Ignorance

A gem from Bhartṛhariḥ that I’m reminded of very often these days.


yadā kiñcidjñoham gaja iva madāndhaḥ samabhavam
tadā sarvajñosmītyabhavad avaliptam mama manaḥ |
yadā kiñcitkiñcid budhajanasakāśād avagatam
tadā mūrkhosmīti jvara iva mado me vyapagataḥ ||

When I knew very little, I went about like an elephant in rut, haughty with the thought: “I am all-knowing.” Associating with the wise, and getting to know a little more, I have come to realise my ignorance, and my conceit has vanished!

Forgive the bland prose. It would be foolish of me to try anything in the form of poetry.

It has happened quite often recently—especially since I’ve started to learn music—that I profess ignorance on some topic that I am reputed to know much of, and people get an impression that I’m displaying an extremely vulgar form of modesty. I always feel like quoting this śloka to them in defence. In fact, I deem it a measure of progress to claim such ignorance. Little do my friends know of the number of useless discussions they would have had to put up with, but for my learning from Bhartṛhariḥ!

Wha…!? Yikes!! Wait… someone help me with this avalanche of mails on the ABCs of chess!

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4 comments

  1. Ignorance is relative. ;-)
    You might consider yourself absolutely ignorant, but if it is ‘common knowledge’ that relatively you are not…

    [BTW: some of the ‘ṅ’s and ‘m’s above are wrong — but it might not matter because not everyone can read the diacritics comfortably anyway.]

  2. I just found Arthur W. Ryder’s translation of the same verse by Bhartṛhari :-)

    When I knew a little bit,
    Then my silly, blinded wit,
    Mad as elephants in rut,
    Thought it was omniscient; but
    When I learned a little more
    From the scholar’s hoarded store,
    Madness’ fever soon grew cool,
    And I knew I was a fool.

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