Good Company

Good Company With regard to dealing with people, we keep on hearing the cry of people that it is utter smallmindedness to make distinctions based on caste, class, religion, etc. There is also the public opinion of learned ones that all sort of distinction made between people is but a cause for fight and dissension. Let it be so. But we believe that apart from all sorts of classifications that are extant in society and are causes for the fights and quarrels and dissensions, there will always remain two more classifications among people that cannot be ignored. Or, call them two groups, if you don‟t like the word „ classes. What we speak of is – the groups of „Good people‟ and „Bad people‟! Should we desist from discrimination even when dealing with these two groups of people? Naturally this question pops up in our minds. People who cry themselves hoarse regarding any sort of discrimination, I wonder what they have to say in answer to this question. Won‟t they say that in this particular case alone, we may discriminate? Yes. There is no other way than to agree to this discrimination. Not only that, I am sure, since they are learned people, they will even say, „making this discrimination is the only way‟! Why? Because, they have the sweet memory of „Good Company is nectarine‟, along with the painful experience of „Bad Company is like the sting of a scorpion‟! Therefore, universal brotherhood or seeing everyone as one‟s own Self is to be entertained only with respect to good people. With regard to the evil-minded ones, we ought to take great care and caution to be as far away from them as possible. This is not only essential but also inevitable. “Even a virtuous monk is corrupted in the company of the unholy” says an old Indian proverb. When such is the universal experience with regard to even holy men, what to speak of the effect of the wicked ones on ordinary people! Doesn‟t this make us realize that bad company will take us to dogs, while good company is the only way for our inner growth? But we generally face a small dilemma here. And that is – who is good & who is bad? Who will certify them as such? How do we identify them in our society? Dress and demeanour may fail to help us make this distinction. The food habits, talking style, appearances, etc of the wicked ones may well be the same as those of the good people. In all probabilities, the evil fellows may appear very refined and suave too. How then are we to identify the good folks from among the motley crew in our society and interact with them? Again, how are we to identify the rogues and stay away from them, protecting ourselves from harm? When people appear more trust-worthy than the really trust-worthy ones – how are we to directly keep ourselves away from them? In many cases, the good people appear slightly rough and unpolished. Won‟t we lose the good fortune of keeping their company due our own grossness of mind? Therefore, we have to first of all learn the subtle art of identifying these two classes of people. Else, our life won‟t be smooth and easy at all. It is essential for self-preservation to escape from the company of evil-minded people. Similarly, it is beneficial for our own development to seek out and keep the company of the good ones. This is the primary means for a meaningful life. In this context, the famous Saint of the Dasa Sect, Sri Purandaradas sings in a beautiful song, “It is my responsibility to seek out and keep the company of good people, O Colourful Lord, but then you too must chip in your half of the responsibility and keep me away from the company of the wicked.” Just see how subtly the Saint puts it! Purandaradas says that it is the Lord‟s prerogative to keep him away from evil company! This is really thought-provoking. Even if we know that we have to eschew the company of the wicked ones, it is not easy at all. In fact, even if we leave them, they won‟t leave us! If one by one, people desert their group, their devilish group will diminish! Therefore, by many and various means, by
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Good Company

cunning and subterfuge, they ensure that we remain entrapped in their evil confines. Seen against this great fact, how wonderful is the prayer of Purandaradas – „O Lord, it is your responsibility to protect me from the company of the bad people‟. Now, this should not drive us to think that prayer is the one and only means for escaping from falling into bad company. The good Lord has endowed all of us with sufficient intellect. Let us use it well, identify the bad people by their nature and qualities, and stay away from them. We can always supplement our prayers with this act of prudence. In this context, proverbs and wise sayings come to our help in identifying the nature of people. For instance: Manasyekam vachasyekam karmanyekam mahaatmanaam; Manasyekam vachasyekam karmanyekam duratmanaam. The Great One’s mind, word and deed are one. The Devil’s mind itself is one, word is something else, and deed is entirely different from both! This is a famous Subhashitha. [A Subhashitha is a Sanskrit proverb, which used to have validity even in legal jurisprudence in the olden days. They are short, metrical verses, which compress a lot of common sense in an aesthetic manner, thus having literary value besides the enormous educative value which they were intended for.] In this Subhashitha, we find the qualities of both the classes of men delineated so well. [In the original Sanskrit verse, there is a wonderful pun, which is difficult to translate; but we have remained true to the sense of the verse.] Is there any hope of our welfare if we interact with a person whose actions are not congruent with his words and thoughts? In all probabilities, even a person who is like this cannot live happily with another of his own kind, because, each will cheat the other! The qualities of wicked ones are expressed quite graphically in another Subhashitha like this: Mukham Padmadalaakaaram vaani chandanasheetalaa; Hridayam kartareetulyam trividham dhoortalakshanam. Face is beautiful like a lotus; words are soothing like sandal paste. Heart is vicious and sharp like a steel knife! Thus, threefold are the distinguishing features of a rogue! This is indeed a very dangerous personality! Long before we have had the incisive experience of the rogue‟s vicious heart, we would have been enamoured by his sweet countenance, and would have been bewitched by his smooth talk! Indeed, rogues cut us up with sufficient anaesthesia, as it were! When we fall into the snares of such sociopaths, is there any way out other than to pray to the Lord for deliverance?

