On Vanity

Vanity of vanities is a superlative expressing the supreme degree of futility and emptiness.


– From Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1

Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

What profit have we from all the toil
which we toil at under the sun?

One generation departs and another generation comes,
but the world forever stays.

The sun rises and the sun sets;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.

Shifting south, then north,
back and forth shifts the wind, constantly shifting its course.

All rivers flow to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they flow,
the rivers continue to flow.

All things are wearisome,
too wearisome for words.
The eye is not satisfied by seeing
nor has the ear enough of hearing.d

What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!e

Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!” has already existed in the ages that preceded us.f

There is no remembrance of past generations;g nor will future generations be remembered by those who come after them.


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My friend Dr.Mani Sivasubramanian pointed out to me how similar this Ecclesiastes text is to what is said in Bhagavad Gita.

What did you lose that you cry about?

What did you bring with you, which you think you have lost?

What did you produce, which you think got destroyed?

You did not bring anything – whatever you have, you received from here. Whatever you have given, you have given only here. Whatever you took, you took from God.

Whatever you gave, you gave to him.

You came empty handed, you will leave empty handed.

What is yours today, belonged to someone else yesterday, and will belong to someone else the day after tomorrow.

You are mistakenly enjoying the thought that this is yours.

It is this false happiness that is the cause of your sorrows.

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