A great and powerful emperor who longed to rule with justice and wisdom summoned one of his counsellors to his court. There, he commanded the cousellor to obtain the answers to a number of questions which the emperor would put to him. The emperor required the answers to be in such clew plain and concise language that all who read them should be able to understand and memorize them. The cousellor took a year to fulfil the emperor’s command. The answers were furnished by a great religious master and compiled as a scroll presented to the emperor by his counsellor under the title ‘List of Virtue’. The emperor was so pleased with the answers therein that he had them widely publicized and moreover sculpted in gold lettering upon a public building. The following is a selection from this ‘List of Virtue’:
What should I ask of God so that I shall have asked for all things?
Three things: health and prosperity with contentment.
To whom should I entrust a task?
To those who deserve that task.
In whom can I place my trust?
An intimate friend who is not jealous.
What is the most fitting thing in every area of my life?
Study and prayer when you are young and prayer to God when you get old so that you become a good example to the young.
What speech diminishes one’s value in the eyes of others?
Speaking of one’s own excellence.
How can I remove myself from relationships with those who don’t conduct themselves properly?
Three ways: visit them at infrequent intervals; ask less after their well-being; do not expect any favour from them.
Does the outcome of something depend on deeds done or destiny?
Destiny depends on deeds done. (Knowledge depends on the thing studied.)
What is fitting for the young and what for the old?
For the young courage and a sense of shame; for the old knowledge and a sense of dignity.
To whom is greatness suited and who can be called great?
One who differentiates between good and evil, and delegates work to the most appropriate person.
Whom should we avoid in order to achieve peace of mind?
Sycophants and people given to show.
Who is generous?
One who gives and derives contentment from giving.
What is more important to human beings than life?
Three things: educating one’s own character, having a clear belief in religion, and making oneself safe from the one’s enemies by taking positive action against cruelty of them.
What is that which people long for but cannot wholly achieve?
Three things: health, happiness and an intimate friend who would give his/her life for you.
Which is better to do a good deed or to avoid doing evil ones?
To avoid evil is the doorway to doing good.
Is there a good deed that comes to he regarded as shameful over time?
Doing someone a favour than reminding them that you have done it.
What quality best adorns knowledge?
What is the sign of daring?
To forgive when you have the power to take revenge on someone.
Who has no cause of shame?
The All-Mighty, God.
What sort of work is suited to an intelligent person?
The work that prevents him from doing wicked things.
Which is the most harmful human fault?
A cause of shame of which a person is unaware.
Which moments in life are wasted completely?
When a person can do a favour for someone but doesn’t do it.
Which commandments shouldn’t be despised?
Four commandments; firstly those of God, secondly those of parents, thirdly those of wise people, and finally those of sovereigns.
Which seed is sown in one place but harvested in two?
A service done for the wise and learned; because we can benefit from it in this world and hereafter from God.
What is the best thing in life?
Being comfortable in mind and feeling safe.
What is worse than death?
Fear of poverty and destitution.
What thing is the best and the most beautiful in its outcome?
Seeking the pleasure of the All-Mighty, God.
Which things des fray humanity?
Four things: the meanness of elders, the arrogance of wise men, the immodesty of women and the lies of men.
What causes a wise man : works to he wasted?
Praising cruel men.
What tools do we need to prosper in this world?
Knowledge, dexterity and humanity.
What precautions can we take to avoid needing a doctor’s care?
Eating little, sleeping little, speaking little and not having contact with everyone.
Who is wiser?
A person who speaks less, and listens more, and has a wide knowledge.
Why does the inferiority complex exist?
Because people are jealous of others’ possessions.
What is the reason for greed?
Indolence and sedition.
How is a good reputation acquired?
By hastening to do good works.
How can a ruler achieve greatness?
By being prompt in his works.
What is the best course of action?
To reap the rewards after death you should be modest without being under an obligation to anyone;, in this world, you should be generous without taking any profit.
What is the worst cow-se of action in this world?
Two things; the cruelty of governors and the meanness of the wealthy.
What is true modesty?
To be cheerful, to sit below one’s friends and not being hypocritical.
From whom should we take advice?
Those who treat religion with sincerity, who associate with sincere people and who are wise in judgement.
What kind of advisors does a leader need the most?
Who is better in this world?
Someone who works with generosity and who speaks the truth.
What can I do to prevent loneliness whilst away from home?
Do not give cause for accusation, do not offend anybody, and keep your moral integrity.
What respect should be shown the old by the young?
The young should keep the secrets of the old, should keep company with the old, and should not favour one above another.
Which things benefit from prayer?
Three things: the body, the tongue, and the heart.
What are their benefits?
The body’s benefit is a deed, the tongue’s is recitation and mention of the attributes of God, and the heart’s is reflection.
What are the attributes of a good person?
To cover up others’ faults and forget them, mention them anywhere.
How does a favour become perfect?
Through generosity that is unconditional, done or given without approval of oneself.
What things can make life easier?
Three things: first, not pushing things to their extremes; second, being patient; third, not desiring too much (i.e. being moderate in your desires).
What are the conditions of wanting something from someone?
Find someone who has sound morals, and objects of desire should be confined to your sphere.
What are the essentials required by everyone?
Three things: a wise person’s advice for a sensible person, strategy and path for a soldier however strong, prayer for a pious man.
What qualities will help you to be liked by others?
Two things: not being cruel in human relationships and not injuring others with your words.
What should the functions of our possessions be?
To compensate others for wrongs we have done them, to support our parents, to improve our chances for the next life (to gain experience for the next life), to make the poor rich, to make friends out of enemies, and to help our friends and enemies.
What things can be helpful to the human body though not eaten?
Soft and white clothes, pleasant smells, gazing at water and greenery, seeing friends when healthy, walking about in vineyards and gardens, visiting scholars whether they are dead or alive, bathing in want water and avoiding chatter and gossip.
This is taken from the Pendnama often attributed to Ibn Sina, and here translated from Dr Muhammad Debir Siyaki’s Numune-i Nesrha-i Dila viz-u Amuzende-i Fars Teheran, 1348 AH. (The emperor referred to is the Persian Anusherwan, his counsellor Buzurcmihr.)