Gandhi and Ahimsa

As many of our regular blog readers and Ethical Silk followers will know, we pride ourselves on using ethically produced silk. We’re very lucky to be associated with such a fantastic supplier in Ahimsa Silk. If you need a reminder about the fantastic work this company does, make sure you check out our previous blog post here. But what exactly does ahimsa mean? To tell you the truth, all I really knew is that ‘ahimsa silk’ was also known as ‘peace silk’. That’s why this week we’re going to delve deeper into the meaning of ahimsa and the man who has been long associated with this term, Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi is a well known and prominent historical figure, notorious for the part which he has played in the struggle for Indian independence. His beliefs in civil disobedience and peaceful non-co-operation led to a mass of devoted followers. He became a father figure, or Bapu, of the fledgling Indian nation. Not only that, but Gandhi is still associated with today’s non-violent and peaceful movements for change, long after his assassination in 1948. 

Ahimsa is usually translated as “non-violence,” but as we will see, its meaning goes far beyond that. Ahimsa is derived from Sanskrit, literally meaning “lacking any desire to kill,” which is perhaps the core value upon which Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist morality is established. For example, in the Manu Smriti, the great law book of Hinduism, it highlights that “Ahimsa paramo dharma” or ahimsa is the highest law. It is, as Gandhi puts it, the very essence of human nature. Many would argue that ahimsa should actually be translated into something like ‘the force unleashed when desire to harm is eradicated’. Of course, ‘non-violence’ is a much neater and direct phrase. 

One of Gandhi’s many well known quotes

One of Gandhi’s many well known quotes

So how does this all link back to Gandhi? Well it was Mahatma Gandhi who first theorized and adopted ahimsa teachings as part of his primary philosophy, Satyagraha. According to Stanley E. Jones “it is the greatest of all Gandhi’s contribution to the world” and the quintessential concept of Gandhism. Satyagraha is loosely translated as ‘devotion to truth’ and opposing untruth actively, but not violently. There exists three main precepts to this principle; Satya, Ahimsa and Tapasya. Satya means ‘truth, honesty and fairness’, while Tapasya encompasses ‘willing to self sacrifice’. These three pillars of Gandhism combine to what we know today as his ‘weapon’ in the fight for Indian sovereignty in the 1940’s – non-violent, civil disobedience.

Gandhi used the principle of ahimsa to defeat the British occupation and help free India. He encouraged his followers to adopt a stance of non-violent disobedience in order to disrupt the tyranny of British rule. Through various demonstrations and non-co-operative movements like the Dandi Salt March and the Quit India Movement, he influenced the Indian population into peaceful forms of resistance. Consequently, the Quit India Movement or trade embargo on the East India Company became the most forceful movement in history, crippling their trade and eventually leading to the sovereignty of India. Despite his best efforts, some violent clashes did occur in this tumultuous early period of India’s partition, especially between Muslims and Hindus. 

Dandi Salt March

Dandi Salt March

However, Gandhi’s teachings themselves have had much further reaching effects than the movement for Indian independence. They have been adopted for years by numerous other civil rights campaigners including Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Ahimsa and Gandhi can therefore be attributed with bringing about huge social, national and civil change around the globe in the last 50 years. Today, many point to how the principles of ahimsa can be undertaken by countries in dealing with many “internal and external crises”. Regardless, it is clear that Gandhi has left a lasting legacy on the world through his teachings and philosophies. 

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