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The scorpion and the Rishi

Many many years ago someone narrated to me this simple tale but I forget where he stopped :

A great Rishi was meditating along the banks of a river,

When a slight splash in the water disturbed his deep sense.

He opened his eyes and looked just beyond the bank,

And found the cause, a scorpion had dropped off a tree.

Deeply imbued as he was, this Rishi, with a sense of Dharma,

Stretching out his hand reached the witless struggling scorpion and picked it up.

Ah! The pain! Perhaps missed by the blessed one..immersed in his Dharmic duty,

He nevertheless places the innocent scorpion on safe land and returns to his state.

Many minutes pass and the great one hears the little splash again,

Without a thought adverse, he does his good deed …Ahh! Pain!

Ignored and returned to his inner self.

A curious passersby, also a keen observer quickly goes up to the Rishi and asks,

Tell me Sire, I have been watching what you do to help the scorpion.

It stung you twice and I think you will bring it out of the river again, if it fell,


The great one looks up from his mat and smiles a slight smile.

“The scorpion is not at fault my good friend, it is after-all it’s Dharma to sting when touched by strange hands. And,

It is my Dharma to bring it out of the water and save it.”

The observer, who is listening intently and watching the scorpion climb up the tree again,

Asks a simple question.

Is it?

– Namaste


9 Responses

  1. Vigilonline, Smt.RadhaRajan’s website does not seem to be working, i was just curious if you know anything Sir,also i thought i should bring this to the forum’s attention just incase if it is a foul attempt.

  2. I checked. It’s working –


  3. Earth rotates on its axis, revolves around sun, sustains life on its surface.

    Sage rescues the scorpion.
    Scorpion falls back into the river.

    Sri Krishna’s advice to Arjuna- nishkama karma.

    rta is sustained.

  4. The Earth’s revolution around the Sun, thereby sustaining life, is positive.

    The Rishi saving a scorpion that does not value his act of compassion – and instead stings him yet again, is not nishkama karma; it is apakarma.

    The Rishi’s apakarma is graver because he is also the Acharya that society looks up to.

    Therefore in this case the Rishi is misleading society also by his act. This is a call for dis-order and not order.

  5. The rishi has transcended bodily sensations. He realises that purpose of physical body is to actualise karma. Saving a life, even if that of a scorpion is a dharmic act to him.

    The rishi does not expect nor demand the scorpion to value his act of saving its life. He understands scorpion to be unable to comprehend better. If scorpion was capable of discriminative thought, it would not be falling into the river repeatedly.

    The scorpion is actualising its karma, that of climbing trees, falling off, flailing about, biting the hand that touches it, and so on.

    The rishi, likewise is actualising his karma, having the discrimination to discern dharma, that of saving a life.

    Thus rta is sustained.

    The passerby is not required to copy the rishi‘s act. Instead he should understand himself, and actualisehis karma exercising his powers of discrimination to understand dharma.


  6. Then perhaps the word to be used is Karma and not Dharma?

    If my Dharma is to save lives then surely it cannot be at the cost of being indifferent to my own?

    At what point in time should the Rishi defend himself? Or is such a notion too far gone for him?

    Thank you for your insights Sir, i’m trying to understand something.

  7. karma and dharma are specific to individual and to instance.

    dharma also depends on the understanding of the person involved.
    For example, for a person who knows swimming, it may be dharmic act to jump into a flowing river to save a drowning person. For someone who does not know swimming, it may be foolish to jump into the river. His dharma may be to call attention of others or to throw a rope into the water for the other person to hold on to.

    >> At what point in time should the Rishi defend himself?

    The rishi knows what he should do. He is guided by dharma. He will, naturally, not do anything that will jeopardize himself or others. It would be unnecessary for anybody else to speculate at what point the rishi should defend himself. That would be reducing things to an academic exercise. In contrast to western philosophy, bharatiya darshanas are not mere academic pursuits, they are experienced truths. That is why the western ‘scholars’ are unable to comprehend them even after years to study. wendy donigers and michael witzels are examples.

    The correct way would be to become a rishi oneself, to know the answer.

    The western approach of being a ‘detached’ observer in a controlled laboratory fails in understanding bharatiya sabhyata, dharma, karma, brahma as well as quantum mechanics.

  8. I understand. In other words what you are saying is that “to experience” is of primary importance to the learner.

    What about observation itself? It cannot be that one can learn only from one’s own experience and not from others?

    In this story it might occur that the observer might take the Rishi’s act at face value and try to save a drowning scorpion himself. He might get badly injured or even killed if it was venomous enough.

    Is there a portion of the discourse we are missing in this story? Should the Rishi have informed his interrogator more?

  9. >>>“What about observation itself? It cannot be that one can learn only from one’s own experience and not from others?

    The very next paragraph in that comment answers the question.

    >>>“Is there a portion of the discourse we are missing in this story? Should the Rishi have informed his interrogator more?

    न देवा दण्डमादाय रक्षन्ति पशुपालवत् ।
    यं तु रक्षितुमिच्छन्ति बुद्ध्या संविभजन्ति तम् ॥
    विदुरनीति ३-४० (vidura neeti 3.40, mahabharata)

    – Devas do not protect like a shepherd with a stick.
    whom they want to protect, they give them intelligence.

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