Ahimsa – Supreme Duty of Mankind

By Niranjana KarthigaiRajan

Tree of Knowledge

The word Ahimsa (non-violence) means one should not be a reason for another’s distress. Ahimsa is abstaining from harming any living-being by word, deed, or even by thought. As we celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s 151st birth anniversary, it’s opportune for us to reflect on his principle of non-violence.

Ahimsa – The Power of the Powerless. Photo – videovision.co.za

“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. Destruction is not the law of humans,” said Mahatma Gandhi.

Notable world leaders including Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Ho Chi Minh, Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Dalai Lama have drawn inspiration from the Gandhian model of ‘ahimsa’.

At this time of violence triggered by great powers, prevalence of war, and of unrest in many parts of the world, it is vital to stand together to instil a culture of peace by spreading compassion, kindness and hope.

The highest virtue of life

“Ahiṃsa Paramo Dharma” (Non-violence is the highest virtue of life), says Mahabharata. Our vedic texts advocate ahimsa as the fundamental discipline.

In the Gita, Lord Krishna says “ahimsa samataa tushtistapo daanam yashoyashaha bhavanti bhaavaa bhootaanaam matta eva prithagvidhaahaa”. Here, Krishna lists ahimsa as one of 20 qualities that emanate from Him.

 In Bhagavatha Purana, the Lord says “ahimsa satyam asteyam asango hrir asancayah astikyam brahmacaryam ca maunam sthairyam ksamabhayam”. Here, The Lord advises Uddhava on non-violence, truthfulness, not stealing, detachment, realising one’s mistake, belief in God, moderation of the senses, silence, steadfastness of mind, patience, fearlessness – and these fundamental disciplines constitute yama (the ethical code of conduct).

Concern for all living beings

Ahimsa extends to all forms of life. Cruelty caused to animals by any means viz animal testing, hunting, or animal sacrifice all lead to accumulation of sin. Hunting or harming animals is not permitted as they cause distress to the people.

Whilst lying on the death bed of arrows, Bhishma surrounded by Krishna, Pandavas, and Duryodhana, advised Dharmaputra on ahimsa and vegetarian diet. When Dharmaputra questioned about physical strength for the Kshatriyas (warriors) on vegetarian diet, Bhishma clarified that warriors draw physical strength from self-discipline, and says that he himself (the mightiest warrior) is a vegetarian. In addition, Bhishma advises on the greatness of creating and preserving water bodies. He says that one who plants trees reaps benefits for 21 generations.

The Lord pervades all of His creation. Therefore, all life is sacred and should be loved. In addition, the Law of Karma teaches that whatever we do through word, thought, or deed will return to us. If we cause injury in any way, it will eventually come back to us in an equivalent or amplified intensity.

Prerequisite for practising yoga

Ahimsa plays an important role in bringing the mind under control and enable a life of peace and happiness. If the diet is pure the mind will be pure. In the Yoga Sutras, Pantanjali emphasizes on vegetarian diet as a prerequisite for a yogic living.

Patanjali sets out his definition of yoga in the Yoga Sutras as having “Ashtanga” (in Sanskrit “Ashta” means eight and “Anga” means limbs). The eight limbs of yoga are yama (abstinence), niyama (personal discipline), asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (state of bliss and realization of God).

The eightfold path of Patanjali’s yoga consists of a set of prescriptions for a moral code and purposeful life, of which asanas (yoga postures) form one of the eight limbs.

Ahimsa in speech

Ahimsa is more than just killing. Cultivating ahimsa in speech is as vital as refraining from causing physical harm. “To utter harsh words when you have kind words is like plucking an unripe fruit when there are ripe ones,” says Thiruvalluvar (Tamil poet and philosopher).

We have to incorporate lovable, truthful and harmless speech in our day to day life.

“Even when whatever besides you are left unguarded, guard your tongue; otherwise errors of speech and the consequent misery will ensue.“ Thirukural 127.

 “For me, non-violence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon,” said Nelson Mandela. On this day, let us take oath to walk the path of truth and non-violence as advocated by Mahatma Gandhi.

Niranjana KarthigaiRajan

* Published in print edition on 2 Octobre 2020

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