Indian tradition contains timeless gems of wisdom.
Thirukkural is a masterpiece authored by Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar. There are 133 chapters, each chapter containing 10 verses. Each chapter has a theme – one chapter is on patience, another is on the glories of rain, a third one is on children, etc. The text is divided into three sections: Arathu Paal (on virtue), Porut Paal (on wealth/prosperity), Kaamathu Paal (on love/romance).
Around 2013/2014, I knew that I had to undergo a journey of self-transformation. I recognized that my flawed ways will not serve me well. However, I was compulsively wedded to my conditioned ways. I tried unusual ways to try and recondition my mind. I binge-read Swamiji’s articles on omswami.com and took detailed notes. I learned Indian scriptures. I went on an experiment to read 100 books in 1 year.
I memorized all 10 verses in the 16th chapter of the Thirukkural titled “Patience”. I hoped to memorize the verses, so that I can internalise them at some stage. Did I succeed? I don’t know. I didn’t undertake a systematic scientific approach. I tried several approaches and hoped something would work. The good news: Something worked, to some extent.
I came across several gems from the Thirukkural, containing profound wisdom packaged in small couplets.
I would like to give a shout out to my 5th standard Tamil teacher, Ms. Ratnakumari, who was knowledge personified and love personified. I loved her Tamil class. Teachers like her make a huge difference. I changed school in 6th standard, switched from Tamil to Sanskrit, and lost touch with Tamil literature. Thanks to Ms. Ratnakumari, my vasanas for Tamil appear to be intact.
Here are 8 of my favorite Thirukkural couplets.
- Iniya Ulavaga Inna Sol Kooral
Kaniyiruppa Kaai Kavarndhatru
Choosing harsh words over gentle words is no different from eating a raw fruit when a succulent and ripe fruit is available.
I have spoken more harsh words than I care to admit. It is a fatal flaw I possess. Tiruvalluvar seems to address this verse directly to me – why would I choose harsh words when I have gentle words in my arsenal? I love his analogy.
One of the reasons I love os.me is it is a ground to practice kindness. In this haven of kindness, harsh words stand out like a cactus in a garden of roses.
The next step is to take massive action in displaying kindness in the real world in the midst of conflict and strife.
- Theeyinaal Sutta Punn Ullaarum
Aaraadhe Naavinaal Sutta Vadu
A physical burn from a fire will heal over time. The pain caused by harsh words from the tongue will never heal.
I believe good and bad are not the only options. The neutral gear exists. Good actions and bad actions are not the only possibilities. Doing nothing is a possibility.
The previous kural stated the importance of kind words. This kural gives a realistic view of the effects of harsh words. The wounds caused by harsh words will never heal.
I remember the harsh words dished out to me clearly. And similarly, I am sure my harsh words will stand out clearly in the minds of the recipient.
If I don’t speak good words, that’s alright. Second-best is to say nothing. Harsh words is the bottom of the barrel, nothing good can come out of them.
Something I must tell myself repeatedly till the message sinks in.
- Agazhvaarai Thaangum Nilam Pol
Thammai Igazhvaarai Thookkum Thalai
To be patient with those who are mean to us, just as the earth bears those to dig her, is a high virtue.
This is one of the verses in Chapter 16, titled On Patience, that I memorized.
Okay, now I’ve stopped demanding from the world. I try not to cause pain to the world and those around me. Life should be peachy keen, right?
It is now the world’s turn to create problems for me. And the task on hand is to demonstrate patience.
Difficult. Not impossible.
- Sevikku Unavu Irukkum Bodhu
Siru Vaiyitrukkum Eeya Padum
When the food for the ears dries up, then (and only then) is food for the stomach necessary.
Mihali Czhechsentmilaly’s seminal research on flow states corroborates Thiruvalluvar’s statement here. Have you experienced an activity where you were involved with deep intensity?
Time seems to stand still.
People around don’t seem to matter.
There is no need for auxiliary factors such as hunger, food and such.
The mind’s flow state takes over bodily needs.
- Anbin Vazhi Adhu Uyar Nilai
Ahthilaarkku Enbu Thol Portha Udambu
The path of love is the higher path. Those who don’t possess love are no different from a bag of bones fitted with clothes.
Thiruvalluvar praises virtues in great length in the Thirukkural. The chapter on love is touching, and is filled with inspiring words about love.
I learned this in 5th standard, Ms. Ratnakumari taught me this kural. It stayed with me.
What differentiates us from a bag of skeletons in a museum? Thiruvalluvar gives the answer. Love.
“Love is my only religion” – Om Swami.
- Piravi Perungadal Neendhuvar Neendhaar
Iraivan Adi Seraadhaar
The people who hope to cross the ocean of Samsara are those who surrender to God.
The scriptures equate the samsara, the cycle of birth and death, to an ocean. You don’t know where an ocean begins and where it ends. There are crocodiles, sharks and all sorts of dangers in this ocean. Once you’re in the middle of the ocean, escaping seems next to impossible.
So it is with samsara. The Mahabharata says we have had 1000 mothers, 1000 fathers one birth after another.
The way to end this cycle is to attain the feet of the Lord. The jnanis merge with the Lord. Here, Thiruvalluvar alludes to the path of Bhakthi, where the devotee cries with anguish and prays to the Lord, intensely requesting the Lord that I attain His feet.
- Kuzhal Inidhu Yaazh Inidhi Enbar
Tham Makkal Mazhalai Sol Kelaadhavar
“The music from the flute is mellifluous!” “The music from the lute is lovely!” This will be said by those who haven’t had the pleasure of hearing the most beautiful music of all – prattling from their toddlers.
As a first-time parent, I related to Thiruvalluvar’s words. My toddler’s gibberish has become a routine part of my vocabulary.
Articulate speech can wait. Logic can take a backseat. Sentences are relegated to a position of unimportance.
My toddler’s words are music to my ears.
The prattling of one’s children is indeed the sweetest music there is.
- Innaar Seidhaarai Oruthar Avar Naanam
Nanmaiyum Seidhu Vidum
Even if someone has harmed you, you should still do good to them.
In this blog post, Swamiji told me the only thing I need to know. I haven’t made it a part of my being, I haven’t started following it yet, but it has stayed with me.
What others do is between them and God. What I do is between me and God.
Impossible? Certainly not.
I hope to achieve this at some stage. It will be one of the most difficult thing I will do. But it will be worth it.
Image Credit: K.R.Venugopal Sarma, Author of approved thiruvalluvar portrait by government of india, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons