Ethics of Hinduism

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Himanshu Bhatt

In Hinduism, there are five main commandments known as a the Panchavrata[1] or Panchashila, that are always the core forbearance. Regardless of any rules prescribed, they cannot conflict with these Five Precepts. These are the chief vows of Buddhism and Jainism as well. Not only are Hindus required to adhere to these five forbearances, but there are other vows which they are encouraged to keep. Hindus are also encouraged to commit to service to humanity which is known as Mānav Dharma. Example of these include “Oh Noble men! We do not commit violence. We do not hurt others. We do not quarrel either. We of course chant Vedas and act according to its dictates“[2] and the Atharva Veda declares, “Every man should protect the other in all respects“[3].

Sir Edward Blunt writes[4]:

A Hindu's code of ethics is as high as that of any other civilized nation.


The Yamas (Panchavrata) and Niyamas

Sir Richard Burn writes of Hindu ethics[5]:

He knows that it is wrong to commit murder, adultery, theft, and perjury, and to covert and he honors his parents, in the case of the father at any rate, to a degree exceeding the customs of most nations, which have no ceremony resembling that of the Śrāddha.

Commandments have always been taught for the benefit of society. Following them avoids problems, such as murder and theft, or the results from lying and non-chastity. They have been written by saints from various regions. An example is the Kaya Siddhar Konkana Munu writing, "Do not harm the poor; if you do, you cannot rid yourself of the resultant sin."


It means 5 commandments. Hindus today submit to the Panchavrata or five major vows or commandments:

  1. Ahiṅsa - non-injury
  2. Brahmacharya - non-fornication
  3. Asteya - non-stealing
  4. Satya - non-lying
  5. Aparigraha - non-possessiveness

The following excerpt from the Ṛgveda[6][7] sums up the Panchavrata:

"Violence, womanizing, drinking liquor, gambling, stealing, falsehood or lying and association with those who commit these sins; one who commits any of these sins is a sinner."

Bhagavad Gitā[edit]

It has 9 commandments. The lawgiver Kṛṣṇa gave the following precepts:

  1. Amanitva - Absence of pride
  2. Adambhitva - Absence of deceit
  3. Ahiṅsā - Non-injury
  4. Śanti - Patience
  5. Arjava - Uprightness
  6. Acaryopāsāna - Service to the teacher
  7. Sauca - Internal and external purity
  8. Sthairya - Steadfastness
  9. Atmavinigraha - Self-control

Manu Smriti[edit]

It has 10 commandments. In Manusmṛti ten aspects of general duties are mentioned. They are:

  1. Ahiṅsā
  2. Truthfulness
  3. Non-stealing
  4. Purity
  5. Control of senses
  6. Intelligence
  7. Knowledge
  8. Non-anger
  9. Forgiveness
  10. Tenacity of purpose

Yājñavalkya Smrti[edit]

It has 5 commandments. Sage Yājñavalkya was a ṛṣi in the Vedic age and mentor of Rājā Janaka. The Yājñavalkya Smṛti[8][9]) prescribes the Panchavrata, apart from other moral codes.[10]

“Altruism (ijyacara), control of mind (dama), non-violence (ahimsa), charity (danam), self-study (svadhyaya), work (karma), realisation of the Atman by means of Yoga (yogena atma darshanam) — all these are Dharmas. Samskāras — Sacraments”[1] PDF

Yoga Sutra[edit]

It has 10 commandments. Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras lists them to follow for a good or sinless livelihood.

  1. Ahiṅsā: Nonviolence. Abstinence from injury that arises out of love for all, harmlessness, the not causing of pain to any living creature in thought, word, or deed at any time. This and Satya are the “main” yama. The other eight are there in support of its accomplishment.
  2. Satya: Truthfulness, word and thought in conformity with the facts, honesty.
  3. Asteya: Non-stealing, non-coveting, non-entering into debt.
  4. Brahmacharya: being constantly aware of the universe, immersed in divinity, divine conduct, continence, celibate when single, faithfulness when married.
  5. Kṣama: Patience, releasing time, functioning in the now.
  6. Dṛti: Steadfastness, overcoming non-perseverance, fear, and indecision; seeing each task through to completion.
  7. Dayā: Compassion; conquering callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings.
  8. Ārjava: Honesty, straightforwardness, renouncing deception and wrongdoing.
  9. Mithara: Moderate appetite, neither eating too much nor too little; nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs.
  10. Śaucha: Purity, avoidance of impurity in body, mind and speech

Chandogya Upaniṣad[edit]

  1. austerity
  2. charity
  3. straightforwardness
  4. nonviolence
  5. truthfulness[2]

Śāndilya Upaniṣad[edit]

It has 10 commandments. Śāndilya Upaniṣad is the 62nd Upaniṣad[11] and it declares 10 yamas.[12]

