Essential leadership wisdom from Shukracharya

Mahesh Prabhu

Mahesh Prabhu

Udupi Mahesh Prabhu is a seasoned media, management & political consultant. He is a Founder and Chairman of Vedic Management Center and Vivaswaan. A fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, London (UK) and member of the International Federation of Journalists(USA), he also holds a Masters in Business Administration with a specialization in Marketing. For more info visit

Translation of Shukra Niti by U. Mahesh Prabhu (Excerpts)

Niti Shastra, a collection of quotes from various rishis, is believed to have been compiled in an abridged form, originally, by Shukracharya –a great Rishi (sage). It is an ancient India classic on leadership, teaching primary ethics and principles of right behavior which remains relevant even today. It consists of important aphorisms that hold essential wisdom and guidance.

Niti as a term indicates leadership, guidance, direction, skill, and insight. Therefore, having the Niti as the guiding light is the key to all achievement and the power of all transformation. While other Shastras deal with specific 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.

Here are some excerpts from Shukracharya‘s Neeti Shastra, also known as Shukra Neeti.

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 when acquired without the study of Grammar, when material success is achieved without understanding the science of Logic when people follow rituals, observances, and festivals without understanding their inherent meaning a person realized the frailty and destructibility of life.

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 adequately maintained; just like without food the physical body cannot be sustained.

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 a 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 achieved appropriately without Niti Shastra.

Ignorance of Niti Shastra is dangerous for a ruler. He becomes vulnerable like a leaky vessel. It multiplies and favors 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, whereas a ruler who does is not honored even by those ignorant of the Niti. Where both Niti and power exists – there will be all round prosperity.

For an entire nation to be prosperous and productive, for its citizen to remain blessed with happiness Niti must be adhered to, followed and honored.

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 planetary influences. In the second aspect, however, Time is classified 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 object or maker of the 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 Dharma (duty). The person who practices his Dharma with determination can become powerful and influential in this world. Without strict adherence to one’s Dharma, there can be no happiness. Exercising one’s Dharma is paramount labor (tapas) in life.

Even the god minister to the wants of those who encourage others to follow their Dharma 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 valor, no matter whether he is adequately 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, his modest wealth will consistently increase.

The leader has his character molded according to the tapas he regularly performs.

The leader who is constant to his duty and protector of his subjects, who performs all responsibilities and overcomes his opponents, who remain charitable, patient and fearless, has no attachment to the enjoyment and is dispassionate, is called Sattvika. Such a leader attains glory not just when living but even after his death.

The leader who has characteristics diametrically opposite of a Sattvika 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 he, who is of a manipulative disposition, is called Rajasik and lives a troubled life.

A leader of Sattvika disposition enjoys the blessing of the virtue, a Rajasik leader the company of opportunist men and the Tamasika person is always found amid 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 changed is a person’s 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 nature, capacities, and action

Are all those who claim to be descendants of Brahmana to be called Brahmana? It’s neither through class nor family that an individual can call himself a Brahmana.

A person can be a Brahmana only by his merit, consisting 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 are valorous, restrained yet powerful, and who is the punisher of the wicked is called a Kshatriya.

Those who 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 labor 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 past actions, the mind of a person is inclined to good or bad actions. It is not possible for 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 dependent on Karma & Dharma. Karma is divided into two types, that which derives from past actions, and that done in the present.

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 is 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. Having remedies for certain Karmas is possible. It is always possible to discard evil by dint of intelligence and zeal.

Leaders should recognize three kinds of Destiny, light, moderate and significant, according to favorable or unfavorable consequences.

Good benefits result from good acts. Harm follows from evil 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 organization. By effective use of his position of power, he should maintain his people each in his proper sphere.

A true leader is the cause of prosperity of his organization and is always respected by the experienced as well as the 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 health, wealth and prosperity. Otherwise, he destroys both himself and his people.

Like a father who guides his children to grow, the leader can endow his people with good qualities.

Like a mother who forgives mistakes and nourishes her children, a leader should pardon the errors of his deserving people. Like a Guru, a leader must advise his people correctly and teach them good lessons.

The leader should give up his faults, abandon unfriendly words, and should satisfy his subjects with gifts, honors, and good deeds.

The results of ones’ karma ensure unless remedial measures are used. If a remedy is procured, the adverse effects will not be experienced to the same extent, just as diseases are cured by medicine.

Discipline is a crucial guide for a 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 pursues.

A leader must first discipline himself, then to his children, then to his subordinates. He should never limit his ability to only preach and dominate others.

The leader whose subjects are devoted, who is devoted to the protection of his subjects and remains disciplined, enjoys great prosperity.

One should seek discipline by knowledge to evade self-destruction and restrain his senses from going astray like those wild elephant running haphazardly in a destructive manner in the vast forest of enjoyment.

The covetous mind is the one that is foolishly dominated by its senses. One should carefully check the mind, for when the mind is controlled, its senses is conquered.

If a person cannot control his mind, how can he conquer anyone else’s?

The leader whose mind is agitated without enjoyment gets trapped like the elephant.

Sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell – each of these five alone is sufficient to cause destruction to mind which is ruled by its senses.

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 are 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 with beautifully decorated brows?

He who is skilled in the art of conversation, who talks soft and sweet and whose eyes are red can always allue others.

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 concerning others’ spouses, the envy of others’ wealth, and anger in punishing their subjects.

Can a person be said to have a character who takes another’s spouse? Can someone be called a hero when he punishes people unjustly? Can a man be called wealthy by confiscating or stealing 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 favors 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 remains exposed to enemies.

The leader who is averse to the wise, who is pleased with rogues, and does not understand his faults causes self-destruction.

Youth, vitality, mind, beauty, wealth and sovereignty – these six are never constant. Knowing this a leader must practice detachment.

Followers desert a leader who is miserly, who insults others, who practices deceit, use 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.

5 responses on "Essential leadership wisdom from Shukracharya"

  1. Could I subscribe to this magazine online?

  2. Great wisdom article, thx u for sharing it. My respect and appreciation to you Prabhu.

  3. Are the honest and dishonest interchanged in the sentence about Nala and gambling?

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