Did Kauravas admit that their path was that of Adharma? Also what determines if something is Adharma?
Duryodhana states at one point :
Janaami Dharmam Na cha me pravrittihi Janaami Paapam Na cha me nivrittihi
( I know what is Dharma, but I am unable to practise it. I know what is Sin, but I am unable to restrain myself from it).
Another article on Arjuna and Duryodhana's difficulty in practising dharma.
What determines what is Adharma :
This is both complex and simple, in different ways.
- The duties assigned to you, by virtue of your position, abilities etc.
- The guidance of the scriptures
- Your context, situation, constraints and motives.
- Loka-kalyanam, the larger context of the welfare of the society or world.
- Your state of self-realization or lack thereof.
Put simply, it can also be the adherence to the voice of the conscience. People may mistake the voice of the mind to be the voice of the conscience, or they may be able to convince the society or the law, that they are doing the right thing, but in their hearts, they know the truth. Therefore, Dharma is beyond the legal version of truth.
The story of Dharma Vyadha illustrates this suitably. Being a butcher by a profession handed out to him by birth, he was eminent enough in his discharge of Dharma, to be called Dharma Vyadha and his discourse, the Vyadha Gita.
Did Kauravas admit their adharma?
In Sabha Parva of Mahabharata, after the Pandavas had lost the dice-game the first time and were sent off, Gandhari gives the following advice to Dhritarashtra. She's saying that Duryodhana by nature is evil, therefore most of his actions tend to be adharmic.
When Duryodhana was born, Vidura of great intelligence had said, 'It is well to send this disgrace of the race to the other world. He cried repeatedly and dissonantly like a jackal. It is certain he will prove the destruction of our race. Take this to heart, O king of the Kurus. O Bharata, sink not, for thy own fault, into an ocean of calamity. O lord, accord not thy approbation to the counsels of the wicked ones of immature years. Be not thou the cause of the terrible destruction of this race. Who is there that will break an embankment which hath been completed, or re-kindle a conflagration which hath been extinguished? O bull of the Bharata race, who is there that will provoke the peaceful sons of Pritha? Thou rememberest, O Ajamida, everything, but still I will call thy attention to this. The scriptures can never control the wicked-minded for good or evil. And, O king, a person of immature understanding will never act as one of mature years. Let thy sons follow thee as their leader. Let them not be separated from thee for ever (by losing their lives). Therefore, at my word, O king, abandon this wretch of our race. Thou couldst not, O king, from parental affection, do it before. Know that the time hath come for the destruction of race through him. Err not, O king. Let thy mind, guided by counsels of peace, virtue, and true policy, be what it naturally is. That prosperity which is acquired by the aid of wicked acts, is soon destroyed; while that which is won by mild means taketh root and descendeth from generation to generation.
However, Dhritarashtra is not impressed by her words and replies:
If the destruction of our race is come, let it take place freely. I am ill able to prevent it. Let it be as they (these my sons) desire. Let the Pandavas return. And let my sons again gamble with the sons of Pandu.
After Karna's death, Dhritarashtra admits how he had ignored the wise words of Vidura:
After Bhishma and Drona had been slain, and the Suta's son also overthrown, whom did my warriors make their generalissimo? The Pandavas are slaying without any delay everyone whom my warriors are making their generalissimo in battle. Bhishma was slain at the van of battle by the diadem-decked Arjuna in the very sight of all of you. Even thus was Drona slain in the sight of all of you. Even thus was the Suta's son, that valiant Karna, slain by Arjuna in the sight of all the kings. Long before, the high-souled Vidura had told me that through the fault of Duryodhana the population of the Earth would be exterminated. There are some fools that do not see things even though they cast their eyes on them. Those words of Vidura have been even so unto my foolish self. What Vidura of righteous soul, conversant with attributes of everything, then said, hath turned out exactly, for the words he uttered were nothing but the truth. Afflicted by fate, I did not then act according to those words. The fruits of that evil course have now manifested themselves.
What determines if something is adharma?
As Gandhari says, dharma is what prevails (naturally) and that which goes against peace, virtue, and true policy is adharma.
Sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint the exact nature of dharma or adharma as Bhishma indicates in Shanti Parva:
The question [How should a person act who desires to adhere to virtue?] thou hast asked me is a difficult one, since it is difficult to say what righteousness is. It is not easy to indicate it. No one in discoursing upon righteousness, can indicate it accurately. Righteousness was declared (by Brahman) for the advancement and growth of all creatures. Therefore, that which leads to advancement and growth is righteousness. Righteousness was declared for restraining creatures from injuring one another. Therefore, that is Righteousness which prevents injury to creatures. Righteousness (Dharma) is so called because it upholds all creatures. In fact, all creatures are upheld by righteousness. Therefore, that is righteousness which is capable of upholding all creatures. Some say that righteousness consists in what has been inculcated in the Srutis. Others do not agree to this. I would not censure them that say so. Everything, again, has not been laid down in the Srutis.
Manu defines the ten essentials of dharma as:
Dhriti Kshama Damosteyam Shaucham Indriyanigraha
Dheervidya Satyamakrodho dashakam Dharma Lakshanam [Manusmriti 6.92]
Dharma has ten characteristics, i.e., patience or perseverance (dhriti), forgiveness (kshama), self-restraint (dama), not to take possessions of others without permission (asteya), internal and external purification (shaucha), control of senses (indriya nigraha), intellect (dhi), acquisition of accurate knowledge (vidya), truth (satya), abstaining from anger (akrodha).
If you compare the characters of Yudhishtira (leader of Pandavas) and Duryodhana (acting leader of Kauravas), clearly, Yudhishtira has displayed more of those ten characteristics of dharma than Duryodhana.