'The principle of ahimsa is Hinduism's greatest gift to the world.' Many people, especially Hindus agree with the statement that the key principle of ahimsa in
(b) Evaluation – ‘The principle of ahimsa is Hinduism’s greatest gift to the world.’
Many people, especially Hindus agree with the statement that the key principle of ahimsa in Hinduism is the greatest gift that the religion has to offer to the rest of the world.
Ahimsa translates as ‘non-violence’ or ‘non-injury’ and is quite an ancient theory as it is described in the Vedas. These four holy books contain a teaching reading “Do not kill any living being”. Hindu teaching illustrates that all living things contain Brahman and they all also have an atman. So if a violent action is done by a Hindu on a living creature then he is also harming the atman containing Brahman leading to him gaining bad karma. Ahimsa also plays a key role in Hindu ethics whereby decisions about fighting wars, abortion, contraception and euthanasia are accounted for by the teaching and many Hindus are vegetarian because of their belief in ahimsa. Hindus also use this principle in the protection of cows because of non –violence as well as heir sacredness and economic value. The concept of ahimsa is taken to its extremes in Jainism. Jains choose their occupation on the principle of ahimsa and are strictly vegetarian because of it. Also, Jain monks are very ascetic so they wear facemasks to try to not kill airborne organisms such as bacteria. Gandhi also used this principle to gain independence for India from the British as he used non-violent protest and the theory of no retaliation as positive love for everybody and to persuade the British to give India back to the Indians. He was so dedicated this view that when some protesters did resort to violence, he fasted to a point where he was nearly dead. Therefore he believed that the principle of ahimsa was the only way the world could move forwards.
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The principle of Ahimsa has been very influential to some of the world’s most famous campaigners against different issues around the world. This is due mostly to the profound inspiration Gandhi was to them through this theory.
Gandhi’s teaching of ahimsa inspired Martin Luther King. In fact, he was so inspired that he had a large picture of Gandhi in his office during the civil rights campaigns. King was an important leader in the civil rights movement in the 1950’ and 1960’s as a black American living in the United States of America. He was also a Baptist minister. He was a passionate believer in non-violent protest and so he orchestrated the bus boycott and the sit-in without ever resorting to violence. He also led a great march in Washington DC as part of his civil rights campaign without ever using violence. His famous speech, “I have a dream”, also used non-violence but they were action packed and persuasive to people. His speech also condemned violence as “absolutely wrong”, “horrible”, “devilish” and “angry associated actions”. For his strong belief in non-violence, Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964.
Another example of a person who was inspired by the teachings of Gandhi is Aung San Suu Kyi. She spoke out against violent demonstrations of pro-democracy and her strong Buddhist belief led her to speak out against the military government in Burma. She won the national elections in 1990 with 80% of the votes as many people agreed with her beliefs quickly but she was placed under house arrest by the military government. She organised rallies throughout her native Burma calling for peaceful democratic reforms. She said “I sincerely believe that all peoples and creeds can co-exist is peace. But we can certainly seek to make our planet a better, happier home by all of us constructing the heavenly bodes of love in our hearts”. Her work was regarded as very non-violent so in 1991, she was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize.
Oscar Romeo of South America who was a Roman Catholic Bishop who believed in the liberation theology where the poor weren’t too deprived therefore the rich weren’t too rich and he used the principle of non-violence demonstrated another example of the inspiration of Gandhi’s teachings of non-violence. Green Peace is an example of environmental activists who also follow the teaching of non-violence.
However, many people, as well as Hindus, disagree with the statement that the key principle of ahimsa in Hinduism is the greatest gift that the religion has to offer.
There are many more key teachings in Hinduism that can be argued to be more important in Hinduism.
Karma is the law of cause and effect and means ‘action’, so actions have consequences. This involves the theory of reincarnation so selfish and evil actions will make the next life full of suffering whereas unselfish and good actions will make the next life full of happiness and fortune. This means everything that happens to a Hindu is a result of their actions in their previous lives. The aim of Hindus in life is moksha, which is the liberation of the atman from the unreal world and combining with Brahman. They can achieve this by attaining good positive karma and one of the ways to do this is by respecting all living creatures. Therefore karma may be more important to Hindus to abide by.
Another way to achieve moksha for Hindus is to fulfil their personal dharma. This refers to what is right and true associated with the laws governing people and the laws governing the universe. Hindus must follow the laws and duties of dharma ensuring a stable society for people to live in. There are two main laws, which are Varnashramadharma meaning ‘the laws and duties for each caste and stage in life’, and Sanatana dharma meaning ‘eternal law’. This is the true name for Hinduism and means Hindus are followers of the Sanatana dharma. The specific part that relates to respect for living creatures is ‘Ahimsa’ meaning non-violence, gaining good karma and a step closer to moksha. But Hindus may fulfil their dharma in other ways as well.
Cow protection and vegetarianism may also seem to be more important teachings because ahimsa stems from these two features and is the outcome of them. Cows are protected because in Hinduism, they are sacred and valued economically. This also brings the idea that if you shouldn’t kill a cow, then you shouldn’t kill any animal leading to the idea of vegetarianism.
Many other religions and philosophies teach non-violence as one of their key principles e.g. Jainism offers ahimsa in the most developed form and may have even discovered the idea of ahimsa from Jainism.
In the Mahabarata, the principle of ahimsa is overridden by Arjuna who is told by his charioteer, who is secretly Lord Krishna, to fight the war against his cousins to rightfully take back his area of land but Arjuna doesn’t want to kill his opponents. Krishna tells him that it his duty (dharma) as a warrior to fight the battle to try to kill his opponents but the must not take pleasure in doing so. Krishna also says that the atman is real so it will survive because the bodies are just an illusion and by fulfilling his dharma, Arjuna is creating good karma.
Another example where the principle of ahimsa would have not worked was eradicating Nazism in Germany because Hitler was an aggressive opponent and he would not give up his beliefs without surrendering through the form of violent actions.
As a Hindu, I believe that the principle of ahimsa is the greatest gift to the world from Hinduism because I believe it is part of other key beliefs. This involves fulfilling one’s dharma (duty) that can be done in many different ways apart from non-violence and gaining positive karma can also be done in other ways apart from sticking to the principle of ahimsa. I also believe that vegetarianism has been adopted all over the world on a larger scale than the principle of non-violence as many people are vegetarian due to health reasons, where vegetarianism stems from Hinduism in particular. Also, I believe that Indian culture is a big influence in western society because many westerners are converting to Hinduism and many westerners enjoy the culture e.g. eating Indian food at Indian restaurants.