Atma Stuti - Para Ninda

To be practiced

TRADITIONAL LEARNINGS

S. Ainavolu

6/21/2022 6 min read

Introduction

In Sanskrit Atma/Para mean self/other and Stuti/Ninda means praise/insult respectively. Thus, we can understand that ‘Atma Stuti’ is extolling oneself and ‘Para Ninda’ as the denigration of other(s). These may seem common in the current optics-based transactional world. But to understand the behavior even if it is commonplace, we need to understand ‘what is the motivation?’ Behind the issue of ‘self-promotion’ and ‘other-insulting’ lies the feeling of insecurity/inferiority and a deep sense of separation. If one sees ONE in all, then one need not promote self and/or decry others. In other words, in a running race if one comes second and still enjoys the success of the first-place winner, then there is no necessity of ‘proving’ that though he/she deserved the first place, there were extraneous factors that made him/her miss the position. Worse is trying to prove that there was a motivated play due to which one missed the first rank/position.

The concept of self is deep-rooted and also multi-layered. Initially, it envelops the physical self of the individual, later their family, then it goes on to cover the extended family and network of close associates/affiliates. It also depends on the context and relative positioning. If the competition is among the very family members, then it is ‘I’ vs. others. If the contest or competition is between his/her family (or members) and another family, then the choice is his/her family. If the zone of competition stretches further and if the contest is between the town/state or another town/state, then the preference shall be a clear embrace of the closest. The point to be noted here is, as material benefit dispensation is not always possible, here comes the verbal support/praise or attacks in the form of ‘Atma Stuti’ or ‘Para Ninda’.

Sense of inclusion vs separation

The sense of separation or inclusion is individual soul-dependent. Prediction of one’s zone of ‘owning-up’ is difficult to predict apriori. It depends on their ‘world view’ which in turn got shaped by their own life experiences. Probably it depends on the quality of soul and of one’s ‘life purpose’. The sense of sharing and caring comes not from the possessions and riches one has but from a complex model definable individual’s ‘nature’. The sense of self gets into play and one complicates the situations which otherwise could be quickly connected across and discussed.

The notion of self gets exhibited as ego and it is difficult to cross it for many achieved souls as well. Wise compares the spiritual journey to ‘moving up the greased pole’, and one may slip from the top too! Puranas tell us about many learned sages suffering from inflated self-notion. There was an instance in which a highly learned sage kicks Shri Vishnu. In another instance, one sage goes for a ‘higher title’ (Bramharshi) and in the process even kills the children of another. Another sage curses Indra to lose all the wealth due to a perceived insult to him. One king from Mahabharata refuses to ‘recognize’ his own classmate due to the new status difference. In all these instances we see an inflated ‘I’ working on the psyche of people.

Additionally, senior persons too fall for the ‘we vs they’ separation. The very opening verse in Bhagavadgita presents King Dhritarashtra asking Sanjaya about how ‘my people’ and ‘sons of Pandu’ (Maamaka Pandavaschaiva) are engaged in Kurukshetra. In fact, King Pandu died during the early childhood of his sons and it was under the patronage of Dhritarashtra that they grew up. So, practically they were part of Dhritarashtra’s ‘his people.’ However, the king was particular and nuanced “mine vs. others”. Similarly, the major portion of Ramayana happened due to the over-discerning Queen Kaikeyi seeking the kingdom for ‘her son’ and trying to put the ‘other’ away. It is depicted in Ramayana that she was instigated by her maid/help with a specific purpose. Dhruva’s story had a similar reason. His stepmother refused to allow him to sit on the lap of his father stating that he should have been born to her to have that privilege. Dhruva was mentored by Narada when he goes to the forest on his mother’s advice to pursue tapasya. He won a much larger position in life that was inclusive of and much beyond inheriting the kingdom of his father, King Uttanapada. He became a star.

Are there any boundaries

The general understanding is required self-conduct has to be there in the material world. Factual representation of self as per the need is not ‘Atma Stuti’. It is the expectation and requirement from the worldly point of view. It should stop as genuine communication. Here, one can make out the simplicity vs the boasting. The typical traditional introduction involves sharing the antecedents (pravara) and also informing whose student one had been. There is not much boasting that happens around oneself. One had been the student of a particular Guru and comes from the lineage shared, which completes the introduction. In a Upanishadic story, an eager-to-study child asks his mother Jabala for the introduction to be shared in the Gurukul. She tells him that he should tell the truth and give the introduction as ‘named Satyakama’ and ‘son of Jabala’, as further required details are simply not there. The truthful introduction worked wonders. Guru was so pleased with the honest and humble introduction offered and gave Satyakama the best tutelage that was possible.

‘Atma Stuti’ has limits, of talking about self and perhaps over-buttressing of self’s case. On the other hand, ‘Para Ninda’ crosses the bounds and goes to the extent of denying others’ good qualities and even denigrating them. Clearly ‘Para Ninda’ is the worse of the two. Indulging in ‘Para Ninda’ also shows the mean nature of a person. If one is bringing down another person who is not present in the current gathering, a similar fate awaits others in the current gathering when they shall not be present in the future. Talking about the person who is absent shows the bankruptcy of the character. As a few shops and businesses display, ‘tell us if something is bad, tell others if something is good.’ It makes practical sense. If a thing needs to be improved in a person, it helps if the same thing is directly informed (in a pleasant manner) to the person. The person gets the necessary inputs and gets a timely opportunity to work on it. On the other hand, if any good trait about the person is spread around, anyone seeking any help in the line of his/her specialization/skill can actually avail the same and benefit. This also spreads general positivity around.

On a ‘practice opening’ note

When we move in seekers’ circles we observe that there is a general awareness that ‘Atma Stuti’ and ‘Para Ninda’ either or in combination are not good and should not be practiced. However, in practice, we witness these in practised actively. Traditional wisdom tells us that ‘Atma Stuti’ is akin to slow suicide and ‘Para Ninda’ is taking others’ Karma onto self. The rationale behind the notion of slow suicide equivalent for ‘Atma Stuti’ is, when one boasts over a period of time and that too repeatedly, one starts believing their own ‘self talk’. No further improvements or efforts toward such improvement happen. Thus, in professional and personal journeys people shall suffer. Hence, is the equivalence attached to suicide.

We have an interesting story in ‘Panchatantra’, that of a tortoise that was being carried by two swans to escape the local drought condition. It couldn’t resist the temptation of ‘claiming the ownership’ of the idea of ‘tortoise holding the pole by mouth and pole being carried by swans’ that it opened the mouth ‘to tell its greatness’ and falls to its own death. The optics-based world may convince the other way but the genuine shall find the rightful place is the traditional belief. The intrinsic value shall be honoured by the wise. So no need for ‘Atma Stuti’. ‘Para Ninda’ spoils one’s own credibility. People shall start avoiding the company of such is one possibility. Or even if they can’t avoid it, they shall discount heavily the information shared by such person(s). Not a prestigious club to be a member of!

By reaching this end sequentially the general reader may converge around the notion that ‘Atma Stuti’ and ‘Para Ninda’ are not good qualities. If these two are avoidable traits, then how to avoid these in our day-to-day life may be ‘the question’ before any final takeaway. The starting point of avoiding these pitfalls is in – choosing one’s work to speak for itself and secondly, not to talk about other persons in their absence. Less or no ‘Atma Stuti’ and avoiding ‘Para Ninda’ can make one’s life simple. One shall conserve precious resources (including time) and become more involved in genuine work of ‘value add’ or ‘value invest’. Such desirable conduct may result in lower transaction costs too. When many people practice it on a regular basis, our world shall be a much better place.