Abai Kunanbaev “Book of words”–(41-45)

Image source: altaynews.kz

WORD FORTY-ONE
Anyone who plans on teaching and reforming the Kazakh must possess two advantages.
First of all, he must wield great power and immense influence that would enable him to inspire fear in adults and take away their sons to send them to school, where they I would be guided along different paths of knowledge, with the parents shouldering the expenses. It would suffice if girls were taught Islam so as to make at least strong in their religion. In that case, when parents, growing feeble with age, abandoned their regular pursuits, the younger generation would embark on the right path.
Second, he must possess enormous riches, so as to bribe parents into sending their children to school, as we have just said.
Yet no one has sufficient power to inspire fear amongst the people of today. And no one has enough wealth to win over all parents.
It is impossible to persuade the Kazakh, convince him of something, unless you frighten or bribe him. The ignorance inherited from his forefathers and imbibed with his mother’s milk has reached his marrow and killed all humanity in him. Such people, when they get together, can think of nothing better to do than make strange grimaces and behave affectedly, whisper and throw out ambiguous hints. Even if they try to think, they are incapable of concentrating on one idea. If you talk to them, they can’t even listen to you attentively; their eyes glance here and there and their thoughts wander off.
However shall we live?
What will become of us?

WORD FORTY-TWO
One of the causes of people’s inclination to vice is indolence. If the Kazakh had worked the land or engaged in commerce, would he have lived an idle life? But instead he rides from aul to aul on a horse he has begged from someone else, he sponges off other people, spreads gossip and rumours, by guile and duplicity he leads people astray or is himself under the thumb of other scoundrels; he drifts about and does nothing. Anyone who wants to live well and is accustomed to working will consider such life humiliating. Will this person abandon his business and live like a vagabond without any aim or purpose?
He who manages to acquire even a small herd will not be content with his way of life and will not take good care of it; no, he sets off in search of pleasure, leaving his livestock to the care of his herdsmen and children. His animals will thus become an easy prey for all kinds of thieves and predators, and will die in bad weather. The fellow will get over this loss, but he will be unable to overcome the temptation of taking part in secret plots, gossip and petty squabbles. Out to gain importance in the community, he will engage in all kinds of nasty intrigues and dirty tricks.
Others who have attained some affluence also leave their property to the care of strangers — “Now, keep an eye on that!” — and give themselves up to idle chatter, scrounging and roaming around.
Today people do not value high intelligence, a good reputation or wealth; the ability to scribble complaints and the cunning to twist somebody round one’s little finger— this is what is respected. He who succeeds in that, poor and destitute though he may be, will be given a place of honour at the table, a fat chunk of meat and a stout horse. Such a scoundrel can easily ingratiate himself with a simple-hearted bey by a bit of blarney—”You just say the word, and I’ll go through fire for you!” And this will be enough: without lifting a finger he will be well fed and clothed, ride a fine horse and enjoy general respect.
The bey does not regret his lost peace; he does not count his expenses. Before having a talk with anyone, he seeks advice from this rogue who bows and scrapes for fear of losing the bey’s confidence, scared lest other counsellors turn up. «Allah be with you,» the rogue will say obsequiously, «how couldn»t you think of such a simple thing?’ And off he will go, suggesting vile tricks, one worse than the other, and he will implant suspicion of other people in the bey.
At length the bey himself will no longer be trusted by the people. If some clever man disagrees with the bey and turns away from him, the scoundrel will always be there. «See? Didn’t I warn you about them?» And the credulous bey will become putty in his hands.
It is to this the present generation dedicate their minds and will. This is what they live by.

