The Concept of Ahimsa or Non Violence

Written 15 October 2002

The concept of Ahimsa as propagated in Indian culture for thousands of years and more recently by Mahatma Gandhi is Ahimsa of the brave not of the meek. The stronger or powerful an individual or a nation the greater is the obligation to show compassion to other living beings. However it is not enough just to be compassionate, one has to be proactive in his or her compassion and this means that one has to act to stop Himsa or violence towards any living being which is at our mercy. In Jainism this proactive Ahimsa is called,’ Abhay Daan’ which means giving someone protection-protection from the fear of death. This therefore is the Ahimsa of the brave but it is not complete either. Even when you are bitten by a mosquito you do not harm it as it is in its nature to bite. Lord Mahaveera the 24th. teacher in Jain religion was bitten by a cobra and he asked the cobra to subdue its anger and to remember its last birth in which he was a human being. This then brings us to the most fundamental beliefs in Hinduism and all other Indian religions– that of reincarnation and karma. The cycles of birth and death have been going on for ever and we have all been born in different bodies. Every living being has a soul and feels pain and does not want to be hurt. This human form of birth that we have got is precious for there are, according to scriptures 8,400 species of life and if this human form life is wasted in inflicting pain to others then next time round we will be at the receiving end. Those who are hunting today will be hunted tomorrow in another form of life. Here then lies the greatest paradox of Ahimsa or non violence –it is for our own happiness and security -we will not be doing anybody any special favours by practising Ahimsa, it will be for our own well being. For every action that we take there will be a reaction to it –this is the law of karma. For every pain inflicted on others one will have to pay for it sooner or later. We have also brought karmas of our past birth to this birth and that is why some of us are inconsolable when we see wanton violence and for others it is inconsequent ional. When Ahimsa is practised earnestly by an individual he or she acquires a certain hallow or divine persona which is difficult to describe but is there all the same. Just as Ahimsa is important for an individual it is also important for civilisations. It is said that of the worlds recorded civilisations virtually all have died not from enemy action but from spiritual decay. Throughout history civilisations have come into being and thrived for a certain time and then disappeared without trace. The Aryan or Indian civilisation is the oldest of all living civilisations and it has remained immortal. Could it be because it practised Ahimsa towards the weak? And if that is the case then what chance has our present civilisation which has unleashed the most horrific violence on the animal kingdom? Call it nature or call it god, those who protect others are protected by a higher power.

The biggest reason if not the only reason for our violence towards animals is our need and our desire to eat. An average person will eat around 30 tonnes of food in a lifetime. The saints and sages of India have always emphasised the importance of establishing control over what we should eat. The Bhagvad Gita describes three kinds of food. Food in the mode of ignorance, food in the mode of passion and food in the mood of goodness. Eating is a necessity, indeed it can be a great pleasure too but not at the expense of other living beings. Jains even refrain from eating root vegetables to avoid harm to insects and bacteria. Both Lord Buddha and Lord Mahaveera fasted for long periods but it is not possible for us mere mortals and that is why the criteria set for us are to live with minimum violence. Even the eating of fruits and vegetables involves violence but this is minimum violence. A fairly recent addition to what is considered violent is milk and hence more and more vegetarians are becoming vegan.

Looking at the way the world is moving forward today and the amount violence that mankind has unleashed on animals –human kind is heading towards self destruction. The only hope is and we all live on hope that those of us fighting the cause of animals continue doing so. Against all odds we are fighting for a goal and that goal is to grant animals fundamental rights.

Nitin Mehta

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