The Panchatantra: an introduction

Religious_Texts_PanchatantraThe many casual Christians I know are far more familiar with Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1812) than they are with Bible stories. For instance, here are just some of the brothers’ stories:

  • Rapunzel
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Cinderella
  • Snow White
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • The Golden Goose
    & many other animal stories.

Similarly, better than their classic religious texts, most Indians are probably more familiar with the moral animal tales from the Panchatantra (~200 BCE). In fact, the Panchatantra (Sanskrit for “5 Books”) influenced the famous Arabic book “One Thousand and One Nights” (circa 1000 CE). And it seems that the brothers Grimm themselves also borrowed some of their stories from the Panchatantra. All to say, Western kids may indirectly know this ancient Indian text better than they do their Bible.

The Panchatantra (like Machiavelli’s “The Prince“, 1513) was written to educate future rulers in morality, wisdom and sly states craft.  But most of us have never heard of this ancient Indian text, yet alone of these deep connections. So I will do a series of posts on the Five Books, to remedy that situation for a few of you!



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Sunday Poetry: Robert Morgan


The Grain of Sound  by Robert Morgan [source]

A banjo maker in the mountains,
when looking out for wood to carve
an instrument, will walk among
the trees and knock on trunks. He’ll hit
the bark and listen for a note.
A hickory makes the brightest sound;
the poplar has a mellow ease.
But only straightest grain will keep
the purity of tone, the sought-
for depth that makes the licks sparkle.
A banjo has a shining shiver.
Its twangs will glitter like the light
on splashing water, even though
its face is just a drum of hide
of cow, or cat, or even skunk.
The hide will magnify the note,
the sad of honest pain, the chill
blood-song, lament, confession, haunt,
as tree will sing again from root
and vein and sap and twig in wind
and cat will moan as hand plucks nerve,
picks bone and skin and gut and pricks
the heart as blood will answer blood
and love begins to knock along the grain.


Morgan_RobertAbout the poet

Robert Morgan was born in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains in 1944 where he loved music.

– His site.
The Poetry Foundation

The Banjo

Originally fashioned by Africans in colonial America, modeled after African instruments. It is associated with country, folk, Irish Traditional and bluegrass music. (see Wiki, or here). The picture is of a former slave playing. (pic credit)

My impressions:

An earthy, soulful praise of the banjo and the blood behind our pleasures.

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Ironic Prejudice: How do Polish dogs bark?

dog barkI work for a large company, and float around at various clinics, often working with people I have never met. Two weeks ago, after being with the company for already a year, I had my first feedback session from an Area Director (AD),  who had never yet met me. Those meetings (I’ve had dozens of them over my career) are a time to tell the employee any complaints or areas of needed improvement.

The AD hesitantly shared a complaint from some unnamed employee who accused me of being prejudice. The day of the incident I was working with a new physician who was a young polish woman with a heavy accent. The offense, my AD told me, was that I asked the physician, “How do Polish dogs bark?

On hearing this, I laughed. The AD was surprised and said, “You see, you have to be careful what you say to people and how you react.” To which I replied, “You mean because it is giving away my prejudice that she is a dumb female foreigner, right?”

The AD looked at me startled by my apparent blunt bigotry. Then I said, “Look, you don’t know my background at all, so here it is ….” (here is my language background, if don’t know). After sharing my cultural experiences, the AD was visibly much more relaxed. Then I told her that every language uses different words to describe the sounds that animals make, they are very different from language to language. For instance, in English dogs say “woof, woof”, in Polish they say “hau hau”, in Japanese they say “wan wan” and in Hindi they say “bho bho”.

The sounds animals make is not common sense? These sounds are called onomatopoeias — for a fantastic list of comparative sounds between languages, see this wiki page.

After educating my AD she apologized for this horrific misunderstanding. Then I pointed out a worse irony: For though the polish doctor and I had a great time with the discussion (both of us having lived long times as foreigners), the listeners themselves (Americans who only speak one language) probably had a hidden prejudice which I lacked, and they themselves probably thought that the poor woman doctor was dumb because she spoke with an accent, and thus they thought I was picking on her. Arghhhh!



