symbols used in Dharmic religions

Dharma is an important concept in Hinduism but is difficult to define. Some translate it as meaning “universal justice” or “natural law” but is best viewed as doing what is required based on one's position and stage in life. Other important moral concepts found in Hinduism include: 1) prarabdha (fate); 2) anugraha (divine grace); and 3) papa (moral evil).

Dharma is basically a code of moral conduct and duties and is regarded as one of the most important truths sought by individuals in their lifetime. It is linked with righteousness and responsibility and is sometimes viewed as living in accordance with one’s caste traditions. Among Buddhists dharma it the ultimate reality, the eternal truth to which Buddha was "awakened."

While religion means to bind, Dharma means to hold. What man holds on to is his inner law, which leads from ignorance to Truth. Though reading of the scriptures (shastras) would not directly lead you to self-realization, the teachings of the seers provide a basis and a path for spirituality. Despite being the oldest religion, the truth realized by the seers prove that the Truth and path provided by Hinduism is beyond time.

Professor Gavin Flood of Oxford University wrote: “Dharma is an important term in Indian religions. In Hinduism it means 'duty', 'virtue', 'morality', even 'religion' and it refers to the power which upholds the universe and society. Hindus generally believe that dharma was revealed in the Vedas although a more common word there for 'universal law' or 'righteousness' is rita. Dharma is the power that maintains society, it makes the grass grow, the sun shine, and makes us moral people or rather gives humans the opportunity to act virtuously. [Source: Professor Gavin Flood, BBC, August 24, 2009 |::|]

“But acting virtuously does not mean precisely the same for everyone; different people have different obligations and duties according to their age, gender, and social position. Dharma is universal but it is also particular and operates within concrete circumstances. Each person therefore has their own dharma known as sva-dharma. What is correct for a woman might not be for a man or what is correct for an adult might not be for a child. |::|

“Correct action in accordance with dharma is also understood as service to humanity and to God. The idea of what has become known as sanatana dharma can be traced back to the puranas. Those who adhere to this idea, addressing one’s eternal dharma or constitution, claim that it transcends other mundane dharmas – that it is the para dharma, the ultimate dharma. It is often associated with bhakti movements, who propose that we are all eternal servants of a personal Deity, thus advocating each act, word, and deed to be acts of devotion. In the 19th Century the concept of sanatana dharma was used by some groups to advocate a unified view of Hinduism.” |::|

Jean Johnson of New York University wrote: “Dharma is like one's role in a play or position on a team. For the play to go well or for the team to win, each person must "stay in character" or "play his position." If each thing in the universe does its dharma, the universe functions smoothly. When people or things violate their dharma, things fall apart.” [Source: Jean Johnson, New York University, U.C. Davis website]

Websites and Resources on Hinduism: Hinduism Today hinduismtoday.com ; Heart of Hinduism (Hare Krishna Movement) iskconeducationalservices.org ; India Divine indiadivine.org ; Religious Tolerance Hindu Page religioustolerance.org/hinduism ; Hinduism Index uni-giessen.de/~gk1415/hinduism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Oxford center of Hindu Studies ochs.org.uk ; Hindu Website hinduwebsite.com/hinduindex ; Hindu Gallery hindugallery.com ; Hindusim Today Image Gallery himalayanacademy.com ; Encyclopædia Britannica Online article britannica.com ; International Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Shyam Ranganathan, York University iep.utm.edu/hindu ; Vedic Hinduism SW Jamison and M Witzel, Harvard University people.fas.harvard.edu ; The Hindu Religion, Swami Vivekananda (1894), Wikisource ; Hinduism by Swami Nikhilananda, The Ramakrishna Mission .wikisource.org ; All About Hinduism by Swami Sivananda dlshq.org ; Advaita Vedanta Hinduism by Sangeetha Menon, International Encyclopedia of Philosophy (one of the non-Theistic school of Hindu philosophy) ; Journal of Hindu Studies, Oxford University Press academic.oup.com/jhs

Dharma and the Bhagavad Gita

ancient territories conquered by the Dharma according to Ashoka (ruled 268 to 232 BC)

Professor Gavin Flood of Oxford University wrote: “The importance of sva-dharma is illustrated well by the Bhagavad Gita. This text, set before the great battle of the Mahabharata, depicts the hero Arjuna riding in his chariot driven by his charioteer Krishna between the great armies. The warrior Arjuna questions Krishna about why he should fight in the battle. Surely, he asks, killing one's relatives and teachers is wrong and so he refuses to fight. [Source: Professor Gavin Flood, BBC, August 24, 2009 |::|]

