The Panchatantra is a collection of ancient stories from India that were written down more than two thousand years ago, though the stories themselves are much older than that. They are the first fables ever told in the world. They’re mostly humorous stories that have a very pointed point. Here’s one of my favorites . . .
Four Brahmans lived near one another and were friends in a small town. Three of them had been scholars their whole lives and had learned much, but they had no common sense. The fourth couldn’t be bothered to study from dusty dry books, but he had a great deal of common sense.
One day they got together to talk and decided that all their accomplishments and learning were pointless if they didn’t go out in the world to meet people, see places, gain a little political power, and make a little money. So they decided to travel together.
They hadn’t gone far when the eldest said, “One of us is not smart enough or educated enough, having nothing but common sense. He won’t make it very far in the world without scholarship, so let’s not share our money with him. He should go back home.”
The second said, “That’s true, friend, you should go home.” But the third said, “No, this is no way to treat our friend who we have known since we were small children playing together. He will stay with us and have a share of the money we earn.”
So they agreed and all four continued on together. Soon they came upon the bones of a dead lion in the forest. One of them said, “Here is a chance to show off how intelligent and learned we are. Let’s bring him back to life through our superior knowledge.”
The first said, “I can assemble the skeleton for I know how it should go.” The second said, “I can add on the muscles, organs, and skin.” The third said, “I can give it life.”
But the fourth, who was the man of no scholarship said, “This is a lion. If you give it life it will kill every one of us.”
“The scholars replied, “We will not make all our learning pointless. We must use it at every opportunity.” So the fourth replied again, “Then wait a moment while I climb this tree.”
So the man of sense climbed a tree while the other three brought the lion to life. The lion rose up and killed the three scholars. But the man of sense climbed down after the lion had left and went home.
What do you think the moral of the story is?
Do you agree with it?
In the story the Brahmans are extremes, either all learning and no sense or all sense and no learning. Why does the storyteller use these extremes? What is the true ideal?
- In the press and in education circles it is often lamented that westerners focus solely on western literature ignoring China, India, Africa, the Middle East and other places, but no one ever actually puts eastern thought into a curriculum. Do you think we should we include eastern stuff too? Why?
- Apply the literature you read to your real life, both personally, and to your community and nation. How would this story apply to your life?
- Learn more about the anatomy and habits of a lion.