Friday, August 14, 2009

the abundance of yes-men - सुलभाः पुरुषा राजन्

O King, abundant are yes-men, always pleasant spoken,
Rare are the speakers and listeners of the unpleasant but medicinal (truth).

सुलभाः पुरुषा राजन्, सततं प्रियवादिनः ।
अप्रियस्य तु पथ्यस्य, वक्ता श्रोता च दुर्लभः ॥

sulabhAH puruShA rAjan, satataM priyavAdinaH |
apriyasya tu pathyasya, vaktA shrotA cha durlabhaH ||

Yes-men are great! They make you feel more better, when you are feeling good. Similarly, when you are feeling down, they will take you even further down :) For they will simply say what you want to hear, not what you should hear!

It is like yelling in an echo well! Or watching yourselves in the mirror.

In corporates and administration, if you get yes-men, they are not even your eyes - to see the current or the future. It is like glasses on the eyes of a blind man.

But such yes-men are abundant. people don't want to offend others, specially if it is not in a large public place, where you could care less for others! For a king, a CXO, it could be dangerous. Render you aimless, submarine without periscope, ship without rudder, sailor without compass.

This shloka first appears in Ramayana (rAmAyaNa) [3:37:2] , when Maricha (marIcha) warns Ravana (rAvaNa) against his plans of abducting Sita (sItA). Later, in Yuddha Kanda, Vibhishana (vibhIShaNa) warns Ravana again to return Sita and avoid the war. Both times, the speaker dares to defy and go against the will of a King gone mad.

This shloka is also told by the very wise Vidura in the epic Mahabharata (mahAbhArata) to the blind emperor Dhritarashtra (dhRitarAShTra). One day the emperor calls for Vidura late at night to his palace, and complains of sleeplessness. Vidura says that "one who challenges a stronger foe, the helpless, the one who has been robbed of everything, one in affair or a thief - these suffer from lack of sleep, and asks if the emperor has any of the situation applicable."

After a long and stimulating counsel on what should a good king, statesman, leader do, he goes on to say this warning.

Reminds me of a much later saying - "We don't always love all whom we praise." Read it again, yes! There are lot of actors in the world, who would do anything to please you, as long as you have some muscle or money or power.

But for a leader, king, CEO it is important to get the real perspective, real clarity of thought. But such people who would say even unpleasant truths as long as like they are medicinal in value, would do long term good. A good king should surround himself with a panel of really learned, simple, truthful people who won't be scared to say they can't see the emperor's clothes.

Next time someones gives you criticism, or tells you the real truth about matters, thank them. For their truthfulness in feedback will help you improve.

And now the language aspects of the shloka -

sulabhAH = easily available
labh = to gain
lAbha = profit
lobha = greed
su-labha = easily available su- prefix for indicating good.

puruShA = man

rAjan = o king

satataM = always

priyavAdinaH = sweet spoken.

apriyasya = of (-sya suffix) apriya (unpleasant)
priya = dear, pleasant; a- prefix negates it

tu = but; short of kintu

pathyasya = of (-sya) medicine (pathya)

vaktA = speaker; from vAk - speech

shrotA = listener

cha = and

durlabhaH = scarce; not easy to obtain

(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
Practical Sanskrit. All rights reserved.


  1. interestingly, i found that this shloka is first told in rAmAyaNa in yuddha-kANDa (war section) 16.20 by vibhIShaNa to rAvaNa.

    everyone sided with rAvaNa out of fear, and vibhIShaNa tells him this shloka, that the king will find many yes-men, but needs to hear the bitter truth and should let sItA go, who after all is someone else's wedded wife.

    rAvaNa of course doesn't heed and kicks vibhIShaNa out of the kingdom saying "your act is very un-Arya since you are speaking against your king and elder brother, rather than supporting him"

  2. I would like to correct it. This is not from mahabharata.This was told by mArIcha in Sri Ramayanam to Ravana.

    1. Yes u r correct, however, it was told in Mahabharata as well.

  3. anonymous, thanks you pointing that out.
    as i mentioned in the previous comment (sep 2009), the same shloka originally appears in rAmAyaNa, where an angry vibhIShaNa scolds rAvaNa that he is surrounded by yes-men and no one is telling him the harsh truth.

  4. It appears in two places in Valmiki Ramayana same verse in chapter 3 sarga 37 verse 2 and chapter 6 sarga 16 verse 21

  5. This is not in yudhakanda .. this was told by Marichi to Ravana in Aranyakanda

    1. Thank you, Gowtham. I had mentioned so in the comments, I have updated the main article as well.


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