Ahimsa Paramo Dharma: The Half-truth

Ahimsa Paramo Dharma: The Half-truth

अहिंसा परमो धर्मः
Ahimsa Paramo Dharma

A Sanskrit phrase largely popularized by Gandhi and is repeated by many across the world today to emphasise on Non-Violence.

The phrase was first used in Mahabharata and literally means “non-violence is the ultimate duty” to the extent that it supersedes all other duties. 

For someone following this practice, it means that there is no selective application of practice of ahimsa. It must be applied to each and everything related to their lives, leading to an unconditional and unilateral abandonment of violent resistance under any and all circumstances.  Yet, this is true only in the philosophy and strict practitioners of Buddhism and Jainism.

Many of us are so familiar with this phrase that we do not realize that it is only the half-truth.  The full phrase in Mahabharata is:

अहिंसा परमो धर्मः
धर्म हिंसा तथीव च

Non-violence is the ultimate dharma.
So too is violence in service of Dharma.

In Sanatana Dharma, the first line of the phrase is only applicable to the renunciates and the ascetics.  Even if provoked, a Sannyansin should not defend himself even when his life is in danger because he identifies himself with the Atman rather than associating with his body. 

However it is the second line that is purposefully dropped by the preachers of Dharma and Ahimsa.

The word, non-violence in English is absolute in its meaning but ahimsa means non-violence in a relative sense.  In Sanatana Dharma, it is the moral duty of a person to practice violence if it is used to stop a greater violence or evil.  For example, in order to keep peace and order in his country, a king has to be strict in his punishment.  To practice ahimsa, he may even have to kill a man who is, for example, taking away the lives of others. 

So, the statement, when taken in full context and meaning within Sanatana Dharma, is applicable to most people.

In ancient times, it was the duty of a Brahmin to be well versed in matters of spirituality and be benevolent and kind to all creatures, while a Kshatriya was the protector of everything including Dharma.

In Adi Parva, it is stated:

अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मः सर्वप्राणभृतां समृतः
तस्मात पराणभृतः सर्वान न हिंस्याथ बराह्मणः कव चित

Verily the highest virtue of man is sparing the life of others. Therefore a Brahmana should never take the life of any creature.

बराह्मणः सौम्य एवेह जायतेति परा शरुतिः
वेथवेथाङ्गवित तात सर्वभूताभय परथः

A Brahmana should be versed in the Vedas and Vedangas, and should inspire all creatures with belief in God.

अहिंसा सत्यवचनं कषमा चेति विनिश्चितम
बराह्मणस्य परॊ धर्मॊ वेथानां धरणाथ अपि

He should be benevolent to all creatures, truthful, and forgiving, even as it is his paramount duty to retain the Vedas in his memory.

The duties of the Kshatriya are not thine. To be stern, to wield the sceptre and to rule the subjects properly are the duties of the Kshatriya.

In short, he states that a Brahmin should never take the life of any creature, however a Kshatriya may do so as it may be required to ensure proper rule of law and order.

In Vana Parva, Markandya Muni narrates:

काललॊभ गरहाकीर्णां पञ्चेन्थ्रिय जलां नथीम
नावं धृतिमयीं कृत्वा जन्म थुर्गाणि संतर
करमेण संचितॊ धर्मॊ बुथ्धियॊगमयॊ महान
शिष्टाचारे भवेत साधू रागः शुक्लेव वाससि

Virtuous men are always kind to all creatures, and well-disposed towards regenerate men. They abstain from doing injury to any creature, and are never rude in speech. Those good men, who know well the consequences of the fruition of their good and evil deeds, are commended by virtuous men.

The above statement uses “ahimsa” to emphasize on non-injury to any creature by spiritual or holy men. 

This phrase is not found in Bhagavad Gita as it is often depicted.  On the other hand, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to get up and fight:

अथ चेत्त्वमिमं धर्म्यं संग्रामं न करिष्यसि 
ततः स्वधर्मं कीर्तिं च हित्वा पापमवाप्स्यसि

If, however, you do not fight this religious war, then you will certainly incur sins for neglecting your duties and thus lose your reputation as a fighter.

In this instance, it is the duty of a man to fight against injustice and evil rather than practice the greater dharma of non-violence.  Lord Krishna clearly states that ahimsa, while highly regarded, is not the highest dharma for everyone and certainly not for Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. 

When a person turns away from sensory objects by giving up the doership of action and embraces the Inner Self (the Atman) in pursuit of Jnana and Moksha, then they rightfully follow the path of Ahimsa. 

