Beach 2: First steps in the Ascent to the Divine

Wave 6: An Overnight Capsule of Dharma ( Part IV)

Continued from Part III

Six-fold gateways to Knowledge

Sanatsujata does not hesitate to soar high in terms of jargon and technicality, even though he knows his student-listener at the time is Dhritarashtra, who is a personification of tamas, ignorance and stupidity. But at the same time he does not also shy from hitting the rock bottom of naivity both in his concepts and in his language. When talking of the *ShrI*, wealth, of Brahman – that is, the enriched pleasure of living in Brahman –Sanatsujata mentions six elementary virtues as the most fundamental. These are:

*satya - Arjava – hrIH – dama – shauca –vidyA *

·       Truth  

·       Straightforwardness  

·       Sense of doing shame in doing wrong

·       Control of senses

·       Purity

·       Education.

Here Truth includes not only truth-speaking, but in a broader sense, all the allied virtues like love, equity, justice, freedom, modesty, loyalty, gratitude, aesthetics, and appreciation of beauty and nature. Straightforwardness is non-crookedness. It is said of the incarnation of Rama, among the many virtues he had, one unusual virtue was that he was *pUrva-bhAshhI* -- meaning that he is so straightforward that he does not wait for you to probe him with questions to know about him.  You ask a simple question about his identity and straight comes the answer that he is so and so, he is the son of Dasaratha, sent away to the forest by his father and mother, so that Bharata his brother may rule the kingdom and so on he continues without any inhibition, feeling of remorse or guilt.  In stating the facts and in introducing oneself in the most straightforward fashion nobody, perhaps in the entire scriptural literature or in history, can beat the Rama of Valmiki! That is Arjavam, straightforwardness.

Sense of Recoil from adharma.

The next virtue, namely, *hrIH* -- a weak translation of which is ‘humility’ – is actually ‘the sense of shame when doing adharma’ (=   *akArya-karaNe lajjA*,  says Shankara). The central problem in the morals of modern times is the absence of any sense of shame while going against the accepted norms of morality. The ancient Tamil work ‘Tiruk-kuRaL’ puts this in a succinct way by saying “ *nANudaimai* (meaning, having a sense of shame) is what distinguishes man from animals.  It is alright in this new millenium to question the norms of a society that shaped itself by the values of the earlier millenium, but in all practice the sense of shame in doing wrong was the one sure insulation the previous generations had against a degeneration of morality. Without this virtue one goes down, by succumbing to temptations to do wrong. In fact in the modern days of fear of teenagers getting addicted to drugs, the one virtue that should be inculcated in them even as children is *hrIH*. Even if this means swinging the pendulum back towards a conformist approach our civilisation ought probably to prefer having this swing.

Sanat-sujAta, one of the earliest of creations in this kalpa  (= cosmic day) of BrahmA seems to have seen it all.  The other three, dama (control of senses), shauca (purity, both external and internal) and vidyA (education and knowledge) do not need any elaboration.  These six, SanatsujAta says, are the gateways to gaining for oneself the wealth of the supreme knowledge of Brahman and being in Brahman.

An unusual parallel

A litle digression is worthwhile here. SanatsujAta has listed the six most fundamental virtues that any seeker should have, before even embarking on the spiritual path upward.  In the same Mahabharata, there is another context occurring very much earlier in the chronology of events, which lists for us the six most fundamental evils one should avoid. The scene is in Sabha parva, where Yudhishtira has just been crowned the prince of Indraprastha. The divine roving sage Narada appears on the scene and in his blessings to the newly crowned prince, gives pieces of advice in the form of some rhetorical questions. One of these questions is whether as a king and adminstrator he has avoided certain six evils. Narada lists them for Yudhishtira. It is the considered opinion of Narada and one would agree with him  that without avoiding these six evils in toto no one can aspire for a position of leadership and greatness. It is interesting to contrast them with the string of six virtues that Sanatsujata lists for Dhritarashtra. And it is also remarkable to note that to Dhritarashtra, the symbol of blindness and ignorance, virtues are listed which are to be emulated and to Yudhishtira, the model of virtue and dharma, evils are listed to be avoided. This is one small sample of how through the Mahabharata Vyasa attempts to guide and  shape the masses.

Six Warnings to leadership.

Throughout the religious and philosophical literature we find a standard list of six evils that one should avoid. These are desire and lust, anger, greed, delusion and confusion, pride and arrogance, and envy

(* kAma-krodha-lobha-moha-mada-mAtsarya).

One would expect that Narada also would refer to something like this, because Hindu literature is replete with repetitions of emphasis on the necessity to avoid these six evils.  But Narada knows whom he is talking to; it is to Yudhishtira, the paragon of virtue. To tell Yudhishtira that he should avoid desire and lust, envy and greed, etc. is to tell a triviality. It is interesting therefore  that Narada focusses on a diferent set of six evils, which he, as a king, should guard against. Coming from Narada to Yudhishtira, this list gains importance even though it looks innocuous. Here is the list of these six evils:

·       Sleep

·       Indolence

·       Fear

·       Anger

·       Softness

·       Procrastination


*nidrA – Alasya – bhaya – krodha –mArdavaM – dIrgha-sUtratA*



No aspirant to greatness can ever fall into any of these habit-forming evils. Modern books on development of personality, management abilities, management for dummies (!), how to become rich and great and so on, have different ways of emphasiing such methods of self-improvement.  But Narada’s is a warning to all political leaders, scientific workers, aministrators, social reformers and any one who aspires to rise on the lader of greatness. Every one such complains about lack of time to do his job but one’s time-organization comes not a little from the proper organization of how much one sleeps and when.  Sleep is one of the greatest obstacles to greatness. Note that the elementary avoidance of anger appears in Narada’s list as well as in the Hindu traditional list of six fundamental ev ils in human conduct.  This is because it is so difficult to control. Even Yudhishtira has to be told about it at the beginning of his princely career.




Indolence and Fear are understandably in Narada’s list. Fearlessness is a great virtue for a would-be leader.   Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence who marked out the path for India’s liberation from Imperialdom in the three decades prior to independence, was able to bring to the Indian masses the quality of fearlessness, more than anything else, which alone led them on to that great event of attainment of Swaraj. Before his time they were afraid of almost everything;  of the Government, of the police, of the caste system, of the rules of a tradition-bound society, of the westerner, of beaurocracy, of prison and most of all, of violence.  That you can resist and fight all these non-violently was his teaching and in order to make the whole thing work he implanted into their minds the virtue of fearlessness by his own acts of self-sacrifice. It was he who shook up their spineless nature that arose out of fear of muscle power and money power coupled with fear from superstitious traditions and religious prejudice. Narada includes fear in his list of evils that Yudhishtira and similar administrators and leaders of men should avoid.




The last item on this list is procrastination about which in modern times we are surely familiar since it is one of the much-felt evils of politics and an unwilling bureaucracy. Though the context is Yudhishtira and his kingly duties, the avoidance of these six evils applies to all alike, particularly in the formative periods of schooling and growing. It appears that between Sanatsujata and Narada, they have epitomised entire books and codes on how to become great and immortal, by listing between themselves, the six fundamental positives and the six fundamental negatives.


Continued in Part V

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Mar.16, 2007  Copyright Ó V. Krishnamurthy