nonviolence, one of the cardinal virtues of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism

Ahimsa (Sanskrit: अहिंसा, IAST: ahiṃsā, lit. 'nonviolence'; Pali pronunciation: [avihiṃsā]), also spelled Ahinsa, is an ancient Indian principle of nonviolence (harmlessness) which applies to all living beings. It is a key virtue in the Dhārmic religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

God is truth. The way to truth lies through ahimsa (nonviolence). ~ Mahatma Gandhi

See also: Harmlessness, Nonviolence, and Nonviolent resistance

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Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
All breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. ~ Mahavira
Souls render service to one another. ~ Umaswati
  • The Buddha's Ahimsa is quite in keeping with his middle path. To put it differently, the Buddha made a distinction between Principle and Rule. He did not make Ahimsa a matter of Rule. He enunciated it as a matter of Principle or way of life. In this he no doubt acted very wisely. A principle leaves you freedom to act. A rule does not. Rule either breaks you, or you break the rule.
  • The practice of ahimsa contributes greatly to the yoga of mind control... In the Vedic dharma the definition of ahimsa is the absence of ill-feeling in all action.
    • Chandrasekharendra Saraswati - Hindu Dharma_ The Universal Way of Life (1995, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan_Bhavan's Book University_Mumbai_India)
  • Man cannot pretend to be higher in ethics, spirituality, advancement, or civilization than other creatures and at the same time live by lower standards than the vulture or hyena … The Pillars of Ahimsa indisputably represent the clearest, surest path out of the jungle, and toward the attainment of that highly desirable goal.
    • H. Jay Dinshah, Out of the Jungle (1967); as quoted in Compassion, the Ultimate Ethic: An Exploration of Veganism (1985) by Victoria Moran, p. 32
  • To attain to perfect purity one has to become absolutely passion-free in thought, speech and action; to rise above the opposing currents of love and hatred, attachment and repulsion. I know that I have not in me as yet that triple purity, in spite of constant ceaseless striving for it. That is why the world's praise fails to move me, indeed it very often stings me. To conquer the subtle passions seems to me to be harder far than the physical conquest of the world by the force of arms. Ever since my return to India I have had experiences of the dormant passions lying hidden within me. The knowledge of them has made me feel humiliated though not defeated. The experiences and experiments have sustained me and given me great joy. But I know that I have still before me a difficult path to traverse. I must reduce myself to zero. So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility.
  • Ahimsa is the highest ideal. It is meant for the brave, never for the cowardly. The highest religion has been defined by a negative word: Ahimsa.
    • Mahatma Gandhi, in "Fundamentals of Gandhism" (1995) by Anil Dutta Mishra, p. 130
  • Dharma is one and only one. Ahimsa means moksha, and moksha is the realization of Truth.
    • Mahatma Gandhi, in "Fundamentals of Gandhism" (1995) by Anil Dutta Mishra, p. 130
  • The most distinctive and largest contribution by Hinduism to India’s culture is the doctrine of Ahimsa.
    • Mahatma Gandhi, in "Fundamentals of Gandhism" (1995) by Anil Dutta Mishra, p. 130
  • My error! Why, I may be charged with having committed a breach of faith with the Hindus. I asked them to befriend Muslims. I asked them to lay their lives and their property at the disposal of the Mussulmans for the protection of their Holy Places. Even today I am asking them to practise Ahimsa, to settle quarrels by dying, but not by killing. And what do I find to be the result? How many temples have been desecrated? How many sisters come to me with complaints? As I was saying to Hakimji yesterday, Hindu women are in mortal fear of Mussulman goondas.
  • A volunteer from Ahmedabad, who had been to Godhra, writes: You say that you must be silent over these quarrels. Why were you not silent over the Khilafat, and why did you exhort us to join the Muslims? Why are you not silent about your principles of Ahimsa? How can you justify your silence when the two communities are running at each other’s throats and Hindus are being crushed to atoms? How does Ahimsa come there? I invite your attention to two cases:
    A Hindu shopkeeper, thus, complained to me: Musalmans purchase bags of rice from my shop, often never paying for them. I cannot insist on payment, for fear of their looting my godowns. I have, therefore, to makean involuntary gift of about 50 to 70 maunds of rice every month?
    Others complained: Musalmans invade our quarters and insult our women in our presence, and we have to sit still. If we dare to protest, we are done for. We dare not even lodge a complaint against them.
    What would you advise in such cases? How would you bring your Ahimsa into play? Or, even here you would prefer to remain silent!
    “These and similar other questions have been answered in these pages over and over again, but as they are still being raised, I had better explained my views once more at the risk of repetition. “Ahimsa is not the way of the timid or the cowardly. It is the way of the brave ready to face death. He who perishes sword in hand is, no doubt, brave, but he who faces death without raising his little finger, is braver. But he who surrenders his rice bags for fear of being beaten, is a coward and no votary of Ahimsa. He is innocent of Ahimsa. He, who for fear of being beaten, suffers the women of his household to be insulted, is not manly, but just the reverse. He is fit neither to be a husband nor a father, nor a brother. Such people have no right to complain…”
    • Mahatma Gandhi, What are we to Do?” in Young India (11th October, 1928) and Collected Works, Volume 43, pages 81-82. (extract from To the Hindus and Muslims, a collection of articles by Gandhiji from Young India ).”
