Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 48  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 42-46

Ahiṃsā: An analytical study on the basis of commentaries of Yoga Sūtra


Philosophico-Literary Research Department, Kaivalyadhama, Lonavla, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication19-Jan-2017

Correspondence Address:
Bandita Satapathy
Philosophico-Literary Research Department, Kaivalyadhama, Lonavla, Pune, Maharashtra
India
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DOI: 10.4103/0044-0507.198706

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  Abstract 

Background: Ahiṃsā is a word formed by adding the negative prefix“a” to the word hisā, a derivative from the root“his” meaning“to harm” and“to injure.” Accordingly, Ahiṃsā carries the meaning of nonkilling. The most evolved concept of Ahiṃsā can be traced out in the Pātañjala Yoga Sūtras.
Aim: The aim of the paper is to make a comparative study of multiple commentaries on Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra and to bring out the import of the concept of Ahiṃsā.
Method: The concept of Ahiṃsā has been studied through the identification of commentaries. As well, a comparative and analytical study has been done using primary sources.
Results: The study of various commentaries leads to the conclusion that most of the commentators have a common observation regarding the nature of Ahiṃsā, essentially necessary for yoga seekers.
Conclusion: The comparative studies of commentaries of Pātañjala Yoga Sūtra bring out the essence of Ahiṃsā most objectively.

Keywords: Etymology, ghāta, hiṃsā, vikalpa, vṛttināśa


How to cite this article:
Satapathy B. Ahiṃsā: An analytical study on the basis of commentaries of Yoga Sūtra. Yoga Mimamsa 2016;48:42-6

How to cite this URL:
Satapathy B. Ahiṃsā: An analytical study on the basis of commentaries of Yoga Sūtra. Yoga Mimamsa [serial online] 2016 [cited 2019 Jun 17];48:42-6. Available from: http://www.ym-kdham.in/text.asp?2016/48/1/42/198706


  Introduction Top


The precepts are our protectors as they protect us as well as other beings. If we wish to live in peace with each other and with four worlds (mineral, plant, animal, and human) of the Mother Earth, we need to dedicate ourselves to the path of nonviolence toward all. We see ourselves in every being. Lord Krishna beautifully puts it as:“He is the true seer, who sees me everywhere and everything in me.” As a matter of fact, this is an indirect reference of practicing nonviolence. We have innumerable references in Hindu tradition for which no proof is warranted. The seer of Iśāvāsyopaniad says:

Om. All this - whatsoever moves on the earth should be covered by the Lord. Protect (yourself) through that detachment. Do not covet anybody's wealth.

Īśāvāsyaidasarvayatkiñca jagatyānajagat (Gambhirananda, 2013).

Also the Lord in Gītā speaks in similar words:

Īśvarasarvabhūtānāhdeśrjunatiṣṭati (Sāstri, 1977).

The Lord abides in the hearts of all beings, O Arjuna, causing them to turn round by his power as if they were mounted on a machine.

In the backdrop of this small introduction, it is proposed to present an analysis of the concept of Ahiṃsā in the light of Patañjali and the texts belonging to his tradition. The researcher reviewed various commentaries related to the present topic. In fact, there are several studies related to the concept of Ahiṃsā which, according to Patañjali, is a universal vow to be practiced by every human. But the word Ahiṃsā has different connotations. Different commentators and scholars have interpreted it in various ways. The paper aims at making a plethora of interpretations on the concept of Ahiṃsā through an extensive study of various related commentaries.


  Method Top


For interpretation of Ahiṃsā, the present researcher identified 18 commentaries on Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra and has made an effort to understand the philosophy of Ahiṃsā as illustrated by Patañjali.


  Results Top


The study of the commentaries of Pātañjala Yoga Sūtra with reference to the concept of Ahiṃsā reveals the following facts:

  • Ahitsw is a universal vow to be taken up by all aspirants of yoga irrespective of traditions and opinions
  • There is a harmony in the train of thoughts of the commentators with negligible differences
  • It is an external discipline which is to be observed to make oneself eligible for the practice of yoga
  • This personal observance of nonviolence enables an individual to get beyond the narrow boundaries of social, racial, and religious obsessions.



  Discussion Top


There are quite many researches, already conducted on this topic. The present paper, however, is exclusively based on the concept expounded by Patañjali and its commentators. Eighteen commentaries on Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra have been consulted so as to understand the philosophy of Ahiṃsā, through the eyes of its commentators.

