The value of solitude and concentration

Many people together will be noisy and may quarrel. They will ruin your enterprise. Even two people are likely to talk, argue and distract each other. Thus, it is important to know when to proceed alone.
The value of solitude and concentration
Picture credits: Wikimedia Commons

The old books, I find, are interestingly full of life lessons, not just those learned from kings and queens. For one, practical life tips are imparted through seemingly simple stories about everyday people in the Srimad Bhagavatam. But before we get to the story that I would like to retell, a little about the book itself. The Bhagavata Purana or Srimad Bhagavatam, said by some to have been composed over two millennia ago by Veda Vyasa, is considered a divine text, for it is the ‘biography’ of Mahavishnu, including that of Vishnu’s eighth avatar, Sri Krishna. As other puranas do, it discusses a wide range of topics from cosmology, geography and mythology to music, dance, yoga and culture.

Its poetry is greatly admired and quoted across regions, and in Assam it occupies the place of the murti in some temple sanctums. The text consists of 12 skandha or books, whose 332 adhyay or chapters add up to between 16,000 and 18,000 verses depending on the recension. The tenth book, with about 4,000 verses about the Krishnavatar, is the most popular.

It was the first purana to be translated into a European language, from a Tamil version to French in 1788, which introduced Europeans to Indian philosophy. In this story, Sri Krishna’s earthly ‘ancestor’, King Yadu, is told by a young ascetic about how he learned to focus on his goal.

Lavanya, said the ascetic, was a young lady whom he met on his travels. She was the daughter of a small cultivator who lived on the edge of a great forest of sal trees. He grew millet and vegetables and had but one cow, but it gave him, his wife and daughter plenty of good, rich milk. His fields were kind to him as were the weather gods.

As advised by wandering holy men on the right way to live, Lavanya’s father divided his income into five shares. One share was for yearly offerings to his ancestors, to repay the debt of having achieved human birth. One share was for charity and helping others in God’s name to earn merit. One share was for guests and wayfarers, to be able to feed them properly, for that was a householder’s moral duty. One share was for relatives, for as a son, brother, husband, father and uncle, a man had obligatory presents to give at ceremonies and festivals to affirm his relationships. The fifth and largest share was to feed, clothe and shelter himself and his family.

Many holy men went past their house and stopped for a drink of water, a rest and a simple dinner. They repaid them by telling them wonderful stories when the day’s work was done, of gods and titans, tricksters and heroes. Lavanya’s natural intelligence was further ignited by their tales.

One day, Lavanya’s parents left for the weekly market three villages away, with baskets of produce to sell. Lavanya sat down to weave a new cane basket. She had barely begun when four well-dressed people appeared in a bullock cart. They were her parents’ age and announced that they came with a marriage proposal for her.

“My son is a good, clean-hearted boy and we have many fields and cows. You will be well-looked after and lack for nothing,” smiled the prospective bridegroom’s mother. She wore a gold and coral necklace and gold bangles set with lucky hair from an elephant’s tail. Her nose-ring had pearls on it and her upper garment and lower garment were both of fine cotton.

“I’m sorry, my parents are away at the weekly market three villages away, they’ll be home only by sunset,” blushed Lavanya, feeling shy in this fine company.

“Oh, we’ll wait for them,” said the group cheerfully and looked about for a place in the shade. Lavanya scurried to drag out the string cots and spread grass mats on them for her guests to sit on. She fetched water for them and a cooling drink of jaggery juice in terracotta cups, and rounded up all the palmetto hand-fans in her little home for the guests to keep cool with.

And then a terrible thought struck her. “The evening meal!” she thought. “We don’t have enough husked rice to cook for everyone. I’d better husk more right away before I cut the vegetables.”

Excusing herself politely, Lavanya took out a good measure of unhusked paddy from the bin to the yard and started pounding it in the mortar with the wooden pestle. As she worked, the six conch bangles she wore on either wrist began to clank merrily, “Tak-taka-tak-tak! Tak-taka-tak-tak!”

“On, no!” thought Lavanya. “What a noise these bangles make. How uncouth they will think me. And they’ll wonder how poor I am that I wear such simple bangles and not golden ones like theirs.”

She broke four bangles on either wrist, leaving only two, and resumed husking the paddy. But even those two clanked loudly as she worked, producing a childish, embarrassing sound as though a little boy or girl was running about in the yard playing with a wooden cart or clapper.

“This is no good. They will think I’m a country bumpkin,” thought the intelligent maiden. “However, I can’t go back completely bare-wristed, that is not considered proper in a girl. I know what! I’ll break another two and leave just one on each wrist.”

“I happened to visit soon after and heard the whole story,” said the ascetic. “I learned from her, O King, the value of solitude and concentration when an important personal task is at hand. Many people together will be noisy and may quarrel. They will ruin your enterprise. Even two people are likely to talk, argue and distract each other. That young maiden’s intelligent moves taught me to assess when to proceed alone on a life goal, and why.”

(Views are personal)


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