Ethics/Nonkilling/Spiritual/Hinduism

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Omkar (Aum) symbol.
  • This Course is based mainly on Professor Balwant "Bill" Bhaneja's (University of Ottawa) paper Nonkilling in Hindu Tradition prepared for the First Global Nonkilling Leadership Forum, Mu Ryang Sa Buddhist Temple, Honolulu, Hawai‛i, November 1-4, 2007. The Course is part of the Program on Nonkilling Spiritual Traditions at the School of Nonkilling Studies.


Nonviolence and Nonkilling has been a salient feature in the history of Indian people for more than 2,500 years. For thousands of years, Ahimsa has been a starting doctrine for sages who strove to practice Dharma whether performing their worldly or spiritual duties.

From ancient Vedic period to the era of Mahatma Gandhi, the concept of Ahimsa has been a significant human value of Indian culture. The first written reference to Ahimsa is in Upanishads (circa 700 B.C.). It appears as one of the five ethical qualities that one must develop as personal sacrifice to discover the Divine within. Ahimsa is one of the five ethical qualities along with Truth, Righteousness, Love, and Peace.

Hinduism does not profess or assert its claims of Truth in ways that would legiti-mate the use of violence to enforce these or punish those who do not profess its worldview. It is a religion that seeks achievement of peace through unity between mate-rial and spiritual, interior and exterior, and Atman and Brahman. The all pervasive Reality when spoken in terms of its universal aspect is called Brahman, and when as our inner-most self, it is Atman. This mergence of two brings moksha, salvation.

The obstacles to such spiritual union are acts of violence and untruth that are moti-vated by greed, anger, and self-interest; if these are not overcome they continue to bring pain and ignorance. Patanjali in his Yogasutra states that when a man becomes “steadfast in his abstentions from harming others, then all living creatures cease to feel enmity in his presence as there is no reciprocation.” The doctrine of Ahimsa in Hinduism is thus neither negative nor positive. The emphasis is on action, only right means can achieve right ends.

Definition of courage in Hinduism comes from the conception of death; that is, liv-ing your life in a moment. If you live your life in each moment (fulfilling your Dharma), as it could be your last, then you fear nothing.

Gandhiji’s expression that nonviolence is not for cowards was perhaps based on this implicit understanding of Ahimsa as he continued his experiments with truth. His active nonviolent resistance emanated from such inner strength to confront the batons and bul-lets fearlessly, thus arousing a nonviolent revolution in the conscience of the adversary.

The Hindu scripture Bhagvad Gita is often described as a treatise about war. In fact, it is more about ways to prevent a war, telling its reader how to overcome inner and outer conflict through fulfillment of righteous conduct, Dharma. The ultimate victory in the Bhagvad Gita is not a happy one. It shows that as aftermath of a war, even the victors are not contented. The winning clan ultimately in a drunken brawl annihilates each other. Those who survive, mainly the four virtuous brothers on the hearing of this news and the demise of their mentor Krishna, renounce everything to follow the eldest; they journey North till one by one they die walking towards Himalaya for their spiritual salvation.

It was in this context Gandhiji said that violence may seem to resolve conflicts but when it does, it is only temporary. Ultimately, in killing no one wins because the winner leaves be-hind a bitter enemy. Violence may end all conflicts but only after eliminating all humanity.

To seek peace outside, one has to have peace within. At the same time to be at peace internally, one has to play one's part in creating conditions of peace in the world. The two are intertwined.

In summary, the basic theological message of Hinduism stands out as one of unity of existence; it is fundamental in the Hindu search for love, truth, peace, and nonviolence.

Killing is an extreme form that results from the sense of otherness we tend to cre-ate. Vision of Ahimsa is based on interdependence and interconnection among all be-ings (and even nonbeings).

Ahimsa, Nonviolence, and Nonkilling affirm the negation of otherness to ensure that one is not causing the other any injury in thought, word and deed. All Hindu prayers end with benediction of Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, which means Peace to Body, Peace to Mind, and Peace to Soul—That I am.

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