What Is Ahimsa?
Ahimsa means ‘absence of injury’ in the Sanskrit language. However, the word Ahimsa is more commonly associated with the practice of non-violence. Non-violence is seemingly insignificant, but it goes a long way in leading a better and more productive lifestyle.
The below verse from the Bhagawad Gita lists the essential qualities every human being must possess, and nonviolent behavior is one of them.
ahimsaa satyamakrodhastyaagaha shaantirapaishunam
dayaa bhooteshvaloluptvam maardavam hreerachaapalam
Ahimsa involves peaceful living without harming other life. It is not merely a physical act but a state of mind. One may feel that Ahimsa is only for those who are short-tempered and often resort to violence. Everyone can adapt Ahimsa to make their lives happier and more peaceful. Ahimsa is not a personality trait one can merely learn by reading books or attending therapy; it is a lifestyle. Include the basic principle of Ahimsa in our day-to-day routine to embrace this unique and enlightening way of living.
Violent behavior is not simply the act of lifting a weapon and doing bodily harm to others. Our actions and words that hurt others are also a form of violence. To practice Ahimsa, one must let go of thoughts, actions, and speech that may make others feel negative.
The practice and principles of Yoga also preach the importance of Ahimsa and its utility in daily life. Ancient Hindu scriptures like the Bhagawad Gita, the Vedas, and books like Yoga Sutras describe the concept and benefits of Ahimsa. Buddhist and Jain religious teachings also uphold the principle of Ahimsa.
Let us learn more about the art of Ahimsa.
Ahimsa: An Important Element Of The Ashtanga
Ashtanga means eight limbs. Maharishi Patanjali was a renowned and learned Indian sage who mastered the art and techniques of Yoga. He authored a book titled Yoga Sutras that significantly explains the Ashtanga.
Each Ashtanga describes the principles on which the study and practices of Yoga are based. The first Ashtanga is Yama which focuses on the critical behavioral traits one must learn to become a successful Yogi. Ahimsa is one of the five Yamas that pave a Yogi’s path toward spiritual progress.
Yoga teachings emphasize that the aim of every Yogi is union with the cosmic universe. Human life comprises the physique, mind, and spirit or soul. Yogic philosophy deems the human soul to be an imperishable entity that passes through the inevitable cycle of life and death. One soul can be reborn several times in various physical forms.
Practicing Yoga exercises, meditation, and other spiritual practices sets the soul on a path of liberation. The soul that masters the teachings of Yoga finds spiritual enlightenment and is freed from the cycle of death and rebirth. The act of freedom from the cycle of birth and death is known as Moksha. Every Yogi who desires Moksha must practice Ahimsa.
To know more about the other elements of Ashtanga, CLICK HERE.
Ahimsa Across Various Religions
Ancient scriptures of many religions uphold Ahimsa as a valuable trait and a sign of spiritual enlightenment. Though the teachings and practices of Ahimsa may be different for all religions, the aim is to lead a better and peaceful life. Here is what each religion teaches about Ahimsa.
Hindu beliefs equate Ahimsa with compassion and loving behavior. Religious scriptures like the Vedas, the Bhagawad Gita, and the Upanishads mention Ahimsa as a positive trait. According to Hindu teachings, God or Bhagwan resides within every living and non-living entity. Violence towards others is akin to violence towards God, an unholy act.
Hinduism strongly advocates the philosophy of ‘Like begets like.’ Our behavior towards others always comes back to us in some form. We will get abundant happiness if we maintain a peaceful, kind, and caring attitude. However, negativity and hurtful words will spiral our lives toward an unfulfilling existence. Hindu teachings firmly believe that Ahimsa must reflect our thoughts, words, and actions. Mahatma Gandhi, a globally respected figure, swore by
Ahimsa spent his entirety spreading the teachings of Ahimsa. He even successfully used the philosophy of Ahimsa to help the democratic republic of India in the 20th century A.D.
