Sri Swami Sivananda
This article is a chapter from the book “Bliss Divine”.
Meaning of Ahimsa
Subtle Forms of Himsa
Ahimsa, a Quality of the Strong
Gradational Practice of Ahimsa
Benefits of the Practice of Ahimsa
The Power of Ahimsa
Limitations to the Practice of Ahimsa
A Universal Vow
In the regeneration and divinisation of man, the first step is to eliminate his beastly nature. The predominant trait in beasts is cruelty. Therefore, wise sages prescribe Ahimsa (non-injury). This is the most effective master-method to counteract and eradicate completely the brutal, cruel Pasu-Svabhava (bestial nature) in man.
Practice of Ahimsa develops love. Ahimsa is another name for truth or love. Ahimsa is universal love. It is pure love. It is divine Prem. Where there is love, there you will find Ahimsa. Where there is Ahimsa, there you will find love and selfless service. They all go together.
The one message of all saints and prophets of all times and climes, is the message of love, of Ahimsa, of selfless service. Ahimsa is the noblest and best of traits that are found expressed in the daily life and activities of perfected souls. Ahimsa is the one means, not only to attain Salvation, but also to enjoy uninterrupted peace and bliss. Man attains peace by injuring no living creature.
There is one religion – the religion of love, of peace. There is one message, the message of Ahimsa. Ahimsa is a supreme duty of man.
Ahimsa, or refraining from causing pain to any living creature, is a distinctive quality emphasized by Indian ethics. Ahimsa or non-violence has been the central doctrine of Indian culture from the earliest days of its history. Ahimsa is a great spiritual force.
Ahimsa or non-injury, of course, implies non-killing. But, non-injury is not merely non-killing. In its comprehensive meaning, Ahimsa or non-injury means entire abstinence from causing any pain or harm whatsoever to any living creature, either by thought, word, or deed. Non-injury requires a harmless mind, mouth, and hand.
Ahimsa is not mere negative non-injury. It is positive, cosmic love. It is the development of a mental attitude in which hatred is replaced by love. Ahimsa is true sacrifice. Ahimsa is forgiveness. Ahimsa is Sakti (power). Ahimsa is true strength.
Only the ordinary people think that Ahimsa is not to hurt any living being physically. This is but the gross form of Ahimsa. The vow of Ahimsa is broken even by showing contempt towards another man, by entertaining unreasonable dislike for or prejudice towards anybody, by frowning at another man, by hating another man, by abusing another man, by speaking ill of others, by backbiting or vilifying, by harbouring thoughts of hatred, by uttering lies, or by ruining another man in any way whatsoever.
All harsh and rude speech is Himsa (violence or injury). Using harsh words to beggars, servants or inferiors is Himsa. Wounding the feelings of others by gesture, expression, tone of voice and unkind words is also Himsa. Slighting or showing deliberate discourtesy to a person before others is wanton Himsa. To approve of another’s harsh actions is indirect Himsa. To fail to relieve another’s pain, or even to neglect to go to the person in distress is a sort of Himsa. It is the sin of omission. Avoid strictly all forms of harshness, direct or indirect, positive or negative, immediate or delayed. Practice Ahimsa in its purest form and become divine. Ahimsa and Divinity are one.
AHIMSA, A QUALITY OF THE STRONG
If you practice Ahimsa, you should put up with insults, rebukes, criticisms and assaults also. You should never retaliate nor wish to offend anybody even under extreme provocation. You should not entertain any evil thought against anybody. You should not harbour anger. You should not curse. You should be prepared to lose joyfully even your life in the cause of Truth. The Ultimate Truth can be attained only through Ahimsa.
Ahimsa is the acme of bravery. Ahimsa is not possible without fearlessness. Non-violence cannot be practiced by weak persons. Ahimsa cannot be practiced by a man who is terribly afraid of death and has no power of resistance and endurance. It is a shield, not of the effeminate, but of the potent. Ahimsa is a quality of the strong. It is a weapon of the strong. When a man beats you with a stick, you should not entertain any thought of retaliation or any unkind feeling towards the tormentor. Ahimsa is the perfection of forgiveness.
