Important Virtues

The following are twelve of the most important qualities listed in scripture. Naturally this list, and the priority given to each virtue, will vary from one tradition to another.

  • Ahimsa (non-violence) – based on the concepts of atman and reincarnation.
  • Mind and sense control – considered essential for any form of morality.
  • Tolerance – necessary in order to deal with inconveniences in the performance of one’s dharma.
  • Hospitality – demonstrating magnanimity, and the value of service (seva).
  • Compassion – based on notions of atman, and the ability to feel for others as we feel for ourselves.
  • Protection – an essential duty is to give shelter to others, especially those less fortunate.
  • Respect – for all living beings and for the sanctity of all life.
  • Wisdom – knowledge is contrasted with ignorance, the Hindu equivalent of the “good -evil” paradigm.
  • Austerity – essential to gain wisdom in addition to mere theoretical knowledge.
  • Celibacy – important for spiritual life. Only one of the four ashrams is permitted sexual gratification.
  • Honesty – essential to build legitimate trust within relationships and to avoid self-deception.
  • Cleanliness – includes external hygiene and inner purity; essential for brahmanas.

Personal Reflection

  • What do we value in life? How much are our values determined by our own likes and dislikes – or even prejudices?
  • Do we inordinately try to rationalise and justify our opinions, in order to defend them?
  • Can we stand up for our values, but at the same time be prepared to re-evaluate them?
  • How do we know what are worthy values? What are the criteria? Who do we think should determine them?

Related Practices

Most important for developing both knowledge and character are various moral restraints, such as sexual chastity and restraint from meat-eating, gambling, and intoxication. Such apparent needs are either given up completely or, especially in the lower varnas, met in a regulated way.

Related Stories

Many, but especially from:

  • The Mahabharata
  • The Ramayana
  • The Puranas
  • The Panchatantra and Hitopadesh

Common Misunderstandings

The only Hindu value of note is ahimsa (non-violence) and all moral issues can be effectively explored though it
There are hundreds of values and virtues listed in sacred texts. Many should be considered if we are to understand Hindu responses to a wide range of issues.

Scriptural Passages

“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness – these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work”

“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kshatriyas.”

Bhagavad-gita 18.42–3

See also: Bhagavad-gita 13.8–12, 16.1–3.


“Allocating different standards to different people does not contradict the notion of common virtues, but is a means of ensuring that they are obtainable by everyone. Additionally, individuals may express the same values, such as selfless service, in quite different ways.”

lndriyesha Das