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Nonviolence in Various Religions

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Ahimsā Paramo Dharma

Non-violence is the highest religion


Non-violence, ahiṁsā, is the central doctrine of Jainism. Jainism is therefore sometimes called the non-violence religion or culture. Also in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and other religions non-violence plays an important role. However with none of them this principle has been given such a central position as in Jainism, especially if it comes to the practice of religion. All actions Jains do are directed towards avoiding harm to other living beings. This includes physical violence, but also verbal violence, and – most important of all because that is where the cause of all misery is born – mental violence. This has enormous consequences for daily life, for society and for our world view. Through the millennia Jains have put emphasis on this principle and with this they have influenced the whole world. And they are still doing that. Throughout human history this first principle has covered humankind with a protective shield. Everywhere in the world there were and are individuals and groups who carry the non-violence principle in their hearts, because they feel that this is what the world needs most and lacks most. Also vegetarianism is something that is supported by a number of individuals in every country. The later Hinduism based on the Vedas prescribed ritual animal sacrifices, but thanks to Jainism, Buddhism and Christianity such things occur only rarely today, except in Islam and some tribal religions. Animal sacrifices did and do occur over the entire globe. Some cultures even took to large scale human sacrifice. And – so they thought – by commission of the gods! But this is compassion turned into cruelty – how could any real god ever approve of such action? In Jain cosmology many classes of gods are described, and far from all “gods” are good. They have been humans when incarnate on earth, and may have all evil or noble qualities of humans. Some of them may be kind and helpful, some highly spiritual, but others may be cruel or purposely misguiding people, causing accidents or worse things: they induce ignorant people to do evil things while being convinced they are serving the real gods or God. Peoples like the Mayas of Mexico and Guatemala, which in later more decadent phases of their culture performed human sacrifices on an ever larger scale (and even today animal sacrifices sometimes occur) were themselves aware that they had been misled by “second-rate” gods, and they expressed their regret in songs.

The wish not to harm living beings (including, but in the last place, oneself) is an essential characteristic of the deepest inner being of man. This is the reason why religions who preached this doctrine ever found many sympathizers. No great mental effort is needed to understand how much suffering the human as well as the animal kingdom would have been spared if humans would have had the discipline to let this noble aspect of their being prevail at each and every opportunity. No wars, no slaughterhouses, no battery cages, terrorism, suppression, social injustice or capital punishment would exist any longer as soon as humankind would be able to understand and then practice non-violence. It would not mean that humanity would have nothing to learn anymore or would be disposed of all desperation, or that tigers would at once eat grass. But at the present moment we make things much more difficult for ourselves than would be necessary. People would, in stead of regarding each other as territorial and personal competitors, understand that they are brother pilgrims towards truth and unstained happiness, who know of each other that the pilgrimage is long and often not easy, but who everywhere and always are on each others side. With many this is already the case even in our times. It sounds almost sentimental – “unpractical” – and still this is the only thing of real importance in life, the only true discipline around which life turns: the practice of brotherhood. The brotherhood of all beings which have consciousness. Rules are not conditional to accomplish this, but listening to one’s heart certainly is.

Religions teach that every consciousness reaps what it has sown. From this it follows that “violence one cannot avoid” such as natural calamities, disease and damage inflicted by someone else, can be referred back to oneself – the negligence of this deep impulse from the heart. Then we should be aware that our repeated existences on earth are but a small part or our total life cycle. Most of our time we spend outside our physical bodies, in the hereafter or the “herebefore” either as a hellish or as a heavenly being, say the Jains. The so-called hells or heavens are mental states of consciousness which are the result of our thinking during our stay in physical bodies. As a result of its weakness or attachment the soul is not willing to make choices, and vibrates continuously hither and thither between high and low, good and bad. In this way a vibration is created through which confusion and ignorance are attracted and attached to the soul, thus making matters only more difficult. If one has the courage to choose for the higher – for absolute inner non-violence – the weakness and doubt which cause the vibrations will disappear. And then God will turn out to be all forgiveness and love, as a Christian would express it. The soul is the only true God according to Jainism. By living in the soul, every human is a god.

What makes the Jains special is that they do not only preach and talk about non-violence, but also practice it. I happened to come across a small statistic diagram from 1891 – that is, from before the influence of modern times – giving the percentage of prisoners in India as related to religion. The Jains were by far the best: 1 on 6165 citizens. On the other side of the scale Jews and Christians arrived at 1 on 481 and 477 respectively. The attitude of the Jains is neither extreme nor extravagant. In fact they are the ones who behave “normal.” The social morality of the Jains as well as their doctrine on redemption is interspersed with rules and guidelines which all are derived from the same principle. The five main vows which every Jain is supposed to respect are: to abstain from violence, to abstain from lying (one could as well say: violence against truth), to abstain from stealing, to abstain from sexual misconduct, and to be free from worldly attachment. Besides, every Jain is supposed to think and meditate about friendship with all living beings, the happiness it may give when seeing that others have more success (especially in spiritual matters) than oneself, compassion for all suffering beings, and tolerance or indifference for those who behave in an uncivilized way or badly towards him or her.

Ahimsā is the opposite of himsā, violence. What is meant by violence is clearly defined in scriptures which by the Jains are regarded as authoritative. To quote just a few:


From the Tattvārthadhigama Sūtra

Violence or himsā is to hurt the prānas or vitalities through vibration due to the passions, which agitate mind, body or speech (vii: 13).

From the Purushārthasiddhi-upāya:

Any injury to the material or conscious vitalities caused by passionate activity of mind, body or speech is certainly called violence (iv: 43); certainly the non-appearance of attachment and other passions is Ahimsā (iv: 44).

From the Āchāraṅga Sūtra:

Violence is a great impediment to spiritual awakening, and someone who indulges in doing harm to living beings will not get enlightenment; harming other beings is always harmful and injurious to oneself – it is the main cause of someone’s non-enlightenment (i.1.2).

From the Sūtrakritāṅga Sūtra:

Knowing that all evils and sorrows arise from injury to living beings, and that it leads to unending enmity and is the root cause of great fear, a wise man who has become awakened, should refrain from all sinful activities (i.10.21).

From the Uttarādhyayana Sūtra

Seeing that everything that happens to somebody affects him personally, one should be friendly towards all beings; being completely free from fear and hatred, one should never injure any living being (6.6).

From the Daśavaikālika Sūtra:

All living creatures desire to live. Nobody wishes to die. And hence it is that the Jain monks avoid the terrible sin of injury to living beings.

The most forceful statement is found in the Jñānārnava:

Violence alone is the gateway to the miserable state, it is also the ocean of sin; it is itself a terrible hell and is surely the densest darkness (8.19); and:

If a person is accustomed to commit injury, than all his virtues like selflessness, greatness, desirelessness, penance, liberality or munificence are worthless (viii:20).


The Holy War Within

I seek refuge in Allah from the evils of the accursed satan.
In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate.

God is Most Great. God is Most Great. Allah Akbar. Allah Akbar. There is no god other than God, and Muhammad is His Messenger. La ilaha illa Allah Muhammad Rasul Allah.

My brothers and sisters in Iman-Islam, 1 we have affirmed this kalimah. 2 We trust in God and have faith in Him alone, and with that determined faith we accept the revelations brought by the Prophet Muhammad. This is justice and truth, and truth is the silent witness in our life and in the hereafter.3 To accept this truth and establish it is Iman-Islam To recite the kalimah to Allah with absolute faith, certitude, and determination, and to accept His representatives is Iman-Islam To pay obeisance to Him, to worship Him alone without the slightest doubt, to become His slave, 4 and to put His actions into practice in our lives is Iman-Islam From out of the beauty of Islam emerges Allah’s power 5 and His wealth.

My brothers and sisters, before we consider the meaning of jihad, or holy war, let us think about the straight path and the oneness of Allah. This Unique, Almighty Power has no comparison; nothing is equal to Him, nothing can be likened to Him. That is why He is called the Incomparable One, and that is why we must accept Him.

The Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet, 6 and the kalimah are His signs. They provide explanations about His representatives and about His power. The entire Qur’an is an explanation of the oneness of Allah, and the kalimah verifies this oneness. The Qur’an tells us with certainty that we are all the children of Adam and the slaves of Allah, our Creator. He is the One who gives according to the needs of each. He shows no differences among His creations; He creates, protects, and sustains us all. He is the Unique One who will call us all back and question us later. The Qur’an states this with certainty, and we must understand this with our seven states of wisdom. We who are the children of Adam must fully accept Him within our hearts. We must bow down 7 and prostrate 8 before Him. That is the meaning of the kalimah and the meaning of Iman-Islam.

My brethren, let me tell you a story so that you may better understand the meaning of jihad, or holy war. When God formed Adam out of earth, He placed the great trust of the light of Nur Muhammad on Adam’s forehead and decreed that man would know things that the angels and other beings could never know. The leader of the jinns was watching and listening. He became filled with jealousy, pride, and vengeance, and these qualities changed him into Satan At once he began to speak against God, boasting to Adam, “I am more exalted than you. Allah said that He created you to be most exalted, but you are only made of earth. I am made of fire. If you bow down to me I will help you, but if you attempt to rise above me, then I will do many evil things to you and make you suffer greatly. ”
Then that light on Adam’s forehead looked closely at Satan, and when Satan saw the radiance, there arose within him an even greater fear, jealousy, and vengeance. Once again he sneered at Adam, “You are created out of mere earth, and yet you dare to look at me like this! Because you were given a higher place than I was, I will create sorrow and suffering for you until the very end.” Then Satan spat on him, and the moment that spit landed on Adam, satan’s poisonous qualities entered him and spread throughout his entire body. Those qualities became the darkness of the mind and the veils within the innermost heart.

Upon seeing what had happened, Allah commanded the Angel Gabriel to pinch out that spot of hell where satan’s spit had landed. The hollow that remained became the navel. Even though the spit itself was cleared away, some of the poison of those evil, envious qualities had already entered Adam and in that way were passed on to his descendents, causing all of mankind endless trouble. Because of satan’s actions, Allah commanded that he and his followers be cast out of heaven. Then He elevated Adam to the high position decreed for him.

This is a very great matter. I have related only a small part of it to show you that the most important jihad, the holy war that each one of us must fight, is the war against these qualities. Just as Satan was thrown out of heaven because he opposed the Almighty, Unique One, we too must cast out all that is evil within us, everything that opposes God. Those evil qualities of jealousy and vengeance are the qualities that ruin us and take us on the path to hell.

To help us fight this war, Allah sent us the kalimah and commanded us, “Recite this kalimah and cut away the enemy that is within you. Who is that enemy? Satan’s evil qualities. They are an enemy to your body and to My unity and truth. Cut your connection to the evil one and cast out his qualities. Those qualities are the very fire of hell.”

Therefore, with the kalimah and with Allah’s qualities we must destroy the seven hells inside of us, and embrace instead the purity of the oneness of Allah. One who with wisdom and a pure heart accepts that oneness completely, also accepts the first kalimah. That is the affirmation of the unity of Allah, 9 and that is the first thing we have to do on the path of Iman-Islam. We must accept this reality of the oneness of Allah without any doubt. This means that we must also accept everyone, all of Adam’s children, as our brothers and sisters. We must think about this deeply, within our hearts.

The meaning of this is very, very profound. The purity we speak of is very deep. The state of absolute faith, certitude, and determination 10 is also deep, and from it comes the wisdom which will help us to understand these mysteries.

My brothers, the holy wars that the children of Adam are waging today are not true holy wars. Taking other lives is not true jihad We will have to answer for that kind of war when we are questioned in the grave. That jihad is fought for the sake of men, for the sake of earth and wealth, for the sake of one’s children, one’s wife, and one’s possessions. Selfish intentions are intermingled within it.

True jihad is to praise God and cut away the inner satanic enemies. When wisdom and clarity come to us, we will understand that the enemies of truth are within our own hearts. There are four hundred trillion, ten thousand spiritual opponents within the body: satan and his qualities of backbiting, deceit, jealousy, envy, treachery, the separations of I and you, mine and yours, intoxicants, theft, lust, murder, falsehood, arrogance, karma, illusion, mantras and magics, and the desire for earth, sensual pleasures, and gold. These are the enemies which separate us from Allah, from truth, from worship, from good actions and good thoughts, and from faith, certitude, and determination. These are the enemies which create divisions among the children of Adam and prevent us from attaining a state of peace.




May I become at all times,
Both now and for ever,
A protector for the helpless,
A guide for the lost ones,
A ship for those to cross oceans,
And a bridge to cross rivers,
A sanctuary for those in danger,
A lamp for those in darkness,
A refuge for those who need shelter,
A servant to all in need.

A Prayer of the Dalai Lama

Not to kill, but to cherish all life.

The First Precept

The first precept of Buddhism is to refrain from violence and protect all life. All things have a living spirit: rocks, trees, water, animals, and people. All are sacred and deserving of protection, Violence cannot live in a heart of compassion, and that is the goal of the First Precept; to transform the suffering of violence into compassion, within our hearts and within the world.

To open our hearts, we must face the hurt within. The pain we feel – from our actions those of others – is real. This is the seed of harmful thoughts, speech, and behavior. Until we forgive ourselves and others, we will continue to create more suffering. With forgiveness, we can stop the pain of the world, and live as we were meant to: precious and free from fear.

When we go forth into the world with anger, our views are distorted, and our actions – harming others in word and deed – have far reaching consequences. The harm will return to us. This is the law of karma. When we go forth with compassion, we can look at every situation and ask, “Does this increase suffering, or relieve it?” There are no absolutes. There are no easy answers.

With practice, we can learn to see, and cultivate wisdom.  Wisdom comes, not from figuring things out in our mind, but from spiritual practice: day after day, year after year.  The emphasis in Zen is not study – though study is important to a certain extent – it is practice: prayer, meditation, and ethical conduct. Buddha did not retire to a cave after his enlightenment; he continued his practice, amongst practitioners and laity, until he died. With humility and a quiet mind, we learn to understand the deep meaning of the actions of others. We develop insight.

The hardship we face always offers a choice; to harden our heart or soften it. With a soft heart we empathize with all living beings. Compassion is born of hardship, and is the path to peace. It is our true nature to be loving and compassionate. It is our true nature to cherish others. In order to realize this within, we start with the First Precept.

Upholding this precept does not mean being passive. We can protect others, protest war, and speak truth to power. We can do all of this, not from anger, but from compassion. We can condemn actions, without feeling hatred for people.

There are many reasons to go to war. The harder path is to resolve conflict peacefully. If we listen deeply to our enemies, we will find that they want what we want: security, dignity, opportunity. It takes courage to listen, and empathize. Are we ready to try? Are we ready to say to violence, “Enough!” The message of this precept is hope for all humanity. The truth of this precept is for all religions. The time for this precept is now.

If not now, when?
If not us, who?


The Four Noble Truths

1. Life means suffering.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

4. The path to the cessation of suffering.


1. Life means suffering.

To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a “self” which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call “self” is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.

4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

There is a path to the end of suffering – a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely “wandering on the wheel of becoming”, because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.

The Noble Eightfold Path


1. Right View Wisdom
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech Ethical Conduct
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort Mental Development
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

The Noble Eightfold Path describes the way to the end of suffering, as it was laid out by Siddhartha Gautama. It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things. Together with the Four Noble Truths it constitutes the gist of Buddhism. Great emphasis is put on the practical aspect, because it is only through practice that one can attain a higher level of existence and finally reach Nirvana. The eight aspects of the path are not to be understood as a sequence of single steps, instead they are highly interdependent principles that have to be seen in relationship with each other.

1. Right View

Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realize the Four Noble Truth. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.

2. Right Intention

While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.

3. Right Speech

Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.

4. Right Action

The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Further details regarding the concrete meaning of right action can be found in the Precepts.

5. Right Livelihood

Right livelihood means that one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.

6. Right Effort

Right effort can be seen as a prerequisite for the other principles of the path. Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right effort is detailed in four types of endeavours that rank in ascending order of perfection: 1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states, 2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen, 3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and 4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.

7. Right Mindfulness

Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualise sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the facticity of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualisation in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.

8. Right Concentration

The eighth principle of the path, right concentration, refers to the development of a mental force that occurs in natural consciousness, although at a relatively low level of intensity, namely concentration. Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.


