The Book of Good Counsels
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Hitopadeśa, "Beneficial Advice" is an Indian text in the Sanskrit language consisting of fables with both animal and human characters. This book is a 1861 translation by Sir Edwin Arnold, M.A.

The Book of Good Counsels

From the Sanskrit of the

Sir Edwin Arnold, M.A.

The Book of Good Counsels

Translator’s Preface

A story-book from the Sanscrit at least possesses the minor merit of novelty. The “perfect language” has been hitherto regarded as the province of Scholars, and few of these even have found time or taste to search its treasures. And yet among them is the key to the heart of modern India — as well as the splendid record of her ancient Gods and glories. The hope of Hindostan lies in the intelligent interest of England. Whatever avails to dissipate misconceptions between them, and to enlarge their intimacy, is a gain to both Peoples; and to this end the present volume aspires, in an -humble degree, to contribute.

The Hitopadesa is a work of high antiquity, and extended popularity. The prose is doubtless as old as our own era; but the intercalated verses and proverbs compose a selection from writings of an age extremely remote. The Mahabharata and the textual Veds are of those quoted; to the first of which Professor M. Williams (in his admirable edition of the Nala (1860) assigns a date of 350 B.C., while he claims for the Rig-Veda an antiquity as high as B.C. 1300). The Hitopadesa may thus be fairly styled “The Father of all Fables”; for from its numerous translations have come Esop and Pilpay, and in later days Reineke Fuchs. Originally compiled in Sanscrit, it was rendered, by order of Nushiraván, in the sixth century, A.D., into Persic. From the Persic it passed, A.D. 850, into the Arabic, and thence into Hebrew and Greek. In its own land it obtained as wide a circulation. The Emperor Acbar, impressed with the wisdom of its maxims and the ingenuity of its apologues, commended the work of translating it to his own Vizir, Abdul Fazel. That minister accordingly put the book into a familiar style, and published it with explanations, under the title of the Criterion of Wisdom. The Emperor had also suggested the abridgment of the long series of shlokes which here and there interrupt the narrative, and the Vizir found this advice sound, and followed it, like the present Translator. To this day, in India, the Hitopadesa, under other names (as the Anvári Suhaili ), retains the delighted attention of young and old, and has some representative in all the Indian vernaculars. A work so well esteemed in the East cannot be unwelcome to Western readers, who receive it here, a condensed but faithful transcript of sense and manner.

As often as an Oriental allusion, or a name in Hindoo mythology, seemed to ask some explanation for the English reader, notes have been appended, bearing reference to the page. In their compilation, and generally, acknowledgment is due to Professor Johnson’s excellent version and edition of the Hitopadesa, and to Mr. Muir’s Sanskrit Texts.

A residence in India, and close intercourse with the Hindoos, have given the author a lively desire to subserve their advancement. No one listens now to the precipitate ignorance which would set aside as “heathenish” the high civilization of this great race; but justice is not yet done to their past development and present capacities. If the wit, the morality, and the philosophy of these “beasts of India” (so faithfully rendered by Mr. Harrison Weir) surprise any vigorous mind into further exploration of her literature, and deeper sense of our responsibility in her government, the Author will be repaid.

Edwin Arnold.
Framfield, Sussex
March, 1861


Honor to Gunesh, God of Wisdom!

This book of Counsel read, and you shall see,
Fair speech and Sanscrit lore, and Policy.

On the banks of the holy river Ganges there stood a city named Pataliputra. The King of it was a good King and a virtuous, and his name was Sudarsana. It chanced one day that he overheard a certain person reciting these verses —

“Wise men, holding wisdom highest, scorn delights, as false as fair,
Daily live they as Death’s fingers twined already in their hair. Truly, richer than all riches, better than the best of gain,
Wisdom is, unbought, secure — once won, none loseth her again.
Bringing dark things into daylight, solving doubts that vex the mind,
Like an open eye is Wisdom — he that hath her not is blind.”

Hearing these the King became disquieted, knowing that his own sons were gaining no wisdom, nor reading the Sacred Writings, but altogether going in the wrong way; and he repeated this verse to himself —

“Childless art thou? dead thy children? leaving thee to want and dool?
Less thy misery than his is, who is father to a fool.”

And again this —

“One wise son makes glad his father, forty fools avail him not: —
One moon silvers all that darkness which the silly stars did dot.”

“And it has been said,” reflected he —

“Ease and health, obeisant children, wisdom, and a fair-voiced wife —
Thus, great King! are counted up the five felicities of life.
For the son the sire is honored; though the bow-cane bendeth true,
Let the strained string crack in using, and what service shall it do?”