  1. Ahiṅsā - Non-violence
  2. Satya - Truth
  3. Asteya - Non-stealing
  4. Brahmacharya - Celibacy
  5. Dayā - Compassion
  6. Ārjava - Equanimity
  7. Kṣamā - Forgiveness
  8. Dhṛti - Firmness of mind
  9. Mitāhāra - Vegetarianism and non-wasting of food
  10. Sancha

Veda Vyāsa[edit]

It has 10 commandments. In the Mahā Purāṇam Śrimad Devî Bhāgavatam, Veda Vyāsa writes of achieving yoga or union with God by destroying the six enemies of yoga;

  1. Lust
  2. Anger
  3. Greed
  4. Ignorance
  5. Vanity
  6. Jealousy

The six attributes can be destroyed by following Patanjali's commandments.[13]

Maharishi Gautama[edit]

It has 10 commandments. Mahaṛṣi Gautama was a lawgiver, and ascribed eight yamas.[14]

  1. Dāyā sarvabhuteshu: Kindness, compassion, pity and sympathy towards every living being.
  2. Kṣamā: Forgiveness.
  3. Anusuyā, anirmatsarata: No jealousy.
  4. Śauch, antar-bāhya-śuchirbhutata: Purity, the state of being pure from outside and inside.
  5. Anāyāsa: Not to indulge in petty and meaningless things.
  6. Mangala: To think, wish and work for bliss, well-being and prosperity of all.
  7. Akarpanya: Neither to be nor to show weakness and miserliness.
  8. Aspṛha: Neither list nor wish to possess whatever belonged to others.

Srimad Bhagavatam[edit]

It has 30 commandments. The Śrimad Bhāgavatam[15] lays down the following customs to be practiced for a good human life.[16]

  1. Truthfulness
  2. Mercy
  3. Austerity[17]
  4. Bathing twice a day
  5. Tolerance
  6. Discrimination between right and wrong
  7. Control of the mind
  8. Control of the senses
  9. Nonviolence
  10. Celibacy
  11. Charity
  12. Reading of scripture
  13. Simplicity
  14. Satisfaction
  15. Rendering service to saintly persons
  16. Gradually taking leave of unnecessary engagements
  17. Observing the futility of the unnecessary activities of human society
  18. Remaining silent and grave and avoiding unnecessary talk
  19. Considering whether one is the body or the soul
  20. Distributing food equally to all living entities[18]
  21. Seeing every soul[19] as a part of the Supreme Lord
  22. Hearing about the activities and instructions given by the Supreme Personality of Godhead[20]
  23. Chanting about these activities and instructions
  24. Always remembering these activities and instructions
  25. Trying to render service
  26. Performing worship
  27. Offering obeisances
  28. Becoming a servant
  29. Becoming a friend
  30. Surrendering one's whole self

Nārada Bhakti Sutra[edit]

It means 5 commandments. The Nārada Bhakti Sūtra 78 declares five principles to practice.[21]

  1. Nonviolence
  2. Truthfulness
  3. Cleanliness
  4. Compassion
  5. Faith

Rules of war[edit]

See also: Rulership in Hinduism

For the Rajanya (Kshatriya) it should be either death or victory in battle...He should not in battle kill one who is stunned, who has surrendered his arms, or is a fugitive, nor those of his enemies whom he has captured nor their wives or children. Whatever is acquired either by victory or treaty should be distributed amongst the soldiers in shares according to merit.[22]

Related Articles[edit]

External Resources[edit]


  1. It means five vows.
  2. Ṛgveda 10.134.7
  3. Atharva Veda 6.64.1
  4. P. 303 The Caste System of Northern India By Sir Edward Blunt
  5. P. 303 The Caste System of Northern India By Sir Edward Blunt
  6. Ṛgveda 10:5:6
  7. Divine Message Of God To Mankind Vedas By J.M. Mehta
  8. Yājñavalkya Smṛti 5.122
  9. p. 104 An Introduction To Gerontology By Swami Śankrananda
  10. P. 76 New Dimensions in Vedanta Philosophy, Volume 2 By Swami Sahajānanda
  11. P. 18 Monotheism of Hindu religion: unity in diversity of Hindu worship By Krishnaswamy Srinivasan
  12. P. 122 Values and Value Theories in the Light of Sri Aurobindo By V. Madhusudan Reddy
  13. "On the Yoga and Mantra Siddhi"
  14. You and Your Queries By Shrikant Prasoon
  15. Śrimad Bhāgavatam 7.11.8-12
  16. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 7.11.8-12
  17. It means observing fasts on certain days of the month.
  18. both men and animals
  19. It means especially in the human form.
  20. It means who is the shelter of the saintly persons.
  21. Nārada Bhakti Sūtra 78
  22. The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies By Thomas McEvilley