Non-violence Relative Economics And A New Social Order: Traditions in Non-violence in Ancient India

Published: 28.05.2015
Updated: 02.07.2015

Non-Violence in Vedic Era

Vedas are the earliest scriptures of the Hindus. Thinkers and reformers, both ancient and modern base their tenets on the Vedas. The Vedas give them a divine origin because they are considered to be direct revelations from God.

The Vedas mean supreme knowledge and are considered to have been revealed by God to the sages. As they were revealed they consisted of one hundred thousand verses and had four divisions. The Puranas say that in course of time the division got mixed up and some verses fell into disuse. The sage Vedavyasa, the classifier of the Vedas, seeing the sorry state in which these divine revelations had fallen collected the verses and in order to perpetuate them in the proper form taught the four divisions to four of his disciples. The Hindus believe that the four Vedas have come to us in that form.

The four Vedas are Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharva-veda. Out of these the oldest and the most important is the Rigveda. It is actually a collection of sacred hymns in verses of different metres addressed to the many gods and goddesses of the Aryans. The second Samaveda contains mainly musical hymns meant for chanting during the sacrifices. There is hardly anything new in Samaveda which does not appear in Rigveda. Yajurveda again is a ritual Veda which gives guidance to the priests in the conduct of the sacrifice. Lastly, the Atharvaveda is a collection of incantations and popular charms based on black magic and superstition.

Each Veda consists of three parts; the Samhita or the collection of hymns, the Brahmanas or liturgical discussions and Araynakas or forest treatises of which the Upanishads form a part. The four Samhitas are used for recitation during the performance of sacrifices. The Brahmanas which come immediately after the Samhitas discuss the efficacy of sacrificial worship and give detailed instructions about the conduct of the sacrifices. The Brahmanas are mostly written in prose. Aranyakas belong to a class different from the other two, they are meant as topics for contemplation of the people who have escaped from the world of pleasure and pain to the forest retreats. The Upanishads deal with philosophy and is also called Vedanta or the end of the Vedas. The Upanishads contain the earliest gems of Indian thought.

If we make a brief survey of the socio-ethical structure of the people of the Vedic age regarding their ways of living, their attitude towards others, the basis of their morality, their feelings about other inhabitants of the society, we can easily understand that their attitude towards themselves as well as towards others was suffused with a feeling of Ahimsa. They moved in the society in such a way that there existed social harmony and congenial atmosphere for all the beings. According to the Vedic tradition, people used to share their wealth with others. This notion was inspired by their belief that those who do not share their wealth according to their conception Indra subdues them. And this was the reason that the Vedic people prayed to the Lord to save them from the ill-thoughts of harbouring enmity towards anybody and they prayed to keep off all such thoughts. They had a desire to bear affection for all in the same way as a cow shows it to her new-born calf.[1]

The social structure of the Vedic society was based on the peaceful atmosphere and cooperation among the inhabitants of the society. A dutiful son was expected to be obedient to his father and to be like-minded with his mother. It was enjoined upon a woman to speak sweet and gentle words to her husband. The mutual relationship between a brother and a sister was expected to be agreeable; they used to speak with each other with good intentions.[2] The people were bound by a great sense of unity. They used to accomplish unitedly whatever they wanted. They worked jointly and spoke what was agreeable to each other. They liked to have a common community food and drink and were to worship Agni unitedly like spokes around a nave. They used to feel satisfied and therefore happy on the day they would be able to gain virtue, conquer evil and becomes guiltless. They disliked niggardliness and hatred against each other. A feeling of love towards everybody alongwith a great sense of duty and unity in performance of various deeds reflects the existence of an Ahimsaka behaviour prevailing in the society. They wanted to be dear to all whether friend or foe, noble or ignoble and loved fearlessness.

The Vedic prayers are full of a feeling of loving kindness, non-hatred, truth, righteousness and non-ill towards all. These ingredients are nothing but various constituents of Ahimsa. The people prayed to Lord Indra to instill in them fearlessness from all the quarters, from friend, enemy, known, unknown, day and night.[3] Fearlessness is one of the qualities of a non-violent person. Since fearless persons never harbour ill ideas for anybody so they are fearless in themselves and they provide fearlessness to all. Only violent persons are fearful for themselves and furious for others. In praying for fearlessness to Lord Indra, people wanted to be blessed with a non-violent attitude towards all. Only them they could become fearless. Violent persons are always engaged in wishing ill to others; in turn they themselves are fearful expecting revenge from others. When a person is nonviolence, i.e. compassionate towards all and endowed with a feeling of friendliness, no fear prevails for him in any quarter.

The Vedic people used to keep the vow of righteousness. They sought it from Agni in their entreaties. While praying to gods they used to say,

"I shall keep the vow of righteousness. Bless me with strength therefore. May success attend to me. I enter from untruth to truth. I abandon untruth and accept truth".