The commentators consulted are:

Vyāsa Bhāsya (500 AD) (Sāstri, 1932); Bhāsya Vivaraṇam: Śaṅkara-Bhagavatpāda (700 AD) (Sāstri & Sāstri, 1952); Tattva Vaishāradī: Vācaspati Mishra (850 AD) (Sāstri, 1935d); Rājamārtana Vritti by Bhoja (11th century) (Sāstri, 1939b); Yogavārttika of Vijñānabhiku (1550 – 1600 AD) (Rukmani, 1983); Pradīpikā by Bhāvāgaeśa (17th century) (Sāstri, 1982e); Nāgoji Bhaṭṭa Vtti: Nāgoji Bhaṭṭa (1700 AD)(Sāstri, 1982b); Yoga Siddhānta Candrikā by Swāmi Nārāyana Tirtha (17th century) (Sāstri, 1935f); Sūtrartha Bodhini: Swāmi Nārāyanatrirtha (18th century) (Bhatta, 1911); Maniprabhā: Rāmānanda Saraswatī (18th century) (Sāstri, 1982c); Pada Candrikā: Anantadeva (19th century) (Sāstri, 1927); Yoga Sudhākara b y Sadāśivendra Saraswati (19th century) (Sāstri, 1982a); YogadarśanaKiraa Tīkā of Śrīkṛṣṇavallabhācārya (1933 AD) (Sāstri, 1939c); Yoga Kārikā: Hariharānanda Āraya (20th century) (Sāstri, 1935c); Bhāsvatī of Hariharānanda Āraya (20th century) (Sāstri, 1935a); Yoga Pradīpikā Vtti by Pandit Baladeva Mishra (20th century) (Sāstri, 1931); Pātañjala Rahasyam by Rāghavānanda Saraswatī (20th century) (Sāstri, 1935b); Saralāṭṭīkā (20th century) (Sāstri, 1935c).

The paper is further developed and organized under the following headings:

meaning, definitions, and benefits of mastering Ahiṃsā.

Meaning of Ahiṃsā

Ahiṃsā is a word formed by adding the negative prefix“a” to the word hi, a derivative from the root“his” meaning“to harm” and“to injure” (Apte, 1924). Accordingly, Ahiṃsā carries the meaning of not harming and not injuring. According to Unto Tahtinen, etymologically, Ahiṃsā is composed of three elements: a (not), his (verb to kill or injure), and ā (nominal suffix), so the first meaning is often thought to be nonkilling of living beings. However, at an early stage of history, it also meant to refrain from inflicting physical injury, which can, in extreme cases, result in death. Hence, its original meaning is more general than nonkilling because hi does not necessarily involve the death of a sentient being. The etymological meaning is not injuring to the“vitality” of a living being. In this connection, it is relevant to understand the meaning of hi, the absence of which is Ahiṃsā.

According to the Jābāladarśana Upaniad, real hi is hi committed physically (kāyena), mentally (manasā), or vocally (vācā).

The above references demonstrate that the term hi has been used in various meanings. It is not difficult to conclude what they all speak seems too simple. To them, the only type of injury is hi proper, which is against the Vedic injunction.

Śabdakalpadruma, a modern standard Sanskrit dictionary, which has orthodox leanings, describes hi as beating (ghāta), stealing (cauryya), tying up (bandhana), destruction of livelihood (vtti-nāśa), intimidation (trāsa), and killing (vadha). But, if one kills a being who intends to kill, there is no sin (dośa).

Patañjali has devoted six sūtras (II.30–II.35) to explain Ahiṃsā, out of which only three are directly related. For example, the first sūtra II.30 only mentions Ahiṃsā as a Yama along with other four Yamas, whereas the last one, i.e., II.35 talks of the benefits.

Critical comments

We have quoted some 14 definitions of Ahiṃsā from different commentaries starting from Vyāsa Bhāya (5th century) to Pātañjala Rahasyam (20th century).

A critical examination of these definitions suggests that they are essentially similar and do not vary much from one another. Still, one can classify them into three broad groups on the basis of their focus or emphasis on their particular aspect and understanding of himsā.

The principal aspects on which they can be classified are: positive and negative.

  1. Absence based or negative based
  2. Suffering based/ill will based
  3. Causing to death based.


The definitions II, VI, VIII, X, and XIV belong to the first group. Here, the Ahiṃsā is defined as the absence of hi. It is also defined as the avoidance of anything which is the cause of suffering (Prāidukhasādhanavyāpāro).

