Translation of Shukra Niti by U. Mahesh Prabhu (Excerpts)
Niti Shastra is an ancient India classic on leadership, teaching primary ethics and principles of right behavior. It remains particularly relevant today in which this subject is an important part of education and management. The text consists of important aphorisms that hold important wisdom and guidance.
Niti as a term indicates leadership, guidance, direction, skill, and insight. Having the Niti or the guiding insight is the key to all achievement and the power of all transformation.
The essence of Niti Shastra wasn’t authored by one person but was compiled in an abridged form by various Rishis including Vashistha and Shukracharya. It is primarily attributed to Shukra. Shukra was a great sage of the Bhrigu line, one of the most important families of Vedic Rishis. He possessed knowledge, beauty, healing capacity and sagacity in both spiritual and worldly affairs. Mythologists identify him with Venus, the brightest of the planets, for this power of light and energy; they also him “guru of the Asuras”, the anti-Gods who sought worldly power. With his skill and diplomacy, he was able to even guide egoistic people to a higher Dharma.
While other Shastras deal with specialized aspects of life and, therefore, are of limited utility, the Niti Shastra is useful for everyone and in all cases and is a means for upliftment for all humanity.
Niti Shastra is considered to be a wellspring of health, wealth, enjoyment as well as liberation.
By knowing the principles Niti, leaders can be victorious, over their adversaries, overcoming all enemies – outside and within – irrespective of their power.
Knowledge of words and their meaning can be acquired without the study of Grammar. Material success can be achieved without understanding the science of Logic. People follow rituals, observances and festivals without understanding their meaning. Each person can easily realize the frailty as and destructibility of the physical body spiritual teachings.
Such subjects as Grammar, Logic, Philosophy and Scriptures treat only the topics of their concern. They are cared for and mastered only by individuals who have the relevant interest and need for this specific knowledge.
But then these disciplines can be of no avail to individuals in their ordinary daily lives. On the other hand, without understanding and following of Niti – better understood as ‘ethical philosophy’ – no person’s affairs can be properly maintained; just like without food the physical body cannot be maintained.
Niti Shastra is undisputedly conducive to the goals and interest of all and therefore is respected and followed by all who understand its importance. It is indispensable to leaders who guide individuals and organizations.
Just like people who consume unhealthy food soon come down with disease, leaders who are ignorant of the principles of Niti Shastra – are overwhelmed by their adversaries.
The two primary functions of a ruler are the protection of his subjects and the punishment of those who break the laws. These cannot be properly achieved without Niti Shastra.
Ignorance of Niti Shastra is dangerous for a ruler. He becomes vulnerable like a leaky vessel. It multiplies and favours his enemies and diminishes his strength and efficiency.
By drifting away from Niti – suffering is ordained. Service to a ruler without following Niti is like licking the keen edge of a sharpened sword.
The ruler who follows Niti is well respected but a ruler who does not is not honoured. Where both Niti and power exists – there will be all round prosperity.
For an entire nation to be prosperous and productive, for its citizen be blessed with happiness, Niti must be maintained, followed and honoured.
For the leader who does not follow Niti – his organization is weakened, his strategy is unclear, and his ministers are inefficient; in short, confusion prevails and everyone involved is in danger.
Time, in the first aspect, is divided into periods, epochs or ages according to atmospheric changes and astronomical influences. In the second aspect, however, Time is divided according to the deeds and activities of people, whether beneficial or hurtful – great or small.
The ruler is the cause of establishing customs, habits and occupations and hence is the cause or maker of time. If time alone were the cause – there could be no virtue in a person making efforts.
Through fear of the punishment meted out by the ruler each person gets accustomed to following his own Dharma (duty). The person who practices his own Dharma with determination can become powerful and influential in this world. Without strict adherence one’s own Dharma there can be no happiness. Practicing one’s own Dharma is the paramount labor (tapas) in life.
Even the gods minister to the wants of him who encourages others to to follow their own duties in life.
The ruler should make his subjects perform their duties by the use of his power of punishment. And he should himself practice his own Dharma, or his influence will decline.
