There are several texts in Hinduism which flirts with the idea of morality and ethics. Itihiasa texts like Mahabharata and Ramayana gives a subjective aura around the subject of morality, notably the conversation between Yudhisthira and the Yaksha and the conversation between Rama and Vashishta in Yoga Vashista.

Also, there are dharmasashtras like Manusmriti, Yagyavalkyasmriti etc which lists out dos and don'ts in a more enumerative sense. So, does the yama-niyama of yogasutras. But I have a feeling that dharmasashtras and yogasutras are not talking about morality/ethics rather jurisprudence. For I believe, laws are not related to morality/ethics.

Also, I understand that dharma or 'righteous behaviour' is often described as a combination of kula-dharma, jati-dharma, manava-dharma, pashu-dharma, mano-dharma, sad-dharma, sva-dharma.

So, my question is is there a canonical set of rules which all the parampara/texts above agree upon? Or if someone can comment upon the aforementioned points?

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    Why would u need separate texts for morality?The Dharma Shastras and the principles of Sadacharas as found in Puranas are sufficient i guess..
    – Rickross
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 5:49
  • @Rickross, I just tried to explain it in my question. I don't see why jurisprudence should be in any way linked to morality. Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 4:46
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    Vidur-niti is a good source
    – zaxebo1
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 1:08

1 Answer 1


I am posting 2 examples of canonical Hindu texts on morality and ethics.

Bhartrihari's Niti Satakam is a famous text on ethics. The entire text is available here:


Vidura's conversation with Dhritarashtra in Mahabharata Udyoga Parva is a discourse on morality and ethics and is called Vidura Niti. Here are some examples of Vidura's discourse on morality and ethics.

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 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]

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    "2 examples of canonical Hindu texts on morality and ethics" - how do we know these are canonical? How do we know "all the paramparas above agree upon" those 2 or any others? Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 16:08
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    We don't know of course but we can assume with some degree of confidence that all the major paramparas will not disagree with the basic morality stated in the texts posted above. For example Vidura calls lust, anger and covetousness gates of hell. Surely no major parampara would take the opposite position on this. Do you know of any sampradaya that says that lust, anger etc are gates to heaven? The paramparas disagree on philosophical questions like the nature of God and Jiva and the relationship between them and not on basic moral questions. Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 11:30

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