The Story of a Good Brahman by Voltaire

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knightss
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The Story of a Good Brahman by Voltaire

Post by knightss » 07 Apr 2008, 10:27

Thanks, Erasmus_Folly, for the submission =)

The Story of a Good Brahman


I met on my travels an old Brahman, a very wise man, full of wit and very learned; moreover he was rich, and consequently even wiser; for, lacking nothing, he had no need to deceive anyone. His family was very well governed by three beautiful wives who schooled themselves to please him; and when he was not entertaining himself with his wives, he was busy philosophizing.

Near his house, which was beautiful, well decorated, and surrounded by charming gardens, lived an old Indian woman, bigoted, imbecilic, and rather poor.
The Brahman said to me one day: "I wish I had never been born."

I asked him why. He replied:

"I have been studying for forty years, which is forty years wasted; I teach others, and I know nothing; this situation brings into my soul so much humiliation, and disgust that life is unbearable to me. I was born, I live in time, and I do not know what time is; I find myself in a point between two eternities, as our sages say, and I have no idea of eternity. I am composed of matter; I think, and I have never been able to find out what produces thought; I do not know whether my understanding is a simple faculty in me like that of walking or of digesting, and whether I think with my head, as I take with my hands. Not only is the principle of my thinking unknown to me, but the principle of my movements is equally hidden from me. I do not know why I exist. However, people every day ask me questions on all these points; I have to answer; I have nothing any good to say; I talk much, and I remain confounded and ashamed of myself after talking.

"It is much worse yet when they ask me whether Brahman was produced by Vishnu or whether they are both eternal. God is my witness that I don't know a thing about it, and it certainly shows in my answers. 'Ah! Reverend Father,' they say to me, 'teach us how it is that evil inundates the whole world.' I am as much at a loss as those who ask me that question; I sometimes tell them that all is for the very best, but those who have been ruined and mutilated at war believe nothing of it, and neither do I; I retreat to my house overwhelmed with my curiosity and my ignorance. I read our ancient books, and they redouble the darkness I am in. I talk to my companions: some answer that we must enjoy life and laugh at men; the others think they know something, and lose themselves in absurd ideas; everything increases the painful feeling I endure. I am sometimes ready to fall into despair, then I think that after all my seeking I know neither where I come from, nor what I am, nor where I shall go, nor what shall become of me."

The state of this good man caused me real pain; no one was either more reasonable or more honest than he. I perceived that the greater the lights of his understanding and the sensibility of his heart, the more unhappy he was.

That same day I saw the old woman who lived in his vicinity: I asked her whether she had ever been distressed not to know how her soul was made. She did not even understand my question: she had never reflected a single moment of her life over a single one of the points that tormented the Brahman; she believed with all her heart in the metamorphoses of Vishnu, and, provided she could sometimes have some water from the Ganges to wash in, she thought herself the happiest of women.

Struck by the happiness of this indigent creature, I returned to my philosopher and said to him:

"Aren't you ashamed to be unhappy at a time when right at your door there is an old automaton who thinks of nothing and who lives happily?"

"You are right," he answered; "I have told myself a hundred times that I would be happy if I was as stupid as my neighbors and yet I would want no part of such a happiness."

This answer of my Brahman made a greater impression on me than all the rest. I examined myself and saw that indeed I would not have wanted to be happy on the condition of being imbecilic.

I put the matter up to some philosophers, and they were of my opinion.

"There is, however," I said, "a stupendous contradiction in this way of thinking."

For after all, what is at issue? Being happy. What matters being witty or being stupid? What is more, those who are content with their being are quite sure of being content; those who reason are not so sure of reasoning well.

“So it is clear," I said, "that we should choose not to have common sense, if ever that common sense contributes to our ill-being."

Everyone was of my opinion, and yet I found no one who wanted to accept the bargain of becoming imbecilic in order to become content. From this I concluded that if we set store by happiness, we set even greater store by reason.

But, upon reflection, it appears that to prefer reason to felicity is to be very mad. Then how can this contradiction be explained? Like all the others. There is much to be said about it.

Francois Marie Arouet (Voltaire)
"Words can be like x-rays, if you use them properly - they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced." - Huxely
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Post by knightss » 07 Apr 2008, 10:42

Despair, it seems, is the curse of great minds.

Why is this?