Remember the noble actions of great sages of yore. Jayadeva, the author of Gita-Govinda, gave large and rich present to his enemies who cut off his hands, and obtained Mukti (liberation) for them through his sincere prayers. He said: “O my lord! Thou hast given Mukti to Thy enemies, Ravana and Kamsa. Why canst Thou not give Mukti to my enemies now ?” A saint or a sage possesses a magnanimous heart.
Pavahari Baba carried the bag of vessels and followed the thief saying: “O Thief Narayana! I never knew that You visited my cottage. Pray accept these things.” The thief was quite astonished. He left off his evil habit from that very second and became a disciple of Pavahari Baba.
Remember the noble actions of saints like Jayadeva and Pavahari Baba, you will have to follow their principles and ideals.
GRADATIONAL PRACTICE OF AHIMSA
When thoughts of revenge and hatred arise in the mind, try to control the physical body and speech first. Do not utter evil and harsh words. Do not censure. Do not try to injure others. If you succeed in this by practice for some months, the negative thoughts of revenge, having no scope for manifesting outside, will die by themselves. It is extremely difficult to control such thoughts from the very beginning without having recourse to control of the body and speech first.
First control your physical body. When a man beats you, keep quiet. Suppress your feelings. Follow the instructions of Jesus Christ in his Sermon On The Mount: “If a man beats you on one cheek, turn to him the other cheek also. If a man takes away your coat, give him your shirt also.” This is very difficult in the beginning. The old Samskaras (impressions) of revenge, of “a tooth for a tooth”, “tit for tat”, “an eye for an eye”, and “paying in the same coin” will all force you to retaliate. But you will have to wait cooly. Reflect and meditate. Do Vichara or right enquiry. The mind will become calm. The opponent who was very furious will also become calm, because he does not get any opposition from your side. He gets astonished and terrified also, because you stand like a sage. By and by, you will gain immense strength. Keep the ideal before you. Try to get at it, though with faltering steps at first. Have a clear-cut mental image of Ahimsa and its immeasurable advantages.
After controlling the body, control your speech. Make a strong determination, “I will not speak any harsh word to anybody from today”. You may fail a hundred times. What does it matter ? You will slowly gain strength. Check the impulse of speech. Observe Mouna (silence). Practice Kshama or forgiveness. Say within yourself: “He is a baby-soul. He is ignorant, that is why he has done it. Let me excuse him this time. What do I gain by abusing him in return ?” Slowly give up Abhimana (ego-centred attachment). Abhimana is the root-cause of human sufferings.
Finally go to the thoughts and check the thought of injuring. Never even think of injuring anyone. One Self dwells in all. All are manifestations of One God. By injuring another, you injure your own Self. By serving another, you serve your own Self. Love all. Serve all. Hate none. Insult none. Injure none in thought, word and deed. Try to behold your own Self in all beings. This will promote Ahimsa.
BENEFITS OF THE PRACTICE OF AHIMSA
If you are established in Ahimsa, you have attained all virtues. Ahimsa is the pivot. All virtues revolve around Ahimsa. Just as all footprints are accommodated in those of the elephant, so also do all religious and ethical rules become merged in the great vow of Ahimsa.
Ahimsa is soul-force. Hate melts in the presence of love. Hate dissolves in the presence of Ahimsa. There is no power greater than Ahimsa. The practice of Ahimsa develops will-power to a considerable degree. The practice of Ahimsa will make you fearless. He who practices Ahimsa with real faith, can move the whole world, can tame wild animals, can win the hearts of all, and can subdue his enemies. He can do and undo things. The power of Ahimsa is infinitely more wonderful and subtler than electricity or magnetism.
The law of Ahimsa is as much exact and precise as the law of gravitation or cohesion. You must know the correct way to apply it intelligently and with scientific accuracy. If you are able to apply it with exactitude and precision, you can work wonders. You can command the elements and Nature also.
