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Ahimsa is a religious concept which advocates non-violence and a respect for all multi-celled animal life. Ahimsa is the core of Jain dharma, and a central tenet of many Hindu sects. Those who practice Ahimsa are often vegetarians or vegans.

Ahimsa is Sanskrit for avoidance of himsa, or injury to sentient beings. It was introduced to Western societies by the Hindu saint and Father of India, Mahatma Gandhi.

Inspired by his actions, Western civil rights movements, led by such people as Martin Luther King Jr, engaged in non-violent protests. The more recent popularity of yoga and meditation in The West has also served to introduce many westerners to Ahimsa and other Hindu concepts.

Table of contents
1 Ahimsa in Jainism
2 Ahimsa in Hinduism
3 External links

Ahimsa in Jainism

In Jainism, the ahimsa-vrata (vow of ahimsa) is the first of the five mahavratas (great vows). All animal life, and most plant life, is considered sentient and any action which may endanger such life is forbidden. Examples of forbidden activies include: agriculture, violence, animal sacrifice, liquor, eating honey, eating potatoes or certain fruits, and night-eating (eating in the dark may result in the accidental ingestion of an insect). Some Jains wear a cloth over their mouths, to avoid inhaling airborne lifeforms.

The ethical code of Jainism is taken very seriously. Summarized in the Five Vows, they are followed by both lay people and monastics. These are:

  1. non-injury (ahimsa)
  2. non-lying (satya)
  3. non-stealing (asteya)
  4. non-possession (aparigrah)
  5. chastity (brahmcharya)

The Jain conception of ahimsa involves three times three--the three actions (karanas) of himsa in the three modes (yogas)--of observances:

Neither by action, by speech or by thought:

  1. do injury oneself (krita)
  2. cause injury to be done by others (karita)
  3. approve injury done by others (anumata, mananat, or anumodana)

For a discussion of the faith and its broader implications, see Jainism.

External links and references in Jainism

Ahimsa in Hinduism


Yoga is one of the six schools of Hindu Philosophy, and as codified by Maharishi Patanjali in the seminal work Yoga Sutra (the foundation of ashtanga and Raja Yoga), ahimsa is the first of the five yamas (eternal vows or restraints) of yoga.


Mahatma Gandhi was, in his own words, a member of the faith of Sanatana Dharma, i.e. Hinduism, and drew many of his concepts of truth, nobility and ethics from the Bhagavad Gita and his personal love of Lord Rama, a Hindu God. However, it is without a doubt that he was greatly influenced by the Jains, whose community in India is far more unified in its strict adherence to ahimsa than the more diverse sects of Hinduism. Gandhi's conceptions of life and ahimsa, which led to his concept of satyagraha (peaceful protest), primarily stem from his association with Hindu and Jain philosophy.

Quotations from Gandhi on the subject:

Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.


Literally speaking, ahimsa means non-violence towards most life. But to me it has much higher, infinitely higher meaning. It means that you may not offend anybody; you may not harbor uncharitable thought, even in connection with those who consider your enemies. To one who follows this doctrine, there are no enemies. A man who believes in the efficacy of this doctrine finds in the ultimate stage, when he is about to reach the goal, the whole world at his feet. If you express your love- Ahimsa-in such a manner that it impresses itself indelibly upon your so called enemy, he must return that love.

This doctrine tells us that we may guard the honor of those under our charge by delivering our own lives into the hands of the man who would commit the sacrilege. And that requires far greater courage than delivering of blows.

External links

Early Hinduism | Hinduism | Hindu Philosophy
Primary Scriptures: Vedas | Upanishads | Bhagavad Gita | Itihasa | Tantras | Sutras
Concepts: Brahman | Dharma | Karma | Moksha | Maya | Punarjanma | Samsara
Schools & Systems: Vedanta | Yoga | Tantra | Bhakti
Rituals: Aarti | Darshan | Puja | Satsang | Thaal | Yagnya
Hindu Teachers/Gurus and Saints: Sankara | Ramakrishna | Vivekananda | Aurobindo | Ramana Maharshi | Sivananda
Denominations: Vaishnavism | Shaivism | Shaktism | Neo- and quasi-Hindu movements