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"Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah"
Date: Thu Jul 30 1998 - 15:51:48 PDT

‘Non Violence Is the Supreme Virtue' Says Hinduism.
Seeing God in every living being, Hinduism inculcates a veneration for every
thing - Cows, ants etc. Even rivers are considered to be living beings, hence
venerated as also trees as vouched in the Sastras and expounded scientifically
by the great Indian Scientist J.C.BOSE. 

This reverence is expressed in forms of 'Ahimsa' or nonviolence to animals as
well as humans and as a result, most pious Hindus are vegetarian. The word
'Ahimsa' is derived from the root "Han" to kill or 'To damage'. By adding the
negative prefix it means 'not to kill. 
There are 4 aspects of this negative connotation.
	1.	Vegetarianism
      2.	Harmlessnes
	3.	Pacifism and
	4.	Passive resistance
On the positive aspect,  it means compassion (i.e.) Actual assistance to all
living creatures who are in need. 
      1. Karuna (Intelligent charity)
      2.  Maitri (Active good deed) and 
      3. Daya (Tender sympathy) 
are its other positive manifestations.

A doubt can arise whether the principle of 'Ahimsa' so loudly proclaimed is
not inconsistent with the sacrifice of goats, horses(in Aswamedha) etc.
referred to in the Vedas. No doubt, the Vedas did prescribe some animal
sacrifices; it even spoke of 'Purushamedha' a human sacrifice. 

But, the concept should be viewed in the context in which they were so
prescribed. The Upanishads which came subsequently to analyze and explain the
Vedic texts lost no time in clarifying that these sacrifices were more
symbolic and allegorical than referring to the actual sacrifice of the animals
or human and that the effects of these sacrifices could be secured by
substitute materials like Gritha (Ghee), Masha (Black gram) and certain  other
leafy vegetables. Even today, it may be observed that in the shradda
ceremonies, Ghee, Rice, Black gram and Thila (sesame seeds) are used, may be
as substitutes for the sacrifice of living beings. This view has been upheld
in subsequent recensions and sacrifice of living beings is prohibited by
Dharma as also by law.

A further question can be asked whether ' Vegetarinism' is not also "himsa" in
the sense that it has been proved that plants have life? 

But, it has further been proved that in the case of plants, lifeline runs in
the trunks in some cases, roots in others and seeds in others and that is why
Sastras have prohibited cutting the plants at their respective lifelines - and
this has been confirmed by modern science. Modern Science concurs with Sastras
in the view that those parts where the lifelines do not run, no harm is caused
when those parts are cut.  These parts correspond to say hairs on our head or
the nails on our fingers or toes which when cut or clipped do not entail any

The cow is an expression of brotherhood between man and beast, of man's
'identity with all that lives'. The cow is referred to as "Gomatha" and is
treated with the same respect as one would treat one's own mother. Modern
scholars are convinced that
"Milk and dung from cows contribute far more  to Indian society than what
butchering the scrawny beasts would accomplish"6

Mahabaratha states clearly that killing of a cow was the worst of all crimes.
"All that kill, eat and permit the killing of cows rot in hell for as many
years as there are hairs on the body of the cow so slain"

The ' Panchagavya' or the five products from the cow Viz., milk, curd, ghee,
dung and urine are deemed the most sacred amalgam that can purify any
In fact, 'Ahimsa' is called the first of flowers :'Ahimsa Prathamam Pushpam' -
Hinduism holds everything is but a spark of the same divinity and therefore no
harm should be done to anything that is living.
Lord Krishna declares 
"The wise see alike in regard to one well endowed with learning and humility,
a Brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog - eater (because they know
that though different outwardly in form, they have similar souls" 

Like Truth, 'Ahimsa' cannot be an 'absolute' one. Supposing somebody tries to
rape a woman. Hinduism does not say that she should not offer any resistance.
Even Mahatma Gandhi; the greatest protagonist of Nonviolence advised the woman
to use all in her power not only to resist but also go to the extent of
killing the criminal, if she finds it necessary and goes on to say that such
an act on her part will not constitute violence, since it is done in pure self
defense of her honor.

So, the concept of ‘Himsa’ and ‘Ahimsa’ should be understood with reference to
the context and no blanket definition can be adopted without relating them to
the specific context, the Space divide and the Time divide that separate us
from the Vedic / Upanishadic days.

Anbil Ramaswamy