Tuesday May 22, 2018

Ahimsa: The highest obligation of human life

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By Nithin Sridhar

ahimsa1

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3

Ahimsa” is one of the most important tenets of Hindu religion. Himsa means violence or injury. Therefore, Ahimsa means “Non-injury”. Here, the injury may refer to injuries caused through actions, words, or thoughts. Therefore, a practice of Ahimsa involves non-injury for selfish ends, through actions, words, or thoughts.

In Mahabharata Anushasana parva (117.37-41), Bheeshma explains the glory of ahimsa thus:
ahiMsA paramo dharmastathA.ahiMsA paro damaH |
ahiMsA paramaM dAnamahiMsA paramaM tapaH ||
Translation: Non-injury is the highest duty, non-injury is the highest self-restraint, non-injury is the highest gift, and it is the highest austerity.

Bheeshma is calling non-injury as the highest duty because freedom to life is the fundamental right of every person. Every person takes a birth to fulfill his life’s purposes. But by injuring others for the sake of fulfilling selfish desires, one is denying them their right to live.

No person likes to get tortured. Nobody wants to be beaten or insulted or mentally harassed because it causes them pain and sorrow and prevents them from living their life peacefully.

Therefore, the very basic duty of human life is non-injury. It is the very basic definition of righteousness. Dharma means the essence that upholds life and depending on circumstances, it may mean duty, righteousness, law, etc. Therefore, ahimsa is the very essence of human life.

Injury destabilizes society and causes disharmony, whereas non-injury creates peaceful and harmonious life system, wherein each individual, each animal, or organism can co-exist peacefully.

Next Bheeshma calls ahimsa as highest self-control and austerity. It is so because practicing non-injury is not easy. It’s one of the most difficult things to achieve. It involves complete control over one’s mind and senses. A person should be always vigilant to his thoughts, words, and actions to practice ahimsa.

Hindu scriptures prescribe total non-injury only to the sannyasins (renunciates), because they alone can live such a difficult lifestyle where there is minimal harm. In fact, the very lifestyle of renunciates has been designed accordingly. For example, they beg food because cooking involves himsa. For all others, non-injury is prescribed to be followed to the best of their abilities. Injury must be adopted only in extreme unavoidable conditions like self-defense, punishing criminals, in a war, for food where other alternatives are not available, etc. and never for fulfilling selfish desires and fantasies.

Bheeshma next calls ahimsa as the greatest gift, because by practicing ahimsa, a person is assuring others that there is no harm from him, that they will face no harassment, no obstruction to their life from him. Hence, it is a gift that says, “Do not fear me. I will not harm you”.

Bheeshma, in the same chapter, further says that neither the gifts given in all yajnas (sacrifices) nor the merits accrued from other gifts come anywhere near to the merit attained by the practice of non-injury.

Thus, ahimsa is the highest obligation of human life.

More in this segment:

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2

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Right of Nature: Are Rivers Living Beings?

Should rivers be considered Living Entities?

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Right of Nature
Many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

By Dr. Bharti Raizada, Chicago

Science says that water bodies are not living entities, as water does not need food, does not grow, and reproduce. Water is required for life, but in itself it is nonliving.

However, many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

The Maori tribe in New Zealand considers the Whanganui River as their ancestor and the Maori people fought to get it a legal status as a living being. In 2017, a court in New Zealand gave this river the status of living being and same rights as humans, to protect it from pollution. Thus, now if someone pollutes in it then it is considered equivalent to harming a human.

ALSO READ: Worshiping mother nature part of our tradition: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Right of Nature
Rivers are sacred in many religions, including Hinduism. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

Rivers are sacred in Hinduism also. Hindus believe that the Ganga descended from heaven and call her Ganga Maa. A few days after New Zealand’s court decision, Uttarakhand high court in India gave the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries the status of living human entities. The Court-appointed three officials as legal custodians. However, the court did not clarify many aspects related to this decision.

After this verdict some of the questions, which naturally came to mind, were:

Can Hindus still do rituals of flowing ashes, leaves, flowers, diyas in river or no? Can a dam be built on the river after this judgment? If some damage, to a person, animal, plants, or property, occurs because of river e.g. overflow, hurricanes, flooding etc., how the river will pay the liabilities? What if all rivers, oceans, ponds etc. are given the status of living beings? Will drinking water from river become a crime? What about taking water and using it for routine needs,  agriculture or building structures? Will it be illegal? If a child throws a stone in water, will it be a criminal act? Will fishing be considered stealing? What about boating? If someone is using heat near water and water evaporates, is it equal to taking the body part of a human being? What about taking a bath in the river?

Right of Nature
If the river gets a living status, as human, then we cannot use it for anything without its permission, so everyone has to stop touching the water. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

Other queries, which arise, are:

Will animals and plants get the same status? What if you kill an ant or a chicken etc. or cut a tree? Will all animals and plants get a legal custodian?

Where is all the waste supposed to go? It has to go somewhere back in nature, right?

Uttrakhand state government challenged the judgement in Supreme Court and the latter reversed the judgment.

Right of Nature
So where do we stand? In my opinion, granting living status to nature is a different thing than giving protected status or preserving nature. Image by Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: How nature destroys the negative tendencies in a positive manner

Ecuador’s constitution recognized the Right of Nature to exist, specifically Vilcabamba river, in 2008.

Then Bolivia passed the law of the right of mother earth and granted Nature equal rights as humans.

Many communities in the U.S.A. passed the Right of Nature law.

These laws are creating a dilemma or quandary also, as people need to use these resources. We cannot live without using natural resources. However, there is a difference between using natural resources and afflicting or destroying these. So, please use natural resources very diligently. Try not to vitiate nature.

On World Water Day (March 22), please start taking care of rivers, so that there is no need for future celebrations. It should not be a one-day celebration anyway, we should scrupulously look out for nature all the time.

Dr. Raizada is a practicing anesthesiologist.