The people prayed to gods to make them travelers on the path of righteousness and followers of honesty. They were keen to have good friends and prayed for bestowing on them good friendship. They made a devout request to God to lead them to riches through righteous means and remove every sin that made them wanderer and stray. Apart from the desires for riches, male progeny, domestic welfare, cattle, etc., the ancient people aspired for wisdom too and prayed to Varuna, Agni and Prajapati for the same.[4] They wanted peace within and peace without, in the sky, air, earth, plants, trees, all gods, universe, and everywhere. They wanted to be blessed with such a strength that would make all the creatures regard them as their friends and entreated gods for the same. This prayer for friendship shows the inner urge for friendliness, mutual trust, cooperation and help towards all that inhabit this universe. This non-violence attitude towards all the beings was deep-rooted in their hearts. It is noticeable in their various social and religious performances. Here are some illustrations which bear an evidence as to how the concept of Ahimsa was alive among the people in its different forms.

Charity, one of the constituents of the feeling of compassion towards others, is praised in the Rigveda and prayers are offered for the welfare of those charity-minded persons who are desirous of giving.[5] To give charity means helping the needy by providing him necessary things. To help others, to be a well-wisher of others, to become sorrowful on seeing others in sorrow and to make efforts to put an end to their misery are the qualities which a believer in Ahimsa possesses. Ahimsa not only means non-violence or non-killing as is generally understood but it also embraces in its ambit certain other qualities such as compassion, charity, a feeling of loving kindness, universal friendliness, forgiveness, non-hatred passionlessness etc.

Apart from a feeling of charity in any of the ways for the needy and the persons in distress, references are also found regarding the cultivation of a feeling of universal friendliness which is one of the constituents of the concept of Ahimsa. In the Yajurveda a wish for universal friendliness is expressed:

"May all beings look at me with a friendly eye; may I do likewise, and may we all look on each other with the eyes of a friend".

These words could be taken to signify the various stages in the development of the concept of Ahimsa. First, a man desired that others might treat him a friendly way, then he found others desiring the same. A moral principle can be formulated when the friendly attitude is generalized, and the final proposition is:

"May every person look others with a friendly eye!"

The people of the Vedic age had an intent desire to get rid of all sorts of ill-thoughts and used to think of the day when they could win over evil and sin.[6]. They had a faith in the truthful speech. They wished and prayed that truthful speech might guard them. This devotion towards truth shows regard for morality which helps in the practice of Ahimsa.

Further, the ancient people believed that helping others was to liberate oneself. They prayed to God to give them strength that might enable them to protect each other, to eat and dine together, to work together, to study for enlightenment so that they might live in unity and love without hating each other. And this behaviour served as a foundation for a harmonious social set up with an Ahimsaka attitude among the inhabitants of that society. These illustrations mainly from the Vedas' show that the people of the Vedic times followed the virtues of charity, honesty, peace, a feeling of friendliness towards all, and unity.

Truly speaking, the qualities like charity, honesty, peace, benevolence, friendliness etc. are a state of mind and form the constituents of Ahimsa. Therefore, Ahimsa is also a state of our mind. It may be physical or vocal from the stand point of its manifestations through different doors of actions. The decision of doing such and such act appears at the sphere of out mind and accordingly it appears through physical or vocal door and materializes thereby. If a physical act or vocal act is performed which has no corresponding link with the mind, then it may not be a real form of an act, or if we claim to practice Ahimsa were physically and vocally having no hearing with mind it cannot be the real form of Ahimsa. It may only be an external soul. The description in the Vedas is very lively and clearly states that the ancient seers practised Ahimsa in real sense of the term. It was a part of their being and thinking as well as their actions were saturated with this state of mind.

Ahimsa in the Upanishads

The concept of Ahimsa was very much alive during the Upanisadic age too. The references appearing in Brahadar-anyakopanisad, Narayanopanisad, Taittiriya Upanisad, Kathopanisad, Prasnopanisad, Mundokopanisad bear an evidence that the various virtues such as dan, compassion, kindness, self control, practice of non injury towards all beings, self realization, equipoise of mind, sympathy and austerity were given importance in the society and these all in turn led to a non violent atmosphere all around. Accord-ing to Brhadaranyakopanisad one becomes good by good action and bad by bad action. The doer of good deeds becomes good and the doer of bad deeds be- comes bad. Virtues make one virtuous and wickedness makes one wicked. Others, however, say that man consists of desires. As is his desire, so ii his will; so is the deed that he does. Whatever deed he does that he attains.[7] Thus people of the Upanisadic age had knowledge of good-ness, virtue and vice. They believed in the reward of good deeds. The Upanisads appreciate noble will and noble desires and the nobility comes only when one's heart is saturated with the various attributes or constituents of Ahimsa which serve as the basis of any noble deed or any act of morality.