WORD FORTY-THREE
Man is endowed by nature with a body and a soul. One should know which of their properties are innate and which are acquired by toil.
The need for food, drink and sleep is natural, instinctive. The desire to see and learn something comes from a natural instinct, too, but intelligence and learning are gained through work. By hearing with his ears, beholding with his eyes, touching things with his hands, tasting with his tongue and inhaling through his nose, man gets an idea of the surrounding world.
The sensations, pleasant or unpleasant, thus received by the five organs of the senses are ordered in the human mind according to a definite pattern and produce a certain imagery.
To be pleased with the good and to be repelled by the bad are aptitudes natural to man. At first these shoots are very frail. Man must cultivate and amplifies these aptitudes, for without due care and attention, they wither and become useless or die. A person who looks and listens a good deal, drawing knowledge from the external world gains much: he will be able to reason lucidly and tell what is useful from what is harmful. A person capable of analysing facts and events is counted among the intelligent.
An ignorant person who cannot think and is unused to work will shift the blame for his idleness to God. «What can I do if God has not given me brains?» or «God has not made us equal, you and me!» That’s how he will try to justify himself.
But did not God enjoin him to look and listen, and to remember what he sees and hears? Did God say: eat your fill, enjoy yourself, be content with boasting and turn into a beast, having lost all spiritual riches?
Other people will argue: “Well, a good mind comes with time, but nature endows us with aspiration. He who is endowed with aptitudes acquires good mind as well. Those who lack aptitudes will remain stupid anyway.” Yet this is wrong, too.
Indeed, small children may have aspiration, that’s certain. As we have already said, man’s aptitudes, at first weak, should be cultivated and improved. Even a craftsman’s skill improves from day to day if he works with enthusiasm. Unless you practise your skills, you may lose them and turn into a different person without even noticing it. Will skill and aptitude, forsaking you, warn you of that in advance? Greater effort is needed to regain them than to preserve them.
Now, mental aptitudes are so varied and diverse that they defy description. The vigour of the human soul can preserve the skills of an acquired trade for a long time. Yet without due care these skills will diminish and in time the very power that helps retain them may run out. It will be impossible to regain this vigour.
The power of the human soul possesses three special properties which must be treasured and cherished, for without them a man becomes an animal.
The first one is called the “driving element.” What is it? This force helps us not only to compreseen and heard, but also to vividly perceive cause and effect. Voracious reading is useless without this quality of the mind, for it produces no result. Not having done this or that in good time, not having thought about and said something at the right moment, and being late everywhere, you will fret and be vexed all your life: “What a pity! I should have done this or that at such and such a moment!”
Another is called the “attractive force of the like.” Learning something new to you, you start comparing it to similar things. Are they similar in every way or only in some respects? Until you elucidate all the causes of similarity for yourself, enquire about them and verify your suppositions, your mind cannot rest.
And the third property of the human soul, called “sensibility of the heart.” Should you manage to keep your heart from four vices: conceit, cupidity, frivolity and carelessness, the impressions that you receive of this world will be clearly reflected in the mirror-like chastity of your heart. These impressions will provide nourishment for the mind and will be long remembered. But if you do not preserve the purity of your heart, the mirror of your soul will grow dim, and everything will be blurred and distorted in it And your notions of this world will be warped.
Everything that is gained by work and lies outside you is called wealth. Unless you know all the problems and details of managing a household, you will find it hard to keep your goods. But it is equally hard to keep the spiritual wealth that you have gained—intelligence and learning, which, incidentally, may cause considerable harm as well. Not knowing of that and losing your vigilance, you may easily forfeit what has been acquired.
There is a measure to everything on earth, the good things of life included. It is a great blessing to have a sense of measure. The ability to think is praiseworthy, true, but some people know no measure in this: carried away, they get lost in their thoughts and lose their common sense.
One ought to show the right measure in eating, drinking, amusing one’s self and getting rich, in seekinghend what is power and even in practising caution and vigilance in order not to be tricked. All that is excessive is evil.
The wise men of old used to say: “In what we seek too persistently we find evil.” You should know that the two qualities of spiritual power which we have defined as “the attractive force of the like” and “the driving element” conceal both the good things and the evil things of this world. Lust for power, selfishness, anger and deception, everything that defiles man, springs from the same source. Therefore man’s spiritual vigour should be directed towards improving his good and useful points and nipping in the bud whatever is vicious.
Reason distinguishes the beneficial from the harmful; yet even the force of reason cannot vanquish evil. Only he who unites in himself the force of reason with the force of will can succeed in that. A man combining reason and willpower will be like a swift Arab horse, he will have dominion over everything.
But if these qualities are feeble, or one of them is present and the other is not, your spiritual might will carry you like a wild, unruly steed, flinging you now against the rocks, now into the water, now down into the abyss. You are powerless. Off you dash headlong, pell-mell, with the edges of your chapan flying, and your eyes uplifted to the sky… And till the end of your days you will not wipe out this disgrace.

