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

Ahimsa is Sanskrit for avoidance of himsa, or injury to sentient beings. It was introduced to Western societies by 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 in The West has also served to introduce many westerners to Ahimsa and other vedic concepts.

Table of contents
1 Jainism
2 Yoga
3 Gandhi
4 External links and references


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 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)

The ten noble virtues (dharma) are:
  1. supreme forgiveness or forbearance (uttama kshama)
  2. supreme humility or tenderness (uttama mardava)
  3. supreme honesty or straight forwardness (uttama arjava)
  4. supreme contentment or purity of thought and freedom from greed
  5. supreme truth (uttama satya)
  6. supreme self-control or self-restraint (uttama samyama)
  7. supreme austerities
  8. supreme renunciation
  9. supreme non-attachment or not taking the non-self for one's own self (uttama akinchana)
  10. supreme chastity (uttama brahmacharya)

Note the similarites to the Biblical virtues of the excellent wife: humility, forbearance, love, and diligence [Philippians 4:2,3], upon which Larry Wall, the founder of Perl, has famously expounded.
Most of you are familiar with the virtues of a programmer. There are three, of course: laziness, impatience, and hubris. These are virtues of passion. They are not, however, virtues of community. The virtues of community sound like their opposites: diligence, patience, and humility. They're not really opposites, because you can do them all at the same time. It's another matter of perspective. These are the virtues that have brought us this far. These are the virtues that will carry our community into the future, if we do not abandon them.
Larry Wall, Second State of the Onion


As codified by
Maharishi Patanjali in the seminal work Yoga Sutra (the foundation of ashtanga yoga), ahimsa is the first of the five yamas (eternal vows or restraints) of yoga.


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. 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 and references