Ethics and Community

The principle of ahimsa can be taken to extremes, leading to a severe sort of asceticism that is essentially absolute non-action, since almost any action can, in some way, lead to harm—one might accidently step on an ant, say, or accidently breathe in a tiny fly. There are thus long and sometimes very complex philosophical discussions of ahimsa, including discussions of the importance of intentionality or volition in harming another being. Many schools hold that one only generates karma when one acts willfully, when one is aware of one's actions and consciously chooses them. Mahatma GandhiJainism split, in part, over this matter, and adopted a radical mode of being that held that any harm to any being, including certain plants, intentional or not, was ethically wrong. (Not all Jains hold to this radical view, however.)

Mahatma Gandhi was an advocate of ahimsa, applying it to all aspects of his life, most famously in the political realm. Ahimsa was his fundamental moral and ethical principle, and his teachings on the matter continue to be extremely popular in Hinduism (and outside of the Hindu world as well), regarded as an ideal—if not always an actual—ethical and moral guiding principle.

Study Questions:
1.     What are the minimal conditions for being a Hindu?
2.     How is dharma static? How does it change with contextualization?
3.     Describe the relationship between dharma and karma.
4.     What is ahimsa? Why is it widely practiced?

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