From the ancient Sanskrit language, “a” means “not”, while “himsa” is translated as “violence, murder, cruelty.” The first and basic concept of yamas is the absence of harsh treatment towards all living beings and oneself. According to Indian wisdom, the observance of ahimsa is the key to maintaining a harmonious relationship with the outer and inner world.
In the history of Indian philosophy, there have been teachers who have interpreted ahimsa as an unshakable prohibition of all violence, regardless of the conditions and possible consequences. This applies, for example, to the religion of Jainism, which espouses a radical, uncompromising interpretation of non-violence. Representatives of this religious group, in particular, do not kill any insects, including mosquitoes.
Mahatma Gandhi is a prime example of a spiritual and political leader who applied the principle of ahimsa in the large-scale struggle for Indian independence. Non-violence Gandhi advised even the Jewish people, who were killed by the Nazis, as well as the British, who were attacked by Germany – Gandhi’s adherence to ahimsa was so outcast and unconditional. In a post-war interview in 1946, Mahatma Gandhi says: “Hitler exterminated 5 million Jews. This is the biggest genocide of our time. If the Jews themselves threw themselves under the knife of the enemy, or into the sea from the rocks … it would open the eyes of the whole world and the people of Germany.
The Vedas are an extensive collection of scriptures that form the basis of Hindu knowledge, contain an interesting instructive story about ahimsa. The plot tells about Sadhu, a wandering monk who travels to different villages every year. One day, entering the village, he saw a large and formidable snake. The snake terrorized the villagers, making it difficult for them to live. The sadhu spoke to the snake and taught it ahimsa: this was a lesson that the snake heard and took to heart.
The next year the Sadhu returned to the village where he saw the snake again. What were the changes! Once majestic, the snake looked scrawny and bruised. The sadhu asked her what had caused such a change in her appearance. The snake replied that she took the teachings of ahimsa to heart, realized what terrible mistakes she had made, and stopped spoiling the lives of the inhabitants. Having ceased to be dangerous, she was abused by children: they threw stones at her and mocked her. The snake could hardly crawl out to hunt, being afraid to leave its shelter. After some thought, the Sadhu said:
This story teaches us that it is important to practice the principle of ahimsa in relation to ourselves: to be able to protect ourselves both physically and mentally. Our body, feelings and mind are valuable gifts that help us in our spiritual path and development. There is no reason to harm them or allow others to do so. In this sense, the Vedic interpretation of ahimsa is somewhat different from that of Gandhi.