The Six Paramitas (Perfections)

The Sanskrit word paramita means to cross over to the other shore. Paramita may also be translated as perfection, perfect realization, or reaching beyond limitation. Through the practice of these six paramitas, we cross over the sea of suffering (samsara) to the shore of happiness and awakening (Nirvana); we cross over from ignorance and delusion to enlightenment. Each of the six paramitas is an enlightened quality of the heart, a glorious virtue or attribute—the innate seed of perfect realization within us. The paramitas are the very essence of our true nature. However, since these enlightened qualities of the heart have become obscured by delusion, selfishness, and other karmic tendencies, we must develop these potential qualities and bring them into expression. In this way, the six paramitas are an inner cultivation, a daily practice for wise, compassionate, loving, and enlightened living. The paramitas are the six kinds of virtuous practice required for skillfully serving the welfare of others and for the attainment of enlightenment. We must understand that bringing these virtuous qualities of our true nature into expression requires discipline, practice, and sincere cultivation. This is the path of the Bodhisattva—one who is dedicated to serving the highest welfare of all living beings with the awakened heart of unconditional love, skillful wisdom, and all-embracing compassion.

1) The Perfection of Generosity (Dana Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of generosity, charity, giving, and offering. The essence of this paramita is unconditional love, a boundless openness of heart and mind, a selfless generosity and giving which is completely free from attachment and expectation. From the very depths of our heart, we practice generously offering our love, compassion, time, energy, and resources to serve the highest welfare of all beings. Giving is one of the essential preliminary steps of our practice. Our giving should always be unconditional and selfless; completely free of any selfish desire for gratitude, recognition, advantage, reputation, or any worldly reward. The perfection of generosity is not accomplished simply by the action of giving, nor by the actual gift itself. Rather, the true essence of this paramita is our pure motivation of genuine concern for others—the truly generous motivation of the awakened heart of compassion, wisdom, and love. In addition, our practice of giving should be free of discrimination regarding who is worthy and who is unworthy to receive. To cultivate the paramita of generosity, it is wise to contemplate the enormous benefits of this practice, the disadvantages of being miserly, as well as the obvious fact that our body and our wealth are impermanent. With this in mind, we will certainly be encouraged to use both our body and wealth to practice generosity while we still have them. Generosity is a cure for the afflictions of greed, miserliness, and possessiveness. In this practice of giving, we may offer our time, energy, money, food, clothing, or gifts so as to assist others. To the best of our ability, we may offer the priceless treasure of Dharma instruction, giving explanations on the Buddha’s teachings. This offering serves to free others from misperceptions that cause confusion, pain, and suffering. We can offer fearless giving and protection by delivering living beings (insects, animals, and people) from harm, distress, fear, and terror. In this way, we offer care and comfort, helping others to feel safe and peaceful. We do this selflessly, without counting the cost to ourselves. We practice the perfection of generosity in an especially powerful way when we embrace all living beings continually in the radiant love of our heart.

2) The Perfection of Ethics (Sila Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of virtuous and ethical behavior, morality, self-discipline, impeccability, personal integrity, honor, and harmlessness. The essence of this paramita is that through our love and compassion we do not harm others; we are virtuous and harmless in our thoughts, speech, and actions. This practice of ethical conduct is the very foundation for progressing in any practice of meditation and for attaining all higher realizations on the path. Our practice of generosity must always be supported by our practice of ethics; this ensures the lasting results of our generosity. We should perfect our conduct by eliminating harmful behavior and following the Bodhisattva precepts. We abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, gossip, greed, malice, and wrong views. Following these precepts or guidelines is not meant to be a burden or a restriction of our freedom. We follow these precepts so we can enjoy greater freedom, happiness, and security in our lives, because through our virtuous behavior we are no longer creating suffering for ourselves and others. We must realize that unethical behavior is always the cause of suffering and unhappiness. If we give even the slightest consideration to the advantages of cultivating ethical behavior and the disadvantages of unethical behavior, we will certainly develop great enthusiasm for this practice of ethics. Practicing the perfection of ethics, we are free of negativity, we cause no harm to others by our actions, our speech is kind and compassionate, and our thoughts are free of anger, malice, and wrong views. When our commitment is strong in the practice of ethics we are at ease, naturally confident, without stress, and happy because we are not carrying any underlying sense of guilt or remorse for our actions; we have nothing to hide. Maintaining our personal honor and integrity, our moral impeccability, this is the cause of all goodness, happiness, and even the attainment of enlightenment.

3) The Perfection of Patience (Kshanti Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and acceptance. The essence of this paramita of patience is the strength of mind and heart that enables us to face the challenges and difficulties of life without losing our composure and inner tranquility. We embrace and forbear adversity, insult, distress, and the wrongs of others with patience and tolerance, free of resentment, irritation, emotional reactivity, or retaliation. We cultivate the ability to be loving and compassionate in the face of criticism, misunderstanding, or aggression. With this enlightened quality of patience, we are neither elated by praise, prosperity, or agreeable circumstances, nor are we angry, unhappy or depressed when faced with insult, challenge, hardship, or poverty. This enlightened attribute of patience, acceptance, and tolerance is not a forced suppression or denial of our thoughts and feelings. Rather, it is a quality of being which comes from having our heart open and our mind deeply concentrated upon the Dharma. In this way, we have a clear and correct understanding of impermanence, of cause and effect (karma), and with strong determination and patience we remain in harmony with this understanding for the benefit of all beings. The ability to endure, to have forbearance, is integral to our Dharma practice. Without this kind of patience we cannot accomplish anything. A true Bodhisattva practices patience in such a way that even when we are hurt physically, emotionally, or mentally by others, we are not irritated or resentful. We always make an effort to see the goodness and beauty in others. In practicing this perfection of patience and forbearance, we never give up on or abandon others—we help them cross over the sea of suffering. We maintain our inner peace, calmness, and equanimity under all circumstances, having enduring patience and tolerance for ourselves and others. With the strength of patience, we maintain our effort and enthusiasm in our Dharma practice. Therefore, our practice of patience assists us in developing the next paramita of joyous effort and enthusiastic perseverance.

4) The Perfection of Joyous Effort / Enthusiastic Perseverance (Virya Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of energy, vigor, vitality, endurance, diligence, enthusiasm, continuous and persistent effort. In order to practice the first three paramitas of generosity, virtuous conduct, and patience in the face of difficulties, we need this paramita of joyous effort and perseverance. Joyous effort makes the previous paramitas increase and become even more powerful influences in our life. The essence of this paramita of joyous effort is the courage, energy, and endurance to continuously practice the Dharma and pursue the supreme goal of enlightenment for the highest good of all beings. From a feeling of deep compassion for the suffering of all sentient beings, we are urged to unfailing, persistent, and joyous effort. We use our body, speech, and mind to work ceaselessly and untiringly for the benefit of others, with no expectations for personal recognition or reward. We are always ready to serve others to the best of our ability. With joyous effort, devoted energy, and the power of sustained application, we practice the Dharma without getting sidetracked by anything or falling under the influence of laziness. Without developing Virya Paramita, we can become easily disillusioned and drop our practice when we meet with adverse conditions. The word virya means persistence and perseverance in the face of disillusionment, energetically striving to attain the supreme goal of enlightenment. When we cultivate this type of diligence and perseverance we have a strong and healthy mind. We practice with persistent effort and enthusiasm because we realize the tremendous value and benefit of our Dharma practice. Firmly establishing ourselves in this paramita, we also develop self-reliance, and this becomes one of our most prominent characteristics. With joyous effort and enthusiastic perseverance, we regard failure as simply another step toward success, danger as an inspiration for courage, and affliction as another opportunity to practice wisdom and compassion. To develop strength of character, self-reliance, and the next paramita of concentration, is not an easy achievement, thus we need enthusiastic perseverance on the path.

