Learning from the treasure troves of philosophy

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Highlights

Now let us take a brief bird’s eye view of the contents of some of the Holy books.

Now let us take a brief bird's eye view of the contents of some of the Holy books.

Among the important teachings, of the Old and the New Testaments, are the shunning of sin, the importance of truthfulness, the equality of all people of the world and the love for others.

Likewise, the five pillars of the preaching of the Holy Quran are unshakeable faith in Allah, complying with the prescribed number and timings of prayers, donations to individuals and institutions by way of charity, abstinence from food and drink, during the day time in the month of Ramzan, and performing, at least once during one's lifetime, the Haj, or the pilgrimage to the mosque at Mecca.

The Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy book of Sikhism, emphasises the need to take in the entire mankind as one, with no one being treated as low or high, respect for women, the importance of truthful living, and avoiding vices such as anger, lust, and greed. Sikhism also emphasises other virtues such as contentment, love, compassion service, charity and humility among others.

The essence of Buddhism, as contained in the teachings of Gautama Buddha, stems from two principles, namely the four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path. Broadly speaking, the faith advocates detachment from material desires, renunciation of wrongful and evil practices, truthfulness, politeness and abstinence from causing harm to other living beings. Buddhism also emphasises the benefits of focused meditation, charity and avoidance of intoxicating substances.

Jainism, founded by Mahavira, emphasises the virtues of truth, non-violence, abstaining from stealing, chastity and detachment, as being essential for spiritual liberation.

Hinduism is, in the strict sense, not a religion at all, but a way of life, according to which, the meaning (purpose) of life is four-fold: to achieve Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. The first, dharma, means to act virtuously and righteously. 'Artha' stands for prosperity achieved usually through the pursuit of wealth. 'Kama' represents the practical part of life relating to pleasure, desires, attachments etc. And 'Moksha', the ultimate aim, is salvation, or the ending of the cycle of 'samsara' or the cycle of birth and death.

As we noted towards the end of the piece last week, much wisdom and knowledge can be gained from collections of stories, of various types, many of which have been in existence for thousands of years.

The 'Betal Pachhisi', written over 2,500 years ago, by Mahakavi Somdev Bhatt, is a set of spellbinding stories, told to King Vikramaditya, by the wily ghost Betal. Each story ends with a puzzle, the solution of which is, in itself, a great learning experience, not only for adults, but also for children.

In existence for several centuries, supposedly a type of urban legend, passed down by older women to younger generations, 'Old Wives' Tales often centre on traditional concerns such as pregnancy, puberty, social relations health etc. It is common to invoke them to discourage undesirable behaviour, usually by children, and to share knowledge of folk cures for common ailments.

On a similar footing stand the 'Canterbury Tales' of the legendary poet Chaucer, which are an account of the result of a story-telling contest, by a group of pilgrims, as they travelled from London to Canterbury, with the prize for the winner being a free meal, on return, at a popular inn!

There are also evergreen stories which continue to grip children's interest, such as 'Jack and the Beanstalk,' 'Cinderella,' 'Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp,' 'Sindbad the Sailor,' and 'Peter Pan,' to mention but a few of the more popular ones.

The 'Kasi Majili Kathalu,' a fantasy-fiction novel series written by 19th century popular Telugu author Madhira Deekshitulu, has been the basis for plays, stories, poetry, teaching material for children etc. Full of wit and humour, each story is told at a stop, on the journey of a teacher and his pupil, to Kasi or Banaras.

Of more recent origin is the book 'Grandmother's Tales' by RK Narayan, well- known writer with illustrations by celebrated cartoonist RK Laxman, is a rich assortment of educating and entertaining stories, narrated to the author by his great grandmother. It is widely accepted as one of the best children literature books ever.

Books of many types are available, for reference and guidance, for professionals as well as employees. The Indian Journal of law and Technology, for example, is an annual, peer-reviewed, student-edited, open-access Law Journal, published by India's premier Law School, the National Law School of India University at Bangalore. The All India Reporter, started more than a century ago, reports cases with head notes from all High Courts across India.

For practising doctors, and students, of medicine, the National Medical Journal of India, a publication of the all India Institute of Medical Sciences, is a peer-reviewed print and online journal. The Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, an annual publication, is a storehouse of information to students, residents and clinicians, for building their medical knowledge, expertise and confidence.

Employees of institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, have either in-house books of instruction, or standard sources of reference for guiding them in their functions. The State bank of India, where I began my career before joining the Service, has a Book of Instructions, which is invariably referred to by functionaries at all levels, for guidance and clarity, while performing their functions. Similarly the knowledge and information available with the Insurance Institute of India have, for over 50 years now, been of valuable guidance to companies, employees, consumers, reporters and researchers.

Even for adults and children engaging in hobbies, there are any number of sources information and knowledge, about how to pursue their activities, in a systematic and methodical manner. One can, for instance, learn how to play a game of chess or bridge from such sources, which can be accessed online these days. In fact, one can even play games with others online.

Every game or sport has a book of rules which lays down in great detail how the game passport is to be played, together with details about bonuses available for good performance and penalties for infringement of the rules.

Certain publications are also bought out periodically to highlight achievements in various sports and games. For instance, the Guinness Book of World Records is a reference book published annually, listing world records, both of human achievements and the extremes of the natural world.

There are many lessons to be learnt from the life and times of great people also.

The lives and times of great people, such as Martin Luther, Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Mother Teresa and Jawaharlal Nehru, for instance, provide many valuable lessons about lofty ideals and noble conduct. Some of them have left behind highly readable autobiographies such as 'My Experiments with Truth' by Mahatma Gandhi, and 'The Discovery of India' by Jawaharlal Nehru. Others have written books which remain treasures of invaluable wisdom and guidance, such as 'Geetanjali' by Tagore and 'Das Kapital' by Marx.

Even the plots of fictional stories, and novels, are often constructed upon an undercurrent of themes which convey powerful messages to the readers about life, its complexities and how to face challenges. Great works such as 'Of Human Bondage' by Somerset Maugham, 'War and Peace' by Leo Tolstoy and 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens are some examples.

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh) 

(The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer.The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)

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