There is no other God than Truth. . . and the only means for the realization of Truth is Ahimsa. —Mahatma Gandhi
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word meaning non-injury or non-violence.
The term became popular in the West when Mahatma Gandhi started a nonviolent civil disobedience movement and gained India’s independence from British rule.
His strong adherence to ahimsa inspired other social and political rights movements led by future leaders such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
Yoga practitioners know ahimsa as the very first yama, or ethical restraint on the path of inner growth.
“Ahimsa is derived from the Sanskrit verb root san, which means to kill. The form hims means “desirous to kill”; the prefix a– is a negation. So a-himsa literally means “lacking any desire to kill”.
Based on this meaning, ahimsa is commonly understood as being without harm; to be utterly harmless, not only to oneself and others, but to all living beings.” *
Ahimsa—based on a fundamental spiritual truth
Ahimsa is a value of life that is universally accepted and revered. It is a natural expression of a fundamental spiritual truth—the truth of the oneness of existence.
All things and beings are the expressions of the great ONE source, Truth or God.
If all is one, then how can one ever even think of harming another living being?
Ahimsa—In your mind, do not injure others
While ahimsa is commonly interpreted as not harming others by our speech and actions, it is actually a discipline for our mind.
Realistically, ahimsa cannot be perfectly practiced at the physical level because it is impossible to live without causing harm to other things and beings. For example, we inadvertently breathe in living micro-organisms, step on insects as we walk, and harm plants or animals when we eat them
The principle is: In your mind, do not injure others.
Non-injury is the spirit that should guide all our actions
Here are some ways you can practice ahimsa in your daily life:
Accept others for who they are
We judge others based on our own behaviour, experience, our personal likes, dislikes and preconceived notions on how they should be.
When we judge people, it shows that we don’t accept them, that they have to change and be a certain way to please us.
But we are all unique and each of us can only do the best “me” we know.
Judging immediately separates us.
Even if we don’t express our opinions, the people to whom we direct these thoughts instinctively pick up our mental vibes. They become uncomfortable in our company or react in anger and irritation.
Wish others well
The thoughts that we send out come back to us multiplied.
When we are envious, jealous or wish ill of others, the negativity we send out backfires as sorrow in our own lives.
And, if we send out thoughts of love to others, genuinely wishing them health, success and prosperity, they come back as peace of mind and blessings in our own lives.
It’s the Law of Karma plain and simple.
Let Ahimsa guide your speech
Ahimsa expressed at the speech level can be especially difficult. In the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, King Rama’s life and behaviour is an ideal for us to follow.
He always spoke, “after careful deliberation, words that are humble and suited to the time, place and circumstances.” **
Needless to say, this is a tremendously powerful discipline.
Being careful to choose your words based on the time, place and circumstances and saying them in a pleasing manner is a life-long discipline.
I know from personal experience how easy it is to blurt out what’s on my mind, instead of slowing down to think carefully about what to say and how my words will affect the other person.
I wish I could perfect this!
Let higher knowledge restrain your responses
If your finger accidently poked your eye as you were shampooing your hair, would you get mad and bite your finger? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t even think of it.
What would you do? You’d immediately wash off the shampoo and start to nurse your eye.
You know that your finger and eye are both one “you.” Biting your finger will hurt all of you.
If someone does something to hurt you, it’s easy to hurt back. But it requires wisdom and self-restraint to abstain from retaliating in anger.
This is one of the many reasons that made Gandhi a “mahatma”—a great soul. He held fast on to the Truth of oneness and ahimsa.
His peaceful inner strength in holding on to the ideal of non-violence cooled down the strong anti-British sentiments amongst the people before India gained its independence.
This is one of my favourite Gandhi quotes: An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.
Ahimsa is a sign of strength and self-confidence
The Dalai Lama succinctly explains the principles of ahimsa. He tells us that restraining from harming another out of fear is not ahimsa. And nor should we remain indifferent.
Non-violence means you have the ability to harm another, but you restrain yourself out of love and respect. Ahimsa is a sign of strength and self-confidence, not a sign of weakness.
You can watch the Dalai Lama here.
Ahimsa as means to realize the Truth
Even though we see diversity externally, we need to have faith in the truth that essentially, we are all one.
Standing on that faith, expressing ahimsa can be our primary spiritual discipline.
Kindness, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, patience, humility, forbearance, and other such values are all expressions of ahimsa.
As we practice these values, we will realize the words of Gandhi: …the only means for the realization of Truth is Ahimsa.
** Ayodhya-kandha 44.2
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You write “Realistically, ahimsa cannot be perfectly practiced at the physical level because it is impossible to live without causing harm to other things and beings. For example, we inadvertently breathe in living micro-organisms, step on insects as we walk, and harm plants or animals when we eat them”.
Do you have a citation from the Vedanta scriptures mentioning the principle of Ahimsa supports, let alone tolerates eating animals ?
Hi George, the principle of Ahimsa is based on the spiritual principle of oneness. The implication of oneness means that what you do to others, you are doing to yourself. Therefore do not injure others. To my knowledge, when the scriptures tell us to practice Ahimsa, this ideal is to be lived up to without any exceptions. But, all people don’t follow scriptural injunctions. For example, we are taught to not steal or lie, but we know that not everyone follows these instructions. Killing animals for food is not in harmony with the practice of Ahimsa.