According to Mahabharata, Vidura was the half-brother of kings Dhritarashtra and Pandu of Hastinapura. He was the son of Sage Vyasa and Parishrami, the maid to queens Ambika and Ambalika.
Vidura was raised and educated by Bhishma but since he did not carry the royal blood, he was made counselor to his brothers, the kings instead of becoming one himself. He was a friend of the Pandavas and a great devotee of Krishna. In spite of being a royal minister he led a simple life.
Greatly respected for his wisdom and intellect, Vidura took over the reins of government for all practical purposes after Pandu’s abdication and Dhritarashtra succession to the throne, and guided his brother until Duryodhana came of age.
Vidura was the most respected adviser of the Pandavas after Krishna and greatly protested against the humiliation of Draupadi in the Kaurava court. When Duryodhana rebuked Vidura, calling him ungrateful, Dhritarashtra did nothing to reprimand his son for disrespecting such a great man. It was this incident that made Vidura severe ties with the Kurus and side with the Pandavas at the onset of the Kurukshetra war.
The teachings of Vidura in Mahabharata are called Vidura Neethi. It is in the Upayoga parva of Mahabharata that Vidura gives advice about various topics that are still valid to date and touches on issues like relationships, how to identify the reality of people, obtain victory and attain Moksha.
The Neethi is narrated in the form of a conversation between Vidura and King Dhritraashtra in the great epic and is often cited as the precursor of the more famous Chanakya Neeti.
Below is a selection of verses from Vidura Neeti with English translations that are still relevant today:
Mark of a Wise Man
आत्मज्ञानं समारम्भः तितिक्षा धर्मनित्यता ।
यमर्थान्नापकर्षन्ति स वै पण्डित उच्यते ॥
Aatmajnaanam samaarambha stitikshaa dharmanityataa
Yamarthaannaapakarshanti sa vai pandita uchyate 1.20
That one is wise who does not deviate from the higher goals of life, rooted as he is in Self-knowledge, endeavour, forbearance and adherence to dharma.
यस्य कृत्यं न विघ्नन्ति शीतमुष्णं भयं रतिः ।
समृद्धिरसमृद्धिर्वा स वै पण्डित उच्यते ॥
Yasya krityam na vighnanti sheetamushnam bhayam ratih
Samriddhirasamriddhir vaa sa vai pandita uchyate 1.24
That one is wise whose actions or endeavours are not obstructed by cold, heat, fear, love, affluence or poverty.
नाप्राप्यमभिवाञ्छन्ति नष्टं नेच्छन्ति शोचितुम् ।
आपत्सु च न मुह्यन्ति स वै पण्डित उच्यते ॥
Naapraapyamabhivaanjhanti nashtam nechchhanti shochitum
Aapatsu ch na muhyanti sa vai pandita uchyate 1.28
That one is wise who does not hanker after the unattainable, who does not worry over what is lost and who faces calamities without losing his senses.
निश्चित्वा यः प्रक्रमते नान्तर्वसति कर्मणः ।
अवन्ध्यकालो वश्यात्मा स वै पण्डित उच्यते ॥
Nishchitwaa yah prakramate naantarvasati karmanah
Avandhyakaalo vashyaatmaa sa vai pandita uchyate 1.29
That one is wise whose endeavours are preceded by a firm commitment, who does not take long rests before the task is accomplished, who does not waste his time and who has control over his mind.
न हृष्यत्यात्मसम्माने नावमानेन तप्यते ।
गांगो ह्रद इवाक्षोभ्यो यः स पण्डित उच्यते ॥
Na hrishyatyaatmasammaane naavamaanena tapyate
Gaango hrada ivaakshobhyo yah sah pandita uchyate 1.31
That one is wise who does not rejoice when honoured, does not become dejected when dishonoured and is not swayed by emotions under the most trying circumstances.
अर्थं महान्तमासाद्य विद्यामैश्वर्यमेव वा ।
विचरत्यसमुन्नद्धो यः स पण्डित उच्यते ॥
Artham mahaantamaasaadya vidyaamaishwaryameva vaa
Vicharatyasamunnaddho yah sah pandita uchyate 1.45
That one is wise who, even after acquiring great wealth, learning or control over others goes about his job without being conceited in the least.
Mark of a fool
अमित्रं कुरुते मित्रं मित्रं द्वेष्टि हिनस्ति च ।
कर्मचारभते दुष्टं तमाहुर्मूढचेतसं ॥
Amitram kurute mitram mitram dweshti hinasti cha
Karma chaarabhate dushtam tamaahurmooddha chetasam 1.38
That one is a fool who makes the enemy his friend, hurts and kills his friend and always engages himself in wrongful activity.
सम्सारयति कृत्यानि सर्वत्र विचिकित्सते ।
चिरम् करोति क्षिप्रार्थे स मूढो भरतर्षभ ॥
Samsaarayati krityaani sarvatra vichikitsate
Chiram karoti kshipraathe sa mooddho bharatarshabha 1.39
That one is a fool who spreads out his actions, entertains doubts about everything and takes a long time for actions which should be done with the utmost urgency.
क्षिपत्यन्यान् हि दोषेण वर्तमान स्वयम् तथा।
यश्च क्रुद्धत्यनीशानः स च मूढतमो नरः॥
Kshipatyanyam hi doshena vartamaanah swayam tathaa
Yashcha krudhatyaneeshaanah sa cha mooddhatamo narah 2.43
That one is the greatest fool who finds fault with others when he himself has such faults and who gets angry when he himself has no control over the one at whom the anger is directed.
न वैरमुद्दीपयति प्रशान्तं
न दर्पमारोहति नास्तमेति ।
न दुर्गतोऽस्मीति करोत्यकार्य
तमार्यशीलं परमाहुरार्याः ॥
Na vairamuddeepayati prashaantam
Na darpamaarohati naastameti
Na durgatosmeeti karotyakaaryam
Tamaaryasheelam paramaahuraaryaah 1.117
That one is of sterling conduct and character who does not inflame the enmity which has cooled down, is not conceited and at the same time is not self-deprecating, does not engage in wrongful actions on the ground that he is passing through a difficult period.
एकश्चार्थान् न चिन्तयेत्
Ekashchaarthaan na chintayet 1.51
Alone one should not apply thought to a matter of substance.
क्षमागुणोह्यशक्तानां शक्तानां भूषणं क्षमा ।
Kshamaa gunohyashaktaanaam shaktaanaam bhooshanam kshamaa 1.54
For the weak patience (forgiveness) is a quality; for the strong patience (forgiveness) is an adornment.
द्वे कर्मणी नरः कुर्वन्नस्मिंल्लोके विरोचते।
अब्रुवं परुषं कश्चित् असतोऽनर्चयंस्तथा ॥
Dwe karmanee narah kurvannasminloke virochate
Abruvan parusham kashchit asatonarchayamstathaa 1.59
By doing two things, namely, not speaking harsh words and not flattering or giving respect to bad characters, one would shine in this world.
अष्टा गुणा: पुरुषं दीपयन्ति प्रज्ञा च कौल्यं च दमः श्रुतश्च ।
पराक्रमश्चाबहुभाषिता च दानं यथाशक्ति कृतज्ञता च ॥
Ashtaa gunaah purusham deepayanti
Prajnaa cha kaulyam cha damah shrutam cha
Daanam yathaashakti kritajnataa cah
Intelligence, noble birth, control of the senses, learning, valour, control on speech (not being talkative), giving to others according to one’s capacity and gratefulness – these eight qualities adorn a person.
वाक्संयमो हि नृपते सुदुष्करतमो मतः ।
अर्थवच्च विचित्रं च न शक्यो बहुभाषितुम् ॥
Vaaksamyamo hi nripate sudushkaratamo maatah
Arthavachcha vichitram cha na shakyam bahu bhaashitum 2.76
O King! Control on speech is considered to be one of the most difficult things to achieve. In fact, one will not able to speak much that is pregnant with meaning and is expressed in picturesque language.
Control of the senses
वश्येन्द्रियं जितात्मानं धृतदण्डं विकारिषु ।
परीक्ष्यकारिणं धीरं अत्यन्तं श्रीर्निषेवते ॥
Vashyendriyam Jitaatmaanam dhrutadandam vikaarishu
Pareekshyakaarinam dheeram atyantam shreernishevate
Goddess Lakshmi is always with people who keep their senses and mind under control, who punish wrong-doers, whose actions are preceded by a thorough examination of its pros and cons and who is of great determination.
रथः शरीरं पुरुषस्य राजन् आत्मा नियन्तेन्द्रियाण्यस्य चाश्वाः ।
तैरप्रमत्तः कुशली सदश्वैर्दान्तैः सुखं याति रथीव धीरः ॥
Rathah shareeram purushasya rajan aatmaa niyantendriyaanyasya chaashwaah
Tairapramattah kushaee sadashwairdaantaih sukham yaati ratheeva dheerah
This body is the chariot, buddhi (intellect) is the charioteer and the senses are the horses. One who controls all these travels happily in this world like the charioteer who has controlled the horses of the chariot.
अविधेया इवादान्ताः हयाः पथि कुसारथिम् ॥
Avidheyaa ivaadaantaah hayaah pathi kusaarathim
Just like the uncontrolled horses will throw the unskilled charioteer to the ground, the seses which are not subdued and are not under contorl are capable of destroying a person.
धर्मार्थौ यः परितज्य स्यादिन्द्रिय वशानुगः ।
श्रीप्राणधनदारेभ्यः क्षिप्रं स परिहीयते ॥
Dahrmaarthau yah parityajya syaadindriya vashaanugah
Shreepraanadhanadaarebhyah kshipram sa pariheeyate
One who forsakes dharma (virtue) and artha (matrial things) and is always under the control of his senses will soon lose his charm, his energy, his weath and his wife.
आत्माह्येवात्मनो बंधुः आत्मैव रिपुरात्मनः ॥
Aatmanaatmaanamanvichchhet mano buddheendriyairyataih
Aatmaa hyevaatmano bandhuraatmaiva ripuraatmanah
One should try to understand his real self by controlling his mind, intellect and the senses. The controlled mind is the friend of the self and the uncontrolled mind in the enemy of the self.
पंचैव पूजयन् लोके यश: प्राप्नोति केवल ।
देवान् पितॄन् मनुष्यांश्च भिक्षून् अतिथि पंचमान् ॥
Panchaiva poojayan loke yashah praapnoti kevalam
Devaan pitreen manushyaamshcha bhikshoon atithi panchamaan
By worshipping (serving) the five, namely, devas, departed souls of parents and ancestors, human beings, renunciates and guests one will achieve fame and recognition.
पंच त्वाऽनुगमिष्यन्ति यत्र यत्र गमिष्यसि ।
मित्राण्यमित्रा मध्यस्था उपजीव्योपजीविनः ॥
Pancha twaanugamishyanti yatr yatra gamishyasi
Mitraanyamitraa madhyasthaa upajeevyopjeevinah
These five will follow you wherever you go meaning you will find them wherever you go – friends, enemies, those who are neutral, those on whom you depend and those who depend on you.
षट् दोषा: पुरुषेणेह हातव्याः भूतिमिच्छता ।
निद्रा तन्द्रा भयं क्रोधः आलस्यं दीर्घसूत्रिता ॥
Shat doshaah purusheneha haatavyaah bhootimichchhataa
Nidraa tandraa bhayam krodhah aalasyam deerghasootritaa
One who desires to be prosperous and happy should give up these six faults , namely, excessive sleep, sluggishness, fear, anger, laziness and procrastination in decision-making.
षडिमान् पुरुषो जह्यात् भिन्नं नावमिवार्णवे
अप्रवक्तारं आचार्यं अनध्यायिनम् ऋत्विजम् ।
आरक्षितारं राजानं भार्यां चाऽप्रियवादिनीं
ग्रामकामं च गोपालं वनकामं च नापितम्॥
Shadimaan purusho jahyaat bhinnam naavamivaarnave
Apravaktaaram aachaaryam anadhyaayinam rithwijam
Arakshitaaram raajaanam bhaaryaam chaapriyavaadineem
Graama kaamam cha gopaalam vanakaamam cha naapitam
These six are to abandoned by a man like a broken vessel (boat or ship) in the sea – the achaarya who does not teach, the ritwik who does not repeat the vedas, the king who does not protect his subjects, the wife who always says unpleasant things, the cowherd who does not want to go out of the village ( grama) (for grazing the cattle) and the barber who wants to go out into the forest.
षडैव तु गुणाः पुंसा न हातव्या कदाचन ।
सत्यं दानं अनालस्यं अनसूया क्षमा धृतिः॥
Shadaiva tu gunaah pumsaa na haatavyaa kadaachana
Satyam daanam anaalasyam anasooyaa kshamaa dhritih
These six qualities should never be abandoned – truthfulness, giving, not being lazy, not finding fault even in something good, forgiveness and determination or courage.
अर्थागमो नित्यमरोगिता च
प्रिया च भार्य प्रियवादिनी च ।
वश्यश्च पुत्रोऽर्थकरी च विद्या
षट् जीवलोकस्य सुखानि राजन् ॥
Arthaagamo nityamarogitaa cha
Priyaa cha bhaaryaa priyavadinee cha
Vashyascha putro arthakaree cha vidyaa
Shat jeevalokasya sukhaani raajan
Having a steady inflow of money (income), an ever healthy body, a loving wife who always speaks what will cheer up the husband, an obedient son, skill or learning which enables one to earn a living – these will make a man’s life happy and joyful.
षण्णामात्मनि नित्यानामैश्वर्यं योऽधिगच्छति।
न स पापैः कुतोऽनर्थः युज्यते विजितेन्द्रियः ॥
Shannaam aatmani nityaanaam aishwaryam yo adhigachchhati
Na sa paapaih kuto anarthaih yujyate vijitendriyah
He who gains control on the six enemies who are ever present in a person,( namely kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), mada (arrogance), maatsyarya (jealousy)) and who has conquered his senses – sin will not touch that person, what to talk of misfortunes.
ईर्ष्यी घृणी असंतुष्टः क्रोधनो नित्यशंकितः ।
परभाग्योपजीवी च षडैते नित्य दु:खिताः ॥
Eershyee ghrinee asantushtah krodhano nityashankitah
Parabhaagyopajeevee cha shadaithe nitya dukhitaah
One who envies , one who hates, one who is not content, one who is always angry, one who is always suspicious and one who lives on the fortunes of others – these six are always sad.
षडैते ह्यवमन्यन्ते नित्यं पूर्वोपकारिणां
आचार्यं शिक्षिताः शिष्याः कृतदाराश्च मातरं ।
नारीं विगतकामस्तु कृतार्थश्च प्रयोजकं
नावं निस्तीर्णकान्तारा अनातुराश्च चिकित्सितम् ॥
Shadete hyavamanyante nityam poorvopakaarinaam
Aachaaryam shikshitaah shishyaah kritadaaraashcha maataram
Naareem vigatakaamaastu krithaarthaashcha prayojakam
Navam nisteernakaantaaraa anaaturaashcha chikitsakam
The following six people show no respect to their benefactors once their need is fulfilled. Students who have completed their studies to their teacher, the married man to his mother, one whose sex urge has been satisfied to the woman, one whose work has been satisfactorily accomplished to the person who did the job, one who has crossed the river to the boatman and one who has recovered from his illness to the doctor.
षट् जीवलोकस्य सुखानि राजन् ॥
Shat jeevalokasya sukhaani raajan
Good health, not to be in debt, not being forced to live in an alien land, company of good people, earning a livelihood by one’s own skill or knowledge and living without fear – these six things make one’s like happy and joyful.
The seven bad habits
सप्त दोषा सदा राजन् हातव्या व्यसनोदयाः
प्रायशो यैर्विनश्यन्ति कृतमूला अपीश्वराः।
स्त्रियोऽक्षाः मृगया पानं वाक्पारुष्यं च पंचमं
महच्च दण्डपारुष्यं अर्थदूषणमेव च ॥
Saptadoshaah sadaa raajnaa haatavyaa vyasanodayaah
Praayasho yairvinashyanti kritamoola apeeshwaraah
Striyokshaah mrigayaa paanam vaakpaarushyam cha panchamam
Mahachcha dandapaarushyam arthadooshanameva cha
The following seven bad habits will lead to the downfall of even a well-established king. Women, gambling, hunting, intoxicating drinks, use of harsh words, inflicting very harsh punishment for minor offences and misuse of the treasury.
नवद्वारमिदं वेश्म त्रिस्थूणं पंचशाखिकं ।
क्षेत्रज्ञाधिष्ठितं विद्वान् यो वेद स परः कविः॥
Navadwaaramidam veshma trishthoonam panchasaakshikam
Kshetrajnaadhishthhitam vidwaan yo veda sa parah kavih
He who knows that this body with its nine openings ( mouth, years, eyes, nose etc) three pillars ( vata, pitta and kapha) five witnesses (sensory organs) is the home of the Atman is the real Jnaani (knower)
दश धर्मं न जानन्ति धृतराष्ट्र निबोध तान् ।
मत्तः प्रमत्तः उन्मत्तः श्रान्तः क्रुद्धो बुभुक्षितः॥
त्वरमाणश्च लुब्धश्च भीतः कामी च ते दश ।
तस्मादेतेषु सर्वेषु न प्रसज्जेत पण्डितः ॥
Dasha dharmam na jaananti dhritaraashtra nibodha taan
Mattah pramattah unmattah shraantah kruddho bubhukshitah
Tvaramaanashcha lubdhashcha bheetah kaamee cha te dasha
Tasmaad etheshu sarveshu na prasajjeta panditah
One who is intoxicated, one who is not cautious or careful, one who is insane, one who is overcome by fatigue, one who is hungry, one who is in a hurry, one who is greedy, one who is full of fear and one who is lustful – these ten do not know what is dharma ( Their state of mind do not give them the capacity to distinguish between dharma and adharma.) Therefore the wise should avoid the company of such people.
