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No: 102,  Septembre - Eylül - September 2018


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Ahimsa is an ethical principle of noninjury to both men and animals. Ahimsa is an ancient concept that began in India about 3600 years ago. The roots of ahimsa are found in the Vedas. However, the concept spread to Jainism and then to the Hindu thought of patanjali. In modern times, the implications of ahimsa were developed in the nonviolence movement of Mohandas Gandhi. Ahimsa has many aspects in Hindu thought. But in this essay I would like to mention its metaphysical and ethical aspects from the yoga point of view. It seems to me that Ahimsa is one of the essential requirements for the spiritual development in Yoga. It is a tool for self-realization. The main idea behind the notion of ahimsa is that “respect for living things”. The metaphysical aspect of this notion can be described as follows: Life is a coherent process leading all souls without exception to enlightenment, and no violence will be carried to this ascent. We are not separate from the world or from the Divine which shines forth in all things and all people. The philosophical basis of ahimsa arises from this understanding of oneness. All life is interrelated, interconnected, interdependent, co-arising and coexisting. There is not the tension between purification of a self and reaching out to others.

In the historical development, the ethical aspect of the notion of ahimsa was developed by Jaina philosophy; and Jaina ethics had an influence on Yoga Sutra. Basically, Jaina ethics evolved out of the rules for the ascetic which served as the model. The basic ascetic rules are encapsulated in the so-called five great vows. The first and foremost of these is nonviolence, which entails total abstinence in thought, word and deed from injury to all life forms. The principle of life is the souls which inhabit atoms, so Jainism emphasizes extreme care with reference not only to plant and animal life forms but also to those in earth, water, fire and air. The vow of nonviolence is extended to include not making another perform acts of violence and not approving them in any way. Jainism’s extreme emphasis on nonviolence is grounded in its metaphysics. Violence is responsible for the maximum amount of karma that can be accumulated by the soul, and since liberation is possible only when karma is completely destroyed, the task is reduced through an avoidance of violent deeds. Physical activity per se is responsible for the accumulation of karma; abstinence from it is symbolized by the famous iconic representations of ascetics standing upright over such long periods that vines grow up their legs - physical control represents the mental control that is also necessary to avoid subtle, inner movement. With the axiom ‘nonviolence is the highest religion’, Jainism summarizes the basis of its ethics and religious life.

From the Yoga point of view, the importance of ahimsa is understood in the quest for self-realization. For Patanjali, ahimsa underlies the restrains of speech (gossip, idle talk, slander etc.); not lying; not stealing; and not grasping or seeking to acquire more than one needs. If one had not developed the moral restrains resting on ahimsa, he/she could not begin to undertake the disciple of yoga.

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