Swami Sivananda Saraswati
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
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.
MEANING OF AHIMSA
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.
SUBTLE FORMS OF HIMSA
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
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
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
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
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
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.
A UNIVERSAL VOW
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