चिकीर्षितं विप्रकृतं च यस्य
नान्ये जनाः कर्म जानन्ति किञ्चित्।
मन्त्रे गुप्ते सम्यगनुष्ठिते च
नाल्पोऽप्यस्य च्यवते कश्चिदर्थः॥
Chikeershitam viprakritam cha yasya
Naanye janaah karma jaananti kinchit
Mantre gupte samyaganushthhite cha
Naalpopyasya chyavate kashchidarthaah
One should maintain secrecy abount what one wants to accomplish and what one wants to avoid so that no one else knows about them. The plan of action arrived at after consultation should also be kept a secret and executed properly and efficiently. Then all one’s efforts will bear fruit without any difficulty.
प्राप्यापदं व्यथते न कदाचित्
उद्योगमन्विच्छति च अप्रमत्तः
दु:खं च काले सहते महात्मा
धुरंधरस्तस्य जिताः सपत्नाः
Praapyaapadam vyathate na kadaachid-
Udyogamanvichchhati cha apramattah
Dukham cha kaale sahate mahaatmaa
Dhuramdharastasya jitaah sapatnaah
One who does not lose heart even when facing difficulties but puts in efforts to overcome them, has the capacity to endure pain and suffering and can shoulder responsibilities – for such a person victory over his enemies is guaranteed.
न स्वे सुखे वै कुरुते प्रहर्षं
नान्यस्य दु:खे भवति प्रहृष्टः।
दत्वा न पश्चात् कुरुतेऽनुतापं
स कथ्यते सत्पुरुषार्यशील:॥
Na swe sukhe vai kurute praharsham
Naanyasya dukhe bhavati prahrishtah
Datwaa na pashchaat kurute anutaapam
Sa kathyate satpurushaarysheelah
One who is not overjoyed on his good fortune, does not enjoy the misfortune of others and having gifted a thing to someone later does not regrets his giving – such a person is said to be of very exemplary conduct and character.
यदतप्तं प्रणमति न तत् सन्तापयन्त्यपि ।
यच्च स्वयं नतं दारु न तत् सन्नमयन्त्यपि॥
Yadataptam pranamati na tat santaapayantyapi
Yachcha swayam natam daaru na tat sannamayantyapi
Metal which can bend without heating is not heated. The branches of a tree which are alreay bent and almost touching the ground are not bent again.
सत्येन रक्ष्यते धर्मो विद्या योगेन रक्ष्यते ।
मृजया रक्ष्यते रूपं कुलं वृत्तेन रक्ष्यते ॥
Satyena rakshyate dharmo vidyaa yogena rakshyate
Mrijayaa rakshyate roopam kulam vrittena rakshyate
Dharma is protected by Truth, Learning is protected by Yoga , beauty is protected by cleanliness and the clan or family is protected by good conduct.
यः ईर्षुः परवित्तेषु रूपे वापि कुलान्वये।
सुख सौभाग्य सत्कारे तस्य व्याधिरनन्तकः ॥
Yah eershuh paravitteshu roope vaapi kulaanwaye
Sukha soubhaagya satkaare tasya vyaadhiranantakah
One who envies others’ wealth, beauty, family reputation, noble birth, happiness, fortune or respect in society is really a sick person. For him there is no cure.
सन्नियच्छति यो वेगं उत्थितं क्रोधहर्षयोः ।
स श्रियो भाजनं राजन् यश्चापत्सु न मुह्यति ॥
Sanniyachchhati yo vegam utthitam krodhaharshayoh
Sa shriyo bhaajanam raajan yashchaapatsu na muhyati
O King! One who controls anger and joy which arise in the mind with great force and does not lose his cool in calamities is a fit repository of wealth and fortune. (He deserves wealth and fortune).