By Ramanarayanadatta astri -, Public Domain,

Advice on Morality and Ethics in Mahabharata and Srimad Bhagavata Purana

By Ramanarayanadatta astri -, Public Domain,
By Ramanarayanadatta astri

I am posting here excerpts from Mahabharata discussion on ethics.

Vidura was a wise man and gave a series of advice to Dhritarashta. I have posted below some excerpts from Vidura’s advice.

Vidura on wise men

He that is not deviated from the high ends of life by the aid of self-knowledge, exertion, forbearance and steadiness in virtue, is called wise. These again are the marks of a wise man, viz, adherence to acts, worthy of praise and rejection of what is blameable, faith and reverence. He whom neither anger nor joy, nor pride, nor false modesty, nor stupefaction, nor vanity, can draw away from the high ends of life, is considered as wise. He whose intended acts, and proposed counsels remain concealed from foes, and whose acts become known only after they have been done, is considered as wise. He whose proposed actions are never obstructed by heat or cold, fear of attachment, prosperity or adversity, is considered as wise. He whose judgment dissociated from desire, followeth both virtue and profit, and who disregarding pleasure chooseth such ends as are serviceable in both worlds, is considered wise. They that exert to the best of their might and act also to the best of their might, and disregard nothing so insignificant, are called wise. He that understandeth quickly, listeneth patiently, pursueth his objects with judgment and not from desire and spendeth not his breath on the affairs of others without being asked, is said to possess the foremost mark of wisdom. They that do not strive for objects that are unattainable, that do not grieve for what is lost and gone, that do not suffer their minds to be clouded amid calamities, are regarded to possess intellects endued with wisdom.

[Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Section 33] 

Vidura on forgiveness

There is one only defect in forgiving persons, and not another; that defect is that people take a forgiving person to be weak. That defect , however, should not be taken into consideration, for forgiveness is a great power. Forgiveness is a virtue of the weak, and an ornament of the strong. Forgiveness subdueth (all) in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carrieth the sabre of forgiveness in his hand? Fire falling on a grassless ground is extinguished of itself. And unforgiving individual defileth himself with many enormities. Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness.
[Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Section 33]

Vidura on Gates of hell

Great fear springeth from these three crimes, viz, theft of other’s property, outrage on other’s wives, and breach with friends. These three, besides, being destructive of one’s self, are the gates of hell, viz, lust, anger, and covetousness. Therefore, every one should renounce them.
[Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Section 33]

Vidura’s advice on how to act

Do not, O Bharata, set the heart upon means of success that are unjust and improper. A man of intelligence must not grieve if any purpose of his doth not succeed, notwithstanding the application of fair and proper means. Before one engageth in an act one should consider the competence of the agent, the nature of the act itself, and its purpose, for all acts are dependent on these. Considering these one should begin an act, and not take it up on a sudden impulse. He that is wise should either do an act or desists from it fully considering his own ability, the nature of the act, and the consequence also of success.
[Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Section 34]

Vidura on the importance of controlling the senses

One’s body, O king, is one’s car; the Atman inside the driver; and the senses are its steeds. Drawn by those excellent steeds, when well-trained, he that is wise, pleasantly performeth the journey of life, and awake in peace. The horses that are unbroken and incapable of being controlled, always lead an unskillful driver to destruction in the course of the journey; so one’s senses unsubdued, lead only to destruction…….He to whom the gods ordain defeat, hath his senses taken away, and it is for this that he stoppeth to ignoble deeds.
[Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Section 34]

Vidura on the means to know one self

One should seek to know one’s self by means of one’s own self, controlling one’s mind, intellect, and senses, for one’s self is one’s friend as, indeed, it is one’s own foe. That man who hath conquered self by means of self, hath his self for a friend, for one’s self is ever one’s friend or foe.
[Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Section 34]

Vidura on the importance of controlling one’s speech
To control speech, O king, is said to be most difficult. It is not easy to hold a long conversation uttering words full of meaning and delightful to hearers. Well-spoken speech is productive of many beneficial results; and ill-spoken speech, O king, is the cause of evils. A forest pierced by arrows, or cut down by hatchets may again grow, but one’s heart wounded and censured by ill-spoken words never recovereth. Weapons, such as arrows, bullets, and bearded darts, can be easily extracted from the body, but a wordy dagger plunged deep into the heart is incapable of being taken out. Wordy arrows are shot from the mouth; smitten by them one grieveth day or night. A learned man should not discharge such arrows, for they do not touch the very vitals of others.
[Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Section 34]

Vidura on Kindness

Ablution in all the holy places and kindness to all creatures – these two are equal. Perhaps, kindness to all creatures surpasseth the former.
[Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Section 35]

Vidura on how to treat others

That which is antagonistic to one’s own self, should never be applied in respect of another.
[Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, Section 39]

I am now posting one of Bhishma’s moral precept.