An interesting episode occurs in the Brahdarayakopanisad. The threefold offsprings of Prajapati gods, men and demons lived with their father as students of sacred knowledge. On the completion of their studies, gods reques-ted Prajapati to give them his benediction. Prajapati uttered the letter 'da' which all the three off-springs understood in their own ways. The gods understood that Prajapati instruc-ted them to control themselves 'Damayatta'. According to Sankara, gods are said to be naturally unruly and hence were asked to practise self control to keep peace and harmony at the universal level. Men understood that they were instructed to give 'Datta' for men by nature are avaricious and hence should distribute their wealth according to the best of their capacity. Demons understood that they were asked to be compassionate Dayadhvam. The demons by nature are cruel, arid hence they were asked to be compassionate and kind to all. All the three virtues help a man in his effort to perfect himself in the practice of non injury towards all. Self control helps in overcoming the lustful passions, charity puts a stop in greed and the practice of compassion helps one in developing feeling for others and help others who are in misery. According to Sankara there are no gods other than the man. Devoid of self control but possessed with good qualities, man is God. Greed does not allow man to improve upon himself and keeps man chained down as man. If cruel and bent upon injuring others, man is a demon. Man can attain all the three virtues that are a great help in realizing the true purpose of life the self- realization. A callous man may be called a demon in human form. This also confirms that infliction of injury upon others is to be vehemently denounced. A violent man is no better than a demon.

A mind of equipoise can be attained by the practice of self denial that helps a man to face the joy and sorrow, without being elated and disheartened by happiness and misery. True compassion stands for helping others to get rid of their sorrows. It is not mere sympathy by lip. The word 'austerity' has been used for all the forms of self-control.[8] Morality, truth, study of and listening to the sacred books peace, charity and sacrifice all are termed as austerity.

Towards the end of the Chandogya Upanisad, we find the parting advice to students that was given by Brahma to Prajapati, by Prajapati to Manu and by Manu to mankind. According to this advice, after having learnt the Vedas, he who settles down in a home of his own, continues the study of what he has learnt, concentrates all his senses into the self, practises non injury to all creatures except at holy places; behaving thus throughout his life attains the world of Brahma and does not return to this world. Sankara translates sarva bhutani as all creatures, both animate and inanimate. In this way, the concept of non-injury is to be extended to the animal world also:

Bhiksanimitta matanadinapi parapida syam[9]

By this expression, Sankara means that even travelling as.a mendicant causes pain to others but a mendicant is allowed to beg for alms at sacred places. Herein is found the culmination of Ahimsa, not to trouble others by being dependent on them or to talk of taking life of any creature whatsoever.

In the Taittirriya Upanisad, references are found where the teacher exhorts students to follow truth, virtue, welfare, prosperity; to revere parents, teachers and guests as God; to practise blameless deeds; to follow teachers in righteous deeds; to give up fear, and to practise sympathy. Students, when in doubt are asked to follow the footsteps of Brahmanas who are competent to judge, devoted to good deeds, not led by others, not harsh and are lovers of virtue. And this is nothing but a path of Ahimsa.

Radhakrishnan in his translation and commentary of the Taittirriya Upanishad says that the Brahmanas have a spontaneity of consciousness which is expressed in love for all the beings. Their tenderness of sentiment and enlightened conscience should be the standard for all.[10]

The aim and theme of Kathopanisad is to teach charity. Ahimsa in reality means not to harm any person physically and apparently but to be sincere and cautious in not harming anyone. To make it more clear, one may not harm others apparently but his actions, words and thoughts, may not, in the long run, be injurious to others. Likewise, if a person gives in charity a worthy thing with faith, he follows Ahimsa in letter and spirit, whereas a thing given in charity by a person not with faith but only in name, discredits him as not following Ahimsa in spirit for in that case he is not charity minded in the real sense. Ahimsa demands sacrifice of all that is dear to us. Kathopanisad has distinguished these as two different things pleasure and definiteness. Man's highest good lies not in pleasure but in moral goodness. Man is approached by both pleasant and good. The wise resort to good and the simple ones to pleasant, i.e., to enjoy the worldly pleasures.[11]

The Prasnopanisad teaches us that Brahma, i.e., the knowledge cannot be got without austerity, chastity and faith. The seer Pippalada asked the seekers of Brahman, to live with him for one year more with chastity, austerity and faith.[12] A man of chastity loses his foremost quality as soon as he injures anyone in thought, word or deed. Austerity is self restraint. A man of self restraint sacrifices his sensual enjoyments for the sake of self realization. He never yields to his carnal desires. To injure others in anyway is to give in to a base desire. Right faith will not lead a man to such a step that may prove to be injurious and harmful to others.

Austerity, le., the Tapas is the root of the knowledge of self goodness which is obtained by practising austerity; understanding is developed by goodness and knowledge of self comes by understanding. A body, burnt in the fire of austerity, has no cremation. and does not require any Sradha ceremony like that cooked food that need not be cooked again. This shows the glory of (Tapas) that has its root in Ahimsa. When approached by Asvalayaua to instruct him in the knowledge of Brahman to free him from impurities Lord Brahma advised him to seek Brahman by faith, devotion, meditation and concentration and not by work or by offsprings or by wealth, but it is only by renunciation that one attains eternal life. This instruction emphasises the right faith, absence of craving for a son and money. Karma can also mean rituals that have been underestimated before the lust of meditation,- concentration, faith and renunciation. Sankara also accords preference to knowledge.

