Ahimsa


Prabhupada Puspa Samadhi

Ahimsa is a term meaning to do no harm (literally: the avoidance of violence – himsa). It is an important tenet of the Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism and especially Jainism). Ahimsa is a rule of conduct that bars the killing or injuring of living beings. It is closely connected with the notion that all kinds of violence entail negative karmic consequences. The extent to which the principle of non-violence can or should be applied to different life forms is controversial between various authorities, movements and currents within the three religions and has been a matter of debate for thousands of years. Though the origins of the concept of ahimsa are unknown, the earliest references to ahimsa are found in the texts of historical Vedic religion, dated to 8th century BCE. Here, ahimsa initially relates to “non-injury” without a moral connotation, but later to non-violence to animals and then, to all beings. Though ritual sacrifice of animals and meat-eating are condoned in the earliest Vedic texts, other texts present counter-arguments against these activities. In the 19th and 20th centuries, prominent figures of Indian spirituality such as Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharishi, Swami Sivananda and A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada emphasized the importance of ahimsa. Mahatma Gandhi applied ahimsa to politics, by his non-violent satyagrahas.

Ahimsa in Jainism emphasizes vegetarianism and bans hunting and ritual sacrifice. Jains go out of their way so as not to hurt even small insects and other minuscule animals and make considerable efforts not to injure plants in everyday life as far as possible. In accordance to this policy, eating of some foods, whose cultivation harms small insects and worms as well as agriculture itself, is to be abstained from. Violence in self-defense, criminal law, and war are accepted by Hindus and Jains. Though ahimsa is not used as a technical term in Buddhism unlike the other two religions, it condemns ritual sacrifice and violence, and moral codes emphasize the importance of not taking life.

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