Abai Kunanbaev “Book of words”–(11-20)
WORD ELEVEN How do our people make living? There are two ways. One is by stealing. A thief hopes to grow fat on what he has stolen, and a bey seeks to increase his herds by recovering what has been stolen from him and more besides. Those in authority will fleece both the bey and the thief by promising the former to help recover his stolen livestock and the latter to evade justice. Your average man will inform on the thief to the authorities, at the same time aiding and abetting him by buying up the stolen goods for a song. Then there is another way: ordinary people are persuaded by crooks to resort to tricks they would otherwise never have dreamt of. Do this or that, they say, and you’ll be rich and famous, you will be regarded as invulnerable and your opponents will fear you. Fanning evil passions and setting people against one another, the swindlers hope to be of service to someone and profit by this. That’s the way they live: the grandee by aiding the bey and abetting the thief, and the poor man by sucking up to the powers that’ be and backing them in disputes, siding now with one, now with another party, and selling dirt-cheap his honour, his wife, his children, and his kith and kin. If there were no thieves and swindlers, our people would think carefully. They would be only too glad to work honestly and seek goodness and wisdom if the bey could make do with what he has, and the poor man, without losing hope and faith, could earn what he lacks. Despite themselves, the common people get involved in dirty business. Who is strong enough to uproot this evil? Will honour and pledges, loyalty and conscience sink into oblivion? There might be a force capable of taming the thief. But what about the bey who out of greed connives with the swindler - who will make him see reason and how?
WORD TWELVE When someone teaches the Word of God, whether he does it well or badly, we would sooner bite off our tongue than forbid his preaching, for there is nothing reprehensible in good intentions. He may lack sufficient enlightenment, but let him preach. However, this man ought to remember two essential conditions. First of all, he must be certain in his faith; then, he must not be satisfied with what he knows, but continually improve his mind. He who abandons learning deprives himself of a divine blessing, and you will look in vain for any benefit from his teaching. Indeed, what good is it if he winds a turban around his head, keeps the fasts rigorously, offers up prayers and affects piety, but does not know where in a particular prayer is the right place to repeat or pause? A person who is negligent, who is not strict in his ways and is not capable of compassion cannot be considered a believer: without self-discipline and consistency one can not keep iman, the faith, in one’s soul.
WORD THIRTEEN Iman - this is the unshakeable faith in one, all-powerful Creator, about whose essence and existence it is ordained to us to learn from the revelations of His Prophet, may Allah bless his name. There are two ways of believing. Some simply accept the faith, perceiving the vital need for it and its truth, and strengthen their belief by means of reasonable arguments. We call this yakini iman or true faith. Others believe by drawing wisdom from books and from the words of the mullah. Such people need special dedication to the object of their faith and spiritual strength in order to withstand thousands of temptations and not waver even in the face of death. This is the taklidi iman or traditional faith. To keep iman within one’s self, a person must have a courageous heart, firm will and confidence in his powers. But what about those who lack the knowledge to be among the adherents of yakini iman, or those who have no firm belief, who too easily succumb to temptations and cajolery who for gain will call black white, and white black, who will perjure themselves by passing offlies as truth and so cannot be called taklidi iman believers? May Allah preserve us from such people! Each and every one of us should remember that there can be no other iman save these. Let apostates not reckon on infinite divine grace; they deserve neither Allah’s forgiveness nor the Prophet’s intercession. Cursed be the man who believes in the false proverbs: “The edge of the sword is sharper than an oath» and «There is no sin that Allah will not pardon.”
