What is Ahimsa?
Ahimsa is the cardinal virtue of non-violence and non-injury. Do no harm is an important tenet in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Like many Sanskrit words, its meaning is deeper than its literal English translation.
Ancient Vedic scriptures speak of ahimsa. A passage in the oldest Rig Veda says “do not harm anything”. The Yajur Veda, dated between 1000 BC and 600 BC states, “may all beings look at me with a friendly eye, may I do likewise, and may we look at each other with the eyes of a friend.”
On the surface, the concept of ahimsa (also ahinsa) seems obvious and easy to understand. We know that it hurts others when we hit, cheat, steal, bully, rape, abuse, destroy property, slander, and kill. Some of us understand that it is wrong to misuse and abuse our pets and other animals. Most of us practice conditional non-violence meaning we are mindful to treat some well, but not others. Less obvious forms of harming are judgmental looks, doing nothing to help those being harmed, flushing pharmaceuticals, and purchasing goods obtained from misused animals and/or workers.
The Vedic code of sarva-bhuta-hita means devotion to the good of all creatures. It says that people should see the same life in all creatures regardless of their outer dress or bodies. The premise of ahimsa is inspired by the belief that the divine spiritual spark indwells all regardless of form. Therefore, all life should be respected. To hurt another is to hurt yourself.
Some may interpret this as a statement of “What goes around, comes around.” It goes much deeper than that. If we truly embody the divine, if the Kingdom of God is within us, then thatis who we are and who we are meant to be.
From a Hindu, Jain and Buddhist perspective, violating ahimsa by causing another unnecessary pain or death produces bad karma. One who cannot understand the principle of life in all beings misses the meaning of life. Such a person is at risk of losing their sense of humanity. This person is also at risk of being reborn in the form of a lower being.
To think and act out of alignment with that spiritual nature is to attack the divine within another and to wound your own soul. When such insensitivity, whether conscious or not, becomes habit, you lose the sense of connection to the divine within. To allow or encourage others to act cruelly on your behalf is to foster that disconnection in them. When you are shut off from the spirit within, evil flourishes and we all suffer in one way or another.
Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were both modern-day believers in the power of ahimsa. Through non-violent activism, Gandhi subdued mistreatment of his people by the Imperial British and the religious hierarchy. Dr. King and his followers achieved an end to segregation for African Americans.
This article about “What is Ahimsa?” is excerpted from Val Silver’s upcoming book Humans, Animals and God.
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Question: What does ahimsa mean to you? Share in the comments below.