As has already been clarified that knowledge of Atman requires power of understanding; power of understanding is developed by possessing goodness; and goodness is attained by practising austerity. Austerity is an all inclusive word. It embraces all that is good and great. Ahimsa is to be given top ranking position. All the foregoing illustrations clearly attest the fact that man's life is symbolically a sacrifice. Sacrifices in the Upanisads become self denying act. For example, Bradaranyakopanisad opens with an account of Asvamedha, interpreting it as an act in which the individual offers the whole universe in place of the horse and by the renunciation of the world, attains spiritual austerity.[13] A man of self denial lives in the world but is not of the world. He has no attachment to worldly attractions that compel one to harm and injure others. And it is here that the concept of Ahimsa is realized in true sense.

Thus Ahimsa was considered to be the highest virtue not in the Vedic age but also in the Upanisadic age. The people of the Upanisadic age were very conscious about their deeds. They believed that bad deeds result into something bad. They followed the various virtues such as Dan, non injury, equipoise of mind towards all in all circumstances, sympathy, austerity, wishing welfare for others, charity, sacrifice for good for others, non greedy behaviour at all levels etc. They not only followed the above virtues but they also strived for self realization based on virtues.

Himsain Smritis

Not only in the Vedas and the Upanishads but in Smritis also references highlighting merits of Ahimsa are to be found. Manusmriti states that non injury to others results in attaining spiritual merit which is attained not at the cost of others but by living for others.[14] Not to injure others, one of the constituents of Ahimsa, is regarded as one of the qualities that helps in the attainment of heavenly bliss. According to Manu, a man who injures innocent beings to please himself, never finds happiness, neither living nor dead. He who does not cause the death of living creatures, desiring good for all obtains endless happiness. He who does not injure any living creature, attains without an effort of what he thinks, of what he undertakes and what he fixes his mind on. Manusmiriti also treats of Ahimsa as detachment from the sense organs and performance of the Vedic duties and penance. One should avoid Prani himsa the killing of the living beings, wine, meat, smells, garlands, tastes women and intoxicants.[15]

Taking what is not offered, attachment to the wives of others and killing unlawfully (avidhana) are counted among the most evil acts resulting in great calamity in future rebirths. On the other hand, sex control, compassion, forgiveness, gifts, truthfulness, simplicity, Ahimsa, non stealing, modesty and self restraints are praised as moral restraints. Among the supreme virtues are control of sense organs, Ahimsa, charity and study of the Vedas as a means of self realization.[16] The Bandhayan Smriti treats of Ahimsa as purifier of soul.[17] Vyasasmirti exhorts to give up Himsa. A student should give up aversion (vidvesa), despite, Himsa and observing the rising sun. Expanding the merit of Ahimsa, Manu says that a person who does not like the killing or tying up of living beings and instead causes

good (hita) attains happiness (sukha). At another place, Manu says that one should accumulate merit (Dharma) by avoiding to give trouble to any creature so as to find a companion in the next world.

Yajnavalkya mentions Ahimsa, truthfulness, non stealing purity, control of sense organs, gifts (dan), self control (dama) compassion (daya) and forgiveness (kshma) as means of merit for all. In Yajnavalkyasmriti, Ahimsa is stated not to be a meritorious act but even the association with the persons perpetrating in the act of killing is prohibited. For instance, one is advised not to associate with those who kill refugees, children and women.[18]

References to Ahimsa towards animals and plants are found in the Smritis. Some means of livelihood such as cutting trees for fuel, earning a livelihood on one's wife, killing animals, and constant and uninhibited use of medicine, constructing harmful instruments (Himsra yantra) and selling oneself are regarded as crimes (Upapataka).[19]

References forbidding Ahimsa toward animals and plants are found in Yajnavalkyasmriti and in Manusmrit. Manu exhorts to avoid certain professions which result into animal exploitation. He advises a Brahmana or a Ksatriya, living as a Vaisya at the time of distress, to refrain from cultivation which involves exploitation of other animals and killing. A person who commits injury to harmless beings for the sake of his own pleasure (atma sukha iccha) never makes peaceful progress (Sukhani edha) anywhere in life or hereafter.[20] At one place, he clearly states that violence results into ill health and nonviolence results into sound health. About the feeling of the plants, Manu says that if a person destroys wild or cultivated plants without any just cause, he should be penalised with the looking after of a cow for one day subsisting on milk alone. Thus in essence one should avoid any type of Himsa even towards the plants and observe Ahimsa towards anybody without any discrimination. To eliminate the killing of animals, Manu condemns meat eating. One who desires to increase his own flesh (sva mathsa) without sacrificing to the Divine or to the Gods is the worse type of sinner; (apunyakrta). Manu treats all those as killers who give consent to killing, who dismember a living body, who actually kill, who purchase or sell the meat, who prepare it, who serve it and who eat the meat. Without killing living beings, the meat cannot be made available and since killing is not conducive to an ultimate good (i.e. the attainment of heaven) one must give up meat-eating. The process of procuring meat involves killing as well as karmic bondage (bandhan). Keeping this in mind, one should refrain from eating all kinds of meat.[21] Only when water has been sprinkled, when the appropriate mantras are recited and when the Brahmanas so desire, one may eat meat during the performance of a ritual. In short on the basis of the samritis, it can be said that the concept of Ahimsa was held in very high esteem.

