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A Hindu Perspective on Violence

Seeta Lakhani's picture

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Ahimsa

Ahimsa translates as non-violence. This principle is given a key position in Hinduism. The theistic mode of Hinduism that centres round the idea of God as a supreme personality, would claim as the same God is responsible for creating all living things, it becomes the duty of a devotee not to hurt or harm any other living thing. The principle based (or non-theistic Hinduism) offers a different reason why all life should be treated with respect. It says that the same spirit that lights us up is also lighting up the rest of the living kingdom, hence if we hurt or harm any other living thing we are in effect harming or hurting ourselves.

The positive approach to the concept of ahimsa becomes ‘showing reverence to all life’. When we help others, indirectly we are helping ourselves because it is the same spirit that expresses itself in others. This offers the very basis to the concept of morality in Hinduism.

Ahimsa in context
The principle of Ahimsa comes with serious contextual limits. We all live off other life forms, because we consume vegetables or meat. We cannot take a single breath of air without destroying millions of organisms. Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad Gita that in some instance it may be necessary to resort to violence in order to safeguard the greater good. Hence Hinduism sees the importance of Ahimsa but also recognises some serious limitations.

Gandhi turned Ahimsa into a political weapon

Gandhi became famous because he successfully used non-violence as a powerful political weapon to resolve human conflict in a humane manner. He succeeded because the context allowed him. If India had been ruled by Hitler, he would have failed but because India was under the British Rule, he managed to prick the conscious of the British nation and gain independence for India with least amount of blood-shed. His success prompted other non-Hindu groups to adopt the same stance of using civil disobedience to gain justice in a non-violent manner. Martin Luther King is the best example of how the tool of non-violence can bring about major political changes in a non-violent manner.

Greenpeace

The idea of using non-violent methods to stand up against injustice has become a popular mode used by many movements like Greenpeace who get leverage for their concerns by using non-violent mode of operation.

 

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