Ahimsa - Non-injury
To the heavens be peace, to the sky and the Earth; to the waters be peace, to plants and all trees; to the Gods be peace, to Brahman be peace, to all men be peace, again and again—peace also to me!
Śukla Yajur Veda 36.17. ve, 306
What Is the Great Virtue Called Ahiṁsā?
Ahiṁsā, or non-injury, is the first and foremost ethical principle of every Hindu. It is gentleness and non-violence, whether physical, mental or emotional. It is abstaining from causing hurt or harm to all beings. Aum.
To the Hindu the ground is sacred. The rivers are sacred. The sky is sacred. The sun is sacred. His wife is a Goddess. Her husband is a God. Their children are devas. Their home is a shrine. Life is a pilgrimage to liberation from rebirth, and no violence can be carried to the higher reaches of that ascent.
While nonviolence speaks only to the most extreme forms of wrongdoing, Ahiṁsā, which includes not killing, goes much deeper to prohibit the subtle abuse and the simple hurt.
Rishi Patañjali described Ahiṁsā as the great vow and foremost spiritual discipline which Truth-seekers must follow strictly and without fail.
This extends to harm of all kinds caused by one’s thoughts, words and deeds—including injury to the natural environment. Even the intent to injure, even violence committed in a dream, is a violation of Ahiṁsā.
Vedic rishis who revealed dharma proclaimed Ahiṁsā as the way to achieve harmony with our environment, peace between peoples and compassion within ourselves.
The Vedic edict is:
“Ahiṁsā is not causing pain to any living being at any time through the actions of one’s mind, speech or body." Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
What Is the Inner Source of Non-injury?
Two beliefs form the philosophical basis of non-injury. The first is the law of karma, by which harm caused to others unfailingly returns to oneself. The second is that the Divine shines forth in all peoples and things. Aum.
The Hindu is thoroughly convinced that violence he commits will return to him by a cosmic process that is unerring.
He knows that, by karma’s law, what we have done to others will be done to us, if not in this life then in another.
He knows that he may one day be in the same position of anyone he is inclined to harm or persecute, perhaps incarnating in the society he most opposed in order to equalize his hates and fears into a greater understanding.
The belief in the existence of God everywhere, as an all-pervasive, self-effulgent energy and consciousness, creates the attitude of sublime tolerance and acceptance toward others.
Even tolerance is insufficient to describe the compassion and reverence the Hindu holds for the intrinsic sacredness within all things. Therefore, the actions of all Hindus living in the higher nature are rendered benign, or Ahiṁsā. One would not hurt that which he reveres.
The Vedas pronounce:
“He who, dwelling in all things, yet is other than all things, whom all things do not know, whose body all things are, who controls all things from within—He is your soul, the Inner Controller, the Immortal" Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
Hinduism stresses non-injury to all creatures because Divinity is the Life of all life, and to injure or kill is to dishonor God’s presence in all.
What Is the Inner Source of Violence?
Violence is a reflection of lower, instinctive consciousness—fear, anger, greed, jealousy and hate—based in the mentality of separateness and un-connectedness, of good and bad, winners and losers, mine and yours. Aum.
Every belief creates certain attitudes. Attitudes govern our actions. Our actions can thus be traced to our inmost beliefs about ourself and the world around us. If those beliefs are erroneous, our actions will not be in tune with the universal dharma.
For instance, the beliefs in the duality of self and other, of eternal heaven and hell, victors and vanquished, white forces and dark forces create the attitudes that we must be on our guard, and are justified in giving injury, physically, mentally and emotionally, to those whom we judge as bad, pagan, alien or unworthy. Such thinking leads to rationalizing so-called righteous wars and conflicts.
As long as our beliefs are dualistic, we will continue to generate antagonism, and that will erupt here and there in violence.
Those living in the lower, instinctive nature are society’s antagonists. They are self-assertive, territorial, competitive, jealous, angry, fearful and rarely penitent of their hurtfulness. Many take sport in killing for the sake of killing, thieving for the sake of theft.
The Vedas indicate:
“This soul, verily, is overcome by nature’s qualities. Now, because of being overcome, he goes on to confusedness.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
Is Vegetarianism Integral to Non-injury?
Hindus teach vegetarianism as a way to live with a minimum of hurt to other beings, for to consume meat, fish, fowl or eggs is to participate indirectly in acts of cruelty and violence against the animal kingdom. Aum.
The abhorrence of injury and killing of any kind leads quite naturally to a vegetarian diet, śākāhāra.
The meat-eater’s desire for meat drives another to kill and provide that meat. The act of the butcher begins with the desire of the consumer.
Meat-eating contributes to a mentality of violence, for with the chemically complex meat ingested, one absorbs the slaughtered creature’s fear, pain and terror. These qualities are nourished within the meat-eater, perpetuating the cycle of cruelty and confusion.
When the individual’s consciousness lifts and expands, he will abhor violence and not be able to even digest the meat, fish, fowl and eggs he was formerly consuming.
