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Ancient Indian Buddhism and Ahijsa (Ahimsa - No Harming) (Eng Ver)

Ancient Indian Buddhism and Ahijsa (Ahimsa - No Harming) (Eng Ver)

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Published by Low Beng Kiat
K.T.S. 薩羅 著
K.T.S. 薩羅 著

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Published by: Low Beng Kiat on Nov 20, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Ancient Indian Buddhism and Ahijsa - K.T.S. SaraoHead and Chairman Department of Buddhist Studies University of Delhi
http://www.purifymind.com/BuddhismAhijsa.htm In historic India, the concept of ahijsa was used for the first time by the authors of the Upanisads in connection with the cruelty of Vedic yajbas. [1] It is from thisthat the concept of vegetarianism developed. In the fifth century BC it wasstrongly advocated by the Buddha, who included it amongst his main teachings,provided it a theoretical basis and regarded it as of incomparable merit. It may bepointed out that one of the fundamental contributions of Buddhism in the sphereof ahimsa was that image of the wheel (cakra) as a symbol of sacred warfare(most famously the chariot wheel) was changed into a symbol of sacredpeacemaking (the "dhamma wheel" or dharmacakra). [2] Buddhist insightsregarding ahijsa turn out to be applicable to areas as diverse as environmentalethics, daily living, relations with and ethical considerations regarding otheranimals, and surely our need to understand the plight of marginalized humans.Violent activities in the context of early Indian Buddhism may broadly be put inthe following four categories:1.Hijsa that took place through organized fighting such as wars, battles etc. and inan unorganized fighting such as murders, suicides, abortions, and euthanasia etc.2. Hijsa that took place in the form of sacrifices in which animal life andsometimes human life was destroyed.3. Hijsa that took place at the hands of hunters, trappers, butchers, fishermen etc.for human food and other needs, especially for medicinal purposes. Thus, humanconsumption of meat and fish entailed an important form of violence.4. Hijsa that took place through farming and other related activities like digging,irrigating, ploughing, reaping, trampling on grasses and crops, cutting of trees anddestruction of ekindriyajiva (one-facultied life) which inhabits plants, trees, soiletc.We live in a world of mutual injury where life can only be sustained bymarginalizing others. In a situation such as this, violence in one form or the otheris unavoidable. In order to live, one must eat, and for that most amongst usacquire our food through the capture of various kinds of animal and aquatic life.Some take to vegetarianism to escape such a killing. However, some believe thatplants also possess life, and from their point of view even this cannot be called a
correct way of life. Moreover, when one is attacked by others, there arises thequestion of indulging in violence in self-defence. Then, there is the question of various kinds of insects like flies and mosquitoes being regularly eliminated inlarge numbers in order to minimize the risk of the harmful germs carried by them.Various kinds of drugs also kill germs in the body so that humans can recoverfrom different ailments. As a matter of fact, germ theory which forms the verybasis of modern medicine involves elimination of life in different forms. Scientistsconduct experiments on animals in order to find cures for diseases that afflicthumans. Therefore, if the principle of ahimsa is upheld literally, it would bedifficult, to say the least, to obtain suitable food to maintain one's own life andprobably one shall have to starve oneself to death, i.e., commit suicide. Strictlyspeaking, suicide is also inconsistent with the principle of ahijsa. In other words,the practice of perfect and absolute ahijsa in this particular sense is impossible.However, Buddhism saw the inner feeling of the spirit of ahijsa and its outermanifestation in the form of non-violent action, as two different things. Thus, theBuddha based his philosophy of ahijsa on this simple fact that even though theaction of ahijsa maybe difficult to perfect, yet the perfection of the spirit of ahijsais not impossible to cultivate in the heart. In other words, the actual practice of ahijsa can only be undertaken on the basis of a true cognition of life, thecontradictions of which are difficult to resolve. Recognizing this fact, the Buddhadid not set up unduly strict rules for ahijsa as action. This form of moderate andrational doctrine of ahijsa is perhaps the most important contribution of Buddhism to human civilization. In the Pali texts, this principle is stated mainly inthree terms, viz., panatipata veramani, panatipata pativirati and ahijsa. Of thesethree terms, ahijsa or avihijsa, meaning 'non-violence,' is the most widely used inthe Buddhist texts. The other two expressions indicate the same meaning of 'abstaining or restraining oneself from causing injury to living beings' (panatipata/panavadha/ panaghata) [3]and are used mainly in relation to Vinaya rulesregarding sila that forbid the killing of living creatures as against destroying life(panav atimapeti). [4]Here, a special meaning in the form of precautionaryendeavour and the application of will is contained in the words veramani(abstaining) and pativirati (restraining). The endeavour of will is imperative forabstaining from evil proclivities such as destruction of life in any form. When thevow is made, 'I will observe the principle not to kill living beings,' sila is the self-actualizing attitude that emerges when one undertakes to carry on thisendeavour. A child does not commit hijsa, and yet there is no sila. The reason forthis is that the child is not conscious of the fact that it is not doing evil. In the
same manner, it cannot be said that one abides by sila just because one does notkill living creatures. Ahijsa, thus, implies deliberate avoidance of injury to livingbeings. In other words, a Buddhist is expected not only to shun killing but alsoavoid inciting others to kill.Ahijsa to living beings, which is the first precept in Buddhism, [5]is based upon theprinciple of mutual attraction and rightness common to all nature. To willfullytake life means to disrupt and destroy the inherent wholeness and to bluntfeelings of reverence and compassion that form the basis of humaneness. Thisprecept is really a call to life and creation even as it is a condemnation of deathand destruction. Deliberately to shoot, knife, strangle, drown, crush, poison, burn,or otherwise inflict pain on a human being or animal- these are not the only waysto defile this precept. To cause another to kill, torture, or harm any living beinglikewise offends against the first precept. Though violence (hijsa) can take place inwords, thoughts and deeds, ancient Indian Buddhism was mainly concerned withviolence in deeds. Sacrifices in various forms, especially the ones in which animalswere deprived of life, were seen by the Buddha as not only a ridiculous absurdity,but also as an unpardonable cruelty. He did not recognize the efficacy of sacrificeson the one hand, and highly regarded the life of living beings, on the other.According to him, "all living beings are not to be harmed." [6]"At the sort of sacrifice... (where)... creatures are put an end to... is neither of great fruitfulnessnor of great profit nor of great renown nor of widespread effect. It is just as if afarmer were to enter a wood taking with him plough and seed, and were there, inan untilled tract, in unfavourable soil, among uprooted stumps, to plant seedsthat were broken, rotten, spoilt by wind and heat, out of season, not in goodcondition, and the god were not to give good rain in due season." [7]We are toldin the Samabbaphala Sutta that "the bhikkhu, putting away the killing of livingbeings holds aloof from the destruction of life. The cudgel and the sword he haslaid aside, and ashamed of roughness, and full of mercy, he dwells compassionateand kind to all creatures that have life." [8]The basis of the practice of ahijsa is compassion (daya), mercy (hitanukampa) anda feeling of shame (lajja) of the cruelty of killing and injuring life. In this way,ahijsa has been amalgamated by Buddhism with compassion and a consciousnessof shame. Where there is compassion in the heart, it is expressed in an outwardact as ahijsa. Ahijsa is considered a noble act because it is not only the object of the act, but it also results in happiness to the one who practices it. On the otherhand, those who harbour hatred, not only injure others but also bringunhappiness to themselves. [9]The killing of living beings is a shameful act and is

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