Ethics of Earning


Published in Deccan Herald dated 9th April 2019

Money is important in life. Our ancient philosophy, which subscribes to attaining the meaning of our lives through Purushartha consists of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Hence it has been established since times immemorial that one cannot discount the economic factor in life. However, the moment we allow the financial quotient to take over our lives it amounts to unconditional servility to the monster called materialism. Greed will consume us till we lose touch with ourselves and cannibalize on our identity.

An episode from the Ramayana teaches us subtly to handle this tricky issue in its narrative of sage Agastya’s tryst with wealth.

Once, a highly accomplished princess Lopamudra was struck by sage Agastya’s knowledge, wisdom and keen presence of mind. The sage was also impressed by the lovely lady and entered into a matrimonial alliance with the royal lass. Though the sage had access to all the riches he could ask for by way of dowry, he chose to live a life of austerity with his bride. Several years passed smoothly. Then the couple decided to start a family. They realised that they needed at least the minimum materialistic facilities to give a comfortable life to their wards. Since the couple had led a Spartan life, thus far, Agastya, decided to seek the necessary wealth from one of his contemporary rulers as per the customs of those days. However he followed a certain principle while doing so. He decided that he would take charity only from the excesses of the treasury’s exchequer. Accordingly, he approached the kings one by one. He called for the ledger and examined the income and expenditure of the kingdom at large. He found out that just about every king’s balance sheets tallied. He did not have the heart to accept the generous offers of the just kings because it meant taxing the people of the state. Then he moved away and found his own way to acquire some means to run his family.

The amount of concern, caution and discretion used by Agastya while endeavoring to fulfill his needs speaks in volumes about the code of ethics to be followed while procuring income. If we allow our conscience to screen the money that enters our purses we could squarely obliterate a whole lot of associated crimes by simply following the ethics of earning.

True Love is Immeasurable


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We promise God money, gifts and sometimes harsh penance as a token of our thanksgiving for fulfilling our wishes. We praise, clothe, feed and entertain God as we see fit.

A lot of us who go out of the way to please God simply forget that God – – our creator does not expect anything from us either in cash or kind. We are only expected to extend sincere affection towards our maker and he will take care of all our needs.

An incident from the Bhagavatha Purana reiterates this viewpoint. Satyabhama, the spouse of Krishna, once lost her husband to Narada in a game of dice. The distressed wife beseeched the celestial sage to let go of her husband.

She offered to give gold that equaled the weight of her dear husband. The sage agreed to alter his condition. Accordingly, Satyabhama sheepishly poured out the details of the awkward bet to the king of Dwaraka.

Then she requested him to sit on one plate of the balance. She placed all her jewellery on the other plate of the scale. The gold did not measure up to the weight on the other side. Then she ordered that the gold from the household and then even the treasury.

To her despair, she found that her best attempts failed. At that point of time Krishna gently told Satyabhama to seek help from his senior wife Rukmini. Satyabhama nurtured envy towards the said co-wife and generally steered clear of her. Yet, in the given circumstances, she approached Rukmini in order to redeem their husband.

Though the senior queen was aghast to hear what had transpired, she rushed to the spot. When she saw the scale in a state of gross imbalance, she quickly plucked a leaf from the Tulsi plant and placed it reverentially on the gold uttering the lord’s name.

Lo and behold! The plate holding the lord rose high immediately. Krishna helped himself out with a knowing smile that said it all. Immediately, Satyabhama felt ashamed but also felt enlightened. She realised that true love is immeasurable in worldly ways.

Test of Truth


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Sometimes, the truths that we know or believe in can be pretty hard to establish for want of witnesses or proof. The societal values, the situation, place and time eventually end up delivering a verdict which may or may not measure up to universal justice. Different places in the world have diverse religions, belief sets and values framed on the basis of the native environment. The person at the receiving end of the situation ends up with a raw deal because his contemporaries cannot see beyond their nose. The victims and martyrs of such situations have always had unique ways of ascertaining their stand.

