Ahimsa And The Non-Counterpoint Of Contextually Mandated Violence

[Author’s note: This turned up from my writings upon this date in 2018 – given the present series we’re running, it seemed a useful thought to re-publicize here]

I have previously, from time to time, written about the Hindu principle of ‘Ahimsa’ – often (directly) translated as “non-harm” or “non-violence” … and often rather egregiously misunderstood as “pacifism”.

To cut a long story (in this case, the Mahabharat … and a few others) short, this is not the case. (to quote myself on the subject: “Ahimsa doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to kill them … it means you’re supposed to give them an opportunity to surrender first” – there’s rather more to it than that, of course, but that nevertheless illustrates handily the principle)

Now, in the course of my readings, I happened across this furtherance of the characteristics of the doctrine contained in the Brahmanda Purana.

I shall not go into detail here about the context for the utterance – except to state that it is voiced in the context of a moral debate about a (potential) killing which does not eventually occur. Yet which is nevertheless presented as the *correct* moral statement, superseding other considerations previously presented:

“in case many flourish happily when a single person is killed, there is neither major nor minor sin in the act of his killing”

Now as I have said, this is not the proverbial “last word” on this matter. It is inarguably the case that any issue of morality and legal metaphysics pertaining to such a matter is going to be … complex. And I would contend that the Decapitation of Brahma by Bhairava is a demonstration of just such a ‘balance’ of competing considerations in train [for a more detailed discussion of which, consult my writings elsewhere – suffice to say that while it was an act of Brahmanicide .. it was a *necessary* one; albeit still one evidently requiring the appropriate penance, even so. “Balance”, as they say, “all the way down”.]

I simply present the maxim to add further depth and contour to the popular understandings of this Ahimsa doctrine. For I am slightly impatient with the insistence one continually encounters that it’s some sort of neo-hippy “no violence” diktat-or-dogma.

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