Is it because the world is filled with many mysteries that educated (wo)men want to attain answers for but are usually unanswerable? How could one ever be sure that what one is told is the truth? I guess that's where faith comes into play. When there are thousands of theories, usually metaphysical or scientific, about what the truth is how can anyone be certain in their beliefs? and after learning them all, how can one choose?
"Words can be like x-rays, if you use them properly - they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced." - Huxely
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Post by booksellingonline » 21 Apr 2008, 13:16

I think perhaps the more we know the more it takes to make us contended on all of the different planes that we are thinking on. I think a parallel could be drawn to the theory of diminishing returns and paradox of plenty in economics theory.

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Post by Tracey Neal » 22 Apr 2008, 21:22

Sometimes there is no truth to life, just a sense of logic. Understanding that there is not always an answer to why. Knowing that makes it easier to hold onto ones faith..."beliefs".
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Post by Daphne » 17 Jul 2008, 11:50

Thanks for the story! I had never read this one.

It is quite a puzzle if one is seeking happiness. What I have found is that taking concrete actions, to "do", as opposed to "ponder" can produce happiness. That does not rule out thinking - you just have to put that thinking into action.

I, too, know a lot of people who are very content with their own status quo - in other words, they do not change a thing in their lives and are complacent and not curious. It can drive me mad.

Now I just have become action oriented to avoid sitting in my own!

So yes, in some ways, "Ignorance is Bliss", but I figure you get only one life ( at least like this life) and to learn and grow is to find happiness, but ya gotta do things. And some of the happiest things to do are those things which help someone else.

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Post by thisislissa » 13 Aug 2008, 15:26

knightss wrote:But, upon reflection, it appears that to prefer reason to felicity is to be very mad. Then how can this contradiction be explained? Like all the others. There is much to be said about it.

Francois Marie Arouet (Voltaire)

I love how he ends the story with yet another mystery. What I don’t understand though is why the Brahman is so upset by the unsolvable mystery of life. The smallest of things, snails for instance are still mysterious, every day we learn more about them but we will never have a complete understanding of them and they are only a tiny part of what is almost an infinite universe. The universe is so wide and deep that we could all study it forever and never reach the end. Isn’t that beautiful, that’s only the material world. There’s still consciousness, god/no god, good and evil. Why is there suffering? We have scientific, poetic, philosophical, and religious explanations, if we don’t like the explanations which currently exist we can always make new ones, but we will not know the answer in this life. To me this is the joy of being human, that we are wise enough to try to solve life’s mysteries while all the time knowing that they can never be solved.
The victor belongs to the spoils.

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Post by I'mabeliever » 19 Jan 2009, 21:06

And some of the happiest things to do are those things which help someone else.


"Others Lord, yes others
Let this my motto be
Help me to live for others,
So that I may live like thee"

(An excerpt from the poem "Others" by Charles D. Meigs)

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Post by Nichod » 26 Jan 2009, 20:43

An interesting read. And some wonderful discussion. I think he is talking about acceptance of one's life and situation. Mankind constantly attempts to reason how our lives would be just a bit better if only *blank* existed or was possible. We accomplish much by questioning and seeking answers, but we miss out on all kinds of happiness by simply accepting that the flower is red...instead of studying the reason it is red.

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Post by tylerdurden » 30 Mar 2009, 04:31

i really liked this book a lot!

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Post by AdamWest » 07 Feb 2010, 17:21

Excellent excerpt, I enjoyed it very much

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Post by frint » 05 Mar 2010, 23:39

We have scientific, poetic, philosophical, and religious explanations, if we don’t like the explanations which currently exist we can always make new ones, but we will not know the answer in this life. To me this is the joy of being human, that we are wise enough to try to solve life’s mysteries while all the time knowing that they can never be solved.
Is that mean the explanation we used is just true for part of it when applied to science? Practical will be more outweight than those theory.

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Post by soniakhan33 » 08 Apr 2010, 08:05

great story ,i enjoyed it very much thanks...

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Post by lukebodell » 02 Jul 2010, 04:52

Voltaire is so awesome. Definitely one of my favorite ever authors.

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Post by PhotonicGuy » 06 Jul 2010, 09:03

I agree with nichod, but in the same time, for a book to be good, it needs to make me question and seek answers , it's not enough to just read and accept it.

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Post by George » 14 Jul 2010, 23:01

It is true the more we learn, the more we know the vast amount we do not know.


On happiness: I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who said, in essence, "A man is as happy as he decides to be."

What about the aging process? Will I one day know less, remember less, but be happier because of it ?"

However, I also believe that "great things can happen late in the game." Who said that? Was it a quote from the movie, "Under the Tuscan sun?"

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