Sunday, June 12, 2011


by Scott Bradley

Ahimsa is the Hindu belief in the sanctity of all life. Or so, at least, we have been taught to believe. As I understand it (and here, as usual, I am flying by the seat of my pants, without references and only my memory and prejudices to guide me), ahimsa means the practice of non-violence toward any living thing.

This is a wonderful principle to follow, but it is not what Kant would have called 'a beautiful act'. A beautiful act is one that arises from within without reference to morality, principle, or ulterior motivation. (Gee, sounds like wu wei.) The purpose of ahimsa — and it has an ulterior purpose — is to keep one's soul pure so as to realize a 'higher' incarnation next time around. (Higher?) It has nothing to do with love and respect, or the sanctity of life.

I once parked a truck in a village in India and saw a dog, probably hit by another truck, suffering terribly nearby. I returned to the truck's cab and took out a heavy tire-iron with which to put that dog out of its misery. But then I saw that I was being watched with hostility and knew that I could not do what I felt was best to do. The suffering of the dog was of no consequence, the 'purity' of soul was all that mattered. And, unfortunately, ahimsa somehow, mysteriously, does not also always apply to other human beings. I had to be careful.

So don't let Gandhi-ji fool you. He believed in the nation-state (and thus the use of violence), and endorsed war with Pakistan. Am I Hindu-bashing? Maybe so, but I think of it as myth-busting. Were I apparently Christian-bashing or West-bashing that would probably go unnoticed. But we in our ignorance think if we have shifted from one mythology to another that we are somehow myth free. Free yourself.

So, while I'm at it, OM is just a word — or rather, just a sound.
Everyone understands enough to reject what they consider bad, but not enough to reject what they consider good...Abandoning the seedlike impulse within them, they insist on laborious subservience. Letting go the peaceful blandness of the purposeless, they instead delight in ideas and plans full of jibber jabber.
(Zhuangzi, Chap. 10; B. Ziporyn)
You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. As I understand it the Buddhists use Ahimsa not so much to keep their souls pure, but to ensure that there are no distractions on their path to enlightenment. Like you, I also do a lot of seat of my pants flying, but I think they believe that if you throw a rock at your neighbour, say, it's not so much that this is an immoral thing to do, but now you have to worry about this neighbour showing up on your doorstep and wanting to hurt you in return. All this worrying takes away from the pursuit of the blissful tranquility that is enlightenment. Something like that. I have great respect for the Taoists, by the way!

  2. I'm a De facto Atheist but I used to be Buddhist. I still use mindful meditation but not nearly as often. I'm lacto-Ovo vegetarian (vegan 90% of the time) and don't even kill flies but I would kill parasites, if anyone in my family had lice or scabies or etc..,.. I can't stand just killing because something crawls or looks freaky to us apish humans. I do practice ahinsa even without belief in karma or reincarnation. I believe it is just who I am not a religious rewarding experience. I'm more interested in living beings than I am threatened by them.


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