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Ahimsa is an Eastern spiritual concept of active nonviolence or noninjury, thus kindness and love towards all. It is a central tenet (perhaps the first tenet) of Jainism and yoga. The western concept of non-violence resembles that of ahmimsa to a degree, but is generally understood to be far more limited in scope.

It was introduced to the West by Mahatma Gandhi; the Western civil rights movements, inspired by his actions, engaged in non-violent protests, led by such people as Martin Luther King Jr.

Ahimsa is Sanskrit for avoidance of himsa[?], or injury to sentient beings.

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In Jainism, the ahimsa-vrata (vow of ahimsa) is the first of the five mahavratas (great vows). All animal life is considered sentient. Therefore, consequences of this vow, in addition to the evident ones, like the forbidding of physical violence to other people, include renunciation of animal sacrifice, liquor, eating animal food (vegetarianism), honey, certain fruits (because they may be harboring worms/flies etc.), and night-eating (eating in the dark makes it difficult to safely pluck out worms/flies etc.).

The Jainist conception of ahimsa involves three times three--the three actions (karanas) of himsa in the three modes (yogas)--of observances:

Neither mentally, orally, or physically

  1. do injury oneself (krita)
  2. get injury done by others (karita)
  3. approve injury done by others (anumata, mananat, or anumodana)

The ten noble virtues (dharma) are:

  1. supreme forgiveness or forbearance (uttama kshama)
  2. supreme humility or tenderness (uttama mardava)
  3. supreme honesty or straight forwardness (uttama arjava)
  4. supreme contentment or purity of thought and freedom from greed
  5. supreme truth (uttama satya)
  6. supreme self-control or self-restraint (uttama samyama)
  7. supreme austerities
  8. supreme renunciation
  9. supreme non-attachment or not taking the non-self for one's own self (uttama akinchana)
  10. supreme chastity (uttama brahmacharya)

Note the similarites to the Biblical virtues of the excellent wife: humility, forbearance, love, and diligence [Philippians 4:2,3], upon which Larry Wall, the founder of Perl, has famously expounded.

Most of you are familiar with the virtues of a programmer. There are three, of course: laziness, impatience, and hubris. These are virtues of passion. They are not, however, virtues of community. The virtues of community sound like their opposites: diligence, patience, and humility. They're not really opposites, because you can do them all at the same time. It's another matter of perspective. These are the virtues that have brought us this far. These are the virtues that will carry our community into the future, if we do not abandon them.
Larry Wall, Second State of the Onion (http://www.perl.com/pub/a/1998/08/show/onion)


As codified by Maharishi Patanjali in the seminal work Yoga Sutra (the foundation of ashtanga yoga[?]), ahimsa is the first of the five yamas (eternal vows or restraints) of yoga.


Quotations from Gandhi on the subject:

Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.


Literally speaking, ahimsa means non-violence. But to me it has much higher, infinitely higher meaning. It means that you may not offend anybody; you may not harbor uncharitable thought, even in connection with those who consider your enemies. To one who follows this doctrine, there are no enemies. A man who believes in the efficacy of this doctrine finds in the ultimate stage, when he is about to reach the goal, the whole world at his feet. If you express your love- Ahimsa-in such a manner that it impresses itself indelibly upon your so called enemy, he must return that love.

This doctrine tells us that we may guard the honor of those under our charge by delivering our own lives into the hands of the man who would commit the sacrilege. And that requires far greater courage than delivering of blows.

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