“Krishna assures him that this particular battle is righteous and he must fight as his duty or dharma as a warrior. Arjuna's sva-dharma was to fight in the battle because he was a warrior, but he must fight with detachment from the results of his actions and within the rules of the warriors' dharma. Indeed, not to act according to one's own dharma is wrong and called adharma. |::|

“Correct action in accordance with dharma is also understood as service to humanity and to God. The idea of what has become known as sanatana dharma can be traced back to the puranas - texts of antiquity. Those who adhere to this idea of one's eternal dharma or constitution, claim that it transcends other mundane dharmas - that it is the para dharma, the ultimate dharma of the self. It is often associated with bhakti movements, who link an attitude of eternal service to a personal deity.” |::|

Hindu Morality

Adharma is behavior that is opposed to one’s dharma. Adharma and dharma are somewhat like yin and yang in that they oppose one another but are also complimentary and they way they oppose each other is relative. Good and evil, right and wrong and truth and falsehood are can all be viewed in terms of dharma and adharma but are relative to an individual and his or her position in life.

The great Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata give a lot of attention to dharma and adharma. See Concepts in the Bhagavad Gita

The concept of purity is important. Hindus believed that purification of the body leads to purification of the mind and ones position in the world (or caste) is determined by the purity or impurity of past deeds ( karma ). The five polluting pancamakra are: 1) wine; 2) meat; 3) fish; 4) parched grain; and 5) sexual intercourse with a menstruating woman. The idea of purity is at the heart of the caste system. See Caste System.

Hinduism and Character

Some argue Hinduism encourages tolerance and open-mindedness. There is no right way or wrong way to practice Hinduism; no correct code of ethics or values; no proselytizing.

Children are brought up to follow the customs and ethics of their parents but are encouraged to decide for themselves which gods and goddesses are right for them. Individuals often practice group rituals for their family and private rituals for themselves.

It has been said that Hinduism encourages fatalistic pacificism and that holiness is often equated with passivity and renunciation. See Karma

See Karma, Character and Behavior


p> See Caste System

Hinduism and Materialism

Hinduism has traditionally frowned upon the accumulation of material wealth. The "comforts" of the body do not necessarily promise peace of mind. Eternal bliss holy men say is achieved through by "controlling your desires and imposing self-discipline."

Renouncing materialism is something that has traditionally been associated with old age and holy men not working men caring for his wife and children. In keeping with Hindu beliefs about the stages of life a man with a family "cannot hope to realize all his spiritual capabilities until his responsibilities are over and he can leave the world."

Inherent to the stage of the householder (a man with a family) is the belief that the pursuit of money, power, fame and glory are all legitimate pursuits as long as they don’t harm others. The pursuit of religious enlightenment is something that takes place after one’s family is provided for. The last two stages of life place an emphasis on gaining merit before death to improve one’s karma and gain a better position through reincarnation.

The best time to renounce material concerns says a Hindu treatise is "when a householder sees his skin wrinkled, and his hair white, and the sons of his sons, then he may resort to the forest...he should live without fire, without a house, a silent sage subsisting on roots and fruit.”

See Sadhus

Hindu Views on Contraception and Abortion

Hindu medical ethics are guided by the principle of ahimsa (non-violence), which says that all life is sacred and should be loved, revered and protected. Many believe this means it is not only bad to kill living beings, but to also to kill embryos. According to the BBC: “ Hindus believe All life is sacred because all creatures are manifestations of the Supreme Being. When considering abortion, the Hindu way is to choose the action that will do least harm to all involved: the mother and father, the foetus and society. Hinduism is therefore generally opposed to abortion except where it is necessary to save the mother's life. In practice, however, abortion is practiced in Hindu culture in India, because the religious ban on abortion is sometimes overruled by the cultural preference for sons. This can lead to abortion to prevent the birth of girl babies, which is called 'female foeticide'. [Source: BBC |::|]

“Classical Hindu texts are strongly opposed to abortion: one text compares abortion to the killing of a priest; another text considers abortion a worse sin than killing one's parents; another text says that a woman who aborts her child will lose her caste Traditional Hinduism and many modern Hindus also see abortion as a breach of the duty to produce children in order to continue the family and produce new members of society. Many Hindus regard the production of offspring as a 'public duty', not simply an 'individual expression of personal choice' (see Lipner, "The classical Hindu view on abortion and the moral status of the unborn" 1989). |::|

