Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word for “non harm” (a = non + himsa = harm). It is often understood and translated as nonviolence, however, nonviolence is only one aspect of ahimsa. It is the central teaching of Jainism, but also holds an important role in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and other religions. Ahimsa for the Jains holds a much wider spiritual meaning for it guides all actions, all speech and all thoughts from inflicting harm onto other living beings.
Ahimsa is not simply negation or elimination of violence. It serves to promote a positive and rational approach in regard to life in relation to oneself and others. Mahatma Gandhi expanded the dimension of ahimsa in the modern secular world by transforming its principles into an effective instrument for political and social change. These expanded practices guided Martin Luther King Jr. to adopt a Christian nonviolent social activism, where nonviolent active resistance is paired with the Greco-Christian form of love called agape. Agape is universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance, it is considered to be the love that comes from God or Christ.
However, even love comes second to ahimsa—for love without ahimsa can be harmful, aggressive, even violent. When expressing love toward another, what could be a more powerful statement than: “I will do you no harm.”
Gandhi’s legacy of ahimsa has left a deep impact on the world. He was able to demonstrate to the modern world the immense power of ahimsa by using it as an effective tool to achieve independence for India without war and virtually no blood shed. Gandhi who was Hindu, was heavily influenced by the Jain scholar Rajchandra. Gandhi wrote:
“For me there is no religion other than the religion of truth, no duty other than ahimsa. Ahimsa is the greatest religion for me. I can say with assurance, as a result of my experiments, that a perfect vision of truth can follow a complete realization of ahimsa.”
It is my assertion that to put an end to violence and cultivate true peace, it must come with a resurgence of dedicated practice of ahimsa. Ahimsa can easily be integrated into our Buddhist practice, and in light of the many tragic events in previous years and months, it is sorely needed.
I would like to provide the tools and skills to integrate the practice of ahimsa into our daily lives, and that will include leading some workshops for the sangha exploring the basic concepts of ahimsa and facilitating some study groups for those who would like to take what they learn of ahimsa and bring it into effective social change. If our foundation is established by the practice of ahimsa, then anything we do, whether it is personal cultivation or both personal cultivation and non-violent activism, will be tempered and strengthened by the transformative power of ahimsa.
I will be sending out a separate letter detailing the workshops, study groups and explore dates and times, etc. I urge you to seriously consider learning and integrating this important aspect of our practice into your life. There is no more time to wait. The dharma is precious, and to have come to it is like finding a rare, priceless jewel. But it is not enough to simply covet and polish this precious jewel, for its pricelessness comes in the urgency and necessity of putting our practice into action. Time is short, we must be engaged now, so that we can live our lives fully, help ourselves, and help each other.
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members