India’s greatest saints have confirmed that one cannot eat meat and live a peaceful, harmonious life. Man’s appetite for meat inflicts devastating harm on the Earth itself, stripping its precious forests to make way for pastures.
The Thirukural candidly states:
“How can he practice true compassion who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh? Greater than a thousand ghee offerings consumed in sacrificial fires is not to sacrifice and consume any living creature.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
How Can Peace on Earth Be Achieved?
Peace is a reflection of spiritual consciousness. It begins within each person, and extends to the home, neighborhood, nation and beyond. It comes when the higher nature takes charge of the lower nature. Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
Until we have peace in our own heart, we can’t hope for peace in the world.
Peace is the natural state of the mind. It is there, inside, to be discovered in meditation, maintained through self-control, and then radiated out to others.
The best way to promote peace is to teach families to be peaceful within their own homes by settling all conflicts quickly. At a national and international level, we will enjoy more peace as we become more tolerant.
Religious leaders can help by teaching their congregations how to live in a world of differences without feeling threatened, without forcing their ways or will on others. World bodies can make laws which deplore and work to prevent crimes of violence.
It is only when the higher-nature people are in charge that peace will truly come. There is no other way, because the problems of conflict reside within the low- minded group who only know retaliation as a way of life.
The Vedas beseech:
“Peace be to the Earth and to airy spaces! Peace be to heaven, peace to the waters, peace to the plants and peace to the trees! May all the Gods grant to me peace! By this invocation of peace may peace be diffused!” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
Non-violence is all the offerings. Renunciation is the priestly honorarium. The final purification is death. Thus all the Divinities are established in this body.
Krishna Yajur Veda, Prāṇāgnihotra Upaniṣad 46-8. ve, 413-14
Peaceful be to us the signs of the future, peaceful what is done and undone, peaceful to us be what is and what will be. May all to us be gracious.
These five sense organs, with the mind as the sixth, within my heart, inspired by Brahman, by which the awe-inspiring is created, through them to us be peace.
Atharva Veda 19.9.2; 5 ;9. ve, 305
If we have injured space, the Earth or Heaven, or if we have offended mother or father, from that may Agni, fire of the house, absolve us and guide us safely to the world of goodness.
Atharva Veda 6.120.1. ve, 636
You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever.
Yajur Veda 12.32. fs, 90
Protect both our species, two-legged and four-legged. Both food and water for their needs supply. May they with us increase in stature and strength. Save us from hurt all our days, O Powers!
Rig Veda 10.37.11. ve, 319
May the wind fan us with blissful breezes! May the Sun warm us with delightful rays! May the rain come to us with a pleasant roar! May days come and go for us with blessings! May nights approach us benignly! O earthen vessel, strengthen me. May all beings regard me with friendly eyes! May I look upon all creatures with friendly eyes! With a friend’s eye may we regard each other!
Śukla Yajur Veda 36.10, 11 & 8. ve, 342
No pain should be caused to any created being or thing.
Devīkālottara Agama, Jñāna-achara-vichara 69-70. rm, 116
When mind-stuff is firmly based in waves of Ahiṁsā, all living beings cease their enmity in the presence of such a person.
Patañjali Yoga Sutras 2.35. yp, 205
Hiṁsā is to act against the spirit divine of the Vedas. It is to act against the dictates of dharma. Ahiṁsā is the understanding of the fundamental truth that the ātman is imperishable, immutable and all-pervading.
Sūta Samhitā, Skanda Purāṇa, 4-5. ff, 113
He who sees that the Lord of all is ever the same in all that is— immortal in the field of mortality—he sees the truth. And when a man sees that the God in himself is the same God in all that is, he hurts not himself by hurting others. Then he goes, indeed, to the highest path.
Bhagavad Gita 13.27-28. bgm, 101
The purchaser of flesh performs hiṁsā (violence) by his wealth; he who eats flesh does so by enjoying its taste; the killer does hiṁsā by actually tying and killing the animal.
Thus, there are three forms of killing: he who brings flesh or sends for it, he who cuts off the limbs of an animal, and he who purchases, sells or cooks flesh and eats it—all of these are to be considered meat-eaters.
Mahābhārata, Anu. 115.40. fs, 90
Nonviolence, truth, freedom from anger, renunciation, serenity, aversion to fault-finding, sympathy for all beings, peace from greedy cravings, gentleness, modesty, steadiness, energy, forgiveness, fortitude, purity, a good will, freedom from pride—these belong to a man who is born for heaven.
Bhagavad Gītā 16.2-3. bgm, 109
Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to the attainment of heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun meat.
Manu Dharma Śastras 5.48. lm, 176
Worthless are those who injure others vengefully, while those who stoically endure are like stored gold. Let one who hopes for freedom from affliction’s pain avoid inflicting harm on others.
Thirukural 155, 206, ww
For the worship of the Lord, many flowers are available, but the best is not killing even an atom of life. The best steady flame is the tranquil mind; the best place for worship is the heart, where the soul resides.
Tirumantiram 197, tmr, 30