Friend: What is meant by Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah?


The Author: Literally it means “Non Injury is the supreme way of life”. Let us try and understand the deeper significance of this. A few days ago I was reading an article, by Art Andrews Jr., in Dr. Shelton’s Hygienic Review. In the article, which incidentally is first class, Art asks a question which I am going to ask you. If you enter a room and find a man sitting there, with a hammer in his hand, hitting himself on the head, and you asked him why he was doing this, and he replied that he did so because he enjoyed each blow, what would be your reaction?


Friend: I would consider the guy nuts. Fit to be put in a lunatic asylum.


Author: Why would you say he was insane?


Friend: It is obvious no normal person would hit himself on the head.


Author: A deeper analysis of the situation would reveal that we recognise each blow results in pain. Since all actions are directed by the individual’s search for happiness, we find that our chappy is searching for happiness in what we know is pain and nothing but pain. No doubt he assures us that he enjoys each blow, and he probably does. It is for that very reason we consider him mad. We understand that out of pain lasting and true happiness cannot come into being. The fruit of the tree is no different from the seed. If I plant a coconut, apple or a mango I will get only a coconut, an apple or a mango tree respectively. Out of pain, pain alone is born. The effect is not different from the cause. The end is not different from the means. In fact, the means and the end are one and the same, one being an extension of the other. The application of this understanding, that true happiness is not born out of pain, is of great Importance.


Friend: How and why?


Author: We have agreed that our friend with the hammer is insane because he is searching for happiness through pain, and his search is sure to end in failure. Let us take the tobacco habit in its many and varied forms. For example, smoking. With every puff of smoke, the lungs cry ‘Pain! Pain! and Pain!’ What is the difference between our friend with the hammer and the guy with a cigarette, except, as Art puts it, the smoker has more company. Any action which is itself painful and which must necessarily result in pain ought therefore to be eschewed. This would include habits like alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, drugs, injections, vaccinations etc., in short, anything hurtful.


Friend: Are you not going too far? This includes me and most of my friends.


Author: If we were to point out to our friend with the hammer that he was not “all there”, I am sure he would neither agree nor like your saying so. The reaction is normal, for no one likes to be put in the wrong. However, truth respects no one; you, me, or anyone else. There is not the slightest doubt that all of these acts mentioned by me and many more are, to start with, fraught with pain, and so invariably end in pain. Ignorance is the only reason why anyone would ever do any of these things. That is the reason why I classify these and any other action that is full of pain, to be on a par with hitting oneself on the head.


Friend: Can you prove all of these habits are painful?


Author: Yes, of course, but we are trying to understand Ahimsa and so this may not be the time and place. I would suggest that you read Dr. Herbert M. Shelton, the learned Natural Hygienist of U.S.A., who is the world’s greatest authority on the subject. His books and writings are available. Let’s however assume hypothetically for the moment, that these habits are really fraught with pain. Do you not see that happiness cannot come from pain and so these habits have to be given up if one is to achieve true health of body, mind and intellect which are really not different, but are one and the same? The basis of all action then is to see whether the act has intrinsically within it adversity, and if so, eschew it. Ahimsa, therefore, begins with non-injury to oneself. It is sheer common sense realizing that pain cannot bring joy and bliss, but only pain, and, that out of kind, helpful considerate acts true happiness is born.


Friend: Does it end there?


Author: Of course, not. If we are able to recognize that no happiness can come to us by injuring and harming ourselves, is it so difficult to recognize that no true and lasting happiness can come to us by injuring, harming or being instrumental for injury and harm to another creature? By putting a bullet in a rabbit or a deer, I am surely giving the creature pain. The story is the same when I hook a fish and drag it out of water. What a perverted and queer mind I must have to find happiness out of its pain! No different from the guy with the hammer except that instead of his own head, he is hitting someone else’s head and getting a kick out of doing it.


Friend: Human beings are different from animals, fish and birds. Why! hunting is natural and is also necessary to secure food. Might as well enjoy doing what we have to do.


Author: Human beings are really no different from any other creature. All life loves to live, and can feel pain just like we do. Hunting is natural to the predators, but not to Man who is anatomically and physiologically constituted to derive his nourishment from fruits, nuts, leaves and roots. Most certainly, killing of creatures for food is unnecessary. In any case most hunting today is not for food but only for pleasure. Just think of the sadistic delight that comes from killing. What a way to search for happiness and through such great suffering!