Ahimsa in the Ramayana

The very first contact with the concept of Ahimsa in the Ramayana is Rama's attitude towards Kaikeyi. In the Aranyakanda, Laksmana in Panchavati, glorified Bharata and queries to Rama "How can mother Kaikeyi, whose husband is Dasaratha and son Bharata, can have such crooked ways?" Listening this, Rama, who believed in returning good for evil and saw good in humanity, replied, "My brother, you should by no means, tax our second mother. Do you talk of that Lord of Iksvaku race Bharatha?"

These words underline Rama's belief in the creed of 'forgive and forget'. That is the foundation of Ahimsa. Being born in Kastriya caste, Rama had to slay those who deserved to be slain in the interests of Brahmanas, seers, sages, and ascetics. He never got enraged with those that ought not to be slain.

Rama, the ideal of humanity would not have killed Yaksini because of her feminineness but for the sake of the good of the people. He was coerced to end her life for the welfare of the masses. He was aware of her feminineness while killing her, that is why he hesitated in the beginning to slay her.[22] Not only Rama but Sita also had faith in the virtue of Ahimsa. In Ravana's detention, in Asokavatika, Sita was kept inside a ring of Rakasis to keep a vigil on her so that she may not free herself from the clutches of the demon king. They were also instructed to reduce her to the luxurious life of Ravana's palace only if she yields to Ravana's will. However, one of the Raksasis, named Trijata, saw a dream forecasting Rama's victory and Ravana's defeat. As the story of dream went about among others, they all implored her forgiveness so that she might save them from the in pending m ighty disaster.[23] Moved by their words, Sita decided that in the event of Rama's victory she will give protection to them. What they were doing to her was done on account of the vicious orders from Ravana. In case they disobeyed him, he would not have spared any one of them. This consideration of Sita reflects the non violent build of her mind.

In the Ramayana, references are found where Sita narrated the story of an ascetic to Rama. Lord Indra, intending to disturb the ascetic, came in the guise of a warrior and kept an excellent scimitar as a trust with him. The ascetic, intent upon preserving his trust, went about everywhere with the scimitar. Constantly carrying the sword with him, the ascetic by degrees, forewent all thoughts involved in ferocious sentiments. He lost his sobriety, went off the path of righteousness and went to bell as a result of bearing that weapon in band. Sita added that arms and hermitage, Ksatriya virtue and asceticism were opposites and suggested Rama to give up such aims and forgets that befooled one's spirits. This episode upholds Sita's non-violent mental make up.

To this Rama replied, that the primary duty of a Ksatriya was to abolish distress from the face of the earth. Rama, as Ksatriya, thought it his duty to protect those ascetics of Dandakaranya who had sought his protection against the demons. He could not violate his promise of protecting them, even if for that matter he would have to renounce Sita and Laksmana. Even without any representation the protection of Brahmanas was incumbent upon Rama, and what could he say, when he had promised to do so. This statement of Rama, makes one to conclude that Rama as a ruler, holding the destiny of his country men in his hands, thought it his duty to protect the ascetics even by resorting to violence. His Ahimsa laid in following his own dharma (Svadharma) disinterestedly, protecting the Brahmanas and living upto his promise in real sense, Rama and Sita's attitude was absolutely Ahimsaka towards all beings.

Ahimsa in the Mahabharata

In the Mahabharata, there are references saying that men indulging in killing living beings (Prani-himsa) deserve to go to hell. The merits of other penances is destroyed if one practises Himsa. Not only this but actions done with Himsa kills faith (sraddha) and faith being destroyed, it ruins them an. One should never do that to another which one considered undesirable (pratikula) for oneself (atman).

In the Santiparva, one is advised to treat another person in the same way as the person treats him. A delightful person (Maya acara) should be made the victim of deception (Maya) while an honest man (Sadhu acara) should be treated with honesty (Sadhu). This throws a flood of light on the practical aspect of Ahimsa. A king or a Head of State should treat the subjects and subordinates as a mother treats her children. However, he is not to submit to evil and evil doer. Protection of the subjects is the quintessence of his duties. A true and an ideal mother loves her child but does not put up with its wrong attitude and ill manners. A king is not to use unfair means to conquer the earth.[24] To disassociate with unfair means is to associate with the virtue of Ahimsa.

Justifying the killings in a war, Bhishma states that Kstriyas, when fight the battle, no doubt, torture many creatures, but after victory they secure the advancement of all. Sin, that accrues from battle, is dissipated by charity.

