Real Hindu View of Ahimsa (Non-Violence)

                 THE REAL HINDU VIEW OF AHIMSA (Non-Violence)

                          by Shri Nandan Vyas


The Hindu scriptures extoll virtues of Ahimsa (non-injury or non-
violence) and consider it an essential tenet of and guide for
PERSONAL behavior (ONLY). However destruction of wicked essential
for establishing the Dharma (righteousness) is considered Ahimsa
also. In this regard the real Hindu view of Ahimsa differs slightly
from Mahatma Gandhi's interpretation. This article attempts
to explain the Hindu view of Ahimsa based on quotes from Hindu

6 References - Bhagavat Gita, Gita Rahasya by Lokmanya Tilak,
Sant Tukaram Gatha, etc


Let us first look at what scriptures say about ahimsa :
Mahabharat says :

Ahimsaa paramo dharmaah: (Mahabharat - Aadi Parva - 11.13)     (1)

Meaning - Ahimsa (non-injury) is the ultimate dharma (duty).

Manusmruti considers ahimsa foremost amongst the 5 restraints (yama)
necessary in PERSONAL behavior. The other 4 being truthfulness
(satyam), nonstealing or not coveting (asteyam), purity of mind
and body (shoucham) and control of senses (indriyanigraha), which
are described below:

Ahimsa satyam-asteyam shoucham-indriyanigraha (Mausmruti - 10.63) (1)

Bhagavad Gita includes Ahimsa in the twenty virtues necessary for
attaining Dnyana (knowledge (of Self)). The shloka (verse) is as
follows :

amaanitvam-adambhitvam-ahimsaa kshaanti-aarjavam
aacharya-upaasanaam-shoucham sthairyam aatma-vinigraham (Gita 13.7)  (2)

Thus non-injury to others (physical or mental) is prescribed as virtue
in PERSONAL conduct.


After even cursory evaluation it is easy to realize that complete
Ahimsa is impossible. When we breathe many micro organisms enter our
bodies such as microbes, bacteria, viruses etc. These also get thrown
out when we exhale. Our body's immune system does nothing but kills
harmful diease causing bacteria, fungii, viruses using white blood
corpuscles, hormones, enzymes, antibodies etc. Also when we ingest
antibiotics such as penicillin, ampicillin etc are we not killing
the harmful (sometimes even benign good cells as in chemo therapy)
life forms ? Similarly on the farm or in your yard when we use weed
killers and insecticides, are we not killing weeds and insects ?
Even the yogurt we eat has 'active' cultures. Hence complete ahimsa
is not possible. The destruction of millions and millions of micro
organisms filled in the air, water and fruits will continue. In
Mahabharat Arjun says:

Sookshmayoni ni bhootaani tarkagamyaani kaanichit
PakshmaNopi nipaaten yeshaan syaat skandhparyayah:
                                     - Shanti Parva 15.26   .... (1)

Meaning - So many very tiny invisible lifeforms, whose existence
can be ascertained by logic only, fill this world, that by mere
batting of an eye lid we severe their limbs apart.

Although actions such as eating, taking medicines result in some
violence, this is unavoidable ahimsa needed for preserving one's
body. As the Bhagavat tells us :

Jivo jivasya jeevanam             Bhagavat - 1.13.46        .... (1)

Knowingly or unknowingly a larger life form consumes a smaller life
form, thence complete ahimsa is not possible. Also in this respect
one must define right or justifiable himsa, and unjustifiable himsa.


The shloka from Gita (13.7) calling Ahimsa a divine virtue may appear
contradictory to the overall message of Gita in the context of the
Mahabharat war wherein Bhagawan Krishna repeatedly asks Arjun to fight
the righteous war (Tasmat yuddhasya Bharat!). Is Gita against Ahimsa ?
Also is Gita, the heart of the epic Mahabharat, against the teaching
of 'ahimsaa paramo dharmah:'?

Both these questions can be answered by one word 'NO'. Because the

In Mahabharat Bhagawan Krishna defines dharma as follows:

DhaaraNaaddharmamityaahu: dharma dhaarayate prajaah:
YasyaddhaaraNa samyuktam sa dharma iti nischayah:               ....(3)

Meaning - Dharma holds the society together and that which supports
the social structure (balance) must be definitely considered as

Marathi Sa(i)nt Tukaram says :

Dayaa tiche naav bhutaanche paalan
aanika nirdaalan kantakaanche       (Tukaram Gatha - Abhanga 129)...(4)

Meaning - Compassion is thy name - nurturing all (living) beings
AND the destruction of the wicked.

