Self-realisation is the key to ahimsa


Published: 02nd June 2012 10:10 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th October 2012 11:53 AM   |  A+A-

The underlying principle behind ahimsa is compassion and kindness to all creatures. However, this compassion can be experienced in its full blossom only when one has attained the state of Self-realisation—the reality that birth and death, beginning and end, and other such dualistic factors only affect the body and never our True Self, which is the one pure consciousness at the heart of all beings. When one is established in this reality, one perceives all of creation with equal vision. The compassion and kindness we wish for ourselves, we naturally wish for all beings. This — the non-violence born from the knowledge of advaita — is true ahimsa.
At this same time, we should understand that as we live our day-to-day life, other creatures will be harmed by us, even if unintentionally. Human beings have to eat, breathe, walk, talk, tend farms, cultivate plants, destroy pests, etc. When we walk, many insects are crushed under our feet. Other small creatures die each time we turn over in our sleep. Technically all of these can be classified as forms of violence. However, isn’t breathing a necessity? Isn’t it necessary to eat in order to live? We do not eat, walk or sleep with the intention of causing anyone any harm. The basic tenet of ahimsa is that one should not intentionally cause harm to anyone or anything.
 However, while it is acceptable to take what one needs from Nature, one should remember that there is also an equal obligation to give back to Nature. We should take from Nature with the understanding that we are also duty-bound to protect Nature. Consciousness is present in everything, good or bad. When we train our mind on this, ahimsa will become a natural part of our life.
When we pluck a fruit from a tree, essentially it is himsa. Even if we pick up a fallen fruit and eat it, it is himsa. When we eat it, we destroy those seeds, each of which contains the inherent possibility of transforming into a guava tree. So, isn’t eating that guava an act of himsa?
If we live according to this concept of himsa, can we speak? No, because many microscopic creatures will perish from the heat and force of the air being expelled from our mouth. Can we drink water? No, because numerous minute creatures in it will perish. We would have to live in a constant state of tension about whether or not our actions were harming others or not. In the name of ahimsa, we would lose our mental peace.
It is acceptable to pluck a fruit from a tree, but it is imperative that we first perceive its life, recognise it and respect it. Before plucking the fruit, first ask permission from the tree to pluck it. Pluck the fruit only to satisfy your hunger. Understand that the tree is not an inert object, but a life that has its own individuality. Recognise that its consciousness is the same consciousness that pervades creation, that is inside you. Only then will real compassion and true ahimsa awaken within us.
Amma remembers a story: A starving man went into a hotel. First he ordered five dosas. His hunger was not appeased, so he then bought five idlis and ate them too. Still not satisfied, he ordered one vada. With this, he was finally full. Suddenly, he thought to himself, “Oh, what a fool I am! It was the vada that actually appeased my hunger. If I had only bought the vada first, I wouldn’t have had to waste my money on all those dosas and idlis!”
Similarly, when enlightened sages speak about advaita being the supreme truth, many people assume that they can start with non-duality. They assume that discipline, meditation or other spiritual practices are unnecessary in order to experience the fruit of supreme knowledge. However, we should remember that every mahatma has demonstrated the necessity of such practices.  Saying only advaita is relevant and such dualistic practices are unnecessary is akin to saying, “To become a doctor, one only needs to study medicine; there is no need for basic biology or chemistry.” If we want to reap the fruit of advaitic knowledge, we first must practice meditation, mantra japa and develop divine qualities such as ahimsa. Striving for liberation through Vedanta alone is like digging for water in a desert. Knowing, respecting, and acting with love, compassion and consideration for our fellow beings is indeed true ahimsa.
The writer is a world renowned spiritual leader

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