Knowledge and contentment

विद्या ददाति विनयं विनयाद्याति पात्रताम् ।

पात्रत्वाद्धनमाप्नोति धनाद्धर्मं ततः सुखम् ॥

vidyā dadāti vinayam, vinayādyāti pātratām |

pātratvāddhanamāpnoti, dhanāddharmam tatah sukham ||


Knowledge makes one humble, humility leads to worthiness,
worthiness creates wealth and enrichment,
enrichment leads to right conduct, right conduct brings joy and contentment.

If you studied Sanskrit in school, you would have surely come by this śloka from the Hitopadeśa (hita – beneficial, and upadeśa – advice). This ancient Sanskrit text is a collection of delightful stories where animals and humans interact and bring out a moral lesson, all in an engaging narrative that appeals to both children and adults.

Vidya – this term loosely translates into knowledge. The issue with the English language is that it is too restricted to describe such terms. The Upaniśads detail apara-vidya, or worldly knowledge, and para-vidya– or spiritual knowledge. Apara Vidya is what we try to acquire through our current educational system, and unfortunately, para vidya is largely ignored in this process.

Swami Vivekānandā summarised his views on education as:

Education should teach our children self control, the art of holding one’s passions and prejudices.
It should instill true and worthy motives, a profound religious feeling and inspire the formation of a great character.
It should help us to understand the laws of God in nature and to shape our lives to be in consonance with those laws.
It should pay much greater attention to the development of the powers of the mind than mere learning of facts.

Rabindranath Tagore also believed that education should bring a student closer to realising the ultimate truth – with more emphasis on para-vidya.

Learning how to lead a fruitful and content life, taking everyone else’s well-being into consideration, surely comes more handy than merely training to land a job. Something that cannot be covered by just one “moral-science” class. Making this process an integral part of the educational system is something that I would like to contribute my time to, in my own small way.

Vidya, or true knowledge, leads to vinayam, or humility. This humility comes from the realisation that we are a very small part of a much larger but inclusive whole, and that our hard-earned knowledge will be left back here when we are gone.

The intelligence that we end up being so proud about, is a mere speck of dust in the spectrum of cosmic intelligence.

Watch a bird fly, a plant grow, bees building a hive, or a colony of ants working tirelessly – these are just small examples of how nature goes about it’s business without a book in hand and a lot of weight in the head!

Vinayādyāti pātratām – from humility comes worthiness or capability – something that makes you stand apart from a crowd. The Gurukula system of education was largely a one-to-one transmission between the Guru and shishya – or teacher and disciple.

The reason being that each shishya has his or her unique capability – a different level of understanding, skillset and inclination.

When you address a crowd – it is usually to ensure that everybody understands everything – and hence comes down to the lowest common denominator. One cannot present higher ideas this way. Vinayam leads to higher capabilities – all under the guidance of an able Guru.

pātratvāddhanamāpnoti – higher capabilities lead to more wealth. In the current day context, the students who come first in the rat race end up getting admissions to premier universities, better first jobs, better pay and hence more wealth. Not necessarily happiness – but wealth, yes. Dhanam is to wealth as vidya is to knowledge.

Dhanam includes material, spiritual and emotional wealth, not just money.

As we have seen lately, fortunes can change in an instant, wealth can be eroded in minutes, but dhanam stays on.

dhanāddharmam tatah sukham – True wealth leads to good deeds, and following dharma – which in turn leads to contentment and lasting joy. Contentment is a very relative word. You may be content in eating rice and lentils, someone else, on the other hand, may want richer food. One may be content with a fan in summer, another may be content just having electricity.


यश्चेमां वसुधां कृत्स्नां प्रशासेदखिलां नृपः ।
तुल्याश्मकाञ्चनो यश्च स कृतार्थो न पार्थिवः ॥

yaścemāṃ vasudhāṃ kṛtsnāṃ praśāsedakhilāṃ nṛpaḥ ।
tulyāśmakāñcano yaśca sa kṛtārtho na pārthivaḥ ॥

A king who rules over the whole earth is not satisfied. But a sage for whom a piece of stone and gold are equal, is always content.​

Our aim of knowledge should be to work towards contentment, by being humble, by striving to become worthy, and by acquiring true wealth. This wealth cannot be stolen, nor destroyed – it grows when you do charity and is not burdensome to carry and maintain. Sounds like a good deal isn’t it?