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Good Company

If you ask if it is not possible to change the very nature of such rogues by means of prayer to the Lord, another Subhashitha puts it very nicely thus: Durjanasya tvapucchasya vyaalasya ushtragalasya cha; Na mantrairnoushadhairvaapi rujutaa jaatu jaayate. Is it possible by means of mantra or medicines or charms to straighten a dog’s tail or a snake’s body or a camel’s neck? Never. Similarly with a rogue! In Bhartrihari‟s Nitishataka [which is a famous Sanskrit compendium of a hundred verses on common sense], we see yet another interesting feature. In that, apart from carefully delineating the distinguishing natures of the good people, of the common people and rogues, Bhartrihari identifies an unnameable 4th group of people. They are the very dregs of mankind, the scourge of humanity. His words are very subtle and thought-provoking: Etey satpurushaaha paraarthaghatakaaha svaartham parityajya ye Saamanyaasthu paraarthamudyamabhruthaha svaarthaavirodhena ye; Te ami maanusharaakshasaaha parahitam svaathaaya nighnanti ye Ye nighnanti nirarthakam parahitam te ken a jaaneemahe. Those who forego their own self-interest and work hard for furthering the interest of others, such indeed the ‘salt of the Earth’. The common run of people works for others’ benefit so long as it doesn’t hurt their own interests. There are also those devils in human form who sacrifice others for their own benefit. But we have no words to name those utter wretched ones who, without any benefit for themselves, absolutely without any motive whatsoever, destroy others’ happiness! Now, if you ask if a person will be the „salt of the earth‟ owing to his birth in such a family, or due to his genealogy, another beautiful Subhashitha says „No‟: Kim kulam vrittaheenasya karishyati duraatmanaha; Krimayaha kim na jaayante kusumeshu sugandhishu. Indeed, of what avail is it if a characterless wretch is born in a good family and comes of good stock? Don’t we see worms and insects taking birth inside sweet smelling flowers? Well, so much for meditation on rogues and wretches! Now, let us hear the words of the enlightened ones that make us aware of the characteristics of the good people. Hearing such words has many benefits. Firstly, it helps us to identify the bad fellows and differentiate them from the good ones. Secondly, merely by dwelling on the qualities of the good people, a great peace, calmness and joy descends on our minds. Thirdly, using these hints, if we can identify the good people and keep their company, we can interact with their cultured minds and refined hearts. We can participate in their uplifting vibrations, thoughts, feelings and imaginations. This is in itself an invaluable, unparalleled experience. Indeed, such delineations speak volumes of the large-heartedness of the authors too. We invite you to experience this for yourself, as for instance, in this Subhashitha:
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Good Company