The power of Ahimsa is greater than the power of the intellect. It is easy to develop the intellect, but it is difficult to purify and develop the heart. The practice of Ahimsa develops the heart in a wonderful manner.
He who practices Ahimsa develops strong will-power. In his presence, enmity ceases. In his presence, cobra and frog, cow and tiger, cat and rat, wolf and lamb, will all live together in terms of intimate friendship. In his presence, all hostilities are given up. The term ‘hostilities are given up’ means that all beings – men, animals, birds and poisonous creatures will approach the practitioner without fear and do no harm to him. Their hostile nature disappears in them in his presence. The rat and the cat, the snake and the mongoose, and other beings that are enemies of each other by nature, give up their hostile feelings in the presence of the Yogi who is established in Ahimsa. Lions and tigers can never do any harm to such a Yogi. Such a Yogi can give definite orders to lion and tigers. They will obey. This is Bhuta-Siddhi (mastery over the elements) obtainable by the practice of Ahimsa. The practice of Ahimsa will eventually culminate in the realization of unity and oneness of life, or Advaitic (non-dual) Consciousness. The Yogi then enjoys the highest peace, bliss and immortality.
LIMITATIONS TO THE PRACTICE OF AHIMSA
Absolute Ahimsa is impossible. It is not possible to the most conscientious Sannyasin or monk. To practice that, you must avoid killing countless creatures while walking, sitting, eating, breathing, sleeping and drinking. You cannot find a single non-injurer in the world. You have to destroy life in order to live. It is physically impossible for you to obey the law of non-destruction of life, because the phagocytes of your blood also are destroying millions of dangerous intrusive spirilla, bacteria and germs.
According to one school of thought, if by the murder of a dacoit many lives are saved, it is not considered as Himsa. Ahimsa and Himsa are relative terms. Some say that one can defend oneself with instruments and use a little violence also when one is in danger; this is not considered to be Himsa. Westerners generally destroy their dear horses and dogs when they are in acute agony and when there is no way of relieving their sufferings. They wish that the soul should be immediately freed from the physical body. Motive is the chief factor that underlies everything.
A renunciate or monk should not defend himself and use violence even when his life is in jeopardy. To an ordinary man, Ahimsa should be the aim, but he will not fall from this principle if, out of sheer necessity and with no selfish aim, he takes recourse to Himsa occasionally. One should not give leniency to the mind in this respect. If you are lenient, the mind will always take the best advantage of you and goad you to do acts of violence. Give a rogue an inch, he will take an ell: the mind at once adapts this policy, if you give a long rope for its movement.
Ahimsa is never a policy. It is a sublime virtue. It is the fundamental quality of seekers after Truth. No Self-realization is possible without Ahimsa. It is through the practice of Ahimsa alone that you can cognize and reach the Supreme Self or Brahman. Those with whom it is a policy may fail many a time. They will be tempted to do violent acts also. On the contrary, those who strictly adhere to the vow of Ahimsa as a sacred creed or fundamentals cannon of Yoga, can never be duped into violence.
Ahimsa is a Mahavratam or “great universal vow”. It should be practiced by all people of all countries. It does not concern the Hindus or Indians alone. Whoever wishes to realize the Truth must practice Ahimsa. You may encounter any amount of difficulties; you may sustain any amount of losses, but you must not give up the practice of Ahimsa. Trial and difficulties are bound to come in your way to test your strength. You should stand adamant. Then alone will your efforts be crowned with sanguine success.
There is a hidden power in Ahimsa which protects its practitioners. The invisible hand of God gives protection. There is no fear. What can pistols and swords do ?
Even now there are people who do not give the least pain to any living creature. They carry sugar and rice for distribution to ants in their holes. They do not use lights at night for fear of killing the small insects. They are very careful while walking in the streets, as they do not wish to trample upon small insects.
Blessed are these men. They will soon see God as they have very soft hearts.