it of meanness or lowness as its waters are limitless. Of what worth is this useless life tome? I shall therefore go to some distant jungle tomorrow and commit suicide by hanging. This will save my beloved from the anguish of seeing my dead body. She will think that I have merely gone to some foreign country to earn some money and so will also be spared the horrors and indignities of a widow’s life. As- i am with her now she refuses to go to her relatives and lead a life of comparative ease. Once I am out of the way she will perforce have to go to her relatives and will have more of the necessaries of life.’ Having come to this resolution, he went to sleep. 

He had a curious dream that night. A naked Jain monk appeared before him and said, ‘Manibhadra, cast off all thoughts of suicide. The actions in the previous births never go without fruit though they may sometimes appear to do so. In your previous birth, you, in your purity of heart, gave a hundred thousand gold coins as a gift to a naked Jain monk who begged you for it in order to distribute it to the poor. I am that monk. After the gift I was so much attracted by the gold that I did not distribute it to the poor but kept it with me and thought of nothing else but it and spent all my time contemplating on it instead of on God and Dharma as before. They say truly that a man becomes that on which he contemplates with all his mind. So I became a man of gold in reality though to all outward appearance I was a man of God. I now see the folly of my ways and have lost altogether my fascination for gold ; still, the man of gold will not lea,/e me and has to be done to death and the gold returned to you. So, tomorrow I shall come to your houses early in the morning in the shape of a naked Jain monk, in other words, just as I am now. 

You will recognize me by my face and smile, the absence of a begging bowl, and my failure to repeat the usual formula for alms. You should without hesitation give me a blow on the head with a cudgel. At that blow I shall become a man of gold weighing two maunds(A maund is about 8 pounds. In ancient India gold coins of even five grains’ weight were known), the weight of your hundred thousand gold coins. You will become once more rich and can live happily with your beloved wife with the added knowledge of men and things that your poverty has brought you’ As for me, having left behind this man of gold, I shall again become the man God I was before I got this gold and shall return to Devaloka(The world of the immortals to which good souls go for a time before being reborn) and pursue my meditations undisturbed.’ Then the monk disappeared. 

Manibhadra woke up with a start and thought about this strange dream, ‘I do not know whether this dream will come true or not’ said he to himself, ‘Most probably it will turn out to be worthless as I was thinking solely of wealth before going to sleep. It is said that the dream of one who is sick, afflicted by sorrow, torn by anxiety, possessed by love or under the effects of intoxication will never be realized. In any case, let me see what happens. So he rose before dawn, bathed, said his prayers, and sat on the veranda facing the courtyard. Close at hand was a stout cudgel of genuine teak wood. Early in the morning, a barber called at Manibhadra’s house by previous appointment in order to do manicuring for his wife. He did the manicuring on the same veranda. When be had just finished it, a naked Jain monk entered the house, smiled at Manibhadra, and stood still without uttering the usual formula for alms. 

Manibhadra recognized in him at once as the monk he had seen in his dream. Seizing the cudgel with lightning rapidity, be delivered a stunning blow at the head of the monk before his astounded wife or the barber could interfere. The monk fell down on the ground dead and became a statue made of the purest gold to the amazement of the merchant’s wife and the barber. Manibhadra shed tears of joy and carried the statue of gold safely inside with the aid of his wife. He then cut a portion of the little finger of the gold image and giving it to the barber said, ‘Friend, take this and make merry. In return for this gift you are not to tell anybody about the strange happenings you have just witnessed here.’ The barber promised eternal secrecy and left. 

On the way home, the barber thought to himself, ‘It has been proved before my very eyes that a naked monk will become a statue of gold if beaten on the head with a teak cudgel and killed. What a fool I was not to have known this before! I shave all kinds of people for more than six hours per day and earn but six or seven, miserable silver coins hardly sufficient to procure for myself and my family the bare necessaries of life when all the time there were hundreds of these naked monks, wandering about and I could in ten minutes? quick work have made a hundred thousand gold coins like this Manibhadra. There is no doubt that we barbers are far behind these Vaisyas in the art of money-making. I have always wondered how people become millionaires all of a sudden and have imagined all kinds of superior abilities and business acumen. All that is necessary is a stout teak cudgel, a naked monk and a lightning blow. The rogues keep the secret pretty close to themselves so that only their caste might grow rich. By my unexpected good luck I have discovered the secret, and shall make good use of it. I shall invite all the naked monks from a remote part of the town to my house tomorrow morning, kill them all with deadly blows on their heads with teak cudgels and earn untold gold. I shall thus have plenty of money for all kinds of wild pleasures for which my soul has always craved. When all this gold is exhausted I can always replenish it as naked monks will never be wanting in this country’. 

Resolving thus, the barber got ready a number of stout and flawless teak cudgels and stored them in a box in the central hall of his house. Then he passed the rest of the day iu great impatience, eagerly waiting for the next morning to dawn. With the break of dawn he bathed, said his prayers, and went to a Jain temple in a distant corner of the town.