Yathaa chittam tathaa vaachaha yathaa vaachastathaa kriyaha Chitte vaachi kriyaayaam cha sadhoonaamekaroopataa. Words congruent with thoughts, deeds congruent with words – thus, mind, words and deeds of the good people are the same. Thoughts, words and actions are unified only in good people is an important point that we learn here! For, isn‟t it our daily experience that it is a terrible pain in the neck to interact with multitudes of people whose thoughts, words and deeds are not the same? Let us appreciate the subtlety of another Subhashitha in this regard: Manasi vachasi kaaye punyapeeyooshapoornaha Tribhuvanamupakaarashrenibhihi preenayantaha; Paragunaparamaanoon parvateekritya nityam Nijahridi vikasantaha santi santaha kiyantaha. Filled with the nectar of goodness in thought, word & deed, making the denizens of all the three worlds happy with their innumerable beneficial actions, feeling genuine happiness in magnifying even the microscopic positive aspects of others’ personalities – how many such really good men can we find in this world around us?! Let us try to understand this extremely wonderful Subhashitha. There are many important points for us in this: Firstly, for a person to be called a „Good person‟, his thought-word-deed must be pure. In order to maintain that purity, mind must always entertain good thoughts, voice must always express good words and body must always execute good actions. In this way, if we lead our life, our entire personality will become suffused with the nectar of goodness. Secondly, only he can be called a „Good person‟ who engages in helping others. He must go beyond his usual reach in order to make his fellow beings happy. Thirdly, being utterly self-conscious, without any inflated ideas of oneself, without boasting about one‟s own good deeds and qualities, he must have a habit of magnifying even the extremely small amounts of good that is found in others; and having magnified them, he must genuinely revel in them. Having elaborated and clarified the salient features of a really „Good person‟, the Subhashitha exclaims, how many such rare persons will we ever find, indeed! True. Practising and imbibing sweet, appealing, auspicious noble qualities into oneself is not as easy as sucking on a candy! We must point out one thing here. It is not for nothing that „Good persons‟ are eulogised in this seemingly hyperbolic manner in these Subhashitha verses. These are not certificates of commendation that are given in public gatherings! These verses are the genuine outpourings of people who have experienced real joy from close association with such genuinely good people. Once we experience such company, outpourings like these are perhaps inevitable. Moreover, even when we do not meet such people in real life, for such people are rare indeed, merely studying these verses is a sort of exalted
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experience, vicarious thought they be! Our minds and hearts get filled with the vastness and depth of their personalities. This point is very nicely expressed in another Subhashitha verse: Kim madhunaa kim vidhunaa kim sudhayaa kim vasudhayaakhilayaa; Yadi hridayahaaricharitaha purushaha punareti nayayorayanam. Honey, nectar, moon and the entire created universe – what indeed do these avail! When we meet genuinely good people and experience their bewitchingly beautiful personality – now, that is indeed everything one can ask for! Is there anything sweeter than fresh, natural honey? Is there anything to compare with the felicity that Ambrosia can confer on us? The most pleasing object to the eye is the full moon in a clear night sky. Its rays really cool our bodies burned by the hot tropical sun. If we can lord over the entire created universe, what more can we ask for! All the above superlatives lose their beauty, value and fade into nothingness, when we merely gain sight of a truly „good person‟! Imagine now the greatness & importance of the company of a person bearing such an otherworldly character! Let us see two more Subhashitha verses that convey a similar sense: Ganga paapam Shashi taapam dhainyam kalpatarustathaa; Paapam taapam cha dainyam cha ghnanti santo mahaashayaaha. The river Ganges removes all our sins. The moon soothes our burning skin. Kalpatharu, the mythical WishFulfilling tree bestows fulfilment on us by removing our poverty and want. But a genuinely ‘Good man’, filled with divine qualities, achieves all these at once! Similarly: Sadhunaam Darshanam punyam teethabhootaa hi saadhavaha; Teertham phalati kaalena sadyaha saadhusamaagamaha. Seeing a genuinely good man is auspicious. Such a person is a veritable place of pilgrimage. Visiting a place of pilgrimage takes time to bestow its spiritual benefit. Association with a good man, however, gives instant results. When we read all these verses extolling the sterling qualities of genuinely good souls, we see that they are straight talkers, their actions are simple, direct and straight-forward, that they are pure at heart, and compassionate. Even a mere reading of these qualities awakens inklings of these qualities in our minds. [Imagine the lasting impact of staying in close association with such people for an extended period of time!] But, then, we can hardly say that we have understood these great souls in their entirety. Another Subhashitha puts it very succinctly: Vajraadapi katoraani mridooni kusumaadapi; Lokottaraanam chittamsi ko hi vijnaatumarhasi. The heart of the great souls is harder than a diamond; it is softer than a flower; these great inspirers of souls, honoured by the whole world – who indeed can gauge their inner personality!
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Good Company

