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Tirukural, Chapters 1-4

Tiruvalluvar's Tirukural, Chapters 1-4. Bodhinatha presents the first in his series of synopses of the Tirukural. He uses a modern prose form to introduce and focus on the essence of the chapters. This is done to help youth in the study of this ancient treatise whose poetic form may be difficult for them to grasp.

Unedited Transcript:

Good Morning, everyone.

I have a new series today, this is the Tirukural. I'm working on a synopsis, a summary for each of the first 38 chapters. Those are the chapters in the Introduction and the first section on Dharma. So the idea is it would be useful for youth who are studying the Tirukural. Sometimes it's hard to grasp just from the poetry the essence of the chapter, particularly on first reading. Poetry can be that way. So this could serve as an introduction, give the main points in the chapter in prose form.

Chapter One

Praising God

The prologue, introduction, consists of four chapters and certainly the choice of the four subjects it covers shows what Tiruvalluvar considered to be of the highest importance in living a meaningful life. Thus it is no surprise that the first chapter is devoted to God, or more specifically to the worship of God.

In "Praising God" Valluvar provides a description of a different quality of God in each verse. God is the source of all, pure knowledge, within the lotus of the heart, free of desire and aversion, immutable, controller of the five senses, incomparable and an Ocean of virtue. God possesses eight infinite powers and Holy feet that are to be worshipped.

Learning is an activity the importance of which is stressed in many chapters of the Kural. Here the poet chose to make the point that when education is completely secular it has no value. Education is only worthwhile when it includes a religious education that stresses that life needs to center around the worship of God.

Everyone seeks to have a life that is free from distress and suffering. How is this accomplished? Valluvar states that the only way this can be achieved is through drawing near to, worshipping and taking refuge at God's holy feet.

The idea of reincarnation is presented in the image of a boundless ocean of births. Karma is also introduced as delusion's dual deeds of good and bad. Both of these can be overcome, but only through the worship of God, the poet tells us.

Chapter Two

The Importance of Rain

The Earth is essential to our spiritual development. This is because it provides the soul a place where it can incarnate in a physical body, interact with other human beings and in so doing work through its karma and dharma and thereby evolve spiritually over a period of many, many lives.

In "The Importance of Rain" Tiruvalluvar stresses how central rain is to the existence of humans on earth. It is the presence of rain that allows mankind to live on planet Earth. Thus the basis for the selection of rain as the second of the four introductory subjects is clear.

Though oceans cover more than seventy percent of the Earth's surface, their waters cannot serve to grow the food we need. Rain falling from the clouds is the only water that can provide food to mankind. In this regard, rain is indeed amrita, the nectar of life. And not only does rain produce food, it also is itself food.

The activity of farmers is totally dependent on rain. If rain does not fall, farmers do not plow their fields. Valluvar continues by stating that without rain eventually worship of God in daily pujas and annual festivals would also cease as well as the charity of householders and the austerity of ascetics.

Valluvar concludes that no life on Earth can exist without water, and water's ceaseless flow is not possible without rain. The poet gives us a greater awareness of and gratitude for the presence of rain on Earth and perhaps even catalyzes us to reflect on the overall ecology of our planet.

Chapter Three

The Greatness of Renunciates

The mere presence on Earth of men who have renounced the world in pursuit of Truth encourages others to strive harder to make spiritual progress. It is a source of spiritual courage to others. This is why scriptures exalt renunciates above every other good and state that their greatness illumines the world. With this is mind, it becomes clear why Tiruvalluvar chose renunciates and their greatness as the third of the four introductory topics he considered to be of the highest importance in living a meaningful life.

Valluvar compares the difficulty of describing the greatness of renunciates to the clearly challenging task of counting the number of humans who have ever lived. And he insightfully describes the perspective of those who renounce as having reflected upon the dual nature of things, the fact that the pursuits of the world yield not only joy but also sorrow, not only pleasure but also pain.

The poet stresses that renunciates have a strong will that enables them to harness their five senses, accomplish difficult tasks and control the world. Valluvar states that their words are both prophetic and powerful, meaning that they contain knowledge about the future and can also effectively chastise others into living a more dharmic life. And finally he mentions that renunciates have a great compassion for all life.

Chapter Four

Asserting Virtue's Power

In describing the many aspects of life in the Tirukural, Tiruvalluvar constantly stresses the importance of living a life that is pious, meaning that it follows virtue and fulfills duty. Thus we would expect as one of the four introductory subjects considered to be of the highest importance in living a meaningful life he would chose the topic of dharma - aram, virtue - and its power and importance.

In "Asserting Virtue's Power" a few of Valluvar's verses point out the practical consequences - that the fulfillment of virtue produces riches while its neglect brings ruin. The poet also explains the religious benefits, that virtue yields honor in heaven. He further goes on to explain that the benefits of practicing virtue, which are called merit or punyam, carry forward from one life to the next and create a better future birth for us. And finally he explains the benefits of virtuous actions in a purely philosophical sense that they alone abound in true joy.

Tiruvalluvar answers the pragmatic question, what should we do to fulfill virtue by telling us to be unremitting in the doing of good deeds, in fact to use our might, our will power, to accomplish them by every possible means. He further encourages us to do good every day by saying it will end further rebirths. He insightfully states that the essence of virtue is keeping the mind free of impurity and then goes on to list four common sources of impurity which are to be carefully avoided: envy, anger, greed and unsavory speech. The final guideline he provides us with is that virtue is what should be done and vice is what should not be done.

Okay, four chapters. To be continued, 34 more to go. Have a wonderful day.