The good life is one in which what someone does and feels leads to and is constitutive of their fulfillment, also called happiness. Such happiness is neither primarily an experience; nor is it found as a consequence of following moral laws. Rather, happiness is fundamentally an activity: it is the state of the person who is living without hindrance the life that becomes a human being .To put it even more strongly, individual people do not make a society: society makes the individual. It is society that gives someone the language, rationality and symbols that make their individuality possible; it is these things that enable them to make themselves, possess themselves and be free.
In Indian tradition we can find a good discussion of Good Life and Good Society in the following texts:
- (i) Panchatantra
- (ii) Hitopadesha
- (iii) Jataka Katha
- We will discuss here the major aspects of above mentioned text.
- Panchatantra (पन्चतन्त्रम् / Panchatantram)
Panchatantra (पन्चतन्त्रम् / panchatantram) stories are famous among young and adults alike all over the world. Panchatantra was written in Sanskrit in 200 BC by a great Sanskrit scholar named Vishnu Sharma. It traveled to Persia, Greece and then Europe. Since the original composition, it has been translated into more than 50 languages and is famous in many countries.
Conduct in Life
Panchatantra is a collection of animal stories (fables) each giving valuable insight into politics, moral code of conduct, and practical wisdom. In essence it teaches Neeti Shashtra or A Book Of Wise Conduct In Life, through animal stories. It teaches the practical aspects of life like – understanding people; choosing reliable friends; coming out of difficult situations wisely; and living in peace while facing deceit, hypocrisy and many problems in life.
- The five tantras in Panchatantra are:
- Mitra Bheda / मित्रभेदः / mitrabhedah (Enstrangement Of Friends)
- Mitra Samprapti / मित्रसम्प्राप्तिः / mitrasampraaptih(Winning Of Friends)
- Kakolukiyam / काकोलूकीयम् / kaakoluukiiyam (Of Crows & Owls)
- Labdha Pranasam / लब्धप्रणाशम् / labdhapranaasham (Loss Of Gain)
- Aparikshita Karakam / अपरीक्षितकारकं / apariikshitakaarakam(Rash Deeds)
Teachings of Panchatantra
- Panchatantra has five tantras or principles/formulas. Each tantra starts with a main or root animal story with other stories inside the story. The main story forms the basic frame of the entire tantra. The characters in a story tell other stories, based on different situations or contexts. The thread of stories completes one tantra. Each story gives valuable insight into politics and practical wisdom as the essence or moral of the story is always close to what a person will face in day-to-day life.
- Hitopadesha (हितोपदेश / Hitopadesha)
Hitopadesha (हितोपदेश / hitopadesha) is a collection of animal stories which are famous among young and adults alike. It was written in Sanskrit (11th or 12th century AD) by the Sanskrit scholar Narayana Bhatta. Just like Panchatantra, intention of Hitopadesha is to cover major branches of political wisdom, moral code of conduct, and practical wisdom. Hitopadesha has the following four sections:
- Mitra Laabha / मित्रलाभः / mitralaabhah (Gaining Friends)
- Suhrudbheda / सुरुभेधः / surubhedhah (Causing Dissension Between Friends)
- Vigraha / विग्रहः / vigrahah (Separation)
- Sandhi / सन्धि / sandhi (Union)
The author has included in his text experts from the Panchtantra, the Ramayana, the Mahabharat, the Puranas, the Smrtis, the Dharma Shashtra, and Chanakya Neeti etc. Stories in Hitopadesha are mostly derived from Panchatantra. Out of the five tantras in Panchatantra Narayana Bhatta adapted stories from four tantras. Besides this he added 18 more stories to his compilation. Hitopadesha holds that the Purusarthas as central for giving a direction to human life: Virtue, wealth, salvation, pleasure:
“The life where these aims absent be a he goat’s udder gives the measure of its futility. “(Pravastavika Sloka :26)
The above statement makes us clear that in the classical India world view the pursuit of wealth and sensuous desires were recognized as legitimate for living a comfortable worldly existence. Wealth gives one confidence in conducting one’s day to day existence. Poverty demoralizes an individual and shakes his self-confidence.
All along one must see that the purpose of human existence is not simply running after pleasures because the body is ephemeral. It is constantly moving towards death, thus the pursuit of bodily pleasure does not give one’s contentment only a virtuous life can give satisfaction. Regarding the acquisition of wealth and worldly pleasures the text says that only a person ready to work hard can enjoy wealth.
