Chapter 27 — The Vanity of the World

Rama said:—

O sage! This seemingly pleasing but actually unpleasant world has nothing in it that produces anything that can afford tranquility to the soul. After playful boyhood is over, the mind wastes itself in the society of women like a deer fallen into a pit, then the body bends down under old age, and man has only to grieve. As the body is stricken with the frost of old age, its beauty flies away like the bloom of a fading lotus flower, and then the fountain of man’s worldliness dries up. As the body declines, death rejoices. The body grows lean with grey hairs upon the head, just as a vine fades away with flowers upon it.

All living creatures are carried away by the stream of greed that flows for ever in this world, eroding its bank and upsetting the tree of contentment growing on it. The human body is like a vessel covered with skin floating on the ocean of the world, tossed about by sensual pleasures, swamped by water pressured by its whale-like passions. The world is a wilderness abounding in vines of greed and trees of sensuality, with hundreds of desires as their branches. Our minds are like monkeys that pass their time wandering about this forest without finding fruit.

Those who do not yield to grief during troubles, who are not elated with prosperity or smitten at heart by women, are rare in this world. Those who fight boldly in battlefields and withstand war-elephants are not so very brave, in my opinion, as those who withstand the surges of the mind amidst the streams of carnal appetites. 10 I see no deeds in the world that endure to the final liberation of men. Actions proceeding from a fool’s desire for results serve only for their restlessness on earth.

11 Men who have filled the corners of the world with their fame and valor, who have filled their houses with true riches acquired by honest means and an unwavering patience, are rare in the world. 12 Good and bad fortune always overtake a man, even if he hides in the cracks of a rock or in the walls of mountains, and even if he were enclosed within an iron closet.

13 Our sons and riches are mere objects of delight to us. To expect them to be of any good to us in the end is as false as to expect any benefit from distilling poison. 14 Old people, in the decline of life, their bodies in pitiful decay, are greatly tormented by thoughts of their bad deeds. 15 Men, having passed their early days in the gratification of their desires and other worldly pursuits at the expense of the acts of virtue and piety, are much troubled with anxieties at the end. Their minds are seized with trembling like the breeze shakes the plumage of a peacock. How then can a man attain tranquility at anytime?

16 To the worldly minded, all wealth — whether forthcoming or unattainable, whether gotten by labor or given by fortune — is as deceitful as the flooding of a river, swelling only to subside. 17 The constant thoughts of men are that such and such desirable acts are to be done to please their sons and wives, until they are worn out with age and become crazy in their minds.

18 Like leaves on trees that grow to fall, and falling make room for others to shoot forth, men devoid of reason die away daily to be born again. 19 Men having travelled here and there and far and near, at the end of the day return to their homes. But none can have rest by day or night except the virtuous few who live by honest dealings.

20 After quelling his enemies and getting enough riches in his clutches, a rich man just sits down to enjoy his gains, and death comes upon him to interrupt his joy. 21 The infatuated mob sees the vile trash of worldly gains earned and accumulated by the basest means to be transitory, but they do not perceive their approaching dissolution. 22 Loving their own lives, and making faces at others’ deaths, men are like a herd of sheep bound to the stake, staring at the slaughter of their fellows, yet still feeding themselves to fall as death’s fattened victims. 23 Multitudes of people on earth forever appear and disappear like the waves of a sea. Who can tell from where they come or where they return?

24 Women are as delicate as poisonous vines with their red petal lips and garments, their eyes as busy as fluttering bees. They are killers of mankind and stealers of their ravished hearts. 25 Men are like passengers in a procession who wander from side to side to join at the place of their meeting. Such is the delusive union of our wives and friends.

26 As the burning and extinguishing of the lamp depend on the wick and its moistening oil, so does our course in this transitory world depend on our acts and affections. Nobody knows the true cause of this mysterious existence. 27 The revolution of the world is like a potter’s wheel and the floating bubbles of rainwater. They appear lasting only to the ignorant observer. 28 The blooming beauty and graces of youth are destined to be snatched away at the approach of old age. The youthful hopes of men fly away like the blooms of lotus buds in winter.

29 The tree ordained to be useful to mankind by the loads of flowers and fruit that it produces, in the end is also fated to be hewn down by a cruel axe. How then can good men expect to avoid the cruel hand of death?

30 Society with relatives is as dangerous as a poisonous plant. It is pleasant for its domestic affections, which in reality are only delusions of the soul. 31 What is there in the world without fault in it? What is there that does not afflict or grieve us? What is born that is not subject to death? What acts are free from deceit?

32 Those living for one kalpa aeon are reckoned short-lived as compared with those living for many kalpa aeons, and they again are short-lived compared to Brahma. Hence all the parts of time are finite and the ideas of length or shortness are all false.

33 Things called mountains are made of rocks, those called trees are made of wood, and those made of flesh are called animals, and man is the best of them. But they are all made of matter and doomed to death and decay. 34 Many things appear to be endowed with intelligence, and the heavenly bodies seem to be full of water. But physicists have found out by analysis that everything is made up of minute matter. 35 No wonder that all this should appear miraculous to the mind because even men’s dreams appear so very fascinating to them.

36 Even in old age, those corrupted by their greed will not accept sermons on their eternal concerns. They think they are as false as a flower or a vine growing in the sky. 37 People’s minds are deluded to want the state of their superiors, but as they try to lay hold of the fruits of a green vine that is out of their reach, they fall still lower, like beasts from the top of a hill.

38 Young men who spend their wealth on personal gratifications are as useless as plants growing in the bowels of a deep and inaccessible cavern, spreading their leaves, branches, flowers, fruit and shade to the use of nobody. 39 Men are found to resemble black antelopes in their wanderings. Some of them wander about the sweet, soft and beautiful sceneries of the country. Others roam in sterile tracts and boundless forests.

40 The diverse daily acts of nature are all inherently pernicious. For a time they appear pleasant and ravishing to the heart, but they are attended with pain in the end, and they fill the mind of the wise with dismay. 41 Man is addicted to greed and is prone to a variety of wicked shifts and plots. Now a good man cannot be found even in a dream. There is no act which is free from difficulty. I know not how to pass this state of human life.