A king punishes the wicked to maintain righteousness and to protect the people from plunder, destruction and affliction. He protects the subjects and gives them life, wealth and food. A righteous king destroys only those who deserve to be destroyed, not from any selfish motive but for the growth and advancement of his people. Just as the reclaimer while reclaiming a field, uproots paddy blades grow more vigorously, a king acts no doubt but only to safeguard righteousness and true humaneness. The sin committed by the slaughterer, for the good of the many, is destroyed by penance and charity.[25]

Further, there is a reference to the importance of non-injurious behaviour towards all. There was a king Sanaka, He had one hundred wives but only one son. He was keen to have one hundred sons for which he was ready to do anything good or bad. A Brahmana suggested him to sacrifice his only son Janata and let his queens smell the smoke of this sacrifice and that will fulfill his desire of a hundred sons. Janata also would be re born of his former mother with a mark of gold at the back. The king consented. The boy was to be offered in sacrifice but his mothers, out of affection for him, cried piteously and tried to prevent the sacrifice. The Brahmana dragged him in fire and made an offering of his fat. The bereaved mothers smelt the smoke. Afterwards a hundred sons were born to the king, Janata being the eldest from his former mother.

Both the Brahmana and the king, died in course of time. The king saw the Brahmana grilled in the hell fire and asked him the reason of being in the hell. The Brahmana replied that it was the result of perform ing ttiat sicriBce for the king.[26] As the Brahmana showed an indifferent attitude to the motherly feelings and affection of the hundred queens and did not mind the injury done to Janata, by killing him just for satisfying the worldly desire of the king, he had to bear the fruits of his evil, merciless and crude action. Although it was for the satisfaction and joy of the king, but the Brahmana, being the preceptor ought not to show the cruel ways of satisfying the desire of the king. Even though the king appealed to him for showing him the good or bad means of acquiring hundred sons, he as the preceptor ought to have prevented him from using evil means to attain the end. Thus it is concluded that he, who injures the innocent persons, goes to hell. These tendencies should be eradicated from the human heart.

There is vet another story in the Mahabharata which states that once the hermitage of a sage was taken over by thieves as a shelter to hide themselves from guards. The guards suspected the sage who was observing the vow of silence. They put him on sola (a long pointed nail), together with other thieves. The sage did not die even though he was not given any food for years and practised the austere penance. One day this great sage enquired of Dharma about the unconscious sin he had committed and for which he was suffering such a punishment. Dharma replied that a little insect was once pricked by him with a blade of grass and the punishment was consequence of that action. Thus the injury done to others results in the injury to ourselves.

Ahimsa in its positive form had been practised in various ways in ancient times. Forgiveness has been highly praised in the Mahabharata. Yudhishtra asked Draupadi how she could afford to give up forgiveness that is an abode of truth, wisdom, three Words and Brahma himself? What is forgiveness? It means not to return evil for evil but to keep patience and win the opponents by means of fortitude. Draupadi suggested Yudhishtra to give up forgiveness towards Kurus and show his might but Yudhishtra, the apostle of forgiveness, replied that the anger in this world was the root of all destruction. A man, dominated by anger, is unable to discriminate between right and wrong and as such might kill him who is worthy to be adored. A self controlled man does not act against those whose anger has been excited so, and thereby saves himself as well as others, acting as a physician in case of both. A wise man who does not come under the way of his own anger, even though oppressed, rejoices in the next world for having treated a man of anger with indifference. According to the sage Vyasa, a wiseman should always forgive his wrong doer inspite of being in difficulty.

Anger makes a man blind to the real state of things and he loses his way. He who conquers anger attains bravery, skill, dignity, generosity and other accomplishments that a man of character is in possession of. Anger, in reality, is the cause of destruction of the world. No peace would have been possible among mankind but for the persons who are equal to earth in forgiveness.[27] The Mahabharata exhorts the injured not to retaliate for their injuries, not to chastise the suneriors in return when admonished by them and forgive every form of injury. A man of excellence always shows his forgiveness even when excited, oppressed and insulted. Yudhishtra, in order to make Draupadi know the significance of forgiving, quotes Kasyapa, according to whom, forgiveness is virtue. Sacrifice, Veda, Sruti, Brahma, truth, accumulated as well future merit, devout penance, and purity constitute the substance of the universe. In real sense, forgiveness is nothing but a basic constituent of Ahimsa.

Vidura Niti and Ahimsa

Vidura, the preceptor in the Mahabharata, expounded Vidura Niti in the Udyagaparva. The theme of this treatise on ethics is not to injure others, and to treat others as one would like to be treated by them. Vidura says that kindness to all creatures is equal to the bathing in all the holy rivers to wash off one's sins and even then that kindness is still better.[28] Vidura lays great stress on the nobility of mind as a noble mind is an abode of kindness and forgiveness.

The Mahabharata War between Kauravas and Pandavas seems to be a war between the forces of Himsa and Ahimsa. The fall of Kauravas is a warning to those, who strives to attain material sovereignty with the weapon of Himsa and callousness. The triumph of Pandavas is a triumph of righteousness that culminates in Ahimsa and forgiveness. Forgiveness means not to retaliate, not to pay back in the same coin and that is what Ahimsa aims it. Forgiveness is said to be an ornament of both the strong as well as the weak. He who wears the weapon of love and peace in his hand, what can the wicked do to him? Just as the fire, falling on the fallow ground, devoid of any straw, gets extinguished by itself, similarly a person of violence, if met with non violence, cannot but retract in his violence in the long run. Ahimsa is the cause of happiness, just as knowledge is the deepest satisfaction.