“The status of the foetus in Hinduism: The soul and the matter which form the foetus are considered by many Hindus to be joined together from conception. According to the doctrine of reincarnation a foetus is not developing into a person, but is a person from a very early stage. It contains a reborn soul and should be treated appropriately. By the ninth month the foetus has achieved very substantial awareness. According to the Garbha Upanishad, the soul remembers its past lives during the last month the foetus spends in the womb (these memories are destroyed during the trauma of birth). The Mahabharata refers to a child learning from its father while in the womb. |::|

20120501-Karma Depiction_of_Violence_Gujarat 4.jpg
Karma depiction of Violence from Gujarat

Pankaj Mishra wrote in the New York Times, “The ancient system of Indian medicine known as Ayurveda assumes that fetuses are alive and conscious when it prescribes a particular mental and spiritual regimen to pregnant women. This same assumption is implicit in "The Mahabharata," the Hindu epic about a fratricidal war apparently fought in the first millennium B.C. In one of its famous stories, the warrior Arjuna describes to his pregnant wife a seven-stage military strategy. His yet-to-born son Abhimanyu is listening, too. But as Arjuna describes the seventh and last stage, his wife falls asleep, presumably out of boredom. Years later, while fighting his father's cousins, the hundred Kaurava brothers, Abhimanyu uses well the military training he has learned in his mother's womb, until the seventh stage, where he falters and is killed. [Source: Pankaj Mishra, New York Times, August 21, 2005 |+|]

“But the religions and traditions we know as Hinduism are less monolithic and more diverse than Islam and Christianity; they can yield contradictory arguments. Early in "The Mahabharata," there is a story about how the hundred Kaurava brothers came into being. Their mother had produced a mass of flesh after two years of pregnancy. But then a sage divided the flesh into 100 parts, which were treated with herbs and ghee, and kept in pots for two years -- from which the Kaurava brothers emerged.” |+|

“Abortion and Reincarnation: The doctrine of reincarnation, which sees life as a repeating cycle of birth, death and rebirth, is basic to Hindu thinking. The doctrine of reincarnation can be used to make a strong case against abortion: If a foetus is aborted, the soul within it suffers a major karmic setback. It is deprived of the opportunities its potential human existence would have given it to earn good karma, and is returned immediately to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Thus abortion hinders a soul's spiritual progress. Reincarnation can also be used to make a case that abortion should be permitted. Under the doctrine of reincarnation, abortion only deprives the soul of one of many births that it will have. The consequences of abortion in the framework of reincarnation are therefore not as bad as they are in those religions where a soul gets only one chance to be born and where abortion deprives the soul of all possibility of life.”

“There is no ban on birth control in Hinduism. Some Hindu scriptures include advice on what a couple should do to promote conception - thus providing contraceptive advice to those who want it. However, most Hindus accept that there is a duty to have a family during the householder stage of life, and so are unlikely to use contraception to avoid having children altogether. Because India has such a high level of population, much of the discussion of birth control has focussed on the environmental issue of overpopulation rather than more personal ethics, and birth control is not a major ethical issue.” |::|

20120501-Karma Depiction_of_Violence_Gujarat.jpg
Karma depiction of Violence from Gujarat

Ahimsa and Hindu Views on Animal Ethics

Hinduism is a term that embraces many different although related religious ideas. Therefore, there is no clear single Hindu view on the right way to treat animals. However, in general, the doctrine of ahimsa leads Hindus to treat animals well and many Hindus are vegetarian. The cow is greatly revered by Hindus and is regarded as sacred. Killing cows is banned in India and no Hindu would eat any beef product. In addition: 1) Butchery and related jobs are restricted to people of low caste; 2) Most Hindus believe that non-human animals are inferior to human beings; 3) Some Hindu temples keep sacred animals; 4) Some Hindu gods have animal characteristics. Ganesh has the head of an elephant. Hanuman takes the form of a monkey. [Source: BBC |::|

The Hindu view towards living things is guided by Ahisma, a concept that originated in Jainism but is also widely accepted in Hinduism and Buddhism. According to the BBC: “Ahimsa is often translated simply as non-violence, but its implications are far wider; it is more than not doing violence, it is more than an attitude, it is a whole way of life. And for modern Jains the concept also includes the positive elements of working for justice, peace, liberation, and freedom, if doing so does not involve violence. |::|

