We are in the midst of intense electioneering. Decency level of public discourse has been hitting new lows every day. This is the time to remind ourselves of some of the basic Niti Sastra dicta to be followed in public life.
Niti (नीति) has been interpreted as policy, ethics, morality etc. Niti is indeed the practice of rules of conduct, which will lead us to the goal desired of human life. The stated goals are Dharma, Artha (wealth), Kama (desire) and Moksha (Liberation). The rules, which are in the form of dos and don'ts, require constant exercise of discrimination (विवेक). Niti is taught comprehensively in Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, Itihasas, Puranas and Niti Sastras of Brihaspati, Sukra, Vidura, Chankaya and others. Bhagavan Krishna says in Gita: नीतिरस्मि जिगीषताम्, 'I am Niti of those who wish to succeed.' Let us look at some of the rules that concern us here.
Never despise others. Evil conduct should be condemned, not the person in question. Interestingly, Rigveda, the first of the four Vedas, mentions not just Nitis, but also explains them with stories. Acharya Dyadviveda has compiled a book titled 'Nitimanjari' from these teachings of Rigveda. He summarises each teaching together with the story in the form of a verse. Rigveda (1.11.5) instructs that we should never condemn anyone even a little. The story goes like this: There was an Asura called Bala, who was very powerful; he always condemned eveyone; even good qualities appeared evil in his eyes. Censure was his second nature. This led to his indulging in despicable acts of jealousy, theft etc. He could not bear to see the splendour of Devas. One day, he stole all the cows of Swargaloka and hid them in a cave, as cows represent the wealth of Devas. Indra consulted Brihaspati, went to the cave with his army, released all the cows and killed Bala with his Vajrayudha. Nitimanjari puts this in a beautiful verse:
निन्दावादरतो न स्यात् परेषां नैव तस्करः ।
निन्दावादाद्धि गोहर्ता शक्रेणाभिहतो वलः ॥
Mahabharata similarly tells us how constant recrimination of Krishna led to the destruction of Sisupala; how the all-consuming hatred of Pandavas resulted in the extinction of the Duryodhana clan.
The next important rule is: Never utter harsh words. Veda instructs that sweet, beneficial, kind and true words alone should be spoken. Harsh words cause pain greater than poisonous arrow. The Rigvedic story (2.14.6): There was an Asura called Varchi. He had the habit of continuously abusing Indra in intolerably harsh words. One day the enraged Indra killed not only Varchi with his Vajrayudha, but his entire clan. Nitimanjari verse:
क्षिपेत्वाक्यशरान् घोरान् न पारुष्यविषप्लुतान् ।
वाक्पारुष्यरुषा चक्र इन्द्रो वर्चिकुलक्षयम् ॥
We find in Ramayana how Ravana's extremely harsh words towards Vibhishana uttered in the full royal assembly in Lanka led ultimately to the complete ruin of him and his clan.
We are told to speak truth always under all circumstances. Satya is the very base of Dharma; it is Satya that holds the universe together. No sacrifice, even of one's life, is too great for the sake of Satya. The Rigvedic story (10.61): There was a person named Nabhanedishtha, who was denied his share of hereditary wealth by his brothers. He complained to his father, who told him: 'Why are you miserable? Angirasas are performing a 60 day yagna; when they complete this yagna, they will ascend to Swarga. At that time, they will hand over to you thousands of cows left over by them.' Nabhanedishtha accordingly informed Angirasas, who agreed. At the end of the yagna, when he was taking over the cows, Rudra came in the form of Krishnasava and claimed that the remnants of yagna belong to him alone. In reply Nabhanedishtha recounted to him what had happened. Krishnasava asked him to go back to his father and verify. Nabhanedishtha then checked with his father, who confirmed that Rudra alone has the claim over the cows. He then went back to Krishnasava (Rudra) and confirmed honestly what his father had said. Rudra was highly pleased with his truthfulness and allowed him to take all the cows. In case Nabhanedishtha had uttered untruth, perhaps he would not only have lost the wealth of cows, but would also have been cursed by Rudra. Nitimanjari verse:
सत्यमेव सदा ब्रूयादापत्कालेऽप्युपस्थिते ।
यस्माज्जग्राह गा: सत्यान्नाभानेदिष्ठ ईश्वरात् ॥
Mahabharata recounts how Bhima pleaded with Yudhishthira that the kingdom lost in the game of dice should be taken back by force. Yudhishthira said: 'Bhima, the kingdom, sons, fame and wealth – all this together will not equal even one-sixteenth part of Truth. Wait patiently for the twelve year period of stay in the forest and incognito stay for a year to end.' Bhima then argued: 'We have completed thirteen months already. Veda permits this period of thirteen months to be counted as thirteen years.' Yudhishthira said that this is also deceitful and would not agree. Mahabharata says that a thousand Asvamedha yagnas do not equal Truth in merit.
