Wisdom of Bhartrihari

The sage Bhartrihari was a Sanskrit grammarian par excellence. He renounced his kingdom and took Sannyasa for Sakshatkara. He is celebrated for 3 works. Sringara Shataka (on the science of erotics and sensuality) Niti Shataka (on the science of polity and Rajyabhara). Finally he writes the celebrated Vairagya Shataka (on pure Advaita Vedanta and Sakshatkara).

I’ve dug up the earth and have found treasures, I’ve smelted ores and enjoyed riches, I’ve traveled across the sea to enjoy luxuries, I’ve with great effort calmed the wrath of kings. I’ve spent my nights in burial grounds doing austere meditations, and I’ve striven hard to acquire rare knowledge, yet all of my striving has been of little use. O Desire! When will you leave me?

I have wandered over strange and rugged lands, but without profit. I have freed myself from my pride of family; I have carried out valueless tasks; I have put away my self-respect, and have eaten like a crow in the house of a stranger; but yet, O Desire! You have become more and more powerful; always with evil inclinations and never satisfied.

I have endured the abuse of wicked men in the hope of gains; I have smothered my tears and forced myself to laugh, though my heart was sad and weary; I have controlled my feelings, and I have bowed down before fools. O fond Desire, how much further would you want me to stoop?

Day by day a portion of our life glides away from us with the rising and setting of the sun, and we think our business of so much importance that we can pay no attention to flight of time. We perceived that birth, pain, and old age end in death, and yet we are not afraid. We are, so to speak, intoxicated – intoxicated by the want of infatuation.

Why, O my heart, do you try from day to day to secure the good graces of others, and yet all in vain? If you were only content, surely all your desires would be gratified and you would not seek the favors of other men, since inwardly you would be at rest.

In our periods of health we are alarmed by the fear of disease; in the pride we take in our family by the fear of a sudden fall; in wealth by the fear of a grasping ruler; in honor by the fear of degradation; in power by the fear of enemies; in beauty by the fear of old age; in our knowledge of the scriptures by the fear of controversy; in virtue by the fear of evil; and in our body by the fear of death. Everything on earth gives cause for fear, and the only freedom from fear is to be found in the renunciation of all desire.

These lives of ours are unstable as the drop of water on lotus leaf, and yet what we not strive to do for the sake of our lives? We sin even when we are brazenly boasting of our own virtues in the presence of those wealthy men whose minds have become petrified by the intoxicating power of riches.

All hail to the power of Time! The pleasure of the town, the glories of the monarch with his crowds of courtiers, his ministers who stand respectfully before him, his women with faces as beautiful as the shining moon, the crowds of haughty nobleman, the poets and the writers – all these are carried away on the stream of time and eventually become but a memory.

Shall we abandon the world, dwell beside the divine river, and lead a life of penance? Or shall we rather seek the society of virtuous women? Or shall we study the multitudinous scriptures, the poetry of which is a nectar? We cannot tell what we shall do, for the life of a man endures but the twinkling of an eye.

Desire resembles a river; its waters are like men’s wishes, blown hither and thither by the waves of passion. Love takes the place of the crocodiles, and the birds that soar over the surface of the stream are like the doubts that beset men’s minds. The tree of firmness that grows on the bank is carried away by the flood. The whirlpools of error are difficult to navigate, and the steep banks of the river are like unto the troubles of our life. Thus ascetics who, with purified hearts, have succeeded in crossing the river and possessed with unbounded joy.

Once upon a time the days seemed long to me when my heart was sorely wounded through asking favor from the rich, and yet again the days seemed all too short for me when I sought to carry out all my worldly desires and ends. But now as a philosopher I sit on a hard stone in a cave on the mountain side, and time and again in the course of my meditations I often laugh when I think of my former life.

Whom may we rightly call the over-lords of the earth: those who pay homage to any man? Those who are content to lie on a hard rock; who live in caves; who make their clothes from the bark of trees; whose only companions are the antelopes; whose food is the tender fruit; whose drink is water from the mountain stream and whose wife is wisdom.


When it happens that sages, whose words are enriched with beautiful thoughts from the Shastras, and who convey their sacred learning to their pupils, are compelled to dwell in poverty, then the princes of whom they are subjects must be accused of foolishness, and these sages, however poor they may be, are the real rulers of the country. If those whose business it is to examine jewels are as careless in their methods as to lower the value of the stones, should we not be right in condemning them?

The man whose mind of a low order does not take the slightest trouble to pursue wisdom owing to his fear of the difficulties with which he may meet; and, if he does make any attempt, he stops as soon as he encounters obstacle. On the other hand, the man of superior mind never ceases to pursue when one he has begun, no matter what hindrances he may meet on the way.


The absolutely right behavior are indeed difficult to learn, and can hardly be mastered, even by the ascetic. The man who wishes to be respectfully silent is liable to be looked upon as dumb: the man who talks agreeably may be thought too forward. If a man stands near at hand, he may be regarded as troublesome, and if he stands far off, people may call him coldhearted. The patient man may be branded as timid, and the impetuous man is looked upon as ill-bred.

The friendships which are formed between good and evil men differ in kind. The friendship of the good man may at the beginning be as faint and dim as the first appearance of the morning light, but it continually increases, while the friendship of the evil man is as great at the beginning as the light of the noonday sun, but it soon dies away like the twilight of the evening.

Men of firm mind never rest until they have carried out to the end the task they have set themselves to do, just as the gods did not rest until they had gained possession of the nectar: for they were not turned aside from their search by pearls of great price, or by fear of dreadful poison.

A man’s natural disposition, from which his virtues arise, is his most precious ornament – courtesy of a noble man; gentleness of a hero’s speech; calmness of knowledge, and reverence of sacred learning. The highest ornament of wealth is liberality towards worthy objects: the highest ornament of the ascetic is abstinence from wrath: the highest ornament of princes is mercy: and the highest ornament of justice – freedom from corruption.

Those who are skillful in reading character may be inclined to praise or to blame the constant man; fortune may be kind to him or may neglect him: and he may die tomorrow or not for ten thousand years. But in spite of all this, nothing can make him turn aside from the path of righteousness.

Deer, fish and men or virtue, who seek only of grass, water and peace in this world, are deliberately pursued by huntsmen, fishermen and envious people.


The wealth that the Creator has assigned to him in the writing on his forehead, be it small or great, a man will assuredly find even in a desert, and not more than this will he find on Mount Meru. So be brave, and live not a life of vanity and misery among the wealthy; see, the pitcher draws the same quantity of water in the well and in the ocean.


The water-drop lying on heated iron is known no more, even as to its name; the same, when it lies on the leaf in the lotus-bed, shines in the semblance of a pearl; when it falls into an oyster-shell in the ocean, it comes a real pearl. The characters of base, commonplace, and noble men are, as a rule, made by their associations.


What profit scriptures, law-books, reading of pious stories, bulky tomes of lore, and the medley of works and rites that win for reward lodging in a hut in Paradise? Save the entrance into the abode of bliss in the soul, which is like Time’s fire sweeping away the works that burden life with sorrow, all is but trafficker’s craft.

O mother Earth, father Wind, friend Sunshine, kinsman Water, brother Sky, for the last time I clasp my hands in reverence before you. The might of all error is overthrown in me by the stainless radiant knowledge from the rich store of good works born of your comradeship, and I sink into the Supernal Spirit.

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