WORD FOURTEEN Has man anything more precious than his heart? Calling someone a man of brave heart, people respect him as a batyr. They have but a poor idea of any other virtues of the human heart. Mercy, kindness, the capacity to treat a stranger as a dear brother and wish him all the blessings one would wish one’s self - all these are the commands of the heart. And love likewise comes from the heart. The tongue that obeys the heart will tell no lie. Only hypocrites forget about the heart. Yet those “men of brave heart” often prove to be unworthy of praise. Unless they value courtesy and honour their vows, are averse to evil and lead lost souls along the straight and narrow path, not following the crowd like a miserable cur, unless they stand up in defence of a righteous cause in the face of all difficulties and not turn from the truth when this is so easy to do - then the heart that beats in the breast of those respected as batyrs is that of a wolf, not a human being. Indeed, the Kazakh is also a child of mankind. Many of the Kazakhs stray from the path of truth not through any deficiency of reason but because they lack the courage and staunchness in their heart to accept and follow wise counsels. I do not believe many of those who argue that they have done evil through ignorance. No, they have enough knowledge, but their shameful weakness of will and laziness cause them to ignore it. Having stumbled once, few will be strong enough to mend their ways. Those who are praised as stout dzhighits, brave and clever, will more often than not put each other up to dark, sordid deeds. Their blind aping of one another and daredevil capers are a frequent cause of misfortunes. If a man who has indulged in evil and in unbridled bragging cannot stop and chasten himself, and does not attempt to cleanse himself before God or his own conscience-how can he be called a dzhighit? One may well question whether he can be called a man.
WORD FIFTEEN There is an essential difference, in my view, between intelligent and stupid people. Coming into this world, man cannot live without being attracted and excited by the fascinating things around him. Those days of questioning and passionate interests remain in a person’s memory as the brightest period of life. A sensible man will interest himself in worthy and serious matters, he will steadfastly pursue his objectives, and even his recollections of his past struggles to attain them will be heard with pleasure and warm the hearts of his listeners. Such a person will not betray even a shadow of regret over the years he has lived. A frivolous man dissipates his time in worthless, futile and absurd undertakings. When he comes to his senses, he realises that his best years have swiftly passed in vain, and his belated regrets bring no consolation. In his younger days he behaves as if youth were eternal, never doubting that even more captivating delights are in store for him. Yet all too soon, losing his former strength and agility, he becomes good for nothing. Another temptation lurks in the path of passionate souls. Success - attained or within their grasp - intoxicates their senses and makes them dizzy. The flush of success clouds their reason and causes them to commit blunders; a man like this attracts attention even against his will, he becomes an object of gossip and a butt of ridicule. Reasonable people keep their wits about them even in such critical moments; they will not lose their senses but rather show restraint and not expose their feelings to all and sundry. But a stupid person is like a horseman galloping on a steed without a bridle: lifting his eyes to the sky as if crazy and having lost his cap in his frenzy, off he goes and does not see that the edge of his chapan covers the horse’s rear… This is what I have observed. If you wish to be counted among the intelligent, then ask yourself once a day, once a week, or at least once a month: “How do I live? Have I done anything to improve my learning, my worldly life or my life hereafter? Will I have to swallow the bitter dregs of regret later on?” Or perhaps you don’t know or remember how you have lived and why?
WORD SIXTEEN The Kazakh does not worry whether his prayers please God or not. He does what other people do: he gets up and falls face to the ground in supplication. He treats God as though He were a merchant who has come to collect a debt: “That’s all I have, take it if You will, but if You will not - don’t ask me to get livestock out of nowhere!” The Kazakh will not take trouble to learn and purify his faith: “Well, that’s all I know, I can’t get any wiser at my age. It’s enough that people cannot reproach me for not praying. And if my speech is uncouth, that doesn’t matter in the least.” But is his tongue made differently from other people’s, I wonder?
