Ool (karma) in Thirukkural

After translating 370 couplets from Thirukkural, I ran into a translator’s dilemma, when I encountered the chapter on Ool (ஊழ்). Should I translate this chapter, when I dont believe in it (after a superficial skimming), or shall I skip this chapter and move on to the next one? After a lot of deliberation, I decided to give it a deeper reading before coming to a conclusion. And, I am glad I did that. Instead of posting the kurals one by one of Facebook and Twitter, like I’ve done before, I am giving the entire chapter here on my blog;  since, there is a lot of scope of misinterpreting individual kurals, in this chapter, without a holistic perspective.

I am refraining from using the word fate or destiny, since there is a significant difference between ool and fate. [I am writing ool instead of oozh, since I belief zh doesnt serve the purpose for non-Tamils anyway.)  Fate, as per OED, is the development of events outside a person’s control, regarded as predetermined by a supernatural power. Ool or karma, in an Indian context as per Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions, and as rightly put in OED, is the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future.

This belief was at the core of Gandhi’s thoughts.  “I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.”

Swami Vivekananda, also, put it eloquently : “Men generally lay all the blame of life on their fellowmen, or failing that, on God, or they conjure up a ghost, and say it is fate. Where is fate and who is fate? We reap what we sow. We are the makers of our own fate. None else has the blame, none has the praise.”

The way Thiruvalluvar has dealt with Ool  is very interesting. As in most other kurals, it is more poetic than spiritual. The rationality is probably too rational that it almost sounds irrational for self-professed rationalists like me. While, I definitely still dont subscribe to the idea of previous and future births, I am viewing this as a poet’s liberty to exaggerate, and make his point.

Ool is almost a character in my other favourite Tamil classic, Chilapathikaaram.

So, here is the Chapter 38 from Thirukkural : Ool

Constructive ool causes tireless endeavor leading to prosperity;
destructive ool causes indolence. [371]

Malign ool blunts one’s intelligence;
in its turn, benign ool sharpens it. [372]

Even if knowledge comes through profound books,
one’s innate wisdom remains dominant. [373]

The world is stratified based on two factors:
wealth and wisdom; and, they are not correlated. [374]

While seeking wealth, positive aspects can turn harmful;
and negative aspects beneficial. [375]

Strive hard, we may; but what we don’t deserve doesn’t stay,
and what we deserve, we can’t dispose. [376]

One may amass wealth worth crores, but can consume
only as ordained by the Ordainer (based on ool). [377]

Even those who possess nothing to enjoy will ‘renounce’,
if only one can escape the misery that is to be suffered. [378]

Why bemoan the misery caused by ool,
when one enjoys the good without complaint. [379]

Is there anything mightier than ool? It remains dominant
despite all plans devised to counter it. [380]

It is interesting to note that Valluvar doesn’t say constructive ool causes prosperity; it causes effort. Throughout these 10 kurals, Thiruvalluvar is building up Ool as a very potent character, like in the best works of fiction,  and then deals ool a deadly blow (and answers the question he asked in kural 380), when he says later on,

“Even if god has given up, perseverance will yield positive results. ” [619]

“Those who persevere without ever giving up, will defeat even ool”. [620]

The original couplets in Tamil :

அதிகாரம் 38 : ஊழ்

ஆகூழாற் றோன்று மசைவின்மை கைப்பொருள்
போகூழாற் றோன்று மடி.  [371]

பேதைப் படுக்கு மிழவூ ழறிவகற்று
மாகலூ ழுற்றக் கடை. [372]

நுண்ணிய நூல்பல கற்பினு மற்றுந்தன்
னுண்மை யறிவே மிகும். [373]

இருவே றுலகத் தியற்கை திருவேறு
தெள்ளிய ராதலும் வேறு. [374]

நல்லவை யெல்லாஅந் தீயவாந் தீயவு
நல்லவாஞ் செல்லவஞ் செயற்கு. [375]

பரியினு மாகாவாம் பாலல்ல வுய்த்துச்
சொரியினும் போகா தம. [376]

வகுத்தான் வகுத்த வகையல்லாற் கோடி
தொகுத்தார்க்குந் துய்த்த லரிது. [377]

துறப்பார்மற் றுப்புர வில்லா ருறற்பால
வூட்டா கழியு மெனின். [378]

நன்றாங்கா னல்லவாக் காண்பவ ரன்றாங்கால்
அல்லற் படுவ தெவன். [379]

ஊழிற் பெருவலி யாவுள மற்றொன்று
சூழினுந் தான்முந் துறும். [380]


4 Responses to Ool (karma) in Thirukkural

  1. […] of events outside a person’s control, regarded as predetermined by a supernatural power. Ool or karma, in an Indian context as per Hindu, Jain and Bhuddist traditions, and as rightly put in OED, is the […]

  2. vaNakkam

    I found this trying to find a sensible debate on the religion of the thirukkuRaL. I see that you don’t believe in past and future births — this is of course, is your right to personal choice. I do find it ironic that you are translating the thirukkuRaL, which speaks of a succession of births. I sense that you are a seeker — a very important quality is to be open-minded and not hold steadfastly onto ideas which haven’t been thouroughly cross-questioned with every available logic. I see you have transalated ooZH as karma. ooZH is only one part of karma/vinay. You may choose not to translate it as destiny but, the undeniable fact is that ooZH is destiny. ooZH results in mehl vinay, or fruit which we may experience some time in the future as ooZH. Given the process, when we do experience that now future karma, it would be the past, thus, all that fruit which mature become stored as thol vinay. It is this matured thol vinay that we are fed as ooZH. This may seem an unending circle but, in chapter 1, thiruvaLuvar makes reference to iruvinay woppu. Now, on the topic of reincarnation and destiny, I present these points to ponder. Firstly, reincarnation: how will we explain why we are all born different, with different experiences and actions. Within this current birth as well, exists proof for rebirth. We experience effects in the future from current causes, which means that they themselves are effects of a past cause. Likewise, before our first experience in birth, would there not have had to be something to serve as a cause? Of course, likewise, the question of what becomes of experiences that we are still to experience upon death? Since we have people born in between and in two extremes, that is, immence misery, immence happiness or mixture, is life unfair, or, if you do believe in a God, is God unfair? Will this not put either or both life and God in a negative light, lacking purpose? As far as destiny go, do we choose all our experiences, if so, how is it that we sometimes experience what we wish not to; if we don’t, then what or who chooses what we experience. May I offer some advice when it come to thirukkuRaL — I suggest doing a saiva sithaandha diploma through aNNaamalai University; you may not accept or agree with the religion, but, do it as a science that will add to knowledge.


  3. rajanchandrashekharan says:

    Good one. This chapter on Ool perhaps strikes at the heart of free-will vs. a deterministic world.

    While Valluvar builds up the character of Ool through these 10 murals, and finally deal with a more deadly blow when he says Perseverance will defeat even Ool – he is also cautious that Perseverance will only give ‘Mei Varutha Kooli’ and nothing more nothing less. Perhaps considering the age he lived in – he seems to have largely accepted the dominance of Ool.

    Have you come across any other stronger reference from Kural as to how to beat Ool – and the whole concept of a deterministic world – where free will has nothing much to influence ?

  4. Thirukural Translation Explanation A Life Skills Coaching Approah is the book I published rhrough Partridge (Penguin) which deals with uuzhl. You may find the chapter useful. It is almost like what Vivekananda has stated. It is the footprint we make on our soul by what we do and think over a period of reimcarnations. Since we make it we can un make it. Coulet 618,619 and 620 are rhe end pieces of chapter 38

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