Panditha Jagannatha, a Sanskrit court poet of Mughal emperor Jahangir, fell in love with a Muslim maiden who he called Lavangika. The Brahmin community was aghast by the affair. They could not dissuade the already married poet from having a relationship with the Muslim woman. Eventually, Jagannatha was excommunicated and exiled. The sad poet went to Kashi. He realised that he would not be able to make his contemporaries realise the genuineness of his feelings. Hence, he decided to launch his test of truth. He sat on the fifty-third step of Panchaganga Ghat and started singing the paeans to river Ganga. He emphasised on the power of the mighty river which could liberate the worst among sinners. It is said that with the composition of each stanza, the waters rose by one step and touched his feet. The poet felt vindicated by the divine touch. The people around him realised that he was earnest about his feelings though they did not acknowledge the same.

Even now, people swear by the truth by taking the names of those they truly love. When we wonder about it and question ourselves what makes us do what we do, we are likely to realise that we are trying to connect what we believe as truth in what we believe in as truth. Most of the times, we resort to this method to reiterate our beliefs. If we, who live in this technologically advanced world, adopt this method, imagine what it must have been like for the people who did not have the privilege.

To Wax Or Wane is the Question


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All of us know that the waxing and waning of the moon is a visual occurrence as the result of the satellite revolving around our planet.

It is interesting to note that the Skanda Purana has an interesting take on the subject which aims at educating its readers to show due respect to the modesty and independence of women. The handsome and accomplished moon personified as Somadeva had married the beautiful twenty seven stellar sisters of the cosmos.

He lived a happy and contented life till he coveted and abducted Tara, his guru Brishaspathi’s wife. The gods waged a war to redeem their preceptor’s spouse. Somadeva trounced them in a trice. The Devas approached Lord Shiva for help.

Brahma the creator who was witnessing this pantomime foresaw a great disaster. Hence, he advised Somadeva to surrender to Lord Shiva and apologise to Brihaspathi and send the pregnant Tara back to her husband. (The question mark over the patriarchy that dangled over the unborn child is another story.)

The war-weary Somadeva who was stricken with leprosy saw better sense now and did as he was bidden. The once haughty lunar deity became penitent and took up rigorous penance and appeased Lord Shiva. As a result he was cured of his deadly disease but was cursed for life to wax and wane every fortnight.

The Lord in his superior wisdom hoped to alert mankind that one can never get away from karma no matter what the status or penance quotient. Apparently the story is meant to be a subtle warning to all those people who lust for other people’s spouses, wealth and belongings, that they have to pay a price for it.

Apart from the punishment factor that awaits the wrongdoer, the tale also underlines the act that women are not commercial commodity who can be taken, used and rejected at the whims and fancies of the mindless and the powerful.

The Skanda Purana points out that our personalities will wane like the moon when we indulge in unethical debauchery and cause unwarranted pain to others. All the same, if we are suitably chastened and repent for our misdeeds, we can reinforce our intrinsic values. This, in turn, will help our personalities wax like the moon.

Beauty is Only Skin Deep


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People often get distracted. They start paying attention to the flimsy and the mundane aspects of life which are fleeting by nature. This can prove to be a great impediment in achieving one’s target.

A story from the Shiva Purana highlights the importance of staying focused and also reiterating the fact that intrinsic beauty is a combination of truth and humility.

Once when the self-declared celibate Rishi Narada was wandering through the universe, he was smitten by the extraordinary beauty and grace of princess Shrimathi. He was seized by a sudden desire to marry her. Hence he decided to attend her Swayamvara. The sage realised that he could marry Shrimathi only if she chose him as her groom.

Since he had always led an austere life, he wondered whether the princess would choose him over the royal, youthful, good-looking kings and princes who had come to seek their luck. All the same, Narada felt that he could not pass up the opportunity. He appealed to Maha Vishnu to bestow him with Harimukha.

When he was granted the boon he went to the Swayamvara happily. Narada seated himself confidently because he knew that the princess could not reject him as he was endowed with the handsome face of Hari. The Swayamvara began.

