While it is generally agreed that our speech must benefit others, it takes two to make a conversation.

If there is a speaker who advocates ethics, there must be a willing listener. But responsive listeners are difficult to find. And when a listener is unresponsive, the speaker's task becomes much more difficult, said Goda Venkateswara Sastrigal. How difficult the speaker's job will be is explained by Bhartrhari in his Neeti Sataka with several examples.

Bhartrhari says it is easier to prise open the jaws of a crocodile and retrieve a jewel it may be clutching than to convince an unwilling listener of the merits of one's arguments.

In the water, a crocodile is powerful and is not easily overpowered. But even such a crocodile can be controlled. We can cross the sea, using a ship or a boat, or with the aid of bhakti, as Hanuman did. A hissing, angry cobra, which never forgets an injury it has suffered at a person's hands, can be tamed and worn like a garland.

In a desert, animals may go in search of water, and be fooled by mirages. But even in a desert there is the possibility of finding water in an oasis.

All of these seemingly impossible things can be accomplished, but getting across a message to an unresponsive listener is impossible. It is like trying to tie up a raging elephant using a lotus stem. It is like trying to cut a diamond with a flower petal; it is like trying to remove the saltiness from the seawater by adding a drop of honey to the ocean.

What then is the solution? The awareness that we are in need of help, the willingness to listen must come from us, so that we benefit from the words of advice the learned and the righteous are so willing to give us.

We should shed our prejudices and arrogance and approach the learned with humility. If we are determined to close our minds to the advice of the virtuous, we have no one to blame, but ourselves.

There is no hope for the adamant man who refuses to pay heed to the words of wisdom, however willing the learned might be to help.

More In: Faith | Friday Review