The second group includes definitions I, III, IV, V, IX, X. XI, XII, and XIII.

Here, in this group, the suffering of living creatures and its avoidance is treated as Ahiṃsā.

The third and the last group is based on the concept of killing or taking one's life as hi and avoiding the same as Ahimsā. The definition VII comes under this group. This is also the Vedic concept of Ahiṃsā. Here, hi is equated with killing or taking somebody's life and to avoid that is Ahisā. All the authorities accept this as qualified by at all time, at all circumstance, toward all living creatures (Sarvathā sarvadā sarvabhūtānāma). Bhaswatikāra makes it clearer to include all – those who move and those who do not (sthāvara - jagamādi - sarva). Let us now discuss the types of Ahiṃsā vis-a-vis hi.

Benefits of mastering Ahiṃsā

  1. Ahiṃsā pratiāingāra śāśvatikavidvehanavyāp sarpanakulādīnāa tasya ahiyanakulā sannidhou vairatyāgo – (Sāstri & Sāstri, 1952) Meaning: With the establishment of harmlessness, when it is firm and clear of contrary ideas, in the presence of such a person, an enmity is abandoned; in the presence of the one that follows harmlessness, even natural enemies such as snake and mongoose give up their antagonism
  2. Ahiago prationismss tatsannidhou vairatyāgao śāśvatikavirodhā api aśvamahiavirodhānavyāpāromentsigned'pi bhagavatav prativatavirodhānav sannidhānāttaccittānukārime vairidhānāttaccittā – (Gupta, 1911) Meaning: The enmity, which is naturally prevalent among the eternal enemies such as horse and buffalo, cat and mouse, snake and mongoose, should be given up
  3. Tasyāhisāā bhāvayataā saāvayata sahajavirodhināmapyahinakulādīnān vairatyāgo nirmatsaratayā'vasdhānar bhavati – (Sāstri, 1939c) Meaning: Contemplating on nonviolence, one should give up the enmity, as observed between snake and mongoose, which are generally hostile to each other, and should reside without detriment
  4. Sarvaprāttingā'vasdhānaakulā nāmanyonyavairatyāgo bhavatītyarthaa – (Rukmani, 1983) Meaning: When established in Ahiabl, the mutual enmity among all the living beings, as existing between cat and mouse, etc., should come to an end
  5. Tatsadnghedthaatyā mārjāramūedthaatyāgoānaakulād vairatyāgaityarthag – (Sāstri, 1982b) Meaning: Being established in Ahiabl, one should give up the enmity like the mutual hostility between cat and mouse
  6. Uktapratipakyarthagoānaakktapratipa sati tatsnnidhou ahisnni bhāvayatao samīpe vairatyāga. Sahajavirodhināmahinakulādīnāmapi nirmatsaratayā'vasthitirbhavatītyartha (Sāstri, 1982e) Meaning: Being fixed in Ahiedn and with the associated thoughts of Ahiugh, one can give up all enmities. This suggests the peaceful co-existence between snake and mongoose, etc., who arecommonly opposed to one another
  7. Tasyāhiasy bhāvayatas saāvayata sahajavirodhināmapyahikulādīnāvairatyāgal –(Sāstri, 1927) Meaning: Being established in Ahiabl, one should give up the mutual enmity which is observed in snake and mongoose
  8. Ahigoosestheirye sati ahihiiir yoginasannidhisthād śāśvatikavirodhā apyaśvadvaya - mahiahiśva - mūhiśvaārjāra – nakulā'hiprabhipra'pi yoginaścitānukārihi nirvairā bhavanti – (Sāstri, 1939c) Meaning: The Citta of the yogi who is established in Ahiabl becomes free from all enmities as found between horse and buffalo, cat and mouse, and snake and mongoose
  9. Pratithitāhihitāh yogino bhagavatae sannidhou tatsannidhānāttaccittānukāriat jantavai śāśvatikavirodhā api aśvamahiś - mūvamahiirodhātaccittānuk vairaa parityajantīti – (Sāstri, 1935c) Meaning: A yogi, established in Ahiabl, being in divine association, gives up the enmity as found among horse and buffalo, cat and mouse, snake and mongoose, etc., who are perpetually hostile to one another.


Comments

When one is established in nonviolence, there is abandoning of enmity in his/her vicinity. When the practice of nonviolence is perfected, it gets firm roots in one's consciousness, as a consequence of which even the eternal natural enmity that is seen among the animals, for example, snake and mongoose or cat and mouse, etc., is given up. Also, there is a transformation among the animals when they happen to come in the vicinity of a yogi who has perfected the practice of nonviolence. The benefits recorded should be understood as persuasive and not literal.

