A subhāşita…

A person should examine his own deeds this way everyday – are mine comparable to animals or to that of the noble?

The only person you really have to answer to – is YOU. That is a good thing, and a bad thing. Because whatever you do, you can hide from the whole world, but not from yourself.

And some of those answers are really hard to give, isn’t it?

Subhāşitas (literally meaning well said or good speech) are wise sayings, instructions and stories, either in poetry or in prose. In the Indian tradition there exist numerous compilations where specific subhāşitas are selected and compiled with a particular purpose in mind.

Examples include Bhartŗhari’s Śatakatraya, i.e. teachings in three hundred verses on ethics, romance, and renunciation (Nīti Śataka, Śŗngāra Śataka, and Vairāgya Śataka respectively), Subhāitaratnabhāņdāgāra, Somadeva Bhaţţa’s Kathāsaritsāgara or Kşemendra’s Bŗhatkathāmanjarī. The Panchatantra and the Hitopadeśa also belong to this category.

Subhāşitas act as teacher in formulating the sense of morality and character, which sums up the total of a person’s virtues including dispositions, behaviors, habits, likes, dislikes, capacities, traits, ideals, ideas, values, feelings, and intuitions.

The role of the teacher is to explain what the teachings of the subhāşitas actually mean in light of the everyday lives swayamsevaks lead. He/she explains what a swayamsevak can take and use from India’s cultural moral system that predates him, that to a large extent exists outside of him, and that will most likely survive him long after he is gone.

The teacher must clarify that behind the chaos of individual swayamsevak’s perspective exists a shared moral reality which the subhāşitas are concerned to project. They draw attention to what is common to all modes of understanding.

Subhāşitas cannot be straitjacketed into a specific “category” of literature: they are ad hoc collections of wise sayings. They are drawn from real life observations or situations with a sympathetic understanding of human impulses and behaviour.

While some may reflect the state of affairs of the society at the time they were composed; in general the wisdom they espouse is timeless. As such, they generally hold all that is good and true “till eternity.” A great strength of subhāşitas is their ability to provide comfort and hope in difficult times.