Vidura admires verbal Ahimsa when he says that he who does not speak harshly attains renown in the world. It is the forgiving nature that makes one of high family. Those who are of forgiving nature, stay like fire in wood, without showing outward symptoms. A man of forgiveness is, in reality, a man of strength and he excercises forgiveness at all times and at all places. The weak should forgive everybody and the strong should forgive for the sake of virtue. Himsa is the strength of the wicked and the vicious and forgiveness is the strength of those who are endowed with good qualities.

In the Vanaparva is the story of a fowler who possessed deep knowledge and who was well versed in the art of life and had control over all his senses. He had knowledge of his previous births and was destined to the present occupation only due to his own fault in his previous life. He happened to be a well versed Brahmana in his previous life and had the company of a king. On account of his association with a king, he once killed a Brahmana who cursed him to be born as a cruel Sudra fowler in next birth. Softened by his entreaties to be kind to him, the Brahmana relented saying that he be born as a virtuous Sudra fowler waiting upon his parents.

Here is a lesson to the effect that to earn livelihood by the business of Himsa that is by taking the lives of animals and lower creatures, is cruelty incarnate and should always be avoided. Muni Pulastya says that he, who considers all creatures equal to his own self, enjoys the fruits of the tirthas (pilgrimages).[29]

Ahimsa in the Bhagavadgita

The Bhagavadgita is regarded to be the cream of all the Hindu scriptures. Whether it teaches Himsa or Ahimsa seems to be a controversial question, according to some of the thinkers. The scenario opens with the episode of Arjuna laying down his weapons under the influence of attachment for his relatives who had come to fight for the Kauravas and whom he did not want to kill and prefers death at the bands of Kauravas. He foresees disaster and becomes afraid of sin of Himsa. Finding himself landed in a quandary, he requests Lord Krishna to tell him what is assuredly good for him. Lord Krishna made him understand that no one kills anyone else or is killed by it. The soul is immortal; only the body must perish after an interval of time. He exhorts Arjuna to fight the battle that has come to him as a duty Victory or defeat is not one's concern. One should acquit oneself of this thought (MBP, XXVL 20, 39, 47). Krishna not only prepares Arjuna for war and Himsa but also tries to dispel Arjuna's infatuation. Arjuna in reality refused to fight in the spirit of Ahimsa. He hesitated to fight against his own kith and kin. The blessed Lord, knowing Arjuna's inner thoughts, advised him to fight with the intention of dispelling his attachment and not to

provoke him to any kind of Himsa. The Geeta teaches us the way to destroy desires and enables us to attain readiness, detachment and self-control. It gives the clarion call to action with no attachment for its fruit. Ahimsa with other virtues is regarded as one of the characteristics of righteous men.[30]

Ahimsa in the Puranas

The Puranas mention Ahimsa as one of the twelve moral restraints (Yamas). A devotee is required to practice Ahimsa, truthfulness (satya), non sealing (asteya) acceptance of what is necessary (Yavat artha parigraha), celibacy (brahmacharya) penance (tapas), purity (sauca), study of the Vedas (svadhyaya) and worship or Purusa (Lord Vishnu). Besides these compassion (daya), forbearance (titaksa) control of the mind (soma) control of the senses (dama) renunciation (Tyaga), simplicity (arjava), satisfaction (santosa), looking equally upon all creatures (samadarsik), service (seva), etc. are considered as virtues pleasing to God.

In Varoha Purana, there is a reference that an Incarnation of God says that one who abstains from injuring living beings (jiva himsa) does good (hita) to all living beings, is pure (suci), is equal minded towards all (sarvatra samato) and who considers lumps of clay, stone and gold of equal value he does not take rebirth in the lower life forms.[31] On the other hand, he who kills the living beings (bhito-himsa), indulges in adharma, enjoys bad company (asatasanga) has not controlled his senses (ajita indriya) is passionate (kama idoma), is a miser (krpana), is greedy (lubdha) and attached to women (straina) he goes to hell. The Puranas have a devotional inclination, and they take Ahimsa to be one of the means to realization of God.

Further the Puranas praise the gift of fearlessness (abhaya pradana). Absence of animity (nirvaira) peacefulness (santi) and equal mindedness (Samadarsana) are among the merits of a monk. A definite nonviolent attitude is implied when it is said that those do not live long who take joy in violence (himsa viharin) are cruel (krura) are back biters (sucaka) create obstacles in good activities (Karya Dusaka), destroy green grass, kill buffaloes and goats and set forests on fire. And one may not quarrel with one's own kinsmen. Not giving troubles to others may also be one specific sense of non violence Another view of Puranas regarding Ahimsa is that the human body is the giver of all the values (akhila artha). Therefore, one should not kill. The body is the dwelling place of duty (dharma ayatana) so one should protect it carefully. Four types of living beings have been mentioned

1. Beings born out of womb (Jarayuja).

2. Beings born out of eggs (andaja).

3. Beings born of earth (udbhijja).

4. Beings born out of sweat (svedaja).

One, who does not kill any of these four types of beings at any time, is of pure heart and compassionate. There are some beings who are so microscopically minute that they can only be known by inference. In Varaha Purana, there are references saying that one who considers non violence the highest virtue, who is in the habit of having compassion (daya) towards all beings, equal minded to all (samanya), is pure (suci) and is intelligent (daksa) he is said to follow the right path.

