विद्या ददाति विनयम् — A Journey from Vidya to Sukham
The ultimate goal of life is to attain the eternal happiness (शाश्वतं सुखम् śāśvataṃ sukham )and eternal peace (शाश्वती शान्तिः śāśvatī śāntiḥ). Much has been said in the ancient Indian texts on how to attain to this state of fulfillment of the real purpose of life. It is in this context we find a beautiful verse in the Indian tradition which provides us a framework for for the journey towards the eternal happiness. The verse is:
विद्या ददाति विनयं विनयाद् याति पात्रताम् ।
पात्रत्वात् धनमाप्नोति धनात् धर्मं ततः सुखम् ॥
vidyā dadāti vinayaṃ vinayād yāti pātratām .
pātratvāt dhanamāpnoti dhanāt dharmaṃ tataḥ sukham ..
This is a very popular verse which appears in Hitopadesha (0.6) of Narayana Pandita. The usual translation of this verse in English and Hindi is as follows:
English — Knowledge makes one humble, humility begets worthiness, worthiness creates wealth and enrichment, enrichment leads to right conduct, right conduct brings contentment.
Hindi — विद्या विनय देती है, विनय से पात्रता आती है, पात्रता से धन आता है, धन से धर्म होता है, और धर्म से सुख प्राप्त होता है।
Here I offer a different explanation in order to bring out the deeper significance of the verse as a whole and the key words in the verse in particular.
विद्या ददाति विनयं vidyā dadāti vinayaṃ can be understood in two ways:
It means true learning equips oneself with humility. When the true learning deepens there arises the understanding how small one is compared to what knowledge truly is. Try visiting a library and look at the books of various branches of knowledge. If you are sensitive enough and have a true love and aspiration for knowledge you will feel how it evokes humility (vinamartā). But most of the time one becomes infatuated with one’s little learning and starts thinking that there is no one greater. We are familiar with the proverb “A little learning is a dangerous thing”. This is true and it creates more arrogance if one remains confined to one’s ‘little learning’. This thinking kills one’s humility and one grows more and more arrogant and loses the opportunity of being happy. On the other hand the one who aspires to come out of one’s limitation and makes effort to widen one’s learning in him grows humility.
There is a verse in the Neetishatakam of Bhartrihari which beautifully illustrates this. The verse is as follows:
यदा किञ्चिज्ज्ञोऽहं गज इव मदान्धः समभवम्
तदा सर्वज्ञोऽस्मीत्यभवदवलिप्तं मम मनः ।
तदा मूर्खोऽस्मीति ज्वर इव मदो मे व्यपगतः ॥
yadā kiñcijjño’haṃ gaja iva madāndhaḥ samabhavam
tadā sarvajño’smītyabhavadavaliptaṃ mama manaḥ .
tadā mūrkho’smīti jvara iva mado me vyapagataḥ ..
Here is the poetic rendering of the verse into English by Sri Aurobindo:
When I was with a little knowledge cursed,
Like a mad elephant I stormed about
And thought myself all-knowing. But when deep-versed
Rich minds some portion of their wealth disbursed
my poverty to raise, then for a lout
And dunce I knew myself, and the insolence went
Out from me like a fever violent.
While this can be one of the ways to understand the phrase विद्या ददाति विनयं vidyā dadāti vinayaṃ, it also evokes something else which explains many interesting aspects of the whole process of learning.
The word ‘विनय vinaya’, though has humility for its meaning, yet this is not the only meaning of the word. There is a verse in Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsham (10.71) which says: सम्यगाराधिता विद्या प्रबोधविनयाविव samyagārādhitā vidyā prabodhavinayāviva. This means Just as studies, well undertaken, confer true knowledge as well as sense control. Here Mallinatha, a famous commentator of Kalidasa, interprets the word prabodha as tattvajnaana or true knowledge and vinaya as indriyajaya or mastery over the senses. Without control over the senses humility can never grow and true learning can never happen. Acharya chanakya therefore says in his Arthashastra (1.6.1): विद्या विनयहेतुर् इन्द्रियजयः vidyā vinayahetur indriyajayaḥ — the cause of vidyā and vinaya is indriyajaya or self-control. This self-control can be obtained by working out the renunciation of काम — lust/excessive desires, क्रोध — anger, लोभ — greed, मान — indignation excited by jealousy, मद — arrogance, and हर्ष — unnecessary excitement. (कामक्रोधलोभमानमदहर्षत्यागात् कार्यः kāmakrodhalobhamānamadaharṣatyāgāt kāryaḥ)
This adds discipline of self-control to the domain of vinaya. When the discipline of self-control is in practice, slowly and step by step it raises competence in the follower of the discipline. That is what is meant by विनयाद् याति पात्रताम् vinayād yāti pātratām — vinaya or discipline of self-control leading to pātratā or competence. The word pātratā does not refer to mere skillfulness. However skillful one may be if one does not have control over one’s senses one is not truly competent.
