Ahimsa

Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is a Hindu principle that means we should live in harmony with the universe. We should be considerate of all creatures and all natural forces and live in balance with them. We should be compassionate. We should exercise self-control and not go into frenzy to satisfy our desires, treading on the toes of those who stand in our way. We should be at peace within ourselves and with the world. We should not needlessly hurt others in any way. However, we should do what our duty demands.

While Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism all endorse the doctrine of Ashimsa, they consider it differently. Buddhism bans killing along with stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and intoxication. Jainism opposes all killing categorically. Hindu tenets are not so specific. They go to motive. Hinduism des not oppose killing. Rather, it opposes senseless killing. The distinction is difficult ti put into words. The effects of an act depends on the thoughts that engendered it. The doer of the act must decide whether an act is hurtful or not and whether it is necessary or not. It is the quality of the actor’s nature that determines if her or she makes the right and good decision and that sets karma in motion, for better or for worse. While a wise person performs acts that are in keeping with universal harmony, an anger driven fool is likely to commit acts of unwarranted violence.

Violence and destruction is not always harmful. Burning fields to improve their fertility is a good thing. It is different from starting a wildfire that will burn and destroy forests. The Gita speaks of a moral war, explaining that the soul cannot be killed and that the body does not matter at all. The Mhabharata and the Gita illustrate rather than explain what constitutes a moral war. Lord Krishna speaks on the “Battlefield of Dharma.” The noble hero, Arjun, does not want to slay his enemy. He does not want a kingdom, or victory, or pleasures. He would rather his enemy kill him and kill them. Lord Krishna convinces Arjun to fight, leaving the outcome of the war in God’s hands:

Do not care if your fighting brings pleasure or pain,

Victory or defeat.

Just do your duty.

In this way you will be free.

(Gita 2:38)

 

Read more from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar

Dharma

 

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The concept of “dharma” is difficult to convey in English. The term is an ancient one equivalent to the Persian word “daena” which means something like insight and revelation. In Zoroastrianism, Daena has been explained as a journey that enables the soul to see light at the end of life.

In the Upanishads, dharma is defined as truth, but both dharma and truth are philosophies unto themselves. They are short words that encompass entire belief systems. Dharma is a lodestar, an abiding principle, not only for Hinduism, but also for her sister religions, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. These faiths have arisen from different aspects of the Hindu world view and have evolved with their own specificities and emphases.

The word Hindu describes the original inhabitants of the Indus River Valley, but today many followers of Hinduism prefer to describe their faith as the Sanatana Dharma, an abiding principle which means The Eternal Order or Way.

See Chapter 8 of On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar to appreciate the full meaning of “dharma” in Eastern religions.