The Hitopadesha contains interesting stories to instruct the young in their conduct with others. The necessity of following dharma is all along highlighted and emphasis laid on choosing the company of good people. The author has given several kinds of prudential advice to the young in their relationship to the opposite sex since the text is written by a male and addressed to men, it clearly displaying a male orientation in seeing interpersonal relationships.
There is a great emphasis on the importance of education for the attainment of perfection. It is stated that education alone beings out the humanity in a person. The parents who do not educate their children are like their enemies. Education and the company of good people is the source of generating the right kind of values in the young. Thus Dharma (righteousness) in the real sense lies in truth, forgiveness, fortitude and non-covetousness, rituals can be practiced simply for effect.
Good life is in harmony with others and with the rest of nature. The best way to achieve this harmony is by living a virtuous life because that alone generates contentment. The society that Hitopadesha visualizes is structured in terms of the four casts having their specific functions. Consequently the ideal society according to this weltanschauung is a society where members of each caste perform their function in a meticulous and dedicated manner.
- Jataka Katha (Stories)
Jataka Katha (stories) are a collection of over 550 Buddhist stories of wisdom preserved in Jatakas or Tripitaka. These were composed between 300 BC to 500 AD. These stories are written in Pali language (not Sanskrit, but said to be a decedent of Sanskrit language) spreading the wisdom of right thinking and right living. Though not written in Sanskrit, it should be mentioned along with other Sanskrit scriptures.
Contents of Jatakas
Jataka means the birth story. It is believed that Siddharth before becoming Buddha, took birth in different forms and attained Bodhisattva. In each birth Bodhisattva took different forms like elephant, deer, monkey, bird, or sometimes a man. But, in each life he spread the message of justice wisdom, common sense, caution, trust, kindness, humility and compassion.
In western tradition a lots of discussion can be found for Good life and Good society from ancient time to modern time. Aesop’s fables is the best example for it. Aesop’s Fables or Aesopica refers to a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and story-teller who lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 560 BCE. His fables are some of the most well known in the world. The fables remain a popular choice for moral education of children today.
Aesop and Indian Traditions
Aesop’s fables and the Indian tradition as represented by the Buddhist Jataka Tales and the Hindu Panchatantra share about a dozen tales in common although often widely differing in detail. There is therefore some debate over whether the Greeks learned these fables from Indian storytellers or the other way, or if the influences were mutual.
Stories & Concern
Many stories included in Aesop’s Fables, such as The Fox and the Grapes (from which the idiom “sour grapes” derives), The Tortoise and the Hare, The North Wind and the Sun, The Boy Who Cried Wolf and The Ant and the Grasshopper are well-known throughout the world. These fables focus our attention on the following three concerns:
- Directions of Self-Perfection
- Practical wisdom for living a successful life.
- Ways of living in harmony with other beings.
Self-perfection lies in inculcating the certain values in one’s life. Amongst these are non-covetousness, honesty, friendliness and contentment. There are several stories which clearly highlight the dangers associated with greed, value of honesty etc. There are several such stories containing practical wisdom to live a successful life. The purpose of these tales is to help children imbibe values in their lives. There values are transmitted through tales rather than through direct instructions because one remembers stories more easily and the force of the narrative is much greater in convincing one to follow certain practices.
Reading these fables which originate from different cultural backgrounds one becomes aware of the universality of the ethical values propounded in them. We realize that to live a harmonious life we need to be kind, honest and sincere. A life of selfishness and hypocrisy is both pragmatically counterproductive as well as morally debased. It is the same with greed it is neither practically viable nor helpful in generating self-satisfaction and contentment.
Difference between Aesop’s Fables and Hitopdesha
There are one difference between Aesop’s Fables and Hitopdesha that the former is confined to pragmatic concerns for self-perfection in living a harmonious and successful life but the latter raises metaphysical questions regarding the goal of human existence. That is why there is a reference to purusarthas- Dharma, Artha , Kama and Moksha. It is stated that it is only in human life that the pursuit of purusarthas is possible. This reference to the final goal of human existence does generate a balance in our life because it helps us to see our life is attained to this final purpose that we can truly live a good life conductive to happiness. And such citizens can generate a happy society because society depends on the way its members conduct themselves.
Sources: Notes were taken from “ Idea of Excellence, Perfection, Good Life and Good Society” in B.A. Philosophy, Paper-I (pp.20-33) (book unknown).