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Ahimsa's Multiple Shades of Meaning

by Babaji Bob Kindler 

Are war, its violence, and its injustices only a result of external circumstances, or are they products of subtler inner ramifications?  Most original thinkers believe it is the latter case.  If this is accepted as fact, it places all the possibilities, as well as all the responsibilities for peace, fully in the hands of mankind — the problem being that many in this day and age do not favor peace over war, despite what they may profess.

NONINJURY IS a deep topic, often misunderstood and maligned by current religious and cultural thinking.  It must be perceived on several levels, the foremost being the ultimate standpoint which proclaims no birth or death possible in Consciousness.  This is based upon the truth of “Sarva-Chaitanya,” that “All is Consciousness,” as stated in the Upanishads.  The appearance and disappearance of names and forms in the mentally fabricated context of time and space is only the projection and withdrawal of mediums which Consciousness utilizes for expression of Its infinite Essence, Its Pure Being.  Thus, nothing really comes in and out of being, as per the evolution theory, but is ever-existent: existent in two modes called manifested and unmanifested, and Brahman, the Absolute, is beyond both these modes.  In the Ultimate, and in the ultimate sense, then, nothing can ever be destroyed.

On the philosophical level, ahimsa, or nonviolence, to be authentic, must vibrate in accordance with the Absolute, and to do so must adhere to the laws of spirituality which demand sensitivity and reverence for all of life.  This is because the essential nature of Brahman is benign, beneficent, and ever-gracious.  The thoughts, words, and deeds of human beings must comply with the laws of spirituality to be in harmony with the Truth of Existence.  Though nature seems to follow the triune law of creation, preservation and destruction, it actually reflects transcendence in all that it expresses.  It is really teacher and guide, pointing always to what is constant, eternal, and beyond the idea of creation via the stunning fact that everything returns, is repeated, gets reborn.  Deathlessness is in the very nature of Existence, then, but knowing this depends upon impartial detachment, objective witnessing, transcendental insight, and mental nonparticipation in all processes — in the very idea of processes, such as personal agency and evolution, which lead away from Truth and foster the illusory mind-born conceptions of ownership, doership, and assumed separation from Reality.  Divisibility, the apparent fragmentation of time into increments, space into worlds, actions into repercussions, quiescent mind into thoughts, Spirit into matter, God into mankind — when none of these movements are ultimately real — only obscures the innate Unity of Existence and appears to falsify Reality.

On the relative level, and keeping in mind the two previous tiers, actions born of cruelty that are the cause of suffering to any living thing, that vitiate any life or destroy with anger or with avarice any expression of nature, are unacceptable and are to be eschewed.  The key or solution is always in reference to whether the thought, word and deed is committed out of ignorance or performed in compliance with the aforementioned spiritual and philosophical laws and boundaries.  Thus, the killing of animals for food, for instance, is unacceptable if done out of ignorance — with greed for gain, lust for power, cruelty, insensitivity, mindlessly, callously, etc. — but is necessarily and provisionally acceptable when performed consciously and in the spirit of what is philosophically correct, based upon the knowledge that nothing ever truly dies.  “The unreal never exists, the real never ceases to be,” to quote Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, and “Those who think that they kill, and those who believe that they are being killed — neither know the Truth.  The Spirit is unborn, thus deathless.  The wise never grieve therefore.”


In relation to the Gita, war is another subject which needs inspection under the heading “sarva-ahimsa.”  War, violence, and the like reflect a fact of relative existence, are a part of the process of creation called destruction, and cannot therefore be done away with.  Those who seek to do away with war completely, this side of the tenuous boundary marking the parameters of the relative and the Absolute, are usually deluded, falling victim to fear, weakness, and continual attachment to name and form.  Conversely, those who foster war and violence for purposes of personal gain, lordship, hatred, sadism, love of domination, etc., transgress the natural laws of both God and nature and themselves become subject to these negativities in future births.  This would account for the deplorable condition of so many embodied beings in this darksome time.  To quote the Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi, “The laws of karma are inexorable.”

With regard to those who propose the idea of “a righteous war,” such a term is implausible and contradictory to the peaceful nature of Brahman.  In the realm of dualities, only there do antagonistic factions rise up against each other.  Knowing this, an embodied being temporarily inhabiting the realms of name and form must be practical and far-seeing.  “War is never an option” should be the mind-set of all beings, so that every possibility for extended and lasting peace in the created worlds will be allowed for.  In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna tried every form of diplomacy and persuasion to avoid strife between the Pandava and Kaurava clans, all the time knowing that a Yugic cycle of existence was coming to an end and that many would die — and knowing as well the birthless, deathless nature of Consciousness.  This multiple insight defines the term “practical and far-seeing.” Comprehending it makes one fearless and impervious to the appearances of change and the vicissitudes of temporal life, and focused firmly upon the truth of Eternal Existence.

Given that one cannot harm the essence of another, that life and death are transitory, even ultimately illusory, and that war is inevitable wherever Consciousness assumes bodies via the mode of creation, where do we go from there?  How we proceed thereafter is, actually, the very lifestyle of nonviolence called Shanti — true Peace.  “Live in such a way as to never be a source of pain or suffering to anyone,” advises the Holy Mother.  This takes extreme sensitivity, something that the human race has lost to a great extent in these often onerous times.

In Vedic tradition, lack of sensitivity in embodied beings has been noted by the ancient rishis and classified along with two other related negative tendencies to form what is both humorously and painfully termed “The Three Stupifactions.”  They are Ahaituka (jadedness), Vyutthana-chitta (worldliness) and Ajanatah (insensitivity).  Sadly, much is said by way of condemnation regarding violence in human nature, as well as complaints from suffering beings about their lack of peace of mind, but little effort is put into defining the true sources of violence, and much less into changing the mind’s makeup so as to conform with any remedial solutions.  Insensitivity, worldliness, and jadedness, along with their concomitants, really lie at the root of man’s tendency towards violence and away from quiescence of mind.


Ajanatah, insensitivity, is the birthplace of unconsciousness and complacency with regard to both terrestrial and spiritual life, acting as a deterrent to a dharmic lifestyle based in righteousness.  In fact, it constitutes the faint echo of primal ignorance from early on in the process of embodiment and represents its residue in later stages of incarnation.  One should do everything possible to restrict its entrance into the human heart, mind and life and remain on guard against its intrusion throughout.  The effects of insensitivity are like flies.  If one enters a house it will not be long before many of the pests are flying free causing illness and aggravation.  Uncontrolled mind and senses, then, are the very beginnings of violence due to loss of concern for the well-being of all the many living hosts of Consciousness, who are none other than God in human form.

On the positive side, one notes that it is a wonder to see or meet a person who is sensitive.  Such an event sticks in the mind and causes the world to seem a better place.  Therefore, transforming oneself into an image of divinity brings more than personal benefit; it benefits the entire world.  On the very basic level, words, deeds and, especially how one acts in front of others and during leisure time, adds to this positive vibration.  On a more subtle plane, the various mysteries of life, mind and Reality Itself open to a person who is willing to dive deep and discover that which is not on the surface to see.

As the tendency of insensitivity makes its way into the human mind, forming habits there, a very pervasive sense of ignorance begins to manifest.  Vyutthana-chitta means the mind that is involved habitually in the ordinary events of daily life to the exclusion of anything profound or inherently meaningful.  This is noted as “worldliness” in spiritual circles, and is a crippling tendency in human nature which is duly recognized by spiritual aspirants and luminaries but which, ironically enough, remains undetected to the worldly-minded themselves.  Among members of the intelligencia, for instance, most, if they even recognize a difference, fail or choose not to make a distinction between the sacred and the secular, instead clinging to conventional wisdom and thereby giving mundane pursuits precedence over the pursuit of spirituality in the minds of all — a tendency that now pervades daily existence to the detriment of humanity at large.  Part of the fact that India gave birth to unique and abundant sacred scriptures possessed of incredible purity and longevity is due to the society of the time recognizing and supporting renunciates — holy beings detached from relative existence who thereby maintained a firm mental and emotional grasp of Reality for all the masses.  Checking in with their holy sages and seers constantly, beings kept abreast of emerging mental, spiritual, and emotional problems and the special techniques (sadhanas) by which to rid life and mind of them.

Worldliness, as a prevalent negative influence on society and religion in this age, was recognized and pointed out by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who indicated its main constituency as being kama-kanchana — lust and greed.  These are two great barriers to Self-realization which flourish in the untended soil of insensitivity, worldliness, and jadedness.

Two other notable cohorts of all the above listed negative tendencies are fear and complacency.  Fear, at least at the individual and collective level, is based upon insecurity, while complacency is founded on weakness and laziness.  The solution to fear is exposure to nondual Truth utilizing love and compassion.  The solution to weakness and laziness is exposure to Truth via holy company and the inspiration it provides which rekindles individual aspiration.  As fear dies and courage takes its place, wholehearted exploration of the heretofore hidden expanse of wisdom can now be engaged in without self-imposed obstacles, all accomplished through gratitude — which itself is a remedy for insensitivity.  When complacency dies, weakness and laziness are replaced by strength and personal incentive accomplished through the welcome relief from brooding and remorse.

The problem of jadedness is worse than the two stupifactions already discussed.  Whereas insensitivity is just a precursor to the loss of true knowledge, right action and heartfelt love for God, and worldliness is just a reversible symptom of this unfortunate loss setting in by degrees, jadedness represents a succumbing to this misfortune in toto without much hope of return.  Tendencies that are habitual in worldly beings have become compounded and fixed in the callous, indurate and uncaring individual and lead to rebellion against the divine laws of dharmic existence.  Further fomentation of this contumacious condition manifests in ugly ways in those who shun dharma, reject their divine nature, and who precipitantly lift the misguided ego onto a pedestal, making it lord over all and willing to stoop to violence and injustice to maintain its chaotic rule.  Here is the wealthy tyrant, the political oppressor, the war-mongerer — those who enter onto the path of arrogation and callously tread beings and whole nations under foot.  They are the pestiferous enemies of world peace, but thankfully can do nothing to harm the abiding essence existing eternally in the human Soul.

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