When the princess entered with the garland, Narada stood up eagerly. The court laughed in unison. Narada was annoyed and disappointed when the princess walked ahead and garlanded a striking suitor.

When he expressed his displeasure, he was asked to look into the mirror. When he did so, he was aghast to see that he was monkey-faced. When he confronted Maha Vishnu furiously, he was told that he was bestowed with Harimukha as desired. Then the Lord clarified that Hari also meant monkey.

Besides, the Lord had to play a seemingly cruel joke on his most ardent devotee to awaken him from his disillusionment. Though Narada was hurt and angry, he understood that he was beleaguered by distractions that would serve him no purpose in the long run.

Home is Where the Heart is


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One of the most common aims of people is to build a home for themselves. Though there is nothing wrong in wanting to have one’s own nest, it is necessary to realise the temporary nature of this need. Then, you will not feel like a failure if for some reason you end up not having your own home.

The Vamana Purana proposes a solution to this human need when it documents a very domestic conversation between the divine couple Shiva and Parvathi. Once, the goddess felt like picking on her husband. She declared that she felt inadequate whenever she was referred to as the lady of his house. When Shiva tried to laugh off the comment, his better half expressed her desire to discuss the matter seriously. She pointed out that she had been running her household in the wilderness and snowcapped mountains ever since she threw her lot with him. They had never had a roof above their heads for as long as they had been married, let alone a home.

Shiva wore an expression of helplessness and said that he did not have enough resources to construct a house for them. Nevertheless, he added that he had always ensured that his wife would not be exposed to the elements come what may. After all, during summers they would enjoy the cool shade when they camped under the massive green trees and they would live above the rain clouds to avoid getting wet during the rainy seasons. The caves in the hearts of the mountains would take care of their winter needs. Parvathi could not but agree with her lord. After all, she had enjoyed living in the open without being restricted by borders or walls.

The whole world seemed to be her home when the vast expanse of the earth formed the flooring of her home and the immeasurable star-spangled skies her ceiling. Besides the constant company of Shiva whom she loved with all her heart made the universe the best ever home for her.

They say home is where the heart is. If we learn to love those around us and our environment, we cannot have a better home.

Integrity and Intelligence


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Life often scatters obstacles in our path. Some of us sidestep them while others overcome them. Yet, if we are riddled with difficulties from time to time, we tend to give up. A story from the Mahabharatha says that if one tackles problems intelligently and with integrity, it will stamp our success with moral satisfaction and happiness.

Princess Sukanya had to marry the old sage Chyavana whom she had blinded inadvertently. Though there was no equivalence of any sort in the marital ties, the young bride did not have any complaints. She was quite cheerful and sincere in carrying out her conjugal duties.

A couple of years later, the handsome celestial twins, the Ashwinikumaras, happened to sight the beautiful Sukanya. They were smitten by her ethereal beauty. They tried to wean her away from her marriage and make her theirs. The principled lady refused to comply to their wishes, politely, yet firmly. The demigods were struck by her loyalty to her husband despite his shortcomings. They offered to cure him and restore his youth as a reward for her steadfastness.

Sukanya and Chyavana were ready to accept a lease of normal and healthy life. Just when things seemed to fall in place, the divine twosome laid out their condition. The clause said that Sukanya could continue in her marriage if only she could identify her husband in his new Avatar. The lady accepted the challenge without batting an eyelid.

Accordingly, the sage was taken to a nearby lake by the duo. The trio immersed themselves in the waters. When they emerged, Sukanya was startled to see that the three of them were identical in every single way. She was stressed but gathered her wits and observed the threesome walking towards her. She recollected from her vast repertoire of knowledge that Godly entities never came into physical contact with earth. She noticed that only one of the three men was leaving footprints on the wet banks of the lake. She walked demurely towards her only love in life and stood by him. The Ashwinikumaras were highly impressed by her integrity and intelligence and blessed the couple a happy and a fruitful life of togetherness. Sukanya had every reason to flounder, but she chose to overcome it.