Circumambulating the figure of Mahavira(Mahavira was the founder of Jainism and lived in Behar in the 6th century B C. He is the twenty-fourth and last thirthankara of the Jains He took to asceticism in his 28th year forsaking his wife Yasoda. He was called Mahavira or the great hero from his victories over his animal passions, Jina or the Conqueror for the same reason, and Kevalin or the repository of true knowledge. He was born at Vaisali and died at Pawa and was a contemporary of Buddha. Jains got their name from his appellation Jina, and have from his time till the present day exercised a tremendous influence over Indian life though few in numbers for the last many centuries) three times he prostrated on the ground and said aloud, ‘Victory to the Jains who have the highest knowledge leading to salvation and whose minds are devoid of the least inclination towards women. That tongue alone is worthy to be called a tongue which praises Jina, that mind alone is worthy to be called a mind which is attached to Jina, and those hands alone are worthy to be called hands which worship Jina. His love-stricken wife Yasoda once addressed Jina thus, “Which woman are you thinking of under the pretext of meditation ? Open your eyes for a moment and look at this unfortunate person stricken with the arrows of Cupid but forsaken by you. You alone should “protect me, and yet you have no pity on me. You pretend to be merciful, but in reality there is no one more pitiless than you.” The master remained unmoved and silent. Wisdom dawned on Yasoda and she chided him no more. May the wise Jina who subdued the angry Yasoda protect us!’ 

Saying this, the barber went to the head monk, prostrated before him and was blessed with the customary blessing ‘May righteousness increase !’ He then said with humility, ‘Venerable sir, I pray of you to come to my house to-day with all the monks for a grand dinner.’ The bead monk replied ‘ Oh, lay brother, why are you talking like this though you are evidently a righteous man ? Why are, you inviting us to a grand dinner as if we are gluttonous Brahmins? We never accept any invitations to meals in advance. Whenever we feel hungry in the course of our wanderings or meditations we step into the house of some devout lay brother, accept his hospitality and eat just enough to sustain life. So, go home and don’t repeat such invitations.’ Hearing this, the barber said, ‘I now fully realize your strict rule of life. I have only one more submission to make. I have got in my house many priceless clothes which can be used as excellent binding for your books. I have also got fine quilts and a large sum of money for distribution among worthy monks who copy the sacred books of the Jains. I thought that the monks here would perhaps like to have these gifts. Of course, you may do as you like. But in case you do not want these things I must go to other monks.’ 

All the six monks who were in the temple said with one voice ‘We are quite willing to come to your house and receive these gifts since they are not personal but meant, as it were, for the promotion of learning and the eternal Dharma. So you need not go to other monks.’ Well has it been said, ‘It is a wonder of wonders that even he who is a bachelor and alone, who has abandoned his home, who has taken the vow of poverty an d begging, who has discarded the use of all clothes, be also is over- taken by greed. Even more wonderful are the quibbles by which he justifies his greed. When a man becomes old, his hair grows grey, his teeth fall off, his eyes become dim, his ears become deaf, but his greed alone is undiminished and continues to grow.’ 

The barber took the monks to the central hall of his house and locked all the doors. Then he opened a big box and took out of it a stout teak cudgel instead- of the expected quills, clothes and cash. With this cudgel he began to deliver stunning blows at the heads of the unfortunate monks. To his surprise and indignation, not one of them would receive the blows squarely on the head smilingly and expectantly like Manibhadra’s monk. Nor did any of them fall down dead at one blow. The panic-stricken men of religion raised piercing cries for help, ducked the all-important heads, warded off many blows with their hands and shoulders, and ran desperately round the room like chased rats in order to escape from the murderous blows. The doors were locked, and there was no way of escape. The barber’s blows rained faster and faster. 

Two of the monks fell down at last as the result of a series of blows. The barber cracked their skulls with blows of exceptional ferocity, and they died. He eagerly stooped over their bodies, expecting them to have become statues of gold, but they remained mere blood-stained corpses. He only became more furious than ever and hammered away at the rest in the desperate hope that they at least would turn into gold. The four helpless survivors fell at his feet and implored for their lives. ‘Save us, save us. What have we done to you, what property have we got, that you should be so cruel and merciless towards us? You have killed two of us already and inflicted severe wounds on the rest. Spare our lives at least,’ said they. ‘Not one of you has become gold. None of your monkey tricks. Die decently and become’ statues of gold’ roared the barber, increasing the number and vehemence of his blows. The heart-rending cries of the survivors were heard by some policemen passing along the street and they rushed to the spot. 

Breaking open the doors they entered the hall, rescued the bleeding monks and tied the barber. They took the barber, the corpses and the surviving monks to the judges and reported the circumstances. The Judges asked the barber, ‘Why did you do this diabolical deed?’ He replied, ‘How can I be blamed when I did only what the merchant Manibhadra did with impunity and with greater success yesterday?’ ‘What is it you say?’ asked the Judges. ‘I saw manibhadra beat to death a naked monk who became a statue of the purest gold as soon as he died,’ replied the barber. The Judges sent for Manibhadra and asked him, ‘Did you kill a naked monk yesterday?’ He then related the whole story of his dream and its sequel.

After hearing him, the Judges said to the police, ‘Take this stupid barber who has committed these two murders and spear him to death.’ When he had been led away, they said, ‘A man should never act upon what is imperfectly seen, known, heard or examined. Else, he will come to grief like this barber. Well has it been said, “Nothing should be done without careful scrutiny. Everything should be done only after a thorough examination Things done without proper scrutiny lead to bitter repentance as in the case of the Brahmin who killed the faithful mongoose'”.’ Manibhadra asked, ‘What is that story?’ Then the judges related the story of ‘The Faithful mongoose‘ and rose for the day. 

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