Ahimsa

"Bobcat in Winter" photo by Roger Vincent Jasaitis, Copyright 2013 RVJart.com
Bobcat in Winter

The Quaker Meeting that I am a member of considers a query each month as part of our spiritual discipline. On the first Sunday of each month, we read queries during worship inviting those attending to reflect on an aspect of our lives.  In December the queries address Peace and Reconciliation. One of these queries prompted these thoughts on the use of non-violent methods;

 

Do you strive to increase understanding and use of non-violent methods of resolving conflict? Do you take your part in the ministry of reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations?

I recently learned the word ahimsa.  The word means ‘not to injure’ and refers to a key virtue in Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs – to strike; hiṃsā is injury or harm, a-hiṃsā is the opposite of this, i.e. cause no injury, do no harm. Ahimsa is also referred to as nonviolence, and it applies to all living beings—including all animals—in ancient Indian religions. This concept is inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself.

Ancient texts use ahimsa to mean non-injury, a broader concept than non-violence. Non-injury implies not killing others, as well as not hurting others mentally or verbally; it includes avoiding all violent means—including physical violence—anything that injures others with words, thoughts or acts. A ritual prayer the Yajur Veda dated to be between 1000 BC and 600 BC, states;

“may all beings look at me with a friendly eye, may I do likewise, and may we look at each other with the eyes of a friend”.

In more recent history, Gandhi promoted the concept of Ahimsa very successfully by applying it to all spheres of life, particularly to politics. His non-violent resistance movement satyagraha had an immense impact on India, impressed public opinion in Western countries, and influenced the leaders of various civil and political rights movements such as the American civil rights movement’s Martin Luther King, Jr. In Gandhi’s thought, Ahimsa precludes not only the act of inflicting a physical injury, but also mental states like evil thoughts and hatred, unkind behavior such as harsh words, dishonesty and lying, all of which he saw as manifestations of violence incompatible with Ahimsa. Gandhi believed Ahimsa to be a creative energy force, encompassing all interactions leading one’s self to find satya, “Divine Truth”. (1)

As we approach the season of religious celebrations, it is appropriate to consider this foundational concept reflected in many faiths.  It predates many modern religions by at least 1000 years.

In a personal reflection on this I am struck by the inclusion of animals in this concept. I can see that we treat our personal pets in this manner, but do we treat wild and farm animals in this way? Is the industrialization of animals as food “friendly”? If all animals hold the spark of the divine, how is this justified? Food for thought…

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