Ahimsa is a religious concept which advocates non-violence and a respect for all life. Ahimsa is Sanskrit for avoidance of himsa, or injury. It is interpreted most often as meaning peace and reverence toward all sentient beings. Ahimsa is the core of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Its first mention in Indian philosophy is found in the Hindu scriptures called the Upanishads, the oldest dating about 800 BCE. Those who practice Ahimsa are often vegetarians or vegans.
Ahimsa was introduced to the West by the Mahatma Gandhi. Inspired by his actions, Western civil rights movements, led by such people as Martin Luther King Jr., engaged in non-violent protests. The more recent popularity of yoga and meditation in The West has also served to introduce many westerners to Ahimsa and other Hindu concepts.
Ahimsa in Jainism
In Jainism, the ahimsa-vrata, or vow of ahimsa, is the first of the five mahavratas, or great vows. All animal life, and most plant life, is considered sentient. Any action endangering such life, including agriculture, violence, animal sacrifice, drinking liquor, eating honey, potatoes or certain fruits, and eating at night, is forbidden. Some Jains wear a cloth over their mouths to avoid inhaling airborne life forms.
The ethical code of Jainism is taken very very seriously. Summarized in the Five Vows, they are followed by both lay people and monastics. These are:
- non-injury (ahimsa)
- non-lying (satya)
- non-stealing (asteya)
- non-possession (aparigrah)
- chastity (brahmcharya)
The Jain conception of ahimsa involves three times three--the three actions (karanas) of himsa in the three modes (yogas)--of observances:
Neither by action or by speech or by thought:
- do injury oneself (krita)
- cause injury to be done by others (karita)
- approve injury done by others (anumata, mananat, or anumodana)
Ahimsa in Hinduism
Yoga is one of the six schools of Hindu Philosophy, and as codified by Maharishi Patanjali in the seminal work Yoga Sutra, the foundation of ashtanga and Raja Yoga, ahimsa is the first of the five yamas, or eternal vows or restraints of yoga.
Mahatma Gandhi was a follower of Sanatana Dharma, i.e. Hinduism, and drew many of his concepts of truth, nobility and ethics from the Bhagavad Gita and his personal love of Lord Rama, a Hindu God. Gandhi's concept of life and ahimsa, which led to his concept of satyagraha, or peaceful protest, primarily stem from his association with Hindu and Jain philosophy.
Quotations from Gandhi on the subject:
- Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.
- Literally speaking, ahimsa means non-violence towards most life. But to me it has much higher, infinitely higher meaning. It means that you may not offend anybody; you may not harbor uncharitable thought, even in connection with those who consider your enemies. To one who follows this doctrine, there are no enemies. A man who believes in the efficacy of this doctrine finds in the ultimate stage, when he is about to reach the goal, the whole world at his feet. If you express your love- Ahimsa-in such a manner that it impresses itself indelibly upon your so called enemy, he must return that love.
- This doctrine tells us that we may guard the honor of those under our charge by delivering our own lives into the hands of the man who would commit the sacrilege. And that requires far greater courage than delivering of blows.
Ahimsa in popular culture
The 1990's computer game Descent used 'Ahimsa' as a cheat code. When typed in, all of the player's enemies do not fire their weapons at the player. This seems to go along with the non-violent belief of Ahimsa, even though it still allows the player to use its weapons against his enemies.
- Free Encyclopedia of Thelema (2009)
- Wikipedia (2005). Ahimsa. Retrieved July 28, 2005.
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