Rigveda specifically instructs us to keep away from deceit at all times. It warns us to keep distance from one, who talks sweet words in front and goes and acts against our interest later. Such an evil friend should never be relied upon; Rigveda calls him द्वयु: (8.18.14). Sayana Bhashya interprets this term as double-faced, sweet in front and inimical at the back. A Rishi called Irimbithi prays to Surya that such a double-faced द्वयु: should suffer from the results of that sin.
We are all aware of how Duryodhana's many deceitful acts against the virtuous Pandavas (letting snakes on Bhima in the river while in Gurukula, wax house, game of dice etc.) led to his extinction; no harm occurred to Pandavas.
This brings us to the last of the rules we are presently viewing, the eternal law of Karma, which states that whatever good or evil deeds one has done will surely bear him fruit in a future birth. Devi Bhagavatam repeatedly says: अवश्यं अनुभोक्तव्यं कृतं कर्म शुभाशुभम् । It further adds: अत्युग्रपुण्यपापानां इहैव फलमश्नुते ।, 'Very intense deeds of merit or sin will bear immediate fruit in this birth itself.' This applies even to Devatas. The Rigvedic story: In a yaga conducted by Devas, the Ritviks were offering 'Purodasa' (Ahuti) to Savita. Even before the mantras could be pronounced, Savita came and took the offering in his hand. Owing to this forbidden deed, Savita lost his hand instantly. The Ritviks then fixed a golden hand for Savita. Bhaga lost his eyes and Pusha his teeth in the same yagna in a similar manner. Nitimanjari verse:
शुभाशुभं कृतं कर्म भुञ्जते देवता अपि ।
सविता हेमहस्तोऽभूद्भगोऽन्धः पूषकोऽद्विजः॥
An account in Devi Bhagavatam of the eight Vasus is very instructive. Once they found Nandini, the celestial cow in Sage Vasishtha's asram and, in his absence, stole the cow. The sage, who came later, cursed the eight vasus to be born on earth and suffer for long. The Vasus fell at the sage's feet and begged for mercy. The sage said that seven out of the eight Vasus would go back to Swarga immediately after birth on earth; but one Vasu, who had actually committed the despicable act, would have to live for long on earth and suffer; ultimately he would return to Swarga as Vasu. The seven were born to Santanu and Ganga. Immediately on birth, Ganga immersed the newborn babies in the river and restored them to their original state of Vasu. When the eigth child was born, Santanu questioned Ganga. Ganga then separated from Santanu. The child was saved. He was Bhishma, who lived very long on earth.
It is pertinent to recall Mahakavi Bhartruhari's praise of those who are steadfast in the path of Niti in his celebrated Nitisatakam:
निन्दन्तु नीतिनिपुणा यदि वा स्तुवन्तु
लक्ष्मीः समाविशतु गच्छतु वा यथेष्टम् ।
अद्यैव वा मरणमस्तु युगान्तरे वा
न्याय्यात्पथात्प्रविचलन्ति पदं न धीराः ॥ 84
'Those of courage and determination will not ever deviate from the righteous path, whether knowers of codes of conduct praise or blame them , whether Devi Lakshmi comes to them or leaves them, whether death comes immediately or after ages.'
Some articles of mine, which have appeared in the recent issue of DILIP are attached.
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