WORD FORTY-FOUR
He is the most miserable among men who has no aspiration. Yet there are aspirations of different kinds. Those who aspire to something are not all alike in their abilities and strength of will. Talented or not, all of them like to hear praise and are eager for praise, whether merited or not.
People mix with their own kind and sometimes confide their innermost thoughts to them. More often than not, they expect praise from those who live among, but not from complete strangers.
Some long for honour and respect, others yearn for wealth, no matter how they get it, whether by avarice or cunning. “He who has gained wealth has no sin.” Or, “He who is well-off has a beaming face.” This is what they say, knowing that no one is going to censure them for that. They see their honour and merit in wealth. Judging by their perverted ways, this is indeed so. Yet from the standpoint of humanity, this is one of the most obnoxious vices.
Some people are anxious to be lauded as brave men, saints or beys, while others don’t mind being called clever tricksters. They will take a pride in notoriety and will try to gain some advantage even from this.
Everybody aspires to something or other, is eager to read, not books though, but people’s faces. They watch intently, as if trying to feel your pulse, and reckon: “Well, this must be in favour today, and I could make some profit on that.”
Before gaining knowledge from books, it is first necessary to cleanse the soul and thoughts of filth and only then get down to reading.
If you prefer to read people’s faces, there is no point in trying to purify your soul, for no one can see what you have in your soul. It is said: the more folds and notches your soul has, the more solid and invulnerable your prosperity will be. So, judge for yourself what to learn and what to aspire to.

WORD FORTY-FIVE
The proof of the existence of one I God, unique and omnipotent, is that for thousands of years people of different tongues have spoken of God, and, however many religions there might be, all consider that love and justice are the attributes of God.
We are not demiurges, but mortals who know this world by the things created. We are the servants of love and justice. And we differ from one another in how well we comprehend the creations of the Most High.
Believing and worshipping, we must not say that we can force others to believe and worship.
The source of humanity is love and justice. They are omnipresent and decide everything. They are the crown of Divine Creation. Even the way a stallion takes possession of a mare is a manifestation of love.
He who is swayed by the feelings of love and justice is a wise man and a learned man. Unable to invent science and learning, we can only behold and perceive the created world and understand its harmony by our reason.

VOCABULARY OF UNFAMILIAR WORDS
aga: an elder
arshin: an old measuring rod equivalent to 28 inches
aul: village, nomadic community
ay at: quoatation from the Qur’an, verse of a surah
batyr: brave warrior, hero
bey (bai): in Central Asia, a wealthy owner of land and livestock
biy: local judge among the Kazakhs
chapan: horseman’s cloak or mantle
dombra: stringed musical instrument
dzhigit: expert horseman in the Caucasus and Central Asia
dzhut: mass starvation of cattle in winter resulting in famine Fatihab al-kitab. the frst surah of the Qur’an
Hadith: account of the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, second only to the Qur’an
hazret: Muslim priest
iman: faith
ishan: lowest rank of clergy
jomart: generous man who does charitable deeds
khadi (cadi): Muslim judge
kobyz: stringed musical instrument
koumiss: mare’s milk
myrza: nobleman vested with power, philanthropist
Nogai: Kazakh name for Tatars
nokai: dull, stupid
qibla: orientation towards Mecca and the Black Stone of the sacred Kabah building in that city, to which Muslims turn when praying
surah: chapter of the Qur’an
Surt-Sart: rattle, overtalkative person
tarikat: here, a religious doctrine preaching spiritual self-perception through strict abstinence and complete humility
top-basy: tribal elder
uyezd: larger administrative district
volost: small rural district
yel-basy: tribal chief