The word vinaya also means humility. True humility is a state of freedom from all egoistic sense. It is to be in a state where one constantly has the awareness of the Divine as the sole ruler and knower of everything and one is just a sincerely obedient servant carrying out his command. This true humility fills oneself with all soul values and makes one competent.
Someone with true competence can generate all kinds of resources (dhanam), becomes resourceful and more productive and all that he does enriches him and others and all his actions become rewarding actions (पात्रत्वात् धनमाप्नोति pātratvāt dhanamāpnoti).
This resourcefulness or inner enrichment brings stability, steadiness and sustainability (धनात् धर्मः dhanāt dharmaḥ*)
*[dharma — धारणात् धर्म इत्याहुः dhāraṇāt dharma ityāhuḥ].
When one is in a state of sthiratā or steadiness and is well settled within (svastha) one is capable of enjoying true happiness or sukham (ततः सुखम् tataḥ sukham).
If sukham or true happiness is the ultimate goal of life then it has to begin with a conscious learning (vidya — from the root vid meaning to be conscious/aware) following the rigorous discipline of self-control (indriyajaya). Without self-control and mastery over one’s senses and mind one can never be truly competent (supātra/suyogya). And a competent man alone can become resourceful and productive. That’s the true dhanam (riches/resources/enrichment) without which one has no steadiness (dharma). Without steadiness — sthiratā, dheeratā, svasthatā, nishchalatā — it’s not possible to experience true happiness and enjoy life on the earth (अशान्तस्य कुतः सुखम् aśāntasya kutaḥ sukham).
Let’s see how elegantly Chanakya puts this in his Arthashastra:
सुखस्य मूलं धर्मः sukhasya mūlaṃ dharmaḥ (dharmāt sukham) — Happiness or sukha come from dharma.
धर्मस्य मूलं अर्थः dharmasya mūlaṃ arthaḥ (dhanāt dharmaḥ) — Dharma comes from artha.
अर्थस्य मूलं राज्यम् arthasya mūlaṃ rājyam (pātratvāt dhanam) — Behind Artha there is Rajyam.
राज्यस्य मूलं इन्द्रियजयः। इन्द्रियजयस्य मूलं विनयः rājyasya mūlaṃ indriyajayaḥ. indriyajayasya mūlaṃ vinayaḥ (vinayāt pātratā) — Behind Rajyam there is self-control and behind self-control there is humility.
विनयस्य मूलं वृद्धोपसेवा vinayasya mūlaṃ vṛddhopasevā (vidyā dadāti vinayam) — Behind humility is learning from the wise ones.
In the above explanation I have compared rājyam meaning a kingdom or sovereignty with pātratā meaning competence. The root-sound of rājyam is rāj meaning to shine. A king is called rājā meaning the one who shines by himself, the one with a brillinat personality. When someone shines by the light of the Self (आत्मदीपः ātmadīpaḥ अन्तर्ज्योतिःantarjyotiḥ) has the true saṃprabhutā or prabhusattā — sovereignty. The word pātratā in a true sense refers to this self-shining character, brilliantly shining in one’s own inner kingdom. That’s the true competence.
The word vṛddhopasevā refers to the discipline of learning. It is not serving the elders but being attentive towards all those who have grown old in wisdom, the wise ones, and learning from them (प्राप्य वरान् निबोधत prāpya varān nibodhata as the Kathopanishad says).
These sutras of Chanakya must have been the inspiration for the person who composed the verse vidyā dadāti vinayam.
Summary of the discussion:
Vidyaa culminates in Sukham which is the ultimate goal of life. But the first condition is vinaya or indriyajaya, mastery over the senses. Vinaya is also humility. True humility is a state of freedom from all egoistic sense. It is to be in a state where one constantly has the awareness of the Divine as the sole ruler and one is just a sincerely obedient servant carrying out his command. It is the mastery over the Indriyas that alone brings Competency or paatrataa. However skillful one may if one does not have control over ones senses one is not truly competent. When one is equipped with true competence one is in possession of all soul values and becomes enriched with all resources. This is the true reward or dhanam of conscious learning. These values bring stability or steadiness — dharma. In the state of steadiness, when one is well settled within, one experiences the Ananda. This is the journey from vidyaa to Sukham.
Contextual meanings of the words in the shloka and the sutras quoted above:
विद्या vidyā Conscious Learning
विनयः vinayaḥ Mastery over the Indriyas or senses/discipline of self-control
पात्रता pātratā Competence/worthiness
धनम् dhanam Rewards / values/resources/riches
धर्मः dharmaḥ Stability/steadiness/sustainability
सुखम् sukham Bliss / Ananda/Happiness
राज्यम् rājyam Sovereignty
वृद्धोपसेवा vṛddhopasevā Attending to the wise ones