The virtue of Ahimsa is praised in the Puranas to such an extent that a person given to Ahimsa takes rebirth into a higher category. The Skanda Purana tells us the story of a king Puruyasa of Pancala country who even though very righteous in this world, had been in his previous ten births given to Himsa. In this tenth birth, he became a hunter. Although he was very callous yet once he helped the sage Karsana in regaining his consciousness by throwing water on his face and by fanning him with a tree leaf. On account of this virtuous deed, he was reborn as a king, but due to his heartless deeds in previous births he lost all and was reduced to utter poverty and misery. So activities devoid of Himsa and full of Ahimsa serve a man here and hereafter.

Similarly, there was another king named Pariksita who went to the river Sarasvati and saw a couple of cow and ox beaten by a king with a club in his hand. The bull white as a lotus stalk was so terrified that he was about to pass urine. The bull was tottering on one foot and was being beaten by the king. He saw the cow, the giver of all materials for sacrificial offerings to be quite helpless. She was kicked by the king and was bereft of her calf. King Pariksita saw her eyes welled up with tears. King Pariksita enquired of the king as to who he was. He looked at the king and found him to be a king in appearance only and a Sudra by deed. He also inquired of the bull and the cow who they were. Later on he came to know that the bull in reality was Dharma and the cow was Mother Earth in disguise. He understood that Dharma was deprived of austerity, purity and compassion and was overtaken by pride, attachment and intoxication. Kali, in the guise of a king, had grown strong enough to seize the throne too. Pariksita drew his keen edged sword against Kali, the spring of unrighteousness. Kali knew his intention, threw off his royal guise, and fell at the feet of the king. King Pariksita was always merciful to the distressed. He smilingly asked Kali to quit his ground. Kali trembled and requested the king for some space. The king ordained dice, women, wine, and slaughter as his four cornered abode. Kali demanded more and the king gave him gold, as his fifth abode. Thus Kali, the father of unrighteousness, dwells in these five places. The above contents support the belief that Himsa and slaughter are the abodes of unrighteousness and a man of righteousness should abstain from the commitment of slaughter, i.e., Himsa. So svadharma (one's own duty) of a Paramahamsa, lies in quietitude and Ahimsa.

Not only the slaughter of man by man but even the killing of bugs and lice is also forbidden. It also has been kept under the category of Himsa and one is exhorted to abstain from it. A man should not ever injure those creatures that are harmful to human beings but are devoid of discrimination. Such creatures have the means of living appointed by God and have no feeling, rather are not capable of feeling for others. To cause pain to such creatures sends one to andhakupa hell. There the person is tormented in utter darkness and from all sides by those beings (animals, deer, birds, serpents mosquitoes, lice, bugs, and flies, etc.) that were wronged by him. Thus, he is deprived of sleep and rest there. He wanders like one fallen in a detestable body.

All these illustrations culled from the principal Hindu scriptures point out the fact that Ahimsa had been an indivisible element of Hindu ethos since times immemorial. Hindu seers and sages went to the extent of pleading mercy and kindness even for the tiniest life in the divine creation.


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Title: Non-violence Relative Economics And A New Social Order
Publisher: Jain Vishwa Bharati University, Ladnun, India
Editors: Prof. B.R. Dugar, Dr. Samani Satya Prajna, Dr. Samani Ritu Prajna
Edition: First Edition, 2008

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Abhaya
  2. Acara
  3. Adharma
  4. Ahimsa
  5. Ajita
  6. Anger
  7. Arjava
  8. Artha
  9. Asteya
  10. Atma
  11. Atman
  12. Bandhan
  13. Bhagavadgita
  14. Bharata
  15. Body
  16. Brahma
  17. Brahmacharya
  18. Brahman
  19. Celibacy
  20. Concentration
  21. Consciousness
  22. Contemplation
  23. Cooperation
  24. Dan
  25. Dharma
  26. Fear
  27. Fearlessness
  28. Geeta
  29. Greed
  30. Himsa
  31. Indra
  32. Indriya
  33. Jiva
  34. Kama
  35. Karma
  36. Krishna
  37. Ksatriya
  38. Mahabharata
  39. Manu
  40. Maya
  41. Meditation
  42. Muni
  43. Non violence
  44. Non-violence
  45. Nonviolence
  46. Pandavas
  47. Parana
  48. Parigraha
  49. Parva
  50. Pride
  51. Puranas
  52. Purusa
  53. Rama
  54. Ramayana
  55. Sadhu
  56. Samanya
  57. Sarasvati
  58. Sarva
  59. Satya
  60. Seva
  61. Smriti
  62. Soul
  63. Space
  64. Sukha
  65. Svadhyaya
  66. Svedaja
  67. Tapas
  68. Udbhijja
  69. Upanishads
  70. Vaisya
  71. Veda
  72. Vedanta
  73. Vedas
  74. Vedic
  75. Violence
  76. Yaksini
  77. Yantra
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