A. NON-KILLING OF ANIMALS
Ahimsa is a comprehensive principle. We are helpless mortals caught in the conflagration
of Himsa. The saying that life lives on life has a deep meaning in it. Man
cannot for a moment live without consciously or unconsciously committing outward
Himsa. The very fact of his living— eating, drinking, and moving
about—necessarily involves some Himsa, destruction of life, be it ever so
minute. A votary of Ahimsa therefore remains true to his faith if the spring of
all his actions is compassion, if he shuns to the best of his ability the
destruction of the tiniest creature, tries to save it, and thus incessantly
strives to be free from the deadly coil of Himsa. He will be constantly growing
in self-restraint and compassion, but he can never become entirely free from outward Himsa.
Then again because underlying Ahimsa is the unity of all life, the error of one
cannot but affect all, and hence man cannot be wholly free from Himsa. So long
as he continues to be a social being, he cannot but participate in the Himsa
that the very existence of society involves.
Autobiography, 1948, pp. 427-29
Taking life may be a duty. Let us consider this position.
We do destroy as much life as we think is necessary for sustaining the body. Thus for
food we take life, vegetable and other, and for health we destroy mosquitoes and
the like by the use of disinfectants, etc. and we do not think that we are
guilty of irreligion in doing so.
This is as regards one's own self. But for the sake of others, i.e., for the benefit of
the species we kill carnivorous beasts. When lions and tigers pester their
villages, the villagers regard it as a duty to kill them or have them killed.
Even manslaughter may be necessary in certain cases. Suppose a man runs amuck and
goes furiously about sword in hand, and killing any one that comes his way, and
no one dares to capture him alive. Anyone who dispatches this lunatic will earn
the gratitude of the community and be regarded a benevolent man.
From the point of view of Ahimsa it is the plain duty of every one to kill such a man.
There is indeed one exception if it can be so called. The yogi who can
subdue the fury of this dangerous man may not kill him. But we are not here
dealing with beings who have almost reached perfection; we are considering the
duty of a society of ordinary erring human beings.
There may be a difference of opinion as regards the appositeness of my illustrations. But
if they are inadequate, others can be easily imagined. What they are meant to
show is that refraining from taking life can in no circumstances be an absolute duty.
The fact is that Ahimsa does not simply mean non-killing. Himsa means causing pain to or
killing any life out of anger, or from a selfish purpose, or with the intention
of injuring it. Refraining from so doing is Ahimsa.
The physician who prescribes bitter medicine causes you pain but does no Himsa. If
he fails to prescribe bitter medicine when it is necessary to do so, he fails in
his duty of Ahimsa. The surgeon who, from fear of causing pain to his patient,
hesitates to amputate a rotten limb is guilty of Himsa. He who refrains from
killing a murderer who is about to kill his ward (when he cannot prevent him
otherwise) earns no merit, but commits a sin, he practises no Ahimsa, but Himsa
out of a fatuous sense of Ahimsa.
Let us now examine the root of Ahimsa. It is uttermost selflessness. Selflessness
means complete freedom from a regard for one's body. When some sage observed man
killing numberless creatures, big and small, out of a regard for his own body,
he was shocked at his ignorance. He pitied him for thus forgetting the deathless
soul, encased within the perishable body, and for thinking of the ephemeral
physical pleasure in preference to the eternal bliss of the spirit. He there
from deduced the duty of complete self-effacement. He saw that if man desires to
realize himself, i.e. Truth, he could do so only by being completely detached
from the body, i.e. by making all other beings feel safe from him. That is the
way of Ahimsa.
A realization of this truth shows that the sin of Himsa consists not in merely
taking life, but in taking life for the sake of one's perishable body. All
destruction therefore involved in the process of eating, drinking, etc. is
selfish and therefore Himsa. But man regards it to be unavoidable and puts up
with it. But the destruction of bodies of tortured creatures being for their own
peace cannot be regarded as Himsa, or the unavoidable destruction caused for the
purpose of protecting one's wards cannot be regarded as Himsa.
This line of reasoning is liