Saturday, January 10, 2015

Wisdom by numbers

In the late 1980's there was a superhit Hindi song with simple lyrics and catchy tunes. It become very popular even in the anti-Hindi belts of India and catapulted Madhuri Dixit to instant fame. Yeah, for those from that era, I dont have to give a clue anymore. So it goes ek, do, teen ... barah, terah - counting from 1 to 13, the lyric pauses to make a pun-ny link between terah (13) and tera (you) - tera karoon intazaar (im waiting for you, come out, the Spring has arrived). Language of lyrics and tunes are made for each other, I guess. Setting that tune to translated lyrics just doesn't feel quite right. It goes on to describe other numbers and events, but frankly who remembers the rest of the lyrics?

But long before Madhuri danced to the tunes of counting 1,2,3 to wait for her boyfriend, this technique was used to put a distressed King to bed. Not by counting sheeps, but by shedding an enormous amount of wisdom on observations of human behavior. Set in a form of dialog, the context of it is as fascinating as the content. Sanjaya has just returned from a mission to pANdava-s to "accept terms" of duryodhana, but dhRtarAShtra does not know about the result yet. The King asks Sanjaya to spell out, but Sanjaya says, its late in the night and he would disclose the details only in the court in front of everyone, the next day morning. This makes the king uncomfortable and cannot sleep at night. And so when the king is in distress, he promptly calls for his brother for advice. And thus the chapter is named "Unable to sleep at night chapter (prajAgara parva - part of udyoga parva)" - more popularly known by its content - vidura nIti (Laws/Sayings of vidura). Yes, we are talking about Vidura, yet another fascinating character of the epic. Etymologically viduraH could be vigrahavAkya-ed in two ways - vidyAyAm rate iti viduraH - (one who revels in knowledge is vidura) or vidyA rate yasmin saH viduraH (one, in whom knowledge shines, is vidura). The whole vidura nIti is a dialog between completely distressed dhRtarAShTra and the wise Vidura, that goes on for the whole night.

Unlike the pancatantra or hitopadeSa, where a story ends with one profound subhAShita that serves as a morale summary, the whole vidura nIti is chock full of quotes, sayings, proverbs and subhAShita-s, that would make any quoter look like an "Instant Jnani".  Its literally an encyclopedia of taxonomy of human behavior, a critique of human tendencies and a book of law for a ruler and advice to common man. Many popular quotes are from this chapter -

"ekaH svAdu na bhunjIta" - do not eat alone (always share food with others)
"satyam svargasya sopAnam" - truth is the step to svargaH
"kshamA guNo hi aSaktAnAm, SaktAnAm bhUShaNam" - Forgiveness is a virtue for weak, and an ornament for brave.
"mUrkheShu paNditAH jIvanti" - Because fools are around, wise are recognized (lit. wise survive in fools, ie in foolishness of other people)

and many many more. The last one, especially can be related easily in IT project environments. If you got a performance reward, its not because you worked hard, but others around you worked less harder than you! In some sloka-s, vidura's perspective and straight-forwardness is stunning.

But there is always one thing most profound than others. In the first section of the dialog Vidura explains the dos and donts of a king just using numbers. Vidura delivers a summary of his advice to the king in a single quote.

ekayA dve viniScitya trImScaturbhiH vaSe kuru |
panca jitvA viditvA ShaT sapta hitvA sukhI bhava ||

By 1 determine (discriminate/divide) 2, using 4 overpower 3, conquer 5, know 6, shed 7 ane be happy.

If we take liberty to write this down mathematically, here is the formula for happiness:

happiness = 1/2 + 3^4 * 5 + 6 - 7.

The rounded answer seems to be 404 (as you type in a calculator), and Im pretty sure Vidura secretly encoded that happiness is not to be found without these - astonishingly predating the Http API.

Ok just kidding. Philosophically, this is explained as - Using 1 intellect (ekayA buddhyA), determine 2 - whats right and whats wrong. Using the 4 sAma, dAna, bheda, danda technique subdue the 3 types of people - friends, enemies and the confused. Conquer 5 indriyAs (senses of perception), know 6 (adhibhUta [material science], adhyAtma [spiritual science], adhidaiva [science of natural forces], adhiyajna [inquisition about one fundamental kartA], sarvagata [omnipresence of the kartA] and karma [that kartA is the real doer of everything]) and shed the 7 vices (striyA, mRgayA, pAnam, vAkpAruSham, mahat-daNda-pAruSham, artha-dUShaNam: respectively - indulgence in amorous activities, hunting, addictions like alcohol, harsh speech, excessive punishment, misusing wealth).

Then he goes after each number upto 10 and classifying various laws, rules, systems and observations by numbers. There may be some observations that are not relatable to modern society, but in many cases he seems to be spot on. The taxonomy of Vidura reflects a very deep knowledge of things around him. A deeper inference from this - to make such a classification, the person should not only know the properties of the subject, but also know what NOT belongs to that classification and why. To say that there are three primary colors (RGB model) takes observation. But to say only 3 colors are required, not more not less, requires deeper understanding of the nature of colors.

And finally, a word about the Samskritam behind it. Just like yakSha praSna is a great material on gender of nouns, vidura nIti is a fantastic source of using linga-s for cardinals. The slight variations of cardinals in Samskritam may distract a beginner learner (dve, dvau, trayaH, tisraH, catvAri, catasraH etc.) but these sloka-s will help to understand them with context.

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