This serves, especially for the sādhaka, as an indication as to what extent he/she has to perfect the practice of Yamas, etc., states Yoga Kārikā (Sāstri, 1935e).

Exceptions

Patañjali uses it in the sense of unconditional and universally applicable vow of the yogi, which is complete in the sense that it is unqualified by caste, place, time, or urgent necessity. It makes no room for any exception to commit any act of hi under any circumstance.

However, we have noticed some cases where even hi is treated as Ahiṃsā. This may be termed as exception to Ahimsā. Vijñānabhiku explicitly records the exception where Ahiṃsā is not treated as hi.

Āśramavihitanityakarmāvirodheneti viśeaīyā, śoucādiu kudrajantuhisāyā aparihāryatvāt. Ata eva yogināprāāyāmādikatatpāpalakālanāya nityatayā śāstre vihitamiti.

This is to be qualified by the expression“by not opposing the daily duties assigned to the āśramas” because it is not possible to avoid injury to tiny living things during the process of cleansing, etc (of oneself). Therefore, prāāyāma alone has been mentioned as a daily rite for the yogis in the śāstras, to get rid of that sin. Nāgojibhatta also records the same as exception.

Śoucācamanādāvaparihāryahisāyātu na doa (Sāstri, 1982b).

Ahiṃsā is not condemnable if one is established in cleanliness, etc.


  Conclusion Top


The most developed state of Ahiṃsā in recent Hinduism can be traced out in the Pātañjala Yoga Sūtras. As has already been seen, Patañjali's period is much later than that of Buddha or Mahāvīra. His time is supposed to be 4th or 5th century of our era; it cannot, therefore, be supposed that he remained uninfluenced by the Buddhist and the Jain thoughts. The concept of Ahiṃsā, as the first Yama in eight yogāgas of Patañjali, has a close agreement with the Buddhist and the Jain conceptions of Ahiṃsā.

For Patañjali, Ahiṃsā is not subordinate to anything or even to yajñas, but everything else is subordinate to Ahiṃsā. Ahiṃsā means abstin­ence of oppression in every way and at all times. Nevertheless, all other abstentions and observances are rooted in it. Patañjali calls this abstinence the Great Vow (mahāvrata). Patañjali uses it in a somewhat similar sense of unconditional and universally applicable vow of the yogis, complete in the sense that it is unqualified by caste, place, time, or urgent necessity, i.e., it makes no room for any exception to commit any act of hi under any circumstance. It is not qualified with respect to caste, as for example, a fisherman's act should be inflicted upon fish alone and none else. The same (harmlessness) is limited by place too:“I will not kill in a sacred place.” Also, with respect to time too, when one says,“I shall not kill on the 14th of a fortnight or on a sacred day.“

As in the commentary of Vyāsa in Yoga Sūtra Patañjali, we are told that human is the highest being in this world. Hindu scriptures assert that if the“go” (cow or any animal) in Vedic sacrifice dies for the sake of the Gods, it will enjoy a higher life in the next world. The sacrificing person will also be benefited by the propitiated Gods. Vyāsa acknowledges that circumstantial exigencies might preclude the total practice of Ahiṃsā. He gives, as examples, several cases in which one may be exempted from the practice of Ahimsā. The first is that of the fisherman who only injures fish for his own survival. The second is the vow to abstain from killing in a special place only. Another case is the observance of harmlessness, exclusively on particular days. In another hypothetical situation, an act of violence could be approved because it is committed for the Gods or for a Brahman. Or, like a fisherman, a warrior can justify violence as being necessitated by his profession.

Hindu scriptures and law books support the use of violence in self-defense against an armed attacker. They make it clear that criminals are not protected by the rule of Ahiṃsā. They have no misgivings about the death penalty; their position is that of evildoer, who deserve death and should be killed. Also, that a king, in particular, is obliged to punish criminals and should not hesitate to kill them, even if they happen to be his/her own brothers and sons.

Śabdakalpadruma interprets hi as beating (ghāta), stealing (cauryya), tying up (bandhana), destruction of livelihood (vtti-nāśa), intimidation (trāsa), and killing (vadha). But, if one kills a being who intends to kill, there is no sin (dośa) and thus this will include all Yamas in it and would be the widest interpretation of the term.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.[22]

 
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