A friend in need… not from a meme indeed!

Nowadays, Puranic and other religious discourses occupy a huge space in social media, online forums and chat groups. Webinars and online courses are regularly held on religious themes such as learnings from the śrīmad Bhagavadgītā. People flocking these courses are the “educated” kind, considered to be “modern” or “elite”. Considering these in addition to the tsunami of ‘Good morning’ messages in family WhatsApp groups, one cannot but help get the feeling that a religious awakening is taking place around us.

This feeling increases manifold around festivals, when messages with moral takeaways on religious pictography are forwarded in abundance. Interestingly, the matter is no longer limited to religious days but has crept into “secular” holidays. Lets take for instance “Friendship Day”, a Hallmark holiday that falls in early August. While sifting through the multitude of feel good forwards on the subject of friendship, we stumbled upon this meme on Sri Krishna and Sudhama and short clip from the currently running TV series “Radhe Krishna”. While one is now accustomed to the increasing creative liberties taken by these commercial ventures, we never expected that message from such outlets will be at complete odds with what’s mentioned in scriptures.

Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi MahaSwamiji in his seminal work “Introduction To Hindu Dharma” laid stress on how stories from Puranas (and Itihasas) need to stick to the original theme.

But a point to consider is how far discourses given by pauranikas are in good taste. Adding a few stories on their own to the main theme is all right so as to enhance audience interest. Similarly, a little bit of humour and brief references to politics also seem to be not altogether improper. But these should not be far removed from the main story, the main theme, and must be without prejudice to the truths to be driven home to the listeners. Otherwise the whole exercise will be in bad taste (“rasabhasa”). That which calls the Lord to mind is “rasa”, a true flavour. The puranic stories must be told without straying too far from the text and a healthy impression must be made on the minds of the audience. The narrator must have faith in Īśvara, must adhere to traditional customs and must firmly believe in dharma and in the principles he himself expounds in the course of his discourse. If he has profound knowledge of the subject of his talk he will not be tempted to depart from the main theme to tell irrelevant stories or make tangential references to current happenings. Puranic discourses will serve no purpose if they are treated as a pastime like films and fictions.

Chapter 14, “Introduction To Hindu Dharma” by Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi MahaSwamiji

We’re not going to delve into the reasons behind the incorrect messages from TV series or Memes. Reasons can be many, ranging from mala fide intentions to stray Hindus from the true message, to exploiting the gullible, consumerist population by taking into account the current environment, or just being ignorant and overzealous with ideas such as “Hinduism stated the importance of friendship long before Friendship Day came into existence“.

We certainly cannot afford to fact-check and correct each and every meme or video clip on the internet, given that task will not be completed before the next Friendship Day. Instead, we will shed light on the scriptures’ take on friendship, with the help of a Upakhyana from the āpaddharma section from the Shanti Parva of Mahabharata.

Story of Palita and Lomasa

There was a large banyan tree in the midst of a dense forest. Covered with many kinds of creepers, it was the resort of diverse kinds of birds, and animals of diverse species lived on it. A mouse of great wisdom, named Palita, lived at the foot of that tree. On the branches of the tree there lived a cat named Lomasa, who devoured a large number of birds every day. Some time later, a hunter named Parigha came into the forest and built a hut for himself. Every evening after sunset he spread his traps, and returned to the spot at the dawn of day. Diverse kinds of animals fell into his traps every night.

It so happened that one evening, Lomasa was caught unawares in the snare. On seeing his foe caught in the net, Palita came out of his hole and began to rove about fearlessly. He saw the meat (that Parigha had spread there as lure) and began to eat it. Laughing mentally, he even got up on his enemy entangled helplessly in the net.

Suddenly, the mouse Palita observed two threats – a restless mongoose of coppery eyes by the name Harita which had arrived there with great speed attracted by the mouse’s scent, and a night prowling owl Chandraka of sharp beaks that lay perched on one of the tree’s branches. Encompassed on all sides by danger, seeing fear in every direction, the mouse, filled with alarm for his safety, started evaluating its’ options – If I were to descend from this trap on the ground, without adequate precautions, the mongoose will surely seize and devour me. If I remain on this trap, the owl will surely seize me. If, again, that cat succeeds in disentangling himself from the net, he also is certain to devour me. Since he was a target of three foes, he felt it would be best to take refuge with an enemy under distress to ward off a stronger enemy, and thus decided to seek the cat’s protection.

balinā sanniviṣṭasya śatror api parigrahaḥ
kārya ity āhur ācāryā viṣame jīvitārthinā

A person when afflicted by a stronger one should make peace with even an enemy. Professors of the science of policy say that even this should be the conduct of one who having fallen into distress seeks the safety of his life.

Verse 44

Palita gently addressed Lomasa, saying – The mongoose and the owl are both waiting on him with evil intent. I, however, shall cut the net if in return you abstain from killing me. Without my help, you’ll not succeed in tearing the net. Let us get into an agreement that will bring happiness to both of us.

Lomasa was delighted and expressed words of agreement, and Palita trustfully crouched beneath his enemy’s body. Seeing him ensconced within the body of the cat, the mongoose and the owl both became hopeless of seizing their prey. Both Harita and Chandraka were filled with wonder and realized that they will be unable to wean the mouse and the cat from their agreement. And they both left that spot and went away to their respective abodes.

