If you’re afraid of abstraction,
you might even be afraid of this image.
The title quote is from the Hitopadesa, a Hindu book written in Sanskrit that’s full of benevolent moral advice in the form of fables, attributed to the author Narayana in the 12th Century B.C.
All the stories are played out by animals.
In the following tale about a cunning old snake, the swan king is suspicious that a minister named Farsighted is a spy. The Goose says that Farsighted is not a spy, but someone who’s completely above suspicion. He then tells an anecdote about a swan who’d been deceived:
‘Minister,’ observed the swan king, another person with some ulterior motive is coming here.’
Knowall smiled and said, ‘There is no need for suspicion. Farsighted is a noble soul. It is only the dull who either do not suspect anything at all, or, conversely, are suspicious of everything without exception.
The swan could not see well at night
And, deluded momentarily,
Mistook the stars’ reflected light
In the lake for stems of lily.
Even in the morning then,
At the lotus blossoms fair
It chooses not to peck again.
As if shining stars they were.
Folk who have been taken in.
Will even in truth see some sin.
Minds which villains once deceive
Will even the godly not believe.
By hot milk scalded, the schoolboy blows
On even what are curds he knows.
The swan would not eat any of the lily buds he sees during the day because he assumes they’re the same as the reflections of stars he tried unsuccessfully to eat at night. The swan learned a false lesson. The lily’s "treachery" created by the stars has caused him to mistrust anything that looks like a lily. In the same way, a child may blow on cold milk if he’s ever been burnt by hot milk.
The swan wasn’t able to take in new information as it actually existed, and was prejudiced and deceived by his past experience. He can no longer see what’s real and what’s fake. He’s either overly accepting of everything or not accepting of anything.
As an earlier text translates: "A person once alarmed by deception anticipates disaster even in truth itself."
The image above is from this photograph.
The abstract image illustrating this post is a cropped section of the above photograph. I just modified the image’s contrast a bit. It’s by Rene Burri, called Wilted Lotus Blossoms, former Summer Palace, Kunming Lake, Beijing, China, 1964.
– Photographer Rene Burri at Wikipedia>>
– Some background on the Hitopadesha (another spelling) at Wikipedia>>
– There are many translations of The Hitopadesa by Narayana. I’ve used the version by A. N. D. Haksar>>Amazon>>
– An online version: The Book of Good Counsels: From the Sanskrit of the "Hitopadesa."by Sir Edwin Arnold, M.A. Late Principal of the Poona College, London, 1861, Columbia University>>
– Another translation I like, with a different translation of the quote: "When a person’s mind is agitated by the wicked, He has no confidence even in the virtuous." It’s by G.L. Chandiramani: Hitopadesha: An Ancient Fabled Classic, Amazon>>
…the behaviour of those with low intellect is that at one time, they have no suspicion and at other times they suspect everything."
As for instance:
A swan, who looks for lotus stalks.
At night in a lake,
And is fooled for a moment,
By the reflection of the countless stars,
Does not bite the white lotuses again
Even in daytime suspecting them to be stars;
People who have been deceived
Suspect evil even in truth.
When a person’s mind is agitated by the wicked,
He has no confidence even in the virtuous;
A child who has been once burnt by hot milk.
Eats curd only after trying to cool it,
By blowing on it with his mouth.