Ahimsa and the Vedas

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Thu Dec 23 17:35:40 CST 1999

On Mon, 20 Dec 1999, Vivek Anand Ganesan wrote:

> Hello all :
>     Pursuant to the very informative discussion on Vedic rituals,
> I have a few questions about the meaning and role of ahimsa.
> 1)  As I have been taught and led to believe, Ahimsa is an important
>     aspect of Vedic Dharma.  And Ahimsa, as understood today, is
>     strict vegitarianism coupled with ethical conduct practicising
>     non-injury.  I have often heard the quote, "Ahimso paramo dharma".
>     How can we reconcile this understanding of Ahimsa with Shrauta
>     rituals involving the slaughter of animals?

It is believed that the animals will go to heaven.  As animals have no
other means of going to heaven, from that viewpoint one is doing them a
favor.  Naturally this view came in for some ridicule.  In one Sanskrit
play (I forget which) a character asks if the sacrificial animals go to
Heaven than why doesn't the sacrificer offer up his own father!

BTW, from the Advaita point of view all kamya karma invovlves himsa.  Yes
it is better to "kill" flowers or akshata instead of some living thing but
even there you are adopting the view "I will destroy this thing in order
to create some favorable result."  And that is the heart of himsa.  So
only the karmayogi or the sannyasi can truly practice ahimsa.

> 2)  I remember reading in the bhakti archives a while ago, that even
a >     staunch Vaishnava as ShrI RamanujAcharya does not find fault with
>     vedic sacrifices that involve animal slaughter.  I believe that he
>     claims that the animals do not actually **feel** pain as they are
>     given to God.  In fact, they are supposedly "blessed".  What does
>     the SmArtha tradition believe?

Something similar as noted above.

> 3)  This question is based upon my personal observation and is very
>     specualtive.  If it is baseless, I would be grateful to list
> members
>     who correct me.  Is it not true that "ethical ahimsa" became
>     important only after the rise of Buddhism and Jainism?  It seems to
>     me that after the vehement objections raised by the Buddhists and
>     Jains with respect to animal slaughter in Vedic rituals, "Ahimsa"
>     became a main issue of Indian ethics.  Furthermore, the association
>     of vegetarianism with Ahimsa seems to be a Jain contribution, as
> the
>     Buddhists do eat meat.

I think there is definitely some truth to that.

>  Even, Gandhiji seems to have been
> influenced
>     by Jainism more than Hinduism in this regard.

He specifically mentions in his Autobiography the influence the 19th
century Jain layman saint Raichand (Rajachandra) had on him.  And in his
Gujarati environment, Jainism and Vaishnavism are very strongly entwined.

>  Later, during the
>     Bhakti era, many bhakti saints adopted vegetarianism ( which was an
>     attractive feature of Jainism, I suppose ). For instance, the tamil
>     word for vegetarian is literally "shaiva".  I think it is called
>     "vaishnava" up north.

I was at a Punjabi restaurant just a couple of weeks ago where the menu
called vegetarian food "Vaishnav. Bhojan"

> Is it possible that our present conception of
>     ethics and ahimsa is a result of these influences and does not
>     reflect the "original" conception of Ahimsa?

I think it is quite possible.  Here is an interesting quote from the
introduction to the Ramakrishna Mission edition of the Nyaya work

"Vishvanatha[1] also wrote another work called Mamsatattvaviveka--an
interesting treatise on Smrti.  The work was written as a result of a
controversy with the Pandits of Maharashtra with a view to vindicating the
custom of meat-eating amongst the Brahmins of North India.  The work has
been published by the Sarasvati Bhavana of Benares.  The author shows
vehemence in his advocacy of the custom which prevails particularly in
Bengal, and ridicules the South Indian Pandits, who deprecate meat-eating,
as the followers of Buddhist tenets."

So evidently you are not the only person to have thought along those

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

[1] Nyayapanchanana, the 17th century Bengali author of the  Bhashapariccheda

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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