From the very moment a person assumes a leadership role through skill, might or valour, no matter whether he is properly appointed and duly installed or not, he should discharge his duties according to Niti, being always above board and ever the upholder of dharma.
For an intelligent man even a little wealth will consistently increase. The leader has his character molded according to the tapas he regularly performs.
The leader who is constant to his own duty and protector of his subjects, who performs all responsibilities and overcomes his opponents, who is charitable, patient and fearless, has no attachment to enjoyment and is dispassionate, is called Sattvika. Such a leader attains glory in his lifetime and liberation thereafter.
The leader who has opposite characteristics is Tamasika. His life is bound to be a living hell.
A leader who is not compassionate and is overwhelmed by passion, who is envious and untruthful, who has vanity, cupidity and attachment for enjoyable things, who practices deceit and exploitation, who is not balanced in thought, speech and action, who is fond of quarrels and associates himself with inferior people, who does not obey Niti, and who is of a manipulative disposition, is called Rajasik and lives a painful life.
A Satvika leader enjoys the blessing of the divine, a Rajasik leader the company of men and the Tamasika person association with criminals. The mind of a leader should therefore always be devoted to Sattva.
Human birth results from a mixture of the three gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
Worldly people have their fortune and character determined according to the nature of the tapas (effort) they pursue.
A person’s karma is the cause of good or bad fortune. Even that which is called Prarabdha or fixed karma that cannot be changes is really a person’s own work. Who can ever exist without action?
Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra, the four temperaments of the wise person, warrior, trader and servant, are not owing to birth, but are according to their individual nature, capacities and action
Are all those who claim to be descendants of Brahmana to be called Brahmana? Its neither through class nor family that an individual can call himself a Brahmana.
A person can be a Brahmana only by his own merit. This consists of virtues including seeking the supreme wisdom, and practicing restraint and kindness to all beings – humans as well as animals.
A person who can protect other people, who is valorous, restrained yet powerful, and who is punisher of the wicked is called a Kshatriya.
Those who are raise cattle, who own and cultivate lands are called Vaishya in this world.
Those who are servants and followers of the wise, who are bold, peaceful and have mastered their senses, and who perform manual labour are called Shudra.
Those who have deserted their duties, who are unkind and troublesome to others, and who are excitable, envious and foolish are Mlecchas (outcastes).
According to the effects of karmas from previous births, the minds of people are inclined to good or bad actions. It is not possible form them to do otherwise.
Mental disposition is according to the fruits of karma. The means and measures used also are such as adapted to the Prarabdha Karma.
It is certain that a great many things happen under the influence of Prarabdha Karma. Nothing can help us entirely avoid Prarabdha Karma.
Men who are wise and whose character deserves praise, greatly respect Paurusha (personal effort); whereas the weak who are unable to exert themselves worship blame destiny and karma.
Everything in life is founded on Karma & Dharma. Karma is divided into two types, that which derives from previous births, and that done in the current birth
The strong is always the enemy of the weak. And the discrimination between the strong and the weak is made by seeing the results of their actions, not otherwise.
The achievement of results is not experienced immediately in this world. For that is the cause of Prarabdha, which bears fruit in its own time.
If sometimes great results arise out of even small activities; that is due to Prarabdha, as work done in previous life. Some maintain that it can be due to the earlier works in this life.
A person’s capacity to make new efforts is born of his karmas in this life.
It is possible to protect a lamp with its wick and oil from the wind only with great care.
It is possible to have remedies for certain Karmas. It is always possible to discard evil by dint of intelligence and zeal.
Leaders should recognize three kinds of Destiny, light, moderate and great, according to favourable or unfavourable consequences.
Good benefits result from good deeds. Harm follows from bad deeds. One should refer to the Shastras to understand what is right and wrong, and by leaving harmful practices must take up the good.
The leader is the cause of good and bad practices within his own organization. By a forceful use of his position of power he should maintain his people each in his own proper sphere.
A true leader is the cause of prosperity of his organization and is respected by the experienced and old people and seeks happiness for all.
If the leader proceeds according to the dictates of Niti he can supply himself and his people with knowledge, wealth and enjoyment, otherwise he destroys both himself and others.
Like a father who guides his children to grow, the leader can endow his own people with good qualities.