5) The Perfection of Concentration (Dhyana Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of concentration, meditation, contemplation, samadhi, mindfulness, mental stability. Our minds have the tendency to be very distracted and restless, always moving from one thought or feeling to another. Because of this, our awareness stays fixated in the ego, in the surface layers of the mind and emotions, and we just keep engaging in the same habitual patterns of behavior. The perfection of concentration means training our mind so that it does what we want it to. We stabilize our mind and emotions by practicing meditation, by being mindful and aware in everything we do. When we train the mind in this way, physical, emotional, and mental vacillations and restlessness are eliminated. We achieve focus, composure, and tranquility. This ability to concentrate and focus the mind brings clarity, equanimity, illumination. Concentration allows the deep insight needed to transform the habitual misperceptions and attachments that cause confusion and suffering. As we eliminate these misperceptions and attachments, we can directly experience the joy, compassion, and wisdom of our true nature. There is no attainment of wisdom and enlightenment without developing the mind through concentration and meditation. This development of concentration and one-pointedness requires perseverance. Thus the previous paramita of joyous effort and perseverance brings us to this paramita of concentration. In addition, when there is no practice of meditation and concentration, we cannot achieve the other paramitas, because their essence, which is the inner awareness that comes from meditation, is lacking. To attain wisdom, compassion, and enlightenment, it is essential that we develop the mind through concentration, meditation, and mindfulness.

6) The Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of transcendental wisdom, insight, and the perfection of understanding. The essence of this paramita is the supreme wisdom, the highest understanding that living beings can attain—beyond words and completely free from the limitation of mere ideas, concepts, or intellectual knowledge. Beyond the limited confines of intellectual and conceptual states of mind, we experience the awakened heart-mind of wisdom and compassion—prajna paramita. Prajna paramita is the supreme wisdom (prajna) that knows emptiness and the interconnectedness of all things. This flawless wisdom eliminates all false and distorted views of the absolute. We see the essential nature of reality with utmost clarity; our perception goes beyond the illusive and deceptive veils of material existence. With the perfection of wisdom, we develop the ability to recognize the truth behind the temporary display of all appearances. Prajna paramita is a result of contemplation, meditation, and rightly understanding the nature of reality. Ultimately, the full realization of prajna paramita is that we are not simply a separate self trying to do good. Rather, virtuously serving the welfare of all beings is simply a natural expression of the awakened heart. We realize that the one serving, the one being served, and the compassionate action of service, are all the same totality—there is no separate ego or self to be found in any of these. With this supreme wisdom, we go beyond acceptance and rejection, hope and fear, dualistic thoughts, and ego-clinging. We completely dissolve all these notions, realizing everything as a transparent display of the primordial truth. If our ego is attached even to the disciplines of these paramitas, this is incorrect perception and we are merely going from one extreme to another. In order to free ourselves from these extremes, we must release our ego attachment and dissolve all dualistic concepts with the insight of supreme wisdom. This wisdom transforms the other five paramitas into their transcendental state as well. Only the illumination of supreme wisdom makes this possible.




Once we feel content and peaceful, we can spread our loving kindness towards others:

May all beings be happy and secure;
May their hearts be wholesome.
Whatever living beings there may be,
Feeble or strong, tall, fat, or medium,
Short, small, or large, without exception,
Seen or unseen,
Those dwelling far or near,
Those who are born or who are to be born,
May all beings be happy.

(Metta Sutta)

In times of war
Give rise in yourself to the mind of compassion,
Helping living beings
Abandon the will to fight.
Wherever there is furious battle,
Use all your might
To keep both sides’ strength equal
And then step in to reconcile this conflict.

(Vimalakirti Sutra)



by Thich Nhat Hanh

Since the moon is full tonight,
let us call upon the stars in prayer.
The power of concentration,
seen through the bright, one-pointed mind,
is shaking the universe.

All living beings are present tonight
to witness the ocean of fear
flooding the Earth.

Upon the sound of the midnight bell,
everyone in the ten directions joins hands
and enters the meditation on Mahakaruna.

Compassion springs from the heart,
as pure, refreshing water,
healing the wounds of life.

From the highest peak of the Mind Mountain,
the blessed water streams down,
penetrating rice fields and orange groves.

The poisonous snake drinks
a drop of this nectar
from the tip of a blade of grass,
and the poison on its tongue vanishes.

Mara’s arrow’s
are transformed
into fragrant flowers.

The wondrous action of the healing water–
a mysterious transformation!
A child now holds the snake in her innocent arms.

Leaves are still green in the ancient garden.
The shimmering sunlight smiles on the snow,
and the sacred spring still flows toward the East.

On Avalokita’s willow branch,
or in my heart,
the healing water is the same.

Tonight all weapons
fall at our feet
and turn to dust.

One flower,
two flowers,
millions of little flowers
appear in the green fields.

The gate of deliverance opens
with a smile on the lips
of my innocent child.



Hinduisms and non-violence

Love, nonviolence, good conduct and the law of dharma defines the Hindu path. Hinduism explains that the soul reincarnates until all Karmas are resolved and God realization is attained.


Exploring Non-Injury as a Way to Achieve Harmony with Our Environment, Peace Between Peoples and Compassion Within Ourselves.

Many are the sources of Hindu thought which inspire men and women to live the ideals of compassion and nonviolence. The rishis who revealed the principles of dharma or divine law in Hindu scripture knew full well the potential for human suffering and the path which could avert it. To them a one spiritual power flowed in and through all things in this universe, animate and inanimate, conferring existence by its presence. To them life was a coherent process leading all souls without exception to enlightenment, and no violence could be carried to the higher reaches of that ascent.

These rishis were mystics whose revelation disclosed a cosmos in which all beings exist in interlaced dependence. The whole was contained in the part, and the part in the whole. Based on this cognition, they taught a philosophy of non-difference of self and other, asserting that in the final analysis we are not separate from the world and its manifest forms nor from the Divine which shines forth in all things and all peoples. From this understanding of oneness arose the philosophical basis for the practice of noninjury and Hinduism’s ancient commitment to it.

We all know that Hindus, who are one-sixth of the human race today, believe in the existence of God everywhere, as an all-pervasive, self-effulgent energy and consciousness. This basic belief creates the attitude of sublime tolerance and acceptance toward others. Even tolerance is insufficient to describe the compassion and reverence the Hindu holds for the intrinsic sacredness within all things. Therefore, the actions of all Hindus are rendered benign or ahimsa. One would not want to hurt something which one revered.

On the other hand, when the fundamentalists of any religion teach an unrelenting duality based on good and evil, man and nature or God and Devil, this creates friends and enemies. This belief is a sacrilege to Hindus because they know that the attitudes which are the by-product are totally dualistic, and for good to triumph over that which is alien or evil, it must kill out that which is considered to be evil.

The Hindu looks at nothing as intrinsically evil. To him the ground is sacred. The sky is sacred. The sun is sacred. His wife is a goddess. Her husband is a god. Their children are devas. Their home is a shrine. Life is a pilgrimage to mukti or liberation from rebirth, which once attained is the end to reincarnation in a physical body. When on a holy pilgrimage, one would not want to hurt anyone along the way, knowing full well the experiences on this path are of one’s own creation, though maybe acted out through others.

In Sanskrit himsa is doing harm or causing injury. The “a” placed before the word negates it. Very simply, ahimsa is abstaining from causing hurt or harm. It is gentleness and noninjury, whether physical, mental or emotional. It is good to know that nonviolence speaks only to the most extreme forms of wrongdoing, while ahimsa (which includes not killing) goes much deeper to prohibit the subtle abuse and the simple hurt.

In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, sage Vyasa defines ahimsa as “the absence of injuriousness (anabhidroha) toward all living beings (sarvabhuta) in all respects (sarvatha) and for all times (sarvada).” He noted that a person who draws near one engaged in the true practice of ahimsa would be freed from all enmity. Similarly, Patanjali (circa 100 ce) regards ahimsa as the yogi’s mahavrata, the great vow and foremost spiritual discipline which those seeking Truth must follow strictly and without fail. This was not meant merely to condemn killing, but extended to harm caused by one’s thoughts, words and deeds of all kinds–including injury to the natural environment. Even the intent to injure, even violence committed in a dream, is a violation of the principle of ahimsa.

Hinduism has no founder or specific teacher like Jainism, Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. Hinduism was a term that was framed only in recent history, and etymologically refers actually to the people who were met (by the Arabians and Greeks) when they reached the river Indus in what is now Pakistan. The term was not originally used for any specific religion. These people had many beliefs, and there were many interpretations of the oldest oral traditions and scriptures. In this sense even the Jains and the later Buddhists may be called Hindus. Until today there is no agreement as to where first: the Jains or the Hindus, or that both are branches or stems of the same tree, originally sprouting from the same seed.

There are two main ancient traditions in India: the śramanic and the Vedic. To the first tradition belong the Jains and the Buddhists; to the second what now are generally called Hindus. Śramana refers to “accomplishment through one’s own effort” without any other essential help than the guidance of the divinity within us. This is the way to omniscience or universal fundamental knowledge and enlightenment, i.e. liberation from all false ideas which the mind creates; Veda refers to the universal, esoteric knowledge which maintains the contact between the intelligent beings and forces of the universe, and the understanding of the workings and processes of the universe, and creation and evolution.

The Jains and the Buddhists, who have very much in common but also some important differences, reject the authority of the Veda’s, whereas the Hindus see these books as the source of their knowledge. Jains and Buddhists seek salvation or liberation from rebirth and death and suffering by means of noble mind and noble behavior. All regard their source of wisdom as eternal, as a precipitation of Truth as it is known by the Wise. Though written evidence exists only of the last few thousand years, all claim that the originally oral teachings are as old as thinking humankind. The teachings were not developed or invented or by human philosophers, but given to humankind by those great teachers who had superhuman knowledge – which they had gathered in former cycles of evolution, millions or billions of years ago.

The Veda, which means Knowledge, were originally given as one, but when humanity went down into more material cycles they were split into four, called the Rig-Veda, Yajur-veda, Sama-veda and Atharvaveda respectively. The Atharva-veda, a later addition written by a Brahmin named Atharva prescribes the many rituals which are still more or less performed by priest today, some of which can be witnessed at public functions like marriages or special festivities. Most Hindus have a special corner or alter in their houses and work places where they perform small rituals on a daily basis. The earlier three Veda’s were written, or rather told, by the rishis, the ancient wise seers who set philosophy and mental development in motion. But when the Vedas were written down, tales of more recent history were interwoven. Then there are commentaries known as Brahmanas and Āranyakas, and finally, the deepest and most esoteric conclusion, the Upanishads, which were received orally by pupils sitting at the feet of their masters, and later written down. In the same traditions 20 Puranas or “old books” were written in the Hindu tradition, which themselves claim equal importance as the Veda’s. The describe the processes of the birth of the cosmos, the elements and their properties in 7 or 9 phases, cosmology, geology and the races of subsequent rulers over periods far back before controllable history and they eulogize the gods. Then there is the epic literature, the gigantic books of war and heroism and Hindu ethics known as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

The śramana tradition of the Jains and the Buddhists does not care for rituals to establish an contact of humans with helpful gods. Even gods live in a subtle state of illusion and are as such not liberated from the cycle of necessity, i.e. birth and death. The Hindus know this also, but are more concerned with the right order of the world, but they know that the world is but a reflection or illusionary part of the Truth. But nevertheless our souls have to make our pilgrimage through that world, so that we, their reflection, ourselves become self-conscious and wise. God did not make the world without a reason. But the Jains pay no attention to creation and evolution – because the universe has always been – and in Buddhism these belong to the hidden teachings.

The central word of Jainism is ahimsa – non-violence: there is no religion higher than non-violence, they say; compassion is the central word for the Buddhism of the Great Vehicle. The central term for the Veda’s is yajÔa – sacrifice. YajÔa means the scientific fact that all that happens in the universe is a matter of change and interchange, giving and taking. An atom sacrifices itself to become part of a molecule, a seed sacrifices itself to become a plant, a young human sacrifices one stage of life for another, from babyhood to childhood to puberty to adulthood etc. Souls sacrifice the materials they have gathered around them as food for other beings: a continuous interchange of matter and energies. But more important is that any high mental activity is a sacrifice, it is food for the gods, especially if directed towards the wellbeing of all creatures.

I think that the rift between the śramanic and Vedic traditions is born from ignorance and mutual misunderstanding. There can be but one Truth, after all, but there are many human viewpoints about what this Truth might be. The Jains as well as the Hindus claim their origin in India, and Ṛṣabha, the first Jain Tīrthaṅkara did his religious practice on Mount Kailash, where he eventually attained enlightenment. The Brahmins are historically regarded as lighter colored intruding nomadic herdsmen from the North who chased the darker colored civic and sea-faring people of the Indus region away. But the origin of the divine knowledge or Vedas the Brahmins they claim was given to them at the most sacred lake of Mansarovar, situated at the base of above mentioned Mount Kailash. Still today this mountain is the holiest visible place on earth for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists alike.

Of course branches, though one in essence, grow in different directions. In course of time the Brahmins began to take yajÔa or sacrifice literally and physical, and elaborate rituals involving even animal sacrifice developed. Such rituals continue even today, though exceptionally. The Jains and Buddhists have strong objections against such practices.

The theme of the Jains and Buddhists is: thou shalt not kill, or otherwise harm any living being. The theme of Hinduism is: dharma: duty, which means to fulfill one’s task in the totality of the existing universe in the highest sense possible. The dharma of fire is to burn, of bees to pollinate flowers, and of humans to fulfill many tasks, and to be like gods and ultimately to become one with god Itself. And eventually, the dharma of warriors is to fight and kill the enemy. Here the Jains and Buddhists on the one hand and the Hindus seem to have reached an unbridgeable gap. How can it be someone’s duty to wage violent wars and to kill? What about the highest moral prescription of ahimsa, non-violence?

This problem was deeply discussed in an inserted section of the Mahābhārata epos, a dialog between god and man, now the core of Hinduism, and now one of the most widely translated and dispersed books of world literature. I refer, of course, to the Bhagavad-Gītā.

The Bhagavad-Gītā stands out shining above the rest of the many-volumed Mahābhārata which is by itself reckoned among the top of world literature. It is a discourse between the noble warrior and army chief Arjuna or the Pandava-clan, and God, here in the form as Krishna. The opposing armies are standing opposite each other on the field of Kurukshetra. Despite all earlier efforts made by Krishna to resolve the conflict nonviolently, a point is reached when war has become unavoidable. Krishna and Arjuna stand on the same chariot, and the fighting can begin every second. The opposing party consists of the Kauravas, the king of which is blind.

Now I will quote a number of verses from the first two chapters (of 18) of the Bhagavad-Gītā, and comment on them in relation to our question concerning non-violence versus duty.

I 24-40 44 – 47 (=end)

II 1-9 11-32  40-44 45 2nd half


I 24 –

Sañjaya said: “King, Krishna drew the fine chariot between the armies of both parties and stopped there, as Arjuna had asked him. (1:24)

I 26

Arjuna saw, arrayed in both armies were fathers and grandfathers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons and grandsons, comrades and friends, father-in-laws and teachers – all were there. (1:26)

We should realize that the Bhagavad-Gītā can be understood at different levels. The first is the worldly level, the exciting story of two armies ready to fight a war. This how most people read it.

The second level is social-political: two fundamental views of how to life valuable and noble lives that lead to final emancipation stand opposite each other.

The third level is symbolic. Symbolically it is the struggle which every individual man or woman, you and me, has to fight in his life to conquer illusions, and ultimately (after many lifetimes) to gain liberation or nirvāna, to know the unshakeable and eternal Truth.

The fourth level is esoteric. It can only be understood by those few who have proved worthy – by their genuine desire to gain real knowledge and their inner courage, and have been given the unwritten keys to a deeper understanding.

The first level, the military one, is why the Gītā is often criticized. It seems to spur people to war, and indeed soldiers are carrying the Gītā in their pocket while fighting. They use it to give themselves courage in their fear for pain and death. However as we shall see, Arjuna is already a person of the highest nobility, a kṣattriya, who would rather give up his life than to surrender his principles. He does not need this kind of mundane encouragement.

On the second level, which is interesting in relation to our present discussion, it is a discussion between the two basic principles of the śramanas who adhere to non-violence (ahi´sā), and the Hindus, for whom the fulfillment of duty (dharma) is the most important. I’ll come back to this in a few minutes.

On the symbolic level it has nothing to do with physical warfare and weaponry. It is the inner struggle which each of us will have to fight, our spiritual duty or dharma. The battlefield, Kurukshetra, is the body in which we live this life. That is why mundane existence exists: to learn to distinguish between what is universally True and what is untrue. Once one has decided that the only goal of life is to know Truth beyond illusion, we face the inner confrontation with our own illusions – to which one is much attached – and weaknesses like fear, egotism, and clinging to perishable things. That is why Arjuna sees in the opposing army: friends (i.e. things that agree with our style of life), teachers (who have taught us the things useful up to a certain point), and family members with whom he has been connected since ages (the bonds of mundane and social duties). All these are illusions which have to be conquered and left behind.

I 27-28

When Arjuna saw his friends and kinsmen in the ranks of two armies he was overwhelmed with deep pity (or softness) and said sadly: (1:27)

“Dear Krishna, when I see my friends and kinsmen ready to fight one another, all in such a fighting spirit, my limbs start shaking and my mouth is parched. (1:28)


Arjuna, seeing all this, is overcome by compassion for all living beings, friends and foes alike. In the coming versus he shows himself almost as a Jain or Buddhist. This is indeed the compassion as thought by Buddhism. It is the core of the Buddhist teaching. In one Buddhist text it says: Compassion is no attribute. It is the LAW of Laws – Eternal Harmony …; a shoreless universal essence, the light of everlasting Right, and fitness of all things, the law of love eternal (The Voice of the Silence, Blavatsky, H.P. translator and editor; Theosophical University Press, Pasadena CA, (1889) 1992.

See how Arjuna speaks about compassion and non-violence:

I 29 – 35

My body trembles, my hair stands on end. The bow Gandiva slips from my hand. My skin burns. (1:29)

I cannot hold myself steady. My head turns, I see bad omens. (1:30)

I do not see any good in killing my relatives in battle. I do not wish for an empire or any pleasure, nor do I want to win the battle. (1:30)

Govinda (Krishna), what avail to us is the empire, enjoyments, and life itself? (1:31)

What avail to us is all that when all those [As listed in verse 26] we may desire these things for, are arrayed here in battle, staking their wealth and lives? (1:32-34)

I would not kill them, Krishna, though they should kill me – not even for the sake of ruling over the three worlds* – how much less for this earth! (1:35)


Arjuna stands symbolically for the human mind, of which knowledge can only be partial. Krishna however stands for his higher Self, or Inner God, the Knower, which in reality speaks to our mind as a silent voice. The mind, Arjuna, even says that he does not need mastery over the earth or even the three worlds (earth, the astral and the heavenly world). He does not want to kill, least of all the sons of the blind king Dhâtarāshtra (material or physical wisdom without the eye of spiritual intuition).

I 36 – 40 –

Krishna (Janardana), what joy can we get by killing these sons of Dhritarasthra? Sin will overcome us if we kill these felons. (1:36)

Therefore we ought not to kill our kinsmen, the sons of Dhṛtaraṣṭra, for how could we be happy by killing our own kinsmen? (1:37)

Overtaken by greed, these men see no fault in killing one’s family or hostility to friends. Why, Krishna, should we, who see the sins involved, engage in these acts? (1:37-38)

With the decay of a family its right course [dharma] dwindles and disappears. Then the family will be involved in unrighteous deeds. (1:40)

I 44-47

Krishna, we have heard it told that those of ruined family traditions live in hell. (1:44)

Alas, we are resolved to commit very sinful acts, ready to slay our kinsmen to satisfy our greed for the pleasure of a kingdom! (1:45)

It would be far better for me to let the sons of Dṛtharaṣṭra kill me, unarmed and unresisting. (1:46)

Sañjaya said: “Arjuna, having thus spoken on the battlefield, cast aside his bow and arrows and sat down on his chariot-seat. His mind was overcome with grief. (1:47)


This is the end of the first chapter of the Bhagavad-Gītā, in which Arjuna defends the standpoint of compassion and non-violence. But what is compassion? Is it a sentiment, or is it a Universal Law of Helpfulness and Self-Sacrifice (i.e. action, yajña) for the good of all, for which our personal wishes and comforts are but petty illusions. Practicing impersonal Compassion without any self-interest always guides us into the direction of the Universal Goal of self-consciously becoming what we really are?

II 1-9

SaÔjaya said: “Seeing Arjuna overwhelmed with compassion and sorrow, eyes full of tears, Madhusudana (Krishna) said. (2:1)

The Lord said: Arjuna, in this crisis, from where comes such lowness of spirit? It is unbecoming to an Āryan, it is not honorable, and an obstacle to attaining heaven; not befitting at all. (2:2)

Do not yield to unmanliness, son of Pritha. It does not become you. Shake off this trivial faint-heartedness and arise, you scorcher of enemies. (2:3)

Arjuna said: “Krishna, how can I fight with arrows on the battlefield against men like Bisma and Drona, who are worthy of my worship? (2:4)

It would be better for me to live in this world on alms rather than to slay these high-souled teachers. It I kill them, what wealth and pleasures I would enjoy, would be tainted with their blood. (2:5)

We do not know which would be better – conquering them or being conquered by them. Arrayed against us stand the sons of Dṛtharaṣṭhra; after slaying them we should not wish to live. (2:6)

I feel shattered inside and am terribly confused about my right course. Therefore, please, tell me clearly what is best. I am your disciple. Instruct me, who have taken refuge in you. (2:7)

I see no means to drive away this grief which is drying up my senses. I will not be able to get rid of that sorrow, even if I should conquer and become the unrivalled and flourishing ruler on earth, and becoming lord over the gods in heaven.” (2:8)

Sanjay said: “Having spoken thus, Arjuna, chastiser of enemies, told Krishna, “Govinda, I will not fight,” and fell silent. (2:9)

Arjuna’s mind continues to argue with the inner voice (Krishna) and decides in verse II 9: “I will not fight.” But Krishna, who knows destiny, smiles, and starts talking now. And Arjuna listens to Krishna, his higher Self, who he regards as his guru. The Bhagavan (= Lord Krishna) then said:

II 11

The blessed Lord said: “While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead. (2:11)

We “normal,” apparently unwise, people mourn continuously over the dead or the living – at least if we have a heart. See the daily newspapers; and you feel it in yourself. But the mourning is only our pain; it does not help the one’s we mourn for.

Then the explanation becomes based in Krishna’s deep occult knowledge. He says:

II 12

Never was there a time when I didn’t exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. (2:12)


This signifies that the real Krishna or God, or jīva as the Jains call it, in a man or any creature had no beginning and will have no end. Our true essence is there all the time. If we know this consciously, we have become immortal. Arjuna, being a highly intelligent and a morally very sincere man, is ready to understand this. This is the beginning of his Path to Truth.

II 13-15

As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A self-realised soul is not bewildered by such a change. (2:13)

Son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed. (2:14)

Best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation. (2:15)

In the verses 13 to 15 explains how to rise above the concept of mortality, and to become immortal. It is to pay no attentions to things that are transient – which is equal to what Jainism teaches – which manifest themselves only temporarily. They are not real, and someone who knows better passes through sufferings as a student through an examination: the examination is not real compared to the knowledge one wants to gain, and the fear helps neither the examination nor the knowledge. Failures do not exist in the spiritual world, except if the mind imagines one. Therefore Krishna says somewhere further on in the Bhagavad-Gītā that Arjuna has already won. He can lose everything, even his life, which are all temporary phenomena, but his immortal Self can not get lost once his inner Vow is decided. Finally Arjuna’s mind will no longer torment him.

II 16

Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent there’s no endurance, and of the existent there’s no cessation. This seers have concluded by studying the nature of both. (2:16)

This is a difficult verse. It says that the unreal does not exist. That means that nothing what is perceived by the mind – which can but bring forth illusions – is real, including our body, our feelings, our mind itself, and our very existence. This is difficult to except. I do not exist. Suffering does not exist. Whatever I think that I am, whatever I think that is my character, or what I have, is but a temporary illusion creates by the mind – the Arjuna of the Gītā.

But, you may say: “I know that I am, I experience it, I see myself, I think, I feel, I am conscious, so I exist. This is of course true, relatively. All these forms are there, but only as we think they are. Due to the mind, which itself is not real, the unreal is a part of the real, but is not the real. The Real is immortal, it has ever been and will ever be, but the Real is Nothing, or Empty as the Buddhists say, for our mind, The mind, like the senses, is but a feeble instrument. Ultimately nobody wants to live in illusions with continuous false hopes and sufferings, so a wise mind, like Arjuna and every spiritual person, seeks the Truth.