Shivaji's spiritual Guru Sa(i)nt Ramdas conveys a vision in a poem
composed at the occasion of coronation of Shivaji. This poem is called
'Anandavana-bhuvan' - The Region of bliss which Gurudev R.D.Ranade
terms a vision of Apocalypse (5). Interestingly, this vision of
Apocalypse of Sa(i)nt Ramdas mentions destruction of wicked in several   al coup

Kalpaant maandilaa moTHaa, mlenchha, daitya budaawayaa
Kaipaksha ghetalaa devi, Anandavana-bhuvani

Budaale sarvahi paapee, Hindusthaan baLaawale
Abhaktaanchaa kshayo jhaalaa, Anandavana-bhuvani

Poorvi je maarile hote, te chi aataa baLaawale
Kopalaa deva devaanchaa, Anandavana-bhuvani                ....(6)

Meaning -
'A great evil has fallen  upon the wicked. God has become the partisan
of the virtuous in the 'Region of bliss'. All evil-doers have come to
an end. Hindustan has waxed strong. Those who were beaten before have
now become strong. God of gods has become angry in the Region of Bliss.

Even Manusmruti says :

Aatatayinaa mayaantam hanyaadevavichaaryan (Manusmruti 8.350)    ...(1)

Meaning - A wicked, evil aggressor should be killed without any

In fact in Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavan Krishna promises -

'paritraNaaya saadhunaam vinaashaayacha dushkrutaam
dharma sansthaapanaarthaya sambhavaami yuge yuge   (Gita 4.8)    ...(7)

Meaning - For the protection of the good, for the destruction of
the wicked, and for the establishment of dharma, I am born age after

Thus real Hindu view considers destruction of wicked as Ahimsa also.
Hindu scriptures are full of incarnations of Vishnu and Shiva with the
the destruction of wicked demons as their main Avataar karya (reason
to be). It is also more than a coincidence that all Hindu divine
images are always bearing arms. Even Hindu goddesses such as Durga,
Bhavani, Kali  carry weapons and are immortalized in the stories of
their destruction of the wicked. Even now during the Dasshera festival
Hindus perform puja of their weapons. This tradition is followed even
in the Indian and Nepali armed forces, particularly in the Gorkha
regiments. Thus bearing arms and destroying the wicked are considered
necessary for the preservation of society and are considered as Ahimsa.

In the present day context, the fight against historical injustice
against Hindus and the Hindu way of life, must be considered as Ahimsa
also. Because fighting for justice is a Hindu's righteous duty (dharma).

When you compare Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent struggle it is easy to
see that it is closer to the Christian philosophy of 'turning the
other cheek'. In fact Gandhiji's definition of Ahimsa goes beyond even
Emperor Ashok's definition of Ahimsa. Because even in the later period
of Ashok's reign, death penalty was still there and act of war was not
considered as violence (himsa) (8). Gandhiji's non-violent struggle
worked against an educated and cultured oppressor, namely the British.
Would the non-violent ways of Gandhiji have worked against the despots
and barbarian oppressors like Timur Lane, Babur, Bakhtiar Khilji,
Aurangzeb, and Tipu Sultan?  Highly unlikely ! Because Buddhists in
the areas of the present day Afganistan, Pakistan preached and
practiced exactly similar principles of non-violence against the
Muslim invaders and Buddhism, its followers, the Buddhist Vihars
were completely wiped out very early during the Muslim raids.



An article by Justice R.K.Ranade 'Is Gita against Ahimsa?' in his book
'In the domain of spirituality' provided the focal point for this
article. Lokmanya Tilak discusses this aspect in detail in the
Gita Rahasya. Some interpretations from 'Dancing with Shiva' by Sadguru
Shivay Subramnyaswami (of Hinduism Today family), and the commentary
on the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Chidbhavanand (of RamKrishna Mission) were
also useful. For more detailed analysis on this topic Gita Rahasya is
highly recommended.

References -

1.  Gita Rahasya, by Lokmanya B.G.Tilak, 10 th Ed, Kesari Prakashan,
    Pune, pp. 28-29, 1973
2.  Bhagavad Gita - Ch. 13, Shloka 7
3.  In the Domain of Spirituality - By Justice R.K.Ranade, Venus Publ,
    Pune, Part -1, pp.1-5, 1972
4.  Tukaram Gatha, K.B.Dhawale Prakashan, Bombay, 5 th Ed, p.29,1986
5.  Mysticism in Maharashtra, By R.D.Ranade (Vice Chancellor,
    Allahabad Univ.), Motilal Banarasidass Publ., Delhi, p.367, 1988
6.  Shrimat Daasbodh, Ed. Prof.K.V.Belsare, Shri Samarth Seva Mandal
    Publ., Sajjangad, - Anandavana-bhuvani, 3 rd Ed, pp.1-3, 1984
7.  Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 4, Shloka 8
8.  The Wonder That Was India, by A.L.Basham, Hawthorn Books Inc,
    New York, 2nd Ed, pp. 56-57, 1967.