Like a mother who forgives mistakes and nourishes her children, a leader should pardon the mistakes of his people who are deserving.
Like a Guru, a leader must advise his people correctly and teach them good lessons.
The leader should give up his own faults, abandon unfriendly words, and should satisfy his subjects with gifts, honours and good deeds.
The results of ones’ karma must be endured unless remedial measures are used. If remedies are procured, the bad effects will not be experienced to the same extent, just as disease is reduced by medical treatment.
Discipline is the chief thing to the guide or the king. It comes through the dictates and precepts of the Shastras. It provides mastery over the senses, and one who has mastery over the senses acquires everything he aims for.
A leader should first provide discipline to himself, then to his children, then to his subordinates. He should never limit his ability to only advising others.
The leader whose subjects are devoted, who is devoted to the protection of his subjects and who has disciplined, enjoys great prosperity.
One should bring to bay or discipline by the hook of knowledge, the elephant of the senses which is running to and from in a destructive manner in the vast forest of enjoyment.
The mind, covetous of the meat of enjoyable objects, foolishly sends forth the senses. One should carefully check the mind, for when the mind is controlled, the senses are conquered.
If a person cannot control his own mind, how can he conquer anyone else’s?
The leader whose mind is agitated by enjoyment get trapped like the elephant.
Sound, touch, sight, taste and smell – each of these five alone is sufficient to cause destruction.
The deer which is innocent, feeds upon grass and reeds, and can roam far and wide, finds death when attracted by the music of the hunter.
The elephant whose stature is like a mountain and can uproot trees with ease, is trapped because of the desire for sex.
The fly gets death by falling suddenly into the flame because of its desire to gratify his eyes with the light of the wick.
The fish though it dives into unfathomed depths and moves in distant waters, tastes the fishhook for its death.
The bee which can move through small holes and can fly far, gets caught within a lotus because of its desire for a sweet smell.
Indulgence in gambling, lust and drinking, when undue, produces many disasters; but when within due limits, supports wealth, progeny and intelligence.
Nala, Yudhishthira and other kings were ruined through honest gambling, but gambling with dishonesty is productive of much wealth to those skillful in it.
Even the very name of the opposite sex is captivating and agitating to the mind. What to speak of the sight of those whose brows are beautifully decorated?
Who cannot allure us? Who is skilled in the art of conversation, who talks soft and sweet and whose eyes are red?
A determined seducer can subdue with passion the heart of even an ascetic who has conquered the senses. What to say of ordinary men whose senses are uncontrolled?
For one who drinks excessively – his intelligence disappears.
Alcohol, in small amounts, increases talent, clears our thoughts, augments patience and makes the mind steadfast; but otherwise it is ruinous.
Sensuousness and anger are like alcohol and should be carefully used – the former in the maintenance of the family, the latter against one’s enemies.
A leader who seeks great accomplishments should not indulge in greed.
Leaders should not indulge in sensuousness with regard to others’ spouses, envy of others’ wealth, and anger in punishing their subjects.
Can a person be said to have a mate who takes another’s spouse? Can someone be called a hero when he punishes people unjustly? Can a man be called wealthy by expropriating the wealth of others?
Ruin comes down on the leader who does not give protection to his subjects, a Brahmana who has no wisdom, and a rich man who is not charitable.
Sovereignty, the ability to bestow favours and opulence are the fruits of tapas; and the fruits of wrong actions are begging, slavery and poverty.
The leader who is attached to celebrities, courtesans, intoxication, and flatterers attracts ignominy and is exposed to enemies.
The leader who is inimical to the wise, who is pleased with rogues, and does not understand his own faults causes his own destruction.
Youth, vitality, mind, beauty, wealth and sovereignty – these six are never constant. Knowing this a leader must practise detachment.
Followers desert a leader who is a miserly, who insults others, who practices deceit, uses harsh words and who administers unduly severe punishment.
People do not serve a leader who is cowardly, procrastinating, overly emotional and excessively attached to personal enjoyment through ignorance of the higher truth.
Sensuousness, anger, ignorance, greed, vanity and passion – one should give up these six faults. Only when these are renounced will a leader gain lasting success.