Bhishma’s morality

Bhishma said, ‘Knowing how painful it is to himself, a person should never do that to others which he dislikes when done to him by others.’

Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CCLX

Here are some additional quotes.

Protest against slavery

Tuladhara said, ‘…Men are seen to own men as slaves, and by beating, by binding, and by otherwise subjecting them to restraints, cause them to labour day and night. These people are not ignorant of pain that results from beating and fastening in chains. In every creature that is endued with the five senses live all the deities, Surya, Chandramas, the god of wind, Brahman, Prana, Kratu, and Yama (these dwell in living creatures). There are men that live by trafficking in living creatures!

Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CCLXII

Treatment of servants

Bhishma said, ‘…One should not make distinction between one’s guests and attendants and kinsmen in matters of food. Equality (in this respect) with servants is applauded.’

Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CXCIII

Condemnation of dowry

A wife should never be purchased. Nor should a father sell his daughter. Only those persons of sinful soul who are possessed, besides, by cupidity, and who sell and purchase female slaves for making serving women, regard the status of wife as capable of arising from the gift and acceptance of a dowry.

Mahabharata AnusasanaParva Section XLIV

Condemnation of Weapons trade

They who sell weapons, they who forge weapons, they who make shafts, and they who make bows, have to sink in hell.

Mahabharata AnusasanaParva Section XXIII

Against Usury

Bhishma said, ‘They who betake themselves to improper conduct, they who take exorbitant rates of interest, and they who make unduly large profits on sales, have to sink in hell.’

Mahabharata, AnusasanaParva, Section XXIII

Highest Morality

Tuladhara said, ‘O Jajali, I know morality, which is eternal, with all its mysteries. It is nothing else than that ancient morality which is known to all, and which consists of universal friendliness, and is fraught with beneficence to all creatures. That mode of living which is founded upon a total harmlessness towards all creatures or (in case of actual necessity) upon a minimum of such harm, is the highest morality.’

(Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CCLXII

Need to feel for the afflicted

I abide in all beings as their inner-most soul. Disregarding My presence within them, men make a show of worshiping Me through images. If one disregards Me present in all as their soul and Lord but ignorantly offers worship only to images, such worship is as ineffective as a sacrificial offering made in ashes. A man who persecutes Me residing in others, who is proud and haughty, who looks upon God as the other – such a person will never attain to peace of mind. If a man disregards and persecutes fellow beings, but worships Me in images with numerous rituals and rich offerings, I am not at all pleased with him for proffering such worship. A man should, however, worship Me in images, side by side with discharging his duties, which include the love of all beings, until he actually realises My presence in himself and in all beings. As long as man is self-centred and makes an absolute distinction between himself and others (without recognizing the unity of all in Me, the Inner Pervader), he will be subject to the great fear of Death (including every form of deprivation of self-interest). So overcoming the separateness of a self-centred life, one should serve all beings with gifts, honour and love, recognising that such service is really being rendered to Me who reside in all beings as their innermost soul.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana III.29.21-27

Moral guidelines for the Righteous

Yudhishthira said, ‘Abstentions from injury, the observances of the Vedic ritual, meditation, subjugation of the senses, penances, and obedient services rendered to the preceptors – which amongst these is fraught with the greatest merit with respect to a person?’

Vrihaspati said, ‘All these six are fraught with merit. They are different doors of piety. I shall discourse upon them presently. Do thou listen to them, O chief of the Bharatas! I shall tell thee what constitutes the highest good of a human being. That man who practices the religion of universal compassion achieves his highest good. That man who keeps under control the three faults, viz., lust, wrath, and cupidity, ,,, (and practises the virtue of compassion), attains to success. ……. That man who regards all creatures as his own self, and behaves towards them as towards his own self, laying aside the rod of chastisement and completely subjugating his wrath, succeeds in attaining to happiness. ….One should never do that to another, which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of righteousness.

Mahabharata Anusasana Parva Section CXIII

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