Ahimsa - The Science Of Peace ► [11] The Scope ► AHIMSA

Posted: 15.01.2009


As the aforesaid and other problems facing humanity in modern times are interrelated and interconnected, it would be wrong to seek solutions for each one in isolation. Our approach should be to establish the relevance of ahimsa as an overall solution to all these problems, and then proceed to general methods of application.

To understand peace, or the state of tranquility, we should first understand struggle. A collision of two opposing things, forces or ideas is struggle. Then in order to attain peace, is it necessary to wipe out mutually opposing things? That is impossible. The next alternative is to prevent collision. But that, too, is neither easy nor completely achievable. The reality of life is that nature and life abound in complexities, confusions and chaos, and it is impossible to find some simple and permanent solution to the problem of struggle.

This is the reason that man has been searching since the beginning of time for some way of life that minimizes these natural complexities. The numerous outcomes of this search are called philosophies and religions. Each one presented its own fundamentals and concepts, and experiments were carried out. Each stream of thought had its ebb and tide, progression and regression. Some vanished and others survived. Throughout the history of civilization, we find that, one way or another, ahimsa has been a part of each and every ideology and way of life. For some, ahimsa has been the central theme. As we have seen, the most developed of the ahimsa-oriented philosophies are Jainism and Buddhism.

The way of life evolved by Jains on the basis of ahimsa included welfare of the state, the people, and the individual. Even to this day, this system is pertinent and rewarding if we understand it thoroughly and adapt it to suit modern society. Jainism basically believes in progressive development of spirituality. Ahimsa is the primary means of spiritual development. However, when ahimsa is tethered to formal ritualism, it does not remain ahimsa but transforms itself into himsa. Ahimsa cannot be observed for long through compulsion or fear.  Its success lies in breeding, or imparting, or cultivating an inherent revulsion for himsa.

Undue stress has been laid on formal and ritual ahimsa as practiced by the ignorant. Very little genuine efforts are made to prepare the ignorant by explaining the meaning and importance of the five vows and thereby laying a foundation for further development. The foundation of the structure has been left weak, and the higher level has been made heavy. The fall of such a lopsided structure is inevitable. That is the reason that hypocrisy has crept into the ascetic organization as well as the society. The higher the level of religiosity, the more is the hypocrisy. Following the ahimsa attitude is not just meant for the next life or attaining liberation, as generally preached by the religious. It is true, applicable, effective and beneficial in our normal day-to-day life.

The term ahimsa literally means negation of himsa (the whole range of violence starting from an idea of hurting and going right up to destruction). Ontologically speaking, when we talk of himsa (destruction) we should first consider to which of the Reals it is applicable, soul or body. Soul is immortal and there is no question of destroying it. Therefore what can be destroyed is body. Body is matter, and matter is never destroyed; it just undergoes continuous transformation. Then what is himsa? On serious contemplation, we find that at a subtle level himsa does not mean destruction or killing; it just means transformation. This makes sense only when we understand that life is formed by a combination of matter and soul. Therefore the fundamental definition of himsa is to curb or impede the natural evolution of embodied soul. All other definitions are mere derivations, extensions or elaborations of this.

When ahimsa is interpreted or explained as ‘not to do himsa’, it is a simple social stricture. As long as the meaning of ahimsa is confined to its connotation of negation, it is just a prohibition and remains within the realm of legal codes. When negation takes the form of a stricture, it is just a prohibition of the simplest form. However, this initial level, too, is not so insignificant as to be neglected. It is important in the sense that it is the primary step. What is required is we should make efforts to rise above it instead of considering it to be the goal and turning it into a mere ritual.

The other facet of ahimsa is the need for the elimination of violence. This does not merely mean the absence of violence at a superficial or physical level. It really means the absence of the need for violence at the mental and spiritual level. We must acquire, or get endowed with, those attributes, or virtues, or powers, or capacities, that enable us to function in all ways without himsa. This is a gradual process and practice that cannot be accomplished just by some whimsical or ritual resolve or vow. It has to be accomplished by endeavour and practice. This involves both the processes of attack and escape-an attack on, and escape from, the need of violence.

The third facet of ahimsa is the absence of violence. That is the level at which we are not merely inspiring everyone around us towards abandoning himsa, but are actually turning them ahimsak (perfectly non-violent). It is the ultimate and ideal situation that we call ultimate purity.

Once again, we take the common meaning of ahimsa to be the absence of himsa or violence and presence of empathy and fraternity. To refrain from violence is ahimsa and to cultivate friendship is also ahimsa. If we go still deeper in our deliberation, we find that ahimsa is a state of natural peace, free of any opposing factor, or of any struggle whatsoever. But can such a state exist? We normally supposed that it is possible only in imagination. It sounds utopian. But the truth is that such a state is possible; it has been attained and can be attained.

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