“Nevertheless,” mused the King, “I know it is urged that human efforts are useless: as, for instance —

“That which will not be, will not be — and what is to be, will be: —
Why not drink this easy physic, antidote of misery?”

“But then that comes from idleness, with people who will not do what they should do. Rather,

“Nay! and faint not, idly sighing, ‘Destiny is mightiest,’
holds oil in plenty, but it yieldeth none unpressed.
Ah! it is the Coward’s babble, ‘Fortune taketh, Fortune gave;’
Fortune! rate her like a master, and she serves thee like a slave.”

“For indeed,

“Twofold is the life we live in — Fate and Will together run: —
Two wheels bear life’s chariot onward — will it move on only one?”


“Look! the clay dries into iron, but the potter moulds the clay: —
Destiny to-day is master — Man was master yesterday.”

“So verily,

“Worthy ends come not by wishing. Wouldst thou? Up, and win it, then!
While the hungry lion slumbers, not a deer comes to his den.”

Having concluded his reflections, the Raja gave orders to assemble a meeting of learned men. Then said he —

“Hear now, O my Pundits! Is there one among you so wise that he will undertake to give the second birth of Wisdom to these my sons, by teaching them the Books of Policy; for they have never yet read the Sacred Writings, and are altogether going in the wrong road; and ye know that

“Silly glass, in splendid settings, something of the gold may gain;
And in company of wise ones, fools to wisdom may attain.”

Then uprose a great Sage, by name Vishnu-Sarman, learned in the principles of Policy as is the angel of the planet Jupiter himself, and he said —

“My Lord King, I will undertake to teach these princes Policy, seeing they are born of a great house; for —

“Labors spent on the unworthy, of reward the laborer balk;
Like the parrot, teach the heron twenty times, he will not talk.”

“But in this royal family the offspring are royal-minded, and in six moons I will engage to make your Majesty’s sons comprehend Policy.”

The Raja replied, with condescension: —

“On the eastern mountains lying, common things shine in the sun,
And by learned minds enlightened, lower minds may show as one.”

“And you, worshipful sir, are competent to teach my children the rules of Policy.”

So saying, with much graciousness, he gave the Princes into the charge of Vishnu-Sarman; and that sage, by way of introduction, spake to the Princes, as they sat at ease on the balcony of the palace, in this wise: —

“Hear now, my Princes! for the delectation of your Highnesses, I purpose to tell the tale of the Crow, the Tortoise, the Deer, and the Mouse.”

“Pray, sir,” said the King’s sons, “let us hear it.”

Vishnu-Sarman answered —

“It begins with the Winning of Friends; and this is the first verse of it: —

“Sans way or wealth, wise friends their purpose gain —
The Mouse, Crow, Deer, and Tortoise make this plain.”

Book One:
The Winning of Friends

“Sans way or wealth, wise friends their purpose gain —
The Mouse, Crow, Deer, and Tortoise make this plain.”

“However was that?” asked the Princes.

Vishnu-Sarman replied: —

“On the banks of the Godavery there stood a large silk-cotton-tree, and thither at night, from all quarters and regions, the birds came to roost. Now once, when the night was just spent, and his Radiance the Moon, Lover of the white lotus, was about to retire behind the western hills, a Crow who perched there, ‘Light o’ Leap’ by name, upon awakening, saw to his great wonder a fowler approaching — a second God of Death. The sight set him reflecting, as he flew off uneasily to follow up the man’s movements, and he began to think what mischief this ill-omened apparition foretold.

“For a thousand thoughts of sorrow, and a hundred things of dread,
By the wise unheeded, trouble day by day the foolish head.”

And yet in this life it must be that

“Of the day’s impending dangers, Sickness, Death, and Misery,
One will be; the wise man waking, ponders which that one will be.”

Presently the fowler fixed a net, scattered grains of rice about, and withdrew to hide. At this moment “Speckle-neck,” King of the Pigeons, chanced to be passing through the sky with his Court, and caught sight of the rice-grains. Thereupon the King of the Pigeons asked of his rice-loving followers, ‘How can there possibly be rice-grains lying here in an unfrequented forest? We will see into it, of course, but We like not the look of it — love of rice may ruin us, as the Traveller was ruined.

“All out of longing for a golden bangle,
The Tiger, in the mud, the man did mangle.”

“How did that happen?” asked the Pigeons.

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