Mahatma Gandhi by dbking via Flickr

Ahimsa is a Jain ideal of non-violence, perhaps best illustrated by the life and passive resistance of Mohandas Gandhi.

The Sanskrit term Himsa means “harming.” The prefix a implies the opposite, “not-harming.”

Ahimsa is based on respect for all life because it’s believed that the divine spark resides in all creatures. And because all creatures are interconnected, it’s believed that violence to any living being merely harms self and others. Moreover, violence binds the aggressor to undesirable future incarnations on Earth.

The ideal is central to Buddhism and particularly Jainism. Because the early Hindu Vedas prescribe animal sacrifices and the Bhagavad Gita advocates killing without attachment, it would be difficult to say that Hinduism fits perfectly with ahimsa. But the idea is found within the Hindu Chandogya Upanisad and in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Not unlike Catholicism from St. Augustine of Hippo onward, Hinduism advocates peace while maintaining room for allegedly necessary violence, theologically defined as the Just War doctrine.

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