Literally translated, Ahimsa means to be without harm; to be utterly harmless, as Jains see it, not only to oneself and others, but to all forms of life, from the largest mammals to the smallest bacteria. Mahatma Gandhi was a famous advocate of Ahimsa, as it informed his policy of passive resistance, satyagraha (combining the Sanskrit terms for 'truth' and 'holding firmly') - which he adopted towards the occupying British forces during the period leading up to Indian independence. Some Jains have criticised this as being a subtle form of violence. |::|

Jain Beliefs About Ahimsa

According to the BBC: Jains believe that the only way to save one's own soul is to protect every other soul, and so the most central Jain teaching, and the heart of Jain ethics, is that of ahimsa (non-violence).” The Jain founder “Mahavira taught that: ‘there is no quality of soul more subtle than non-violence and no virtue of spirit greater than reverence for life.’ In practical terms the biggest part that ahimsa plays in the lives of lay Jains today is in the regulation of their diet. [Source: BBC |::|]

depiction of the Jainism's message: "Ahinsa Parmo Dharm"

Jains believe that life (which equals soul) is sacred regardless of faith, caste, race, or even species. Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture or kill any creature or living being. In following this discipline Jain monks may be observed treading and sweeping in their temples with the utmost of care so as to avoid accidentally crushing crawling insects, or wearing muslin cloths over their mouths in case they should accidentally swallow a fly.

Ahimsa basics: 1) Refraining from violence: One should refrain from violence to any living creature. Violence includes: physical violence, mental violence and verbal violence. 2) Violence can be committed in several ways, all of which should be avoided: committing it yourself, asking others to commit violence, encouraging others to commit violence, assenting to or condoning violence. 3) Violence involves violent intention as well as physical harm. This is controversial among Jains and both the points below are disputed. Accidental physical harm may not count as violence if there was no violent intention, but lack of compassion or care may be a sufficiently violent intention. 4) Ahimsa is positive as well as negative, so it's good to: forgive, promote tolerance, be compassionate, give to charity, work for peace, protect the environment, work for kindness to animals, and do one's daily work in a just and honest way.

Hindu Beliefs About Ahimsa

Hindus view ahimsa as non-violence, honest compassion and true love. It is one of the five yamas, which are the ethical, moral and societal guidelines for yogis. Many Hindus believe that ahimsa can be distilled into a practice of non-violence in all aspects of life, from the physical to the mental and emotional. One can achieve this by embracing love: learning to love deeply, and being open to being loved.

According to ananda.org: in Hindu terms ahimsa “doesn’t mean to not harm or kill, which can sometimes be inevitable, such as when one eats meat or even plants, or accidentally steps on bugs. Ahimsa is about the intent, rather than the action itself. It is an attitude of universal benevolence. The Hindu mystic Patanjali wrote a scripture called the Yoga Sutras, where he outlines yamas (restraints, or what one should not do) and niyamas (observances, or what one should do). Ahimsa is the first of the yamas. Patanjali says that once ahimsa is mastered, even wild animals and ferocious criminals will become tame and harmless in our presence. [Source: ananda.org ||||]

Traditionally ahimsa is taken to mean that a person should not kill. This is why vegetarianism is so widespread in India. Some Hindus believe that one should not kill or harm anything even to save one’s own life. Some sects in India go to great measures to follow this, such as boiling water to avoid killing germs when they drink it. The term was popularized in modern times by Mahatma Gandhi. By non-violent resistance he led India to political emancipation from Britain. ||||

“Ahimsa, rightly understood, is the ultimate weapon; it turns one’s enemy into a friend, thereby banishing the possibility of further conflict. In the practice of yoga, it is important to understand that the same life flows in the veins of all creatures. What Patanjali referred to, essentially, was the attitude of the mind, rather than the literal acts of the body. It is one’s attitude that can either lead him toward liberation, or hold him in greater bondage. An attitude of harmlessness (and its corollary, a feeling of universal benevolence) is what is meant by ahimsa. It is not possible in any case kill anyone: The soul is immortal. What is possible, however, by wishing harm to another living being, is develop a consciousness of death, which causes harm to the perpetrator. ||||

Hierarchy of Inspiration on Ahimsa: a flow chart depicting the inspiration on Ahimsa and Satya (truth) in the contemporary history

“The principle of ahimsa must be understood in subtle ways, not only in gross. To harm anyone in the slightest way, even by disrespect, will harm the person doing the action as well as the one receiving it. The perfect practice of ahimsa, then, is very rare. For though not many people would actually kill their fellows, it is common to find people slashing at one another with angry words, or with contemptuous glances.” ||||

Hindu View on Euthanasia

According to the BBC: “There are several Hindu points of view on euthanasia. Most Hindus would say that a doctor should not accept a patient's request for euthanasia since this will cause the soul and body to be separated at an unnatural time. The result will damage the karma of both doctor and patient. Other Hindus believe that euthanasia cannot be allowed because it breaches the teaching of ahimsa (doing no harm). However, some Hindus say that by helping to end a painful life a person is performing a good deed and so fulfilling their moral obligations. [Source: BBC |::|]

“Hinduism is less interested than western philosophers in abstract ideas of right or wrong. Rather it focuses on the consequences of our actions. For Hindus, culture and faith are inextricable. So although many moral decisions taken by Hindus seem more influenced by their particular culture than by the ideas of their faith, this distinction may not be as clear as it seems. Hindus live their lives according to their dharma - their moral duties and responsibilities. The dharma requires a Hindu to take care of the older members of their community. |::|

“Hindus believe in the reincarnation of the soul (or atman) through many lives - not necessarily all human. The ultimate aim of life is to achieve moksha, liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. A soul's next life is decided by karma, as the consequence of its own good or bad actions in previous lives. You could regard a soul's karma as somehow representing the net worth of its good and bad actions. A soul cannot achieve moksha without good karma. Another important principle is ahimsa, not being violent or causing harm to other beings. |::|

“Killing (euthanasia, murder, suicide) interferes with the killed soul's progress towards liberation. It also brings bad karma to the killer, because of the violation of the principle of non-violence. When the soul is reincarnated in another physical body it will suffer as it did before because the same karma is still present. |::|

episode from the Mahabharata: Krishna and the Pandava princes battle demons

“The doctrine of karma means that a Hindu tries to get their life in a good state before they die, making sure that there is no unfinished business, or unhappinesses. They try to enter the state of a sannyasin - one who has renounced everything. The ideal death is a conscious death, and this means that palliative treatments will be a problem if they reduce mental alertness. The state of mind that leads a person to choose euthanasia may affect the process of reincarnation, since one's final thoughts are relevant to the process. |::|

“There are two Hindu views on euthanasia: By helping to end a painful life a person is performing a good deed and so fulfilling their moral obligations. By helping to end a life, even one filled with suffering, a person is disturbing the timing of the cycle of death and rebirth. This is a bad thing to do, and those involved in the euthanasia will take on the remaining karma of the patient. The same argument suggests that keeping a person artificially alive on a life-support machine would also be a bad thing to do. However, the use of a life-support machine as part of a temporary attempt at healing would not be a bad thing” |::|

Prayopavesa: Hindu Suicide

According to the BBC: “Suicide: Prayopavesa, or fasting to death, is an acceptable way for a Hindu to end their life in certain circumstances. Prayopavesa is very different from what most people mean by suicide: 1) it's non-violent and uses natural means; 2) it's only used when it's the right time for this life to end - when this body has served its purpose and become a burden; 3) unlike the suddenness of suicide, prayopavesa is a gradual process, giving ample time for the patient to prepare himself and those around him for his death; 4) while suicide is often associated with feelings of frustration, depression, or anger, prayopavesa is associated with feelings of serenity. [Source: BBC |::|]

“Prayopavesa is only for people who are fulfilled, who have no desire or ambition left, and no responsibilities remaining in this life. It is really only suitable for elderly ascetics. Hindu law lays down conditions for prayopavesa: 1) inability to perform normal bodily purification death appears imminent or the condition is so bad that life's pleasures are nil; 2) the decision is publicly declared; and 3) the action must be done under community regulation. |::|

“An example of prayopavesa: Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a Hindu leader born in California, took his own life by prayopavesa in November 2001. After finding that he had untreatable intestinal cancer the Satguru meditated for several days and then announced that he would accept pain-killing treatment only and would undertake prayopavesa - taking water, but no food. He died on the 32nd day of his self-imposed fast.” |::|

Organ donation

According to the BBC: “No religious law prohibits Hindus from donating their organs and tissues. Life after death is a strong belief of Hindus and is an ongoing process of rebirth. This could be seen as reflecting positively on the concept of organ donation and transplantation. A minority argument, though, says that if someone donates an organ as intrinsic to the body as a heart, the principle of karma means the recipient will have to return the favour in the donor's next life - which means the donor will have to have a next life. Hindus hope to be liberated from the cycle of rebirth, so this would be a disadvantage. However, most Hindus would view this argument as selfish. [Source: BBC |::|]

battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas

“According to Shaunaka Rishi Das of the Oxford Centre for Vaishnava and Hindu Studies, most Hindus take the view that after the soul has departed, the body is no more than a machine, and there is nothing to stop the parts being shared with others. Decisions about organ donation and transplantation are left to individuals to make, but there are many references that support the concept of organ donation in Hindu scriptures. In the list of ten Niyamas (or virtuous acts) in the Hindu scriptures, Daan (or selfless giving) is third, and is held as being very significant within the Hindu faith. That which sustains is accepted and promoted as Dharma (righteous living). This could also be seen as supporting the idea of organ donation. |::|

“But, the only constraint on the idea of organ donation is imposed by the very nature of Dharma. Every act or intention of anyone should be dharmik. Therefore, it is right to donate organs, only if the act of donating an organ has beneficial results. In Hindu mythology there are also traditions which support the use of body parts to benefit others. Scientific papers also form an important part of the Vedas. Sage Sushruta looks at features of organ and limb transplants, and Sage Charaka deals with internal medicine.” |::|

Hindu Views on War

According to the BBC: “Like most religions Hinduism includes both teachings that condemn violence and war, and teachings that promote it as a moral duty. The teachings that condemn violence are contained in the doctrine of ahimsa, while those that permit it centre around the Kshatriyas - the warrior caste.” But again it is important to keep in mind that “Hinduism is a label that covers a wide range of Indian religious groups. While there are many differences between the various traditions they have a great deal in common. [Source: BBC |::|]

Hindus believe that it is right to use force in self-defence: Rig Veda 1-39:2 reads: 1) May your weapons be strong to drive away the attackers; 2) may your arms be powerful enough to check the foes; and 3) let your army be glorious, not the evil-doer. On the conduct of war, the Rig Veda sets down the rules of war in 6-75:15, and says that a warrior will go to hell if he breaks any of them. The rules are: 1) do not poison the tip of your arrow; 2) do not attack the sick or old; 3) do not attack a child or a woman; and 4) do not attack from behind. |::|

A key teaching on war is contained in the story of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna was about to go into battle when he discovered many of his relatives and friends were on the opposing side. Arjuna didn't want to kill people he loved, but was persuaded to do so by Krishna. Krishna tells Arjuna that he should fight, for the following reasons: 1) it is his duty - his dharma - to fight because he was born a warrior; 2) he was born a member of a warrior caste and his duty to his caste and the divine structure of society are more important than his personal feelings; 3) violence only affects the body and cannot harm the soul, so killing is not a fault and there is no reason for Arjuna not to kill people, nor should he be sorry for those he has killed behind this lies the Eastern idea that life and death are part of an illusion, and that the spiritual is what matters. |::|

There is no official Hindu line on capital punishment. However, Hinduism opposes killing, violence and revenge, in line with the principle of ahimsa (non-violence). Even so India still retains the death penalty.

Fighting Arjuna, Susarma Unleashes the Suparna Weapon which Invokes Garuda

Hindu Views on Peace

According to the BBC: “Ahimsa is one of the ideals of Hinduism. It means that one should avoid harming any living thing, and also avoid the desire to harm any living thing. Ahimsa is not just non-violence - it means avoiding any harm, whether physical, mental or emotional. In modern times the strongest proponent of ahimsa was the Indian leader Gandhi, who believed that ahimsa was the highest duty of a human being. Ahimsa, non-violence, comes from strength, and the strength is from God, not man. Ahimsa always comes from within. [Source: BBC |::|]

“Underlying Hindu opposition to killing or violence is the concept of Karma, by which any violence or unkindness a person carries out will return to them at some time in the future by the natural law of the universe. When Hindus are violent (other than as a matter of duty), philosophers argue that this is because those who do harm do so because they have yet to evolve to a level where they understand and seek peaceful conduct. |::|

Hinduism contains some of the earliest writings about peace. Rig Veda 10 - 191:2 goes:
Come together, talk together,
Let our minds be in harmony.
Common be our prayer,
Common be our end,
Common be our purpose,
Common be our deliberations,
Common be our desires,
United be our hearts,
United be our intentions,
Perfect be the union among us.

Mahatma Gandhi said: “An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind”. However, Gandhi did not equate ahimsa with non-killing - he accepted that killing because it was a person's duty, and doing so in a detached way without anger or selfish motives, would be compatible with ahimsa. |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Indian History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin; “A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples” by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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