What Is Ahimsa?

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A (no) + Himsa (injury)

Ahimsa definition

Ahiṃsā is the first and most important of Patanjali’s yamas, meaning non-harming or non-violence:

II.30 ahiṁsā-satyāsteya-bramacaryāparigrajā yamaḥ

Ahiṁsā, nonviolence; satyā, truthfulness; āsteya, refraining from stealing; brahmacaryā, celibacy; aparigrāhah, refrainment from acquisition or coveting; yamaḥ, the abstentions

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Edwin Bryant

The yamas are instructions for how one should treat other beings, otherwise known as ‘rules and observances’. Evidence can also be found of these in previous texts such as the Mahābhārata and the Ācārāṅga Sūtra, the earliest surviving Jain text (c.350 BCE).

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Ahimsa Deep Dive

Ahiṃsā is a central principle in the teachings of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, and is based on the idea that all living beings are interconnected and that causing harm to any being is ultimately harmful to oneself.

In the context of these spiritual traditions, ahiṃsā is often seen as more than just a principle of non-violence. It is also seen as a way of cultivating compassion, kindness, and respect for all beings, and as a way of living in harmony with the natural world.

Ahiṃsā is often practiced as a form of non-violent resistance and is seen as a way of challenging injustice and oppression without causing harm.

Ahimsa & Jainism

The principles of non-violence are taken further by Jains than any other tradition in history.

For the Jains, any actions that have the potential to harm other living beings must be observed diligently, for example, watching carefully where one walks to avoid treading on insects and wearing gauze over one’s mouth so as not to inhale the smallest airborne creatures.

Evidently, the killing of animals and consuming their meat is unquestionable for a practicing Jain.

Although Jain practices are extreme, other traditions such as Buddhism acknowledge that in this regard, absolute non-violence is not always possible. Subsequently, the understanding of cause and effect, otherwise known as karma, is an important consideration for our actions.

Ahimsa & Karma

The concept of karma is connected to ahiṁsā.

Karma is the idea of the relationship between actions and consequences, which in turn produces our souls’ experiences according to certain patterns.

The avoidance of harm and even disturbance to other living beings is important to respect ahiṁsā and to avoid karma

Ahimsa & Environmentalism

Ahiṁsā can also be applied to the way in which we treat our environment.

Applying an attitude of non-harm and non-violence when considering the effects it will have on the surrounding environment brings yet a greater depth to the meaning of ahiṁsā, including the choices we make and ideas for our future.

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Ahimsa In Your Life

In modern times, ahiṁsā is often invoked as a principle of non-violent activism and is seen as a way of working towards social and political change without resorting to violence or aggression.

It is also often seen as a way of promoting a more peaceful and compassionate way of living in the world.

As we have explored, different traditions will apply ahiṁsā to their lives in slightly different ways depending on their beliefs. It is for each of us to decide exactly how to interpret the teachings.

With this in mind, here are 5 suggestions of how to apply ahiṁsā into your life:

1. Be mindful of your actions: think before you act and take time to consider the impact of your actions on other beings.

2. Adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle: be mindful of how your choices may affect animals and refrain from causing harm.

3. Practice compassion: learn to understand the feelings and perspectives of others.

4. Speak out against violence: use your voice to promote peace and non-violence.

5. Practice yoga and meditation: study yoga philosophy and integrate its teachings into your life daily.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Amy is a yoga teacher and practitioner based in Brighton.

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