WORD SEVENTEEN Will, Reason and Heart once asked Knowledge to settle their argument about who was the most important among them. Said Will: “Hey, Knowledge, you ought to know that nothing can attain perfection without me: to know one’s self, one has to persevere in learning, and this is impossible without me; only with my aid can a person serve the Most High and worship Him tirelessly, achieve wealth and skill, respect and a successful career. Do I not preserve people from unworthy passions and curb them? Do I not caution them against sin, envy and temptations? Do I not help them to hold back, at the last moment, from the edge of an abyss? How can these two argue with me?” Said Reason: “I am the only one capable of discerning which of your words are useful and which harmful, whether in this life or the next. I alone can comprehend your language. Without me, no one can avoid evil, acquire knowledge or benefit himself. Why do these two argue with me? What use would they be without me?” Said Heart: “I am the master of the human body. I am the source of its blood and the soul resides in me; life is inconceivable without me. Those who lie in soft beds I deprive of their slumber; I make them toss and turn, thinking about the destitute with no roof over their heads, famished and freezing. I bid the young to honour their elders and be tolerant to little ones. But people do not seek to keep me pure and therefore suffer. Were I pure, I would make no distinction among people. I admire virtue and rebel against malice and violence. Self-respect, conscience, mercy, kindness - all these proceed from me. What are these two worth without me? How dare they argue with me? Having heard all the three out, Knowledge replied: “What you say is right, Will, and you have many other virtues you haven’t mentioned. Nothing can be achieved without your participation. Yet you also conceal cruelty equal to your strength. You are resolute in the service of good, but you can be just as resolute in serving evil. This is what is wrong in you. “You, too, are right, Reason! One cannot do without you in this life either. Thanks to you people learn about the Creator, and are initiated into the mysteries of the two worlds. But this is not the limit of your possibilities. Cunning and wickedness also come from you. Both good and bad people rely on you, and you serve both faithfully. Therein lies your fault. “My mission is to reconcile you. It would be good if Heart were the arbiter in this dispute of yours. “You have many paths before your, Reason, but Heart cannot take all of them. It rejoices at your righteous undertakings and will gladly assist you in them, but it will not follow you if you plot mischief and evil; it will even turn from you in disgust. “Now, Will! You have plenty of energy and courage, but you, too, can be restrained by Heart. It will not hinder you in a well-meaning deed, but it will bind your hand and foot if your goal is futile and wicked. “You should join hands with Heart and obey it in everything! If all three of you live in peace within a man, the dust of his feet will open the eyes of the blind. If you two cannot reach accord, I shall give preference to Heart. Prize humanity above all! The Most High will judge us by this. So it is set down in the Holy Scriptures,” said Knowledge.
WORD EIGHTEEN Man should dress modestly and keep himself clean and tidy. Only fops I spend more on their clothes than they can afford and worry too much over their appearance. Fops show off in various ways. One will pay great attention to his face, cultivate his moustache and beard, pamper his body and swagger-now lifting an eyebrow languorously, now tapping his fingers or strutting with arms akimbo; another will adopt a studied carelessness in his foppery and, in an offhand way, affecting to be “a simple fellow,” will drop hints in passing about his Arabian horse or his rich raiment: “Oh, it’s nothing in particular!” He goes out of his way to attract the attention of his betters, arouses envy among his equals, and is regarded among his inferiors as the acme of refinement and luxury. They say about him: “What has he got to complain of with a such a horse and clothes like that!” But this is absurd and shameful. No one should get carried away by such nonsense, for otherwise he will find it hard to look like a normal human being again. In the word kerbez [fop] I discern a relationship with the words ker [conceited] and kerden [haughty]-something that ought to warn people against a vice of this kind. A human being should distinguish himself by virtue of his reason, knowledge, will, conscience and goodness. Only a fool thinks he can gain distinction by other means.
WORD NINETEEN A child is not born a reasonable being. It is only by listening and watching, examining everything by touching and tasting, that it learns what is good and what is bad. The more a child sees and hears, the more it knows. One may learn a good deal by listening to wise men. It is not enough to be endowed with a brain-only by hearing and memorising the teachings of the learnt and by avoiding vices one can grow up a complete person. But if one listens to wise words either with excessive enthusiasm or, conversely, paying too little attention, without asking what may not be clear, trying to get to the heart of the matter or drawing one’s own conclusions, even though one may feel the wisdom and justice of such good counsels- what is the use of listening? What can you talk about with a man who does not know the value of words? As one sage put it: better to teed a pig that recognises you…
WORD TWENTY All of us know: nothing can overrule fate. A feeling of satiety is characteristic man; it does not come of one’s own volition, but is predestined by fate. Having once experienced satiety, one will no longer be able to get rid of it. Even if you do your utmost and manage to shake it off, it will pursue and overwhelm you nonetheless. A good many things cause satiety and surfeit There is nothing more or less with which a man cannot be sated: food, amusements, fashion, feasts and parties, the desire to excel others, and women. Sooner or later, discovering the vanity and viciousness of all that, he will become disenchanted and indifferent. Like everything else in this world, man’s life and his destiny are subject to change. No living creature on earth can remain quiescent. So where could the constancy of feelings come from? Satiety is the lot even of clever people who seek perfection in life, who know the worth of many things, who are fastidious and can perceive the vanity of human existence. He who has realised the transitory nature of earthly joys will grow weary of life. I think to myself blessed is he who is silly and carefree.