II 17-18

Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. None is able to destroy the imperishable soul. (2:17)

Only the material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is subject to destruction. So, fight, descendant of Bharata. (2:18)

Here Arjuna is urged to fight all that which is not real. The unreal does not exist so its killing also does not exist, while the real can not be killed. So why not fight? We can not fight illusions with swords. We can only fight them with knowledge. Knowledge of course is fatal for illusions.

So why fight, if there is nothing real to fight? Arjuna, symbolizing our mind with its struggles, has to fight – this is his nature and his duty. The Gītā is a book on yoga, i.e. to reach conscious unification with one’s inner God. After the first two chapters the war plays no more role in the story. It deals with philosophy and yoga only. The setting of the story in the middle of the war is only introductory to the rest of the discussion between Krishna and Arjuna.

We can also see the Gītā in another worldly, but more universal context. As said, in the Mahābhārata, Krishna does everything he can in this function to prevent the war. But intelligence has to fight blindness. The Mahābhārata war is also a symbol of a transition of cycles, in Hinduism called yugas. An important transition (but not the most important in the earth’s history) happened 5110 years ago between Dvāpara yuga and Kali yuga, in which we find ourselves at present during 432,000 years. Something new is given to the world, and new souls are incarnating. The old has to make place for the new. The old can not always understand the young. But evolution goes on. That also, is why Krishna new destiny, and why the war was almost unavoidable.

II 19-22

He who thinks that the living entity is the slayer or that he is slain, does not understand. One who is in knowledge knows that the self slays not nor is slain. (2:19)

For the soul there is never birth or death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain. (2:20)

Partha, how can a person who knows that the soul is indestructible, unborn, eternal and immutable, kill anyone or cause anyone to kill? (2:21)

As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones. (2:22)

Here Krishna establishes the doctrine of reincarnation. The imperishable take son perishable bodies and personalities for a number of years.

II 23 – 25 –

The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind. (2:23)

This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same. (2:24)

It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body. (2:25)


II 26-27

If, however, you think that the soul is perpetually born and always dies still, you still have no reason to lament, mighty-armed. (2:26)

For one who has taken his birth, death if certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. So, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament. (2:27)

This verse seems to be a little but more down to earth. Even if you would (erroneously) regard the soul as subject to birth and death, there is no reason to mourn the death or the living, because it makes no difference to the soul – that which we eternally really are.

II 30

Descendant of Bharata, he who dwells in the body is eternal and can never be slain. Therefore you need not grieve for any creature. (2:30)

II 42-45

Men of small knowledge are very much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas, which recommend various fruitive activities for elevation to heavenly realms, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, they say that there is nothing more than this. (2:42-43)

In the minds of those who are too attached to sense enjoyment and material opulence, and who are bewildered by such things, the resolute determination of devotional service to the supreme lord does not take place. (2:44)

The Vedas mainly deal with the subject of the three modes of material nature. Rise above these modes, Arjuna. Be supernatural to all of them. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the self. (2:45)

With this the Jains would agree. Turning oneself away from worldly things and self-control is exactly what Jain and Buddhist monks do. In fact here Krishna, the incarnation of a Hindu good, rejects the authority of the Veda’s as it had become understood by the Brahmins even in his day: a selfish interpretation and hollow ritualism for personal gain on earth or in heaven. But this was not where the Vedas were meant for.


Krishna died 5110 years ago. During his life he had a cousin, Nemināth. Nemināth was a Jain, and according to Jain sources, Krishna had great respect for him. Once, so tell the Jains, Krishna complained to Nemināth, “Why can I never reach peace of mind, like you. Nemināth would have answered: What you do is now your duty. And he predicted that Krishna would become a Tīrthaṅkara in the next upward cycle. In other words, the now functioning part of Krishna himself had not yet reached the highest insight. In the Jain view, peace is always higher than war.

Much further on in this great epos of the Mahābhārata, after the war has been fought and Arjuna has won, there is another discourse between Krishna and Arjuna. And Krishna teaches: “Nonviolence towards all living beings is valued as the highest of all duties. It is the highest position, which is free from suffering and of holy character. The ancients, who saw the truth, call knowledge the highest happiness. Therefore pure knowledge frees a man from all sins.” And he adds “[what I told] was the same as I told you earlier [in the Bhagavad-Gītā], when the moment of the war had come.”

I think we may conclude that the Hindu view is best represented by saying that everyone should due his duty according to his character; everyone should do his utmost best to sustain the world without selfish and personal motivations, and serve the gods which in their high Knowledge know best how to guide the worldly cycle. But the highest duty which one can fulfill is non-violence.




Nārada is here, there, and everywhere; and yet, none of the Puranas gives the true characteristics of this great enemy of physical procreation. Whatever those characteristics may be in Hindu Esotericism, Nārada — who is called in Cis-Himalayan Occultism Pesh-Hun, the “Messenger,” or the Greek Angelos — is the sole confidant and the executor of the universal decrees of Karma and Adi-Budh: a kind of active and ever incarnating logos, who leads and guides human affairs from the beginning to the end of the Kalpa.

“Pesh-Hun” is a general not a special Hindu possession. He is the mysterious guiding intelligent power, which gives the impulse to, and regulates the impetus of cycles, Kalpas and universal events. He is Karma’s visible adjuster on a general scale; the inspirer and the leader of the greatest heroes of this Manvantara. In the exoteric works he is referred to by some very uncomplimentary names; such as “Kali-Karaka,” strife-maker, “Kapi-vaktra,” monkey-faced, and even “Pisuna,” the spy, though elsewhere he is called Deva-Brahma. — The Secret Doctrine, II, 48

Nārada as the Hindus call him, Pesh-Hun as the Tibetans call him, is in the world. That agent of destiny, whom Christians I suppose would call the agent of the vengeance of the Lord, is abroad in every land. His karmic work is proceeding: reaping in order that future crops may be sown. Terrible agent of what the Christians would call divine vengeance, and yet Nārada or Pesh-Hun is man’s greatest friend for the men who will recognize him. His work is not that of fate, it is that of destiny, which man himself weaves. If he is a disturber of man’s ways in order that the mandates of divine justice shall be carried out, he is also the bringer of peace, and the restorer of harmony. To use a beautiful Jewish phrase, it is, ultimately speaking, Nārada or Pesh-Hun who “will wipe away all tears.”

Who is Nārada, who is this Pesh-Hun? … What are the functions of Nārada? Typically those of carrying out karmic destiny. There you have a key to all his activities. What the lipikas [the karmic ‘scribes’] have “noted down” Nārada, as an individual agent or as an individuality … sees and is carried out. He is the agent of karmic destiny. The consequence is that, just because destiny to us humans is often so unpleasant due to our own faults and failings in the past, Nārada has been given very uncomplimentary titles by those who have seen his work in the world and in the world of men and who do not like it. When they do like it, when it is something that humans like, he is given very complimentary titles: the Benefactor, the Kindly Helper, the Warrior for Mankind, the bringer about of all the good things in destiny. But when as an impartial, impersonal agent of karmic destiny he brings about trouble on the human race, then he is given very uncomplimentary names, as for instance he is called Kali-Kara, the Strife-Producer, because in the course of human destiny it is his work to bring about war and peace.

So the functions of Nārada are to act as the agent of karma. How does he do this? Being a Dhyāni-Chohan he cannot come amongst us and work as a human being does, because he belongs to a much higher kingdom, among the very highest of the three Dhyāni-Chohanic kingdoms. He is an impersonal, impartial agent of destiny. His duty is to see that the world is protected, that karmic law, destiny, be carried out irrespective of consequences; for it is the only way to re-establish law, order, equilibrium, justice, and ultimate wisdom and peace. Otherwise there would be Nature piling up a vast accumulation of unexpended karma which sometime or in time might flood the human race and utterly destroy it

How does Nārada therefore work? Sometimes he overshadows men of the proper psychological, spiritual, intellectual, and even physical temperament and works through them. These men then are called … Men of Destiny. They may not in themselves be even good men, which is another reason why Nārada is often spoken of in uncomplimentary terms; but they may be good men, these Men of Destiny. But they are used as instruments and tools to carry out, to bring to pass, certain things that are lying in the womb of time and must come out, and there must be a guiding spiritual power to see that the performing of these events shall take place without the complete wrecking of mankind. This is Nārada’s work: a protector of mankind and also an avenger.