Buddhists are a peace-loving people and believe in leading a quiet and content life. Buddhist scriptures, teachings, and spiritual practices also promote non-violence. The Five Precepts is a list of five cardinal principles that govern Buddhist religious practices. First of the five precepts, “Refrain from taking life,” is an essential part of Ahimsa as it prohibits the use of violent actions. The fourth Precept teaches people to be watchful of their speech, thereby adhering to the principle of Ahimsa of not using hurtful words.
Buddhist monks garner a lot of respect for their knowledgable teachings and pious lifestyle. The code of ethics that governs the lives of monks allows them to use force under duress but strictly forbids them from killing. The more devout Buddhists will not take up arms even if it means saving their own lives. Lord Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was of noble ancestry. He was set to become a mighty king when he realized that life as we know it is full of misery and sorrow. Prince Siddhartha, as he was formerly known, then gave up his lavish living and turned to a life of spiritualism. As Gautam Buddha, his teachings always revolved around the principles of Ahimsa.
Like Buddhist teachings, the religious principles of Jainism also uphold the practice of Ahimsa. Jain monks spend their lives preaching why it is crucial to follow the path of Ahimsa. Jain teachings describe that all living things on the Earth, including plants, animals, insects, and the smallest of organisms, must be respected as they also have feelings. The practices of Ahimsa extend to non-human living entities as well. Jain monks often carry a broom to sweep the floor on which they will sit. Sweeping is not done to clean the floor but to brush off any insects crawling in the vicinity to avoid crushing them.
Devout Jains wear a face mask to avoid breathing in tiny insects and killing them. Most Jains practice strict vegetarianism, for they believe that consuming meat is an act of violence against animals. Dietary restrictions extend to avoiding root vegetables like potatoes. The logic behind this is that one may accidentally destroy germs and insects that inhabit the soil by consuming root vegetables. Jains believe the Ahimsa is not just the absence of violence but the lack of any desire to commit violence.
Famous Figures Who Practiced Ahimsa
The teachings of Ahimsa are not bound by caste, religion, or ethnicity. Anybody who wishes to lead a better and peaceful life must tread on the path of Ahimsa. Books on Yoga and ancient scriptures of various religions elaborate on the spiritual benefits of practicing Ahimsa. In the past, famous personalities have achieved other goals for the greater good by abiding by the principles of Ahimsa.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Father of Independent India, is a well-known personality. When he lived, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi spread the teachings of Ahimsa and inspired the youth to take up a peaceful lifestyle. As he was fondly known, Mahatma Gandhi successfully led the movement for India’s freedom without resorting to violence.
An educated barrister, Mahatma Gandhi faced a lot of racism when he traveled outside of India to pursue further studies. His experiences led him to realize that violence is harmful to others and himself. Mahatma Gandhi preached Ahimsa and even urged their fellow warriors of the Indian independence movement to walk on the path of non-violence. The British rulers of India also had tremendous respect for the peace-loving man. Mahatma Gandhi became a role model for one and all and wrote several books on philosophical topics.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Junior was a visionary leader who fought against racial discrimination. Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology of Ahimsa had greatly affected King Junior, who sought to use it as a weapon to achieve his goals. Though his upbringing was Christian, King Junior found the teachings of Ahimsa reflected even in the Holy Bible.
Martin Luther King Jr participated in several boycotts and disobedience movements without using violence. He soon realized that one could fight evil and evil-doers without taking up arms and beating each other. King Junior saw Ahimsa as loving and caring for fellow human beings. Martin Luther King Jr. read books on Ahimsa and was deeply inspired by its spiritual benefits.
Emperor Ashoka was one of the fiercest warriors and valiant rulers of the famous Maurya empire in India. Emperor Ashoka conquered the ancient land of Kalinga after a bloody battle during his reign. The aftermath of the battle struck him hard, and he repented the actions of the violent war he had waged. The death and injuries of the fallen warriors deeply moved Emperor Ashoka, after which he took the path of Ahimsa and became a devout Buddhist.
Emperor Ashoka spent the remainder of his entirety as per the principles of Buddhist teachings.
No number of counseling sessions or classes can truly prepare a person to take up Ahimsa. It is a feeling and a lifestyle that must be embraced wholeheartedly. Ahimsa is the most beautiful gift one can gift to themselves to lead a completely different and fulfilling life.