AHIMSA, (Sanscrit, a — not, himsa — injury, doing evil) — a term expressing the prohibition against doing harm to people, animals and all living things, including plants.

This term and its corresponding concepts appeared already in one of the oldest Upanishads (around the seventh century BC). At the beginning ahimsa involved a fear of disturbing the universal process of life which arose from a concern not to evoke lethal effects; this fear ultimately became one of the foundations of morality, a cardinal virtue that could assure man of peace and security; with respect to animals, one source of this mode of conduct probably was that the reverence shown to cows was extended to other animals. In circles of ascetics, ahimsa was regarded as necessary in order to walk the path of release and salvation. It was regarded as the foundation for all the other forms of self-mastery, including the conquest of the passions and the love of the truth. The result was that ahimsa was raised to the rank of a duty for all classes in society.

In yoga technique, ahimsa occurs as the chief commandment in the entire eight-part course; it is also mentioned in the Mahabharata in the tendency to replace animal sacrifices with grain, flowers or water. One result of ahimsa, which was associated with the belief that God is present in all that lives, is that most Hindus observe a prohibition against eating meat. Ahimsa is also observed by different varieties and sects of Hinduism. Ahimsa played a large role — beside truth (satya) — in the views and principles of M. K. Gandhi; in Buddhism (Ashoka) and Jainism it is regarded very seriously.

S. Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Lo 1951 (Filozofia indyjska, I-II, Wwa 1958-1960); J. Gonda, Die Religionen Indiens I-II, St 1960–1963; M. Gandhi, Autobiografia [Autobiography], Wwa 1972; L. Cyboran, Klasyczna joga indyjska [Classical Indian yoga], Wwa 1986, 330.

Eugeniusz Słuszkiewicz

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