Sometimes misinterpreted, the principle of ahimsa in eastern religions is more than just avoiding violence, it’s also a way to demonstrate the virtue of justice in every level of consciousness. When you treat each living being with the good intention and behavior, you don’t cause unnecessary harm, avoiding negative karma.
Ahimsa is an important part of the Jain, the Buddhist precepts, and the Hindu philosophies; however, ahimsa isn’t only about physical force – words, thoughts, emotions and intentions can also be forms of violence, and must be eradicated by the people who seek enlightenment.
So, animals harm other animals because they’re completely governed by their instincts and don’t have the rational mind to assist them make choices, but humans have the moral obligation to subject all instinctive behaviors to the mind’s command.
A true man doesn’t allow the animal instincts to determine his behavior and therefore, all actions must be a consequence of a conscious choice. Choosing not to harm, not to kill and not to cause unnecessary suffering is an attribute of the rational.
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However, it isn’t enough to delete the animal instincts on behalf of the non-violence, as violence isn’t confined to the physical world. A true seeker must dig into the roots of violence in order to remove it.
Anger, hate, fear, and jealousy are said to be instinctive emotions that don’t go through the rational mind, predisposing to violence, therefore, such emotions must be removed as soon as they arise so as to be transformed into a rational thought. Those who can do this are also practicing ahimsa, as violence starts in the mind.
So, the term ahimsa is broader than it suggests at first sight, because it ultimately relates to the art of not having harmful thoughts and intentions, even when actions seem to be controlled.
The observance of ahimsa is one the main requirements to be released from the rebirth cycles, as according to eastern religions, the accumulation of negative karma is why people are trapped in the physical existence, condemned to successive incarnations.
When we finally understand that harming other creatures is the same as harming ourselves, that true freedom means not to become a slave of the lower passions that originate violence, and that all harm we inflict upon others are nothing less than a reflection of our own imperfections, we can finally contemplate the lights that precede nirvana. This is the true meaning of ahimsa.