Monday, September 24, 2012

why ahimsa

i'd like to go over some of the ideas we've discussed last class.

let's start here: ahimsa pressuposes the ability to strike. 

gandhi seems to imply that once one makes ahimsa a ruling principle, the possibility of self-defense, or striking for the sake of justice becomes automatically justified. on the other hand, himsa is not only violence, it implies a sense of lack of identification with life (jiva), a lack of understanding. himsa is basically avidya or ignorance.

this takes care of some of the points made in class about what to do in cases when one is faced with arbitrary injustice (such as the question of ahimsa under totalitarianism or slavery, etc). ahimsa is not an amorphous anomic attitude of inaction towards injustice. FAR FROM IT. it's an active principle of understanding the economy of the strike. truth never himsa a cause that is just.

 so we have: 1- everything is brahman, 2- if we're all brahman, my "other" = "me." 1 & 2 sort of imply 3- non-harming is more evolved than harming simply because it takes more of understanding and self-control. the easy distortion is to make "we're all brahman" look like a new-age fad while missing the subtlety of the lemma. am i ready to see other humans, non-human animals, non-animal life & non-living nature as i see myself?    

let's not ignore that himsa can easily get inscribed in a vicious economy of injustice. this is the well-known ancient semitic eye-for-an-eye, and nemo me impune lacessit, etc. a satyagrahi is never vindictive. he believes not in destruction but in conversion. ahimsa (as gandhi demonstrated) has important political and social consequences. in war, for example, with the so called jus ad bellum norms, in penology, in sociology, etc. no wonder martin luther king made ahimsa a central tenet of his struggle for civil rights in america in the 1960's. 

so, understanding is crucial.

let's entertain for a second the reincarnation metaphor of the jaina: within the cycle of rebirth, one's mother may be reborn as a stray dog. if, then, one is followed by a stray dog, one might ask oneself, "why me? why this particular dog? who might it have been in a previous life?" since time is beginningless, it is said that all beings have been reborn numberless times as the mothers of all other living beings. jainism understand -literally- that all beings are then our "mothers."  so, if a being tries to harm us today, at some time in the past it has nurtured us as our mother. this is why we should repay its kindness by seeking its welfare now.

here comes the turtle. it's quite easy to assume an anthropomorphic blind-sided attitude. the i'm-a-human-and-that's-it attitude. which doesn't go deep enough. what is human?

it's then that understanding the turtle becomes crucial. we living things ARE ALL JIVA! "humans" don't come from a different, special, pre-destined arrangement.

so long as one retains one's sword, one has not attain complete fearlessness.


Francisco Silva said...

Thanks for clarifying the idea of himsa, "the lack of identification with life, the lack of understanding, ignorance".

Himsa is expressed in so many different ways and it manifests in our lives categorically in numerous situations, that people get used to it, tend to ignore, making it part of their lives and accepting it as a norm. That is an issue of being aware and ignorance.

Human beings presuppose to have knowledge of the five or at least some of the basic ethical principles: "Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacarya, and Aparigraha. But the difference between "having knowledge" and being aware is of primordial essence regarding the understanding of Ahimsa.

Being aware, cultivating the principle of understanding and the ability to strike.

Thanks for this great posting. I will discuss some of its topics in another discussion session.

Philosophy Club said...

Hello, Rodrigo here, this is the blog for Philosophy Club, let me know what you think.

atRifF said...

rodrigo, which class do you go to?

Philosophy Club said...

Eastern Philosophy room 1566 tuesdays and thursdays, also intro to philosophy room 8303 the same days. ..If I understood the question...

also, the e-mail adress is

Marisabel Lavastida said...

Ahimsa's importance in seeing yourself in the 'other' can be explained without a need to believe in reincarnation. non-violence is easier when empathy is developed. Empathy allows a being to role-play and hypothetically put itself in the place of the 'other'. The reason for doing this is to always have clear the understanding that that you could have been that other being. Through hindsight we would all like to believe that if we were set in past we would not be members of the gestapo, or slave owners. We cannot bear to think that circumstances beyond our control could shape us into being monsters. The only thing that makes us different to the 'other' is chance. Nothing else. Why are you "you" and not a turtle? there is no way to know. so seeing "yourself" in other beings does not mean in a literal sense. I am you, and everything around me means that I humble myself in knowing that any circumstances could have or will arrive that will make me capable of absolutely anything (good or evil).
This understanding does not remove violence completely because defense from evil (not evil beings, because you could have easily been them)is necessary. You fight the evil but love the evil-doer. It changes the attitude about war. It is no longer winner and loser but a fight against for universal principles against people who could have been your brother or sister. You have a bigger picture in mind and you are no longer a victim to invisible enemies. You now seek to change systems and outlooks instead of specific people. I love that a verse in the Tao Te Ching says something about observing a war like you would a funeral instead of celebrating victory. I think that attitude embodies an Ahimsa that doesn't deny war but only sees it as a sad thing. All this does not have to be in for the good of the world, it doesn't mean you have to be mother teresa. Encouraging and building a society like this ultimately helps you. It can be a selfish motive. It benefits you to live in a society that isn't in constant war but cooperates.

atRifF said...

Very well said, Marisabel.

Alex Peterson said...

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