Ahimsa

Mahavira, the torch-bearer of ahimsa

Ahimsa (Ahinsa) (Sanskrit: अहिंसा IAST: ahiṃsā, Pāli:[1] avihiṃsā) means 'not to injure' and 'compassion' and refers to a key virtue in Hinduism and Jainism.[2][3][4] The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs – to strike; hiṃsā is injury or harm, a-hiṃsā is the opposite of this, i.e. cause no injury, do no harm.[5][6] Ahimsa is also referred to as nonviolence, and it applies to all living beings—including all animals—in ancient Indian religions.[7]

Ahimsa is one of the cardinal virtues[3] and an important tenet of Jainism where it is first of the Pancha Mahavrata and Hinduism, and in Buddhism where it is the first of the five precepts. Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept,[8] inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. Ahimsa has also been related to the notion that any violence has karmic consequences. While ancient scholars of Hinduism pioneered and over time perfected the principles of Ahimsa, the concept reached an extraordinary status in the ethical philosophy of Jainism.[3][9] Parsvanatha, the twenty-third tirthankara of Jainism, revived, advocated for and preached the concept of nonviolence in around 8th century BC.[10] Mahavira, the twenty-fourth and the last tirthankara further strengthened the idea in 6th century BC[11][12]. Most popularly, Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in the principle of ahimsa.[13]

Ahimsa's precept of 'cause no injury' includes one's deeds, words, and thoughts.[14][15] Classical literature of Hinduism such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as modern scholars[16] debate principles of Ahimsa when one is faced with war and situations requiring self-defence. The historic literature from India and modern discussions have contributed to theories of Just War, and theories of appropriate self-defence.[17]

Etymology

The word Ahimsa—sometimes spelled Ahinsa[2][18]—is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs, meaning to strike; hiṃsā is injury or harm, while a-hiṃsā, its opposite, is non-harming or nonviolence.[2][19]