The Occidental for centuries has been trained in a religious and philosophical system which is since early medieval times so utterly contrary to the facts of Nature that we have lost touch with how the world is ruled and governed. It is governed by spiritual and highly intellectual powers. For instance our own globe is, globe D of our chain. Not a thing takes place by chance, by hap, by hazard or by fortuity. Everything that takes place on this globe or in the solar system or in the sun or in the galaxy takes place according to law; and it takes place according to law because the agents of law, the agents of karma, are there to hold it firm, to prevent as it were the earthquake or the tidal wave or the cyclone, from going crazy and destroying indiscriminately. Do you see what I am trying to say? Destiny is held firmly in the hands of the gods; or as the early Christians phrased it in their own phrasing, a phrasing which has lost sense today, the world is ruled by God Almighty through the hierarchy of angels, which is the theosophical teaching taught in the Christian form. These Angels carry out the decrees of destiny, and we have remnants in Christian teaching today of this old Theosophy of early Christianity, as for instance when they speak of the Angel of Death or the Angel of Destiny or the Angel of Disease — or turning to the New Testament, the Four Angels of the Apocalypse. You might ask what are they now? War, disease or pestilence, starvation, and death: you remember the Spanish writer, Ibaez, wrote a famous book The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Now it is Nārada who is in charge of these karmic productions of destiny. No wonder he is called Kali-Kara, the Strife-Producer. He does not produce it out of nothing, out of a diabolic wish to injure mankind. He is simply the agent of karmic destiny bringing about, for instance, the breaking up of old crystallized conditions which are becoming a spiritual opiate for mankind, or stopping things that are threatening to injure mankind. You see, a teaching like this also could be dangerous if it fell into the minds of irresponsible or weak men who would twist it to personal and selfish uses. Such men have no conception of the profundities and intricacies of theosophic truths, which are the archaic wisdom-religion of mankind.

… Nārada is not only the agent of karmic destiny but is mankind’s savior, the bringer about of man’s evolutionary progress, the bringer about of change tending upwards to nobler things, and likewise paradoxically enough the bringer about or restorer of spiritual and intellectual stability. Because there can be no stability when an accumulated reservoir of karma is waiting and threatening to burst the dam and cause devastation, destruction indiscriminately.

Take into your minds some of the consequences of these thoughts. They will make you charitable, less inclined to hate and misjudge other human beings. Take Napoleon for instance, or Julius Caesar or Alexander — three men who if you judge them in the balance of ordinary human justice are three evildoers because they were all upsetters, all destroyers of convention and of established things. But the world lived through them, and yet who were they? Average men, each one with a peculiar cast, psychological and other, which Nārada could work through to bring about the karmic changes. In other words Nārada is a kind of Śiva, destroyer and regenerator, but his destructions are always beneficial, he is always on the side of liberty, absolute justice to all irrespective of anything, and on the side of progress. If there is one thing that Nārada abhors, it is cruelty, cruelty of any kind, cruelty to friend or cruelty to foe. You immediately put yourself under the watchful eye of Nārada if you indulge in anything that is subhuman.

In passing, let me say that my reference to Alexander, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon, is not because I think these three men are patterns of human conduct, for I do not, very much to the contrary. But they are notable historical instances of men of destiny, who were used almost as pawns precisely because of their weaknesses and distorted strength to bring about noble things despite these men themselves.

It is a peculiar thing that if you will study the history of mankind you will find that the great plays of Nārada, the great activities of Nārada, are always accompanied by or followed very closely by a great manifestation of moral and religious life. The greatest religions are always established at the time of the greatest human turnovers. … Nārada prepares the ground, guides the loosening of karmic destiny, and as it were beckons with his hand to the gods of teaching to come in along the pathway he opens.

Let me point out another aspect. Suppose there were a great religion in the world which had lost the original inspiration, the theosophic inspiration of its Master, of its Founder, and it had become ecclesiastical and theological instead of continuing to be living and vital, a mighty and spiritually controlling power in the life of its followers. Suppose this religion — one of the noblest motors of human thought and conduct — had become mere formalism and rites, and there were even disputes whether the teaching of the Founder was really meant to be taken as we have received it. What does Nārada do? Nārada breaks that shell, releases the imprisoned spirit once again. Of course there is lots of trouble. Men on religious points are almost fanatic; you break up their crystallized beliefs, they can even become almost demons at times. But Nārada has a bigger work in view than the merely conventional feelings of numbers of these coryphaei and their millions of followers. Nārada in such instance works to release and restore to its pristine power and influence the imprisoned and perhaps forgotten spirit of the Founder. It may be done quickly in a crash, in a disaster. Or it may be done through years and years and years of slow expansion and breaking of the old shell. Nārada works in various ways always according to destiny and always in the kindest way that he can work, because he is a regenerator and a builder. That is the most important. Here you have an example. Religion had become a danger in a case like that. It had become a drug. People were going to sleep. The souls of men were so somnolent, so negative, as dominant factors in human life, that men actually were no longer truly ensouled by their souls. They were little more than bodies, blindly following merely conventional practices. But Nārada re-ensouls these men. Their souls awaken. They begin to think and to question. They want the spirit. They burst the shell; overthrow the forms. And we have a great religious revival or regeneration in a case like that.

But of course it is a painful process. The coryphaei don’t like it. Millions of their followers don’t like it. Their quiet, comfortable, smug beliefs are overthrown. They don’t know that they are exchanging old soiled clothing for the garments of life, of spirit, exchanging the body for the spirit. They have not realized it yet. It is only after Time, the magic agent, has softened the woes of adversity, of the bursting shell, and has brought even those who are hurt to see and to say: “Why, it is the very best thing to happen. Now we understand the Master’s teaching. Now religion has become a vital moving thing in my heart. It guides my life. It is something to believe in and to live by.” Do you see? The work of Nārada! But during that time, what did Nārada do? He was a Kali-Kara, Strife-Producer, he had to break the shell.

But … distinguish between the work of Nārada and evil men. Evil men may be used by Nārada for karmic purposes, and that is done constantly, just as Nārada will use good men. And be careful lest you set yourselves up as judges. But the distinction between the work of a bad man who is not guided by Nārada and Nārada’s work is this: that the bad man is always working for himself, egoistic selfishness, the root of all evil; whereas the work of Nārada, no matter what the channel, is always for the world, even though his human instruments imagine they are working for their own ends. We may not always see it but it is there. For instance, when Nārada smashes a great organization by regenerating it, the bursting of the shell and the tortures suffered by those involved is torture for them, and they think it is hell. But actually it is not, it is a salvation, and they grow to know it after a while; but the process is to them a hell. So we have to be very, very careful in judgment, very charitable and understanding.

Nārada’s functions therefore are so essentially spiritual and intellectual as well as psychic, that a preliminary study of the wisdom-religion is almost essential to prepare people to receive understandingly just who Nārada is and what his functions in the world are. The main point to grasp first is that our universe is governed by law and by order emanating from intelligent and spiritual sources, and consequently that everything that happens in that universe is within that sway of law and under the sway of that order, and in consequence there is no chance, which is to theosophists a word utterly devoid of all substantial meaning; and therefore that whatever happens has been caused — karma. The first thing this teaches us is to stop sitting in the judgment seat upon other men. It teaches us to stop arrogating to ourselves the all-capacity to condemn others. Judge not that ye be not judged. But keep it in mind that Nārada so works, call him an Angel of Destiny, an Archangel of Destiny, or a Dhyāni-Chohan whose work in the world is just that, guiding mankind and the other kingdoms too, guiding mankind’s steps through tribulation and suffering from their own folly, towards freedom and wisdom and love, with his immensely strong hand of the friend, upwards and onwards through suffering and pain, through joy and peace, through war and disturbance, through attainment and progress, upwards and onwards forever.


Lecture prepared for:

Department of Politics and Public administration

University of Madras

Chennai, 11 January 2008

by Rudi Jansma


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