Now we see yet another aspect of the personality of really „good persons‟. Two opposite faces of their personality are placed before us. Where indeed is the relationship between toughness and softness except in their mutual exclusiveness! People who are hard and abrasive can seldom be soft. And people who are soft, namby-pamby can never be tough. In fact, they are antithetical natures. However, these two opposites are wonderfully harmonised in these great souls! Under what situations are they hard? And in what again are they soft? The author of another Subhashitha says that it is well nigh impossible to correctly understand this distinction. Yet, we may safely understand in this way: When it comes to matters of principles, the great ones are tough as steel. And in all other situations, they are softer than fresh butter! Or, we could understand them in this way too: In all matters concerning themselves, they are hard as granite. And in all matters concerning others, they are softer than the petals of a freshly blossoming rose bud! Common run of people, being weak-minded, are unable to practice high ideals. This is a fact that is clearly understood by a truly great man. Therefore, these great ones, these men who are the „salt of the Earth‟, are highly compassionate, highly sympathet ic towards the sincerely struggling common folks. However, in matters concerning themselves, they are always hard as cold tempered steel. Why is that so? They are ever alert to the danger that their interaction with this corrupted world of ours does not, in any way, diminish the immaculate purity of their carefully crafted inner personality. Since the mind of the great ones harmonises both softness and toughness, even when they face extremely delicate situations, even when they have to pass through acid-tests, they come out unscathed. No matter how trying the situation, they never swerve from the path of righteousness. Since they are able to maintain their crystal pure character at all times, such people shine brightly in the public memory and make permanent niches for themselves in history! A beautiful Subhashitha elaborates this very forcefully as follows: Nindantu neetinipunaaha yadi vaa stuvantu Laksmeehi samaavishatu gacchatu vaa yathestam; Adyaiva vaa maranamastu yugantare vaa Nyaayaat pathaha pravichalanti padam na dheeraaha. People who are well-versed in law and customs of the land may criticize or praise; wealth may come or it may go; death may visit them right now or decades hence; no matter what happens, truly brave ones won’t budge an inch from the path of righteousness! Here, „people who are well-versed in law & customs of the land‟ actually means wise people who are the conscience keepers of the society. If some drawback is seen in a person‟s character, such wise ones will certainly object and criticise it. Similarly, if high character is exhibited by anyone, they will unstintingly praise it and acknowledge it publicly. The problem with most people is this – even if they know what is right, they lack the guts to walk along that path! Their inordinate desires, hopes & fears are the main cause for their weakness. So, fearing the criticisms of the wise elders, they may pretend to be treading along the right path. But when „favourable‟ moments present themselves, they instantly slip down the wrong path and fulfil their unfulfilled, inordinate desires! But the rare brave hearts, rooted in righteousness, are nothing of the kind!
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Good Company

Wealth, money, pelf! One of the most tempting things in this world! When it is easily available in the form of graft or bribes, ordinary souls will, but naturally, gravitate towards such cesspools. But the rare brave hearts, rooted in righteousness, are nothing of the kind! Man may overcome his fear for everything in life, excepting however the ubiquitous fear of death. Owing to the presence of this all-powerful fear, we may find people treading along the right path, albeit with deep regrets at heart! But the rare brave hearts, rooted in righteousness, are nothing of the kind! Such brave souls chastise even death, as it were! It s for this reason that the author of the Subhashitha says the heart of the noble souls is harder than diamond! Even the greatest of temptations, which even the so-called big-wigs of this world succumb to, are kept at bay effortlessly by these truly noble souls and their character is rendered spotless, unsullied! It is for this reason that everyone, including even the Incarnations & Prophets, keeps on emphasising the indispensability of good company. The truly noble souls, rare though they be, are veritable mines of purity and nobility. Truly, one may read and write endlessly about the qualities of good men. But we will be able to truly appreciate them only if we interact personally with such people! He in whom the fire of lust has been extinguished, in whom the searing heat of anger has been cooled down, in whom the black hole of greed has been plugged forever, but most importantly, he in whom the corrosive acidity of jealousy has been completely neutralised, such a person‟s close association has to be sought for. When we associate ourselves with such souls, mind you, by mere association with such souls, we attain great inner peace; all our miseries cease to exist; all our dilemmas get resolved; and we get a glimpse of what has been termed as „peace that passeth all understanding‟. When we look at the innocent smile playing on the lips of a new born baby, our mind gets bathed in ineffable peace, doesn‟t it? Imagine then the peace that would be obtained by association with a grown-up person, whose heart however remains as pure as that of a new born baby! *********************** This is a translation of a small kannada tract published by Swami Purushottamananda at Belgaum. It was done to educate the local people about the relevance of the monthly Devotees Convention that was organised in Belgaum, with a view to popularise the Life & Message of Sri Ramakrishna in the region.

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