Friend: Are you not taking life when you eat a fruit or a vegetable? Does it not feel pain?


Author: The question is excellent. Man can attempt to derive nourishment from four sources. Eating fellow man, eating animals, birds and fish, eating plants, and fertile soil. Man has evolved beyond the point of eating his own species. He cannot get nourishment from the most fertile soil direct, as he cannot use inorganic foods, that is, foods that are not derived from living protoplasm. He is now left with a choice of being a vegetarian or not. Apart from the anatomical, physiological and economical considerations which are in themselves final, the question of Ahimsa arises. True, plants also feel pain. The same life-force in you, me, the animals, is present in the plant. The question is therefore one of the degree of sentiency. I know that I do not feel a sense of horror at stamping on a potato or a banana, but cannot dream of squashing the head of a puppy or a kitten. I can pluck a tender leaf without the sense of guilt that I would have if I were to pull the hair from the head of a young child. If my car were to dash into and destroy a plant, I would not feel so bad as if it ran over a goat or a donkey. Conscience is a sure guide.


Friend: Is Ahimsa much misunderstood?


Author: The aspect of non-injury to oneself is seldom understood and applied. Many think in terms of non-injury to other creatures only. We find such persons saying “What harm is there if I have a cup of coffee or a cigarette? I am hurting no one but myself, if at all. In moderation, there is really no harm in it.” On the surface this line of reasoning appears reasonable, but a close look at the subject shows us the fallacy. How many blows to the head with a hammer can be called moderate? How much of murder, theft or deceit is moderate? Moderation is only in positive acts, never in the negative, in good never in bad. Himsa (Injury) is not only the commission of negative acts, but is also the ommission of positive acts. Man is not an isolated entity. If I smoke or take alcohol, coffee or tea and live un-hygienically, I am responsible for setting an example to others to do the same. I am also responsible for the tobacco, alcohol, coffee, and tea industries. I am responsible for the malutilisation of our country’s finest agricultural land and talent. Evil breeds evil in a chain reaction. Every act of ours has an effect not only on ourselves but on all life. This is the reason why each act that we, of our own volition, choose to do, should be very carefully considered, and then done as well as we can. Quality, not quantity, is the criterion. Why will not the man who is willing to hurt himself hurt others? Consciously or unconsciously he is bound to. If I eat refined foods and smoke, take coffee and tea, and do not exercise and abuse myself in so many other popular ways, is it not certain that my family will follow suit? The sickness and pain that are present everywhere is ample testimony to the fact that Ahimsa is not understood. Out of pain and painful ways pain alone can come.


Friend: Is Ahimsa only at the physical level?


Author: The question indicates that you feel that there is a difference between the body and the mind. Greek philosophers divided man into a psyche (mind) and soma (body). Judaism and Hinduism recognise man to be a psychosomatic whole, incapable of arbitrary compartmentalization. That the mind influences the body condition is indisputable. Anger, fear, and other negative, emotions occasion adrenal and other glandular outpourings, arrest  digestion, increase blood pressure and pulse rate and work havoc with the smooth working of the body. On the other hand, the mind is also very greatly influenced by body conditions. The cell’s need is conveyed to the mind, and is expressed in thought. Simple examples are that of hunger, thirst, sexual desire etc., etc., which are cell needs and which direct thoughts towards their fulfilment, the pattern of thought changing after fulfilment. Man is not unaware that when suffering from indigestion and pain, irritability and anger is often noticed. Man cannot be compartmentalized, but must be viewed as a symbiotic whole, in which there is no line of demarcation between body and mind.


True Ahimsa is born out of understanding, awareness and realization that all life is one and that therefore harmony or symbiosis is the order. True Ahimsa is an attempt to understand one’s relationship with all creation and express this understanding in our everyday life. This understanding is there for all who want to understand. The spirit of enquiry alone is necessary.


Friend: By following the path of Ahimsa, will I be happier?


Author: Yes! Yes! and Yes! Joy and bliss are possible only through Ahimsa. Out of pain, pain alone is born. Out of a kind, helpful, considerate attitude, acting accordingly towards oneself and all creation, what else but lasting joy and bliss can arise! Truly indeed it is said Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah.