Vairaagya and a Tenali Raman story

In his discourses on Mandukya Upanishad and Kaarika, Swami Paramarthananda told a Tenali Raman story to illustrate the nature of Samsaara (temporal existence/existence with self-ignorance). Swamiji only mentioned a part of the story in order to illustrate his point, which I am expanding here based on my own understanding. The story goes as follows.


There was once a dishonest lender in Tenali Raman’s town. Tenali Raman decided to use his wits in order to teach him a lesson. So, once, Tenali Raman borrowed ten vessels from the lender, claiming that they were to be used for a celebration at his home. After the celebration, Tenali Raman returned more than 20 vessels to the lender, claiming that some of the vessels he borrowed from the lender were pregnant at the time of borrowing and had given birth to children at his home. The lender, inspite of being amused at an obvious lie, agreed with Tenali Raman and happily accepted the extra vessels.

Then, on another occasion, Tenali Raman went to the lender to borrow 50 vessels for a bigger function at his place. This time, the lender was smart. He gave Tenali Raman the 50 vessels, and said, “All these vessels are pregnant, make sure you return them with their children”. Days passed after the function at Tenali Raman’s home, the lender waited and waited, but Tenali was not to be seen with the vessels. When the lender asked for the vessels, Tenali Raman made a grave face, and said, “All the vessels you gave died during childbirth”.

The lender was furious, and took the matter to the king. The king who understood Tenali’s ruse, ruled, “If vessels could be pregnant and could give birth to children, then they can die too”. The lender’s happiness at the multiplication of his wealth was thus shortlived, and ended in despair.


Such is the nature of Samsaara too. If a person depends on the world, Jagat, (that is, people-objects-circumstances) for one’s happiness, then such happiness is necessarily short-lived and is followed by sorrow.

Moreover, as the example illustrates, such happiness is based on a falsity. The lender’s wealth had not really multiplied, it was only nothing more than an appearance, a deception. The lender bought into this deception of increase of wealth, and thus experiences happiness.

It is only natural that a decrease which is of equal reality as this increase should follow. Thus, this decrease of wealth too, is purely the lender’s imagination. Because the lender bought into the deception that “vessels can multiply”, he is forced to buy into the deception that “vessels can die”. Because he has given reality to the false increase of wealth, he is forced to give reality to the decrease of his wealth too. By this, he experiences sorrow.

Such happiness and sorrow which appear to be gained really from the world are only two sides of the same coin. The lender’s vessels have neither multiplied nor have they died. They remain as they are. In the same way, every individual as Pure Consciousness is ever-fulfilled, ever pUrnah. Feelings of insufficiency because of the lack of someone or something, or feelings of sufficiency by the gain of someone or something, are simply “feelings”, and do not arise due to “real lack” or “real gain” of sufficiency or fulfilment. Like dark and bright clouds in the unaffected clear sky, they appear and disappear in Pure Consciousness. That Jnaani, the man of self-knowledge, who always understands oneself as Pure Consciousness, remains ever-fulfilled in the midst of feelings of happiness and sorrow, just like the clear sky remains unaffected and non-wanting in the presence of dark or bright clouds. Such a jnaani can very well experience feelings, but she is not really made miserable or joyous by them. Because the jnaani very clearly understands them as only a ‘felt-lack’ or ‘felt-gain’ and not as ‘real-lack’ or ‘real-gain’, she cannot confound them with the self, and thus cannot believe, “I lack this really” or “I gained this really”. Thus, the jnaani’s buddhi remains in equipoise, while the mind itself can momentarily experience sukha or duhkha.

What is the nature of the jnaani, is saadhana for the saadhaka. The saadhaka who shoots for self-knowledge is expected to train himself/herself to remain internally unaffected by remembering this nature of the Jnaani. This aids in developing Vairaagya.

P.S: The full story can be found here –, with the plain moral being “Greed is bad”. Swamiji’s rendering was minimal and I have added a few details here based on this link in order to aid the analogy presented here.

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