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Sunday Poetry: Louise Bogan


Night (by Louise Bogan)

The cold remote islands
And the blue estuaries
Where what breathes, breathes
The restless wind of the inlets,
And what drinks, drinks
The incoming tide;

Where shell and weed
Wait upon the salt wash of the sea,
And the clear nights of stars
Swing their lights westward
To set behind the land;

Where the pulse clinging to the rocks
Renews itself forever;
Where, again on cloudless nights,
The water reflects
The firmament’s partial setting;

—O remember
In your narrowing dark hours
That more things move
Than blood in the heart.


About the Poet:

Louise Bogan (1897-1970) was born in Maine and during her youth was moved around on the East Coast, were the sea’s rhythms were part of everyday life. She led a bold and colorful life (read the links). She was the poetry editor of The New Yorker magazine for nearly 40 years.

My impressions & thoughts:

 Mystical but earthly intuitions. Grounded and inspiring.

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Sunday Poetry: Less Murray (2)

CockspurCockspur Bush (by Les Murray)

I am lived. I am died.
I was two-leafed three times, and grazed, Cockspur
but then I was stemmed and multiplied,
sharp-thorned and caned, nested and raised,
earth-salt by sun-sugar. I was innerly sung
by thrushes who need fear no eyed skin thing.
Finched, ant-run, flowered, I am given the years
in now fewer berries, now more of sling
out over directions of luscious dung.
Of water crankshaft, of gases the gears
my shape is cattle-pruned to a crown spread sprung
above the starve-gut instinct to make prairies
of everywhere. My thorns are stuck with caries
of mice and rank lizards by the butcher bird.
Inches in, baby seed-screamers get supplied.
I am lived and died in, vine woven, multiplied.


About the Poet:

  • This is my second poem by Les Murray, my first post has info on Les.
  • Sources: Pic from Wiki and Poem from here

My impression & thoughts:

Do we live or are we lived? This question has often added an odd, vibrant perspective to how I view both all life around me including my own. Murray’s poem strum those chords again for me.


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The History of The English Language (a diagram)

While researching for future posts, I ran into issues related to the development of the English language. To aid in illustrating those coming posts, I decided to make this graphic to capture, in one picture, the information I found scattered over several diagrams and sites. Diagrams are great memory tools for me, and I hope this helps some of you.

With gratitude, my main information source was this website: The History of English.

Question to readers: Any corrections, suggestions or thoughts?


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Sunday Poetry: Les Murray


Poetry And Religion  (by Les Murray)

Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture

into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing’s said till it’s dreamed out in words
and nothing’s true that figures in words only.

A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier’s one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.

Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?

You can’t pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can’t poe one either. It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,

fixed centrally, we call it a religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror

that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There’ll always be religion around while there is poetry

or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds – crested pigeon, rosella parrot -
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.


About the Poet: (be sure to read the poem first)

Les Murray was born to a dairy farm family in Australia in 1938. His mother died when he was 12 years-old. He was bullied with “a plethora of fat-names” as a child. He later married and had five children, one later diagnosed with autism which helped Les to realize he himself had mild autistic traits (Aspbergers).

Raise Free Presbyterian (with parents who hated Catholics), at 24 years old he married a Catholic woman and converted to Catholicism (which he had been entertaining for a while). He calls Catholicism “the best and only reliable Big Poem”.

At 58 years-old he suffered a three-weeks coma secondary to a liver abscess. Amazingly, after emerging from the come, he found his lifetime curse of depression (his “Black Dog”) had lifted.

Finally, from the Guardian: “Murray has been garlanded with prizes – TS Eliot (1996), Queen’s gold medal for poetry (1999) – and tipped for the Nobel, but he has often been cast, as much by himself as anyone else, as an outsider. His poetry, and more so his politics [he helped form the Australian Commonwealth Party], have married a reverence for bush wisdom with an instinctive distrust of metropolitan life in general, and what he sees as the received opinions of liberal elites about such issues as modernism and secularism in particular.”

My impressions & thoughts:

“Religion”, “God”, and “Poetry” are all words that stir hearts in different ways. Judging these words by strict definitions rarely reveals the complex, vibrant webs we’ve woven to support our lives.


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