After this, the mouse Palita, conversant with the requirements of “deśa” and “kāla”, started cutting strings of the noose slowly, with plans to cut the final strings only when they spot the hunter. The rationale being – at that particular moment in time the only thought in their minds will be to escape to safety – Lomasa will seek safety up in the tree while in his hole. If he were to release the cat now, then the cat will surely eat him, and thus he needs to wait for the opportune time. To summarize:

akāle kṛtyam ārabdhaṃ kartuṃ nārthāya kalpate
tad eva kāla ārabdhaṃ mahate ‘rthāya kalpate

When an act is begun at an improper time, it never becomes profitable when accomplished. That act, on the other hand, which is begun at the proper time, always produces splendid fruits.

Verse 89

Distressed by the strings that entangled him, the cat became impatient upon seeing the mouse slowly cutting away the noose. Beholding the mouse employed so slowly in the work, the cat asked it to expedite the task. It reminded Lomasa that while former was quite prompt in saving the later’s life, Palita will incur bad karma for which his own life will reduce.  To which, Palita replied as follows

yan mitraṃ bhītavat sādhyaṃ yan mitram bhayasaṃhitam
surakṣitaṃ tataḥ kāryaṃ pāṇiḥ sarpamukhād iva

kṛtvā balavatā sandhim ātmānaṃ yo na rakṣati
apathyam iva tad bhuktaṃ tasyānarthāya kalpate

na kaścit kasyacin mitraṃ na kaścit kasyacit suhṛt
arthair arthā nibadhyante gajair vanagajā iva

na hi kaś cit kṛte kārye kartāraṃ samavekṣate
tasmāt sarvāṇi kāryāṇi sāvaśeṣāṇi kārayet   

That friendship in which there is fear and which cannot be kept up without fear, should be maintained with great caution like the hand (of the snake-charmer) from the snake’s fangs. The person that does not protect himself after having made a covenant with a stronger individual, finds that covenant to be productive of injury instead of benefit. Nobody is anybody’s friend; nobody is anybody’s well-wisher; persons become friends or foes only from motives of interest. Interest enlists interest even as tame elephants catch wild individuals of their species. After, again, an act has been accomplished, the doer is scarcely regarded. For this reason, all acts should be so done that something may remain to be done. 

Verses 102-105

While the mouse and the cat were thus talking with each other, both in serious danger, the night gradually wore away. When at last morning came, the hunter Parigha, appeared on the scene. The mouse very quickly cut the remaining string that held fast the cat. Freed from the noose, the cat ran with speed and got upon the banyan tree. Palita also, freed from that situation of danger and from the presence of a terrible foe, quickly fled and entered his hole. Parigha, seeing everything, was frustrated and quickly left that spot. Liberated from that great peril, and having obtained back his life which is so very valuable, the cat Lomasa addressed the mouse Palita – I hope you don’t suspect me of any evil intent. I am certainly grateful and you’ve done me a great service. Having inspired me with trustfulness and having given me my life, why don’t you approach me at a time when friends should enjoy the sweetness of friendship? 

But the Palita rejected Lomasa’s overtures for friendship citing the following arguments:

nāsti maitrī sthirā nāma na ca dhruvam asauhṛdam
arthayuktyā hi jāyante mitrāṇi ripavas tathā

arthayuktyā hi dṛśyante pitā mātā sutās tathā
mātulā bhāgineyāś ca tathā sambandhibāndhavāḥ

kāraṇāt priyatām eti dveṣyo bhavati kāraṇāt
arthārthī jīvaloko ‘yaṃ na kaścit kasyacit priyaḥ

āsīt tāvat tu maitrī nau yāvad dhetur abhūt purā
sā gatā saha tenaiva kālayuktena hetunā
tvaṃ hi me ‘tyantataḥ śatruḥ sāmarthyān mitratāṃ gataḥ
tat kṛtyam abhinirvṛttaṃ prakṛtiḥ śatrutāṃ gatā

There is no condition that deserves permanently the name either of friendship or hostility. Both friends and foes arise from considerations of interest and gain.

The father, the mother, the son, the maternal uncle, the sister’s son, other relatives and kinsmen, are all guided by considerations of interest and profit.

One becomes dear from an adequate cause. One becomes a foe from an adequate cause. This whole world of creatures is moved by the desire of gain (in some form or other). One never becomes dear to another (without cause).

There was friendship between us as long as there was reason for its existence. That reason, dependent upon time, has passed away. Without it, that friendship also has passed away. Thou art by nature my foe. From circumstances thou becomest my friend. That state of things has passed away. The old state of enmity that is natural has come back.

Verses 134, 139, 145, 155 & 156

Thus rebuked soundly by the mouse, the cat, blushing with shame once again offered the hand of friendship. But the mouse turned it down, and instead asked the cat to look out for itself as the hunter Parighra’s rage has been kindled by its’ escape. The mere mention of the hunter frightened Lomasa who then hastily left the tree and ran away with great speed. And the wise mouse entered another hole.

Conclusion

Now lets go back and re-read the meme above wherein the following words are put in Sri Krishna’s mouth – “True friendship is that in which there is no give and take”. Contrast that with the message from Palita and Lomasa story which concludes that only circumstances decide friendship and enmity.

Giving someone carte blanche under the guise of friendship is a sure-fire way of getting pulled deeper into negative influences, especially for impressionable minds. Children need to grow up learning the right message from scriptures. It permeates into other areas throughout their lives – be it shaping the country’s foreign policy, saving themselves from bad influences, or protecting the interest of their own communities. Tackling the misinformation being spread in the name of Hinduism is an uphill task. But we at Jneyam are taking it head on.

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