  • All great saints and spiritual leaders who have appeared in the world have come to establish world peace and unity for humanity as a whole. Jealousy and hatred are the two causes by which humanity is ruined. In your lives these two vices should have no place.
    I want to weed out the prevailing non-violence in the world. It is a cause of apathy and idleness. This non-violence has cooled the blood of men so that it has become like cold water. This attitude of non-violence produces a lack of discrimination between good and evil. Everyone should lead a life of bravery and courage. A man without courage is like a dead man. Life without courage is no life. At present, many atrocities are being committed in the world. Human beings are treated like animals. No one has had the courage to stand up against these atrocities but everyone should be brave and resist them.
    Lethargy must have no place in your lives. Lethargy is the weakest trait in man.
  • Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being." Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept.
    • Sam Harris, in Letter to a Christian Nation (2006), p. 23
  • After looking at this building there appeared a white dome on the top of a hill, to which men were coming from all quarters. When I asked about this they said that a Jogi lived there, and when the simpletons come to see him he places in their hands a handful of flour, which they put into their mouths and imitate the cry of an animal which these fools have at some time injured, in order that by this act their sins may be blotted out. I ordered them to break down that place and turn the Jogi out of it, as well as to destroy the form of an idol there was in the dome.
  • People try to excuse their brutality by saying that it is the custom; but a crime does not cease to be a crime because many commit it. Karma takes no account of custom; and the karma of cruelty is the most terrible of all. In India at least there can be no excuse for such customs, for the duty of harmlessness is well-known to all.
  • The Hindu Mahasabha appreciates the need for Ahimsa. But it firmly believes Ahimsa born of fear or cowardice is not consistent with India's great heritage.
    • S. P. Mookerjee, presidential address at Mahakoshal Hindu Conference at Bilaspur, 7-12-1940, in Sobhag Mathur, Hindu Revivalism and the Indian National Movement, p. 129, and in Elst, K. (2010). The saffron swastika: The notion of "Hindu fascism". I.493
  • Jinnah, at least in is later life put up a brave fight. It was, however, a fight not for the’ freedom of India, except in a very qualified sense, but for the freedom of the Muslims from the tyrannical yoke of the Hindus, as he put it. He won the fight; the cult of violence decided the issue. To what extent Gandhi's cult of non-violence may claim credit for the freedom of India is a matter of opinion. But there is no doubt that the creation of Pakistan was the triumph of violence— in its naked and most brutal form-and of the leadership of Jinnah. Nobody can reasonably doubt that India would have surely attained independence, sooner or later, even without Gandhi, but it is extremely doubtful whether there would have been a Pakistan without Jinnah. So, if we are to judge by the result alone, the events of 1946-7 testify to the superiority of violence to non-violence in practical politics, and of Jinnah to the leaders of the Congress. But this affords an illustration of the blunder that is often committed by hasty inference drawn from the immediate result, apparently flowing from a certain course of action, without weighing the force of other circumstances. It ought to serve as a corrective to those who look upon Gandhi as having wrested independence from the British by waving his magic wand of Satyagraha. (xxviii ff)
    • R.C. Majumdar. History of the Freedom Movement in India: Preface to Volume 3: R.C. Majumdar, Firma K.L Mukhopadhyay, Calcutta. also quoted in S. Balakrishna, Seventy years of secularism.
  • Pakistan can only be achieved through shedding blood of ourselves, and if need be, and if opportunity arose, by shedding blood of others. Muslims are no believers in Ahimsa.
  • Einstein is also, and I think rightly, known as a man of very great goodwill and humanity. Indeed if I had to think of a single word for his attitude towards human problems, I would pick the Sanskrit word Ahimsa, not to hurt, harmlessness.
  • परस्परोपग्रहो जीवानाम्
    • Parasparopagraho Jīvānām.
    • Variant translations: All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence.
    • This is also sometimes paraphrased or summarized as "Live and let live" or "Live and help Live."
  • Māhavīra proclaimed a profound truth for all times to come when he said: "One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence which is entwined with them." Jain cosmology recognizes the fundamental natural phenomenon of symbiosis or mutual dependence, which forms the basis of the modern day science of ecology. It is relevant to recall that the term "ecology" was coined in the latter half of the nineteenth century from the Greek word oikos, meaning "home", a place to which one returns. Ecology is the branch of biology which deals with the relations of organisms to their surroundings and to other organisms. The ancient Jain scriptural aphorism Parasparopagraho Jīvānām (All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence) is refreshingly contemporary in its premise and perspective. It defines the scope of modern ecology while extending it further to a more spacious "home". It means that all aspects of nature belong together and are bound in a physical as well as a metaphysical relationship. Life is viewed as a gift of togetherness, accommodation and assistance in a universe teeming with interdependent constituents.
    • Laxmi Mall Singhvi, in "Jain Declaration of Nature" in Jainism and Ecology : Nonviolence in the Web of Life (2006) by Christopher Key Chapple, p. 217
  • All beings hate pains; therefore one should not kill them. This is the quintessence of wisdom; not to kill anything.
    • Sutrakritanga, in Jainism religious text, quoted in "Humanimal", p. 159

Ahimsa in the Mahabharata

  • The purification of one who does ahimsa are inexhaustible. Such a one is regarded as always performing sacrifices, and is the father and mother of all beings.
    • Mahabharata XIII:115:41, as quoted in "Nonviolence to Animals, Earth, and Self in Asian Traditions" (1993)
  • Ahimsa is the dharma. It is the highest purification. It is also the highest truth from which all dharma proceeds.
    • Mahabharata XIII:125:25, as quoted in "Nonviolence to Animals, Earth, and Self in Asian Traditions" (1993)
  • Non-violence is the ultimate dharma. So too is violence in service of Dharma.
    • Variant: Non-violence is the highest ethics/righteousness, and righteous violence. (Ahiṁsa paramo dharma, dharma hiṁsa tathaiva ca)
    • Attributed to the Mahabharata by Swami Chinmayananda [3] He says: "Let us for a moment go to the original sacred verse and investigate the significances of the moral precept: Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah. This is the opening line of a stanza, and the very next line reads: Dharma himsaa tathaiva cha. “So too is all righteous violence.” [4]
  • That mode of living which is founded upon a total harmlessness towards all creatures or (in case of actual necessity) upon a minimum of such harm, is the highest morality.
  • This practice of universal harmlessness hath arisen even thus. One may follow it by every means in one's power... It is sure to lead also to prosperity and heaven. In consequence of their ability to dispel the fears of others, men possessed of wealth and followers are regarded as foremost by the learned. They that are for ordinary happiness practise this duty of universal harmlessness for the sake of fame; while they that are truly skilled, practise the same for the sake of attaining to Brahma. Whatever fruits one enjoys by penances, by sacrifices, by practising liberality, by speaking the truth, and by paying court to wisdom, may all be had by practising the duty of harmlessness. That person who gives unto all creatures the assurance of harmlessness obtains the merit of all sacrifices and at last wins fearlessness for himself as his reward. There is no duty superior to the duty of abstention from injuring other creatures. He of whom, O great ascetic, no creature is frightened in the least, obtains for himself fearlessness of all creatures. He of whom everybody is frightened as one is of a snake ensconced within one's (sleeping) chamber, never acquires any merit...
  • Surely what was said by those astonished men of old was Ahimsa! Who in this world does not harm living beings? Having given it much consideration, no one in the world does ahimsa. Even ascetics (yatis) devoted to ahimsa surely do himsa, although by their effort it may be lessened.
    • Mahabharata quoted from Alf Hiltebeitel - Rethinking the Mahabharata_ A Reader's Guide to the Education of the Dharma King (2001, University Of Chicago Press) - p 205


  • That the epic resists the universalization of ahimsa, however, is nowhere clearer than from a glance at the uncertain status it accords it among the "highest dharmas."... Of the fifty-four instances I have found in the Mahabharata, the tally for the different excellences said to be the "highest dharma" is anrsamsya (non-cruelty), 8; truth, 5; ahimsa, 4; "what is in the Veda", 2; offspring, 2; "following your guru", 2 ; "speaking what is applicable to dharma when one knows it", 2; Visnu-Narayana, 2 ; (....) and eleven more single entries... This counts only usages with para and parama; uttara, used more rarely for "highest" in this sense, gives only further variety.... The highest dharma seems to be knowing the highest dharma for whatever particular situation one is in, and recognizing that situation within an ontology that admits virtually endless variation and deferral in matters of formulating and approaching "the highest.".
    • Alf Hiltebeitel - Rethinking the Mahabharata_ A Reader's Guide to the Education of the Dharma King (2001, University Of Chicago Press) - page 207
  • Ahimsa . . . is an ideal which is central to what is called the nivettimarga, the marga of samnydsa [the way of renunciation}. But the Mahabharata is, if anything, a great text of the pravrttimarga [the way of turning toward the world]. It argues for the pravrttimarga, though it is very much attracted by nivrttimarga and ahimsa. But total ahimsa cannot be practiced, because the human condition is such that some himsa has to be there for the practice of both the grhasthadharma (housebolder’s dharma] and the rajadharma [king’s dharma]. Therefore, what the Mahabharata preaches is not ahimsa but anrsamsya (non-cruelty). This latter is one of the most outstanding moral concepts of the epic. Anrsamsya is ahimsa adapted to the pravrttimarga.
    • Lath 1990, quoted in Alf Hiltebeitel - Rethinking the Mahabharata_ A Reader's Guide to the Education of the Dharma King (2001, University Of Chicago Press) Lath, Mulrund. 1990. The concept of anrsamsya in the Mahabharata .in Dandekar 1990, 113-19. . The Mahabharata_ revisited.

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