Digest of terms

ahimsa

the notion of non-violence as developed within Indian religious traditions, wherein the principle of 'non-harming' is extended to every sentient being. In contemporary thought ahimsa is especially associated with Mahatma Gandhi, who lived this as a deliberately provocative ideal. Its roots however are strong within Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions. For Hindus the obligation to avoid harm is in some tension with the duties of animal sacrifice, and the division of responsibilities built into the caste system, where the second most important varna is that of being a warrior. Buddhist rejection of animal sacrifice follows from their primary precept of not taking life and the importance of intentions in this regard. It is the Jain opposition to all expressions of violence - including the quenching of a living flame - which is most striking, extending for some to not eating certain fruit and vegetables. By contrast Gandhi's ahimsa, itself much influenced by Jainism, was ready actually to employ non-violence as a means of exercising force. The sources he drew on included Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and exchanges with Tolstoy.

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