But for a householder still involved in worldly pursuits, the path of ahimsa is impractical.  For example, practicing ahimsa when someone enters a house and molests a householder’s wife or child would be an act of cowardice.  In the same manner, a soldier cannot put down his weapons in a war; nor can a king let criminals and neighbouring kingdoms continue oppressing and attacking his subjects and pretend to be a follower of non-violence.

In either of the cases above, practicing of ahimsa would be adharma, not Dharma!

Even Lord Krishna states:

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम्
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे

To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion,
I Myself appear, millennium after millennium


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26 Responses to "Ahimsa Paramo Dharma: The Half-truth"

  1. Pingback: Why I Killed Gandhi

  2. d Gandhi Hater  May 22, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    This is something Gandhi didn’t tell d nation

    • sk  April 20, 2016 at 3:11 am

      Who is Gandhi? He just came into Hindu life just 100 years ago. What Gandhi knows is just 0.00001% of Hindus collective knowledge. However, He did his duty where it was necessary. I’m not measuring him what he should not have done, which might be his private life.

  3. Kshitij  June 25, 2014 at 2:58 am

    To deem Ahimsa as half truth is to reflect a wrong understanding of what it truly refers to…..to those who call it as half truth must first try to understand the intent and the menaing that goes behind the saying.

  4. Ram  July 14, 2014 at 4:39 am

    Kshitij ji. It seems that you may need to read the article again. The writer has taken care to explain exactly what it means.

  5. rahul  July 14, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Congrats ! Bought out very timely.The ‘Ahimsa parmo dharma’ is soon going to lead such violence,you can’t imagine i think.The excess in one way will perhaps be balanced by excess in another…

  6. Sher Faisal  October 18, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    Thank you for this article, it is enlightening. In a similar way Jihad in Islam is misunderstood by fanatics. Jihad means struggle against any evil for the sake of supreme God. I hope people look at the similarities of religions which unites them as human soul.

    • Ramakrishnan  November 18, 2014 at 8:18 am

      Thank you Sher Faisal for your comments. Today religion is mostly misunderstood… and fanatics think that by killing others (non-believers of his religion), he can reach paradise easily where he can do all the merrymaking. What a stupid thinking and see what is happening!

    • RPSG  January 17, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      Sher Faisal bhai,

      You are right but there is one difference. One Religion is the RELIGION of FEAR and the other one is the RELIGION of LOVE. Now here both are face to face each other. One is Religion of Shaitan and the other Religion of God. Shaitan is God for one and God is God for the other.

  7. Dyah  April 4, 2015 at 4:25 am

    Thank you so much for publishing the article. Now I know that even a woman must defend herself if being threatened in such way without giving up her delicate character.

  8. savithri  April 17, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    Please do not translate “dharma” as religion like in the above shloka “parithranaaya saadhoonaam” I see this all the time and it hurts me .Dharma means duty,justice,ultimate truth and more.

  9. Anand Ghurye  April 19, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Will you please the reference of this verse from Mahabharata ? Where is it given and exactly what is the full verse ? Thanks in advance.

    • Sanskriti  February 12, 2016 at 10:53 pm

      There are several instances where this verse is used, here are a few examples:

      अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मः सर्वप्राणभृतां समृतः
      तस्मात पराणभृतः सर्वान न हिंस्याथ बराह्मणः कव चित
      ahimsā paramo dharmah sarvaprāmabhrth smrtah
      tasmāt prānabhrtah sarvān na himsyād brāhmanah kva cit

      बराह्मणः सौम्य एवेह जायतेति परा शरुतिः
      वेथवेथाङ्गवित तात सर्वभूताभय परथः
      brāhmanah saumya eveha jāyateti parā śrutih
      vedavedāngavit tāta sarvabhūtābhaya pradah

      अहिंसा सत्यवचनं कषमा चेति विनिश्चितम
      बराह्मणस्य परॊ धर्मॊ वेथानां धरणाथ अपि
      ahimsā satyavacanam ksamā ceti viniścitam
      brāhmanasya paro dharmo vedānām dharanād api

      कषत्रियस्य तु यॊ धर्मः स नेहेष्यति वै तव
      थण्डधारणम उग्रत्वं परजानां परिपालनम
      ksatriyasya tu yo dharmah sa nehesyati vai tava
      dandadhāranam ugratvam prajānām paripālanam

      तथ इथं कषत्रियस्यासीत कर्म
      tad idam ksatriyasyāsīt karma

      Verily the highest virtue of man is sparing the life of others. Therefore a Brahmana should never take the life of any creature.
      A Brahmana should be versed in the Vedas and Vedangas, and should inspire all creatures with belief in God.
      He should be benevolent to all creatures, truthful, and forgiving, even as it is his paramount duty to retain the Vedas in his memory.
      The duties of the Kshatriya are not thine. To be stern, to wield the sceptre and to rule the subjects properly are the duties of the Kshatriya.

  10. Ahimsak  July 21, 2015 at 6:58 am

    Lord Mahavir attained Nirvana only with 1st line (so called Half truth).
    This article is just to justify your violence act and nothing else.
    An eye for an eye will make the world blind, this is what I believe in and trying to follow the path of Ahimsa.

    • Sanskriti  July 23, 2015 at 3:39 am

      Great! Then next time someone comes knocking at your door to murder you and rape your wife and children, please allow them to do so! In the meanwhile, don`t forget to glance at the history of Hindu India and how their women, children AND men were brutalized, raped and slowly tortured to death! THAT`S THE HISTORY OF INDIA!

    • Abhijeet  September 11, 2015 at 3:06 pm

      Please understand what is dharma, before talking such non-sense.

  11. kajaruddin farjiwal  September 18, 2015 at 9:25 am

    duratma gandhi was savatra/stepfather and was a father of porkistan.

  12. SRKMoorthy  February 15, 2016 at 4:51 am

    There can be no revival of Sanskriti if Gandhi is sought to be portrayed as speaking half truths. It was Gandhi who said the Muslim is a bully. Gandhi’s dharma has no religion.It is simply dharma,not in its Hindi sense,but in its Hindu sense. Ahimsa is not the opposite of himsa,but the opposite of hatred. Ahimsa is himsa without hatred. It is difficult to understand it,and much more difficult to practise. The Gita says it:’maamanusmara yuddhya ca’. ‘Carry God in your heart,and fight.’

  13. Alpana  February 15, 2016 at 6:43 am

    Ahimsak…I think it is pretty clear in the article that for sannyasis and those seeking enlightenment, Ahimsa IS the highest duty…however, for the common man, fighting to defend dharma is also a sacred duty. This order was established to maintain peace and harmony in the society. If one’s ahimsa causes more violence to others, it is not actually ahimsa, it indirectly becomes himsa. Think about it.
    That is why in Vedic society, brahmins were free to practice ahimsa, study vedas, do research and development, and seek moksha and so were sannyasis. Because there were kshatriyas to make sure that law and order was maintained.

  14. Anita Sinha  February 16, 2016 at 7:58 am

    There is a time to turn the other cheek and there is a time to wield the sword. Both actions have to come from a higher understanding . We Hindus know this from the Gita, from the Mahabharata. Consciousness raising and spiritual practice doesn’t mean one abandons one’s way of life and Dharma just because a bully finds it offensive. Be accepting and generous but don’t be a coward. Defend and protect your Dharma, your country and your family. A man who can’t protect his Dharma can’t protect his country and certainly not his family. Time has come to discard Gandhi and follow Krishna’s guidance in walking the path. Gandhi’s philosophy has turned our people into self – serving hypocrites and cowards who can’t even defend themselves leave alone their Dharma and their family. Today we need warrior- saints. Highly spiritual people who can wield the sword when required and cut off a terrorist’s head or the head of an anti national if and when required. Time for being wishy washy has long gone.

  15. Anand Ghurye  February 17, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks for answering my query , but it has not been answered fully . You have quoted from Mahabharat ( without reference )

    ” Nonviolence is the ultimate dharma , so too is violence in service of dharma .”

    Where does it say so in the Mahabharat ? Please give the reference.

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  17. Prof Ramesh  April 27, 2016 at 6:15 am

    There are different animals each has its own natural attitude and actions towards other animals. So also we have different animal attributes in human beings and every one has a natural justice to explain and this is true in era of illiteracy. Natural instincts and behavior patterns are to be controlled for better world order and that is possible through education and understanding. Still there are half learned people and illiterate in the world apart from misunderstood people and we have no other go but to live with all non sense. That is life. Remember we are born only once on the earth as human beings on this beautiful earth; Explore,experience and enjoy. Live and let live nurture the nature and practice humanity anything else is destructive.

  18. Pingback: Ahimsa Parmo Dharma : – truthretold

  19. SuchindranathAiyerS  May 20, 2016 at 6:02 am

    Himsa means cruelty rather than violence.

  20. Pingback: Ahimsa paramo Dharma: | sathvishayam

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