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The Four Learned Fools

(Story found in:  Franklin Edgerton's reconstruction Durgasimha's Kannada translation Purnabhadra's recension Hitopadesha by Narayana )

Four naive Brahmins, who were great friends, lived in a certain town.
 
One day, they decided to study hard and acquire knowledge. They would then be able to make money. It was decided that they would require going to a different town to do that.
 
So, they travelled to a new city, and joined a hermitage to further their study. For twelve years they studied very hard, and mastered many fields of knowledge.
 
One day, they discussed, "Now that we have finally acquired sufficient knowledge in many branches of science, let us ask our Guru's permission to depart from this hermitage. We are finally prepared to earn money by applying our knowledge."
 
They asked their Guru's permission, who blessed them for success. They then started to travel, with all the shastras (holy books of knowledge). After travelling for a while, they came across an intersection, where the path was divided into two different directions.
 
They started pondering on which path they should take to further their travel.
 
Meanwhile, a merchant's son had died in a nearby town. As they stood pondering, a huge funeral procession headed their way. The procession included several prominent people, and they were going to the cremation ground.
 
Consulting the scriptures of the shastras, one of the Brahmins declared, "The right path to follow is the path taken by great men!" Thus, they decided to take the same path as that of the funeral procession.
 
On reaching the cremation ground, the people in the funeral procession stopped, and initiated the funeral proceedings. Now, they started pondering what course of action they should take next.
 
While pondering such, they saw a donkey nearby. Consulting the scriptures of the shastras, a Brahmin declared, "A true friend is one who stands by you on all occasions. Be the occasion joyous or sad!"
 
Thus, they accepted the donkey as their true friend. They put their arms around the donkey's neck, adored and kissed him, after washing his hoofs with water.
 
At this time, they observed a camel running towards them, from a distance. Quickly consulting their scriptures of the shastras, one of the Brahmins declared, "Righteousness marches rapidly!". Thus, they agreed that the camel marching quickly towards them must be righteousness incarnate, and nothing else.
 
Another Brahmin, on consulting his scriptures declared, "A good man should always lead his friend to righteousness!"
 
Thus, they stopped the approaching camel and introduced it with the donkey. Then, they tied the donkey to the camel in order to lead their friend to righteousness. The camel dragged the donkey, while continuing his journey.
 
The donkey's master was a washerman, who saw the four Brahmins tie his donkey to the camel. He was angered by this, and ran after the Brahmins with a stick.
 
On being chased, the four learned fools, ran for their lives and reached a river. They observed that a leaf of a holy tree was floating on the water of the river.
 
One of the Brahmins declared, "Holiness carries one across the river of life!" He jumped at once, on the holy leaf to cross the river. Unable to swim, he immediately began to drown.
 
When another Brahmin saw him being dragged by the river, he got into the river at once and caught him by the neck. But the currents of the river were very strong and he was not able to drag his friend to the bank of the river. He remembered from the scriptures, "When a wise man knows that total destruction is imminent, he would sacrifice half and work with the rest!"
 
He immediately took out his sword, and cut his friend into half. He was then, able to drag him to the bank of the river. But, by that time he had already died.
 
They regretted their friend's loss, and later the three remaining Brahmins continued their journey.
 
After they wandered for some time, they reached a village. The villagers welcomed them in a very hospitable fashion, and offered them different houses to stay. They villagers decided that three different families will serve them with their dinner.
 
One Brahmin was served with sweet noodles. He remembered from scriptures, "Long tactics will surely take a man to destruction!" Thus, he did not eat the food, and remained hungry throughout the night.
 
Another Brahmin was served with a bowl of frothy soup, He remembered from scriptures, "Whatever is frothy and distended, does not last long!" Thus, he did not eat the food, and remained hungry throughout the night, too.
 
The third Brahmin was served a tasty food with a hole in the middle. He remembered, "Defects are an imminent sign of approaching danger!" Thus, he did not eat the food, and remained hungry throughout the night, either.
 
When the villagers came to know in the morning, that they did not have the dinners served for them, they laughed and ridiculed them.
 
Angrily, the three remaining learned fools started to depart from the village. As they started their journey, the villagers went a long distance with them - all the time, ridiculing, laughing and mocking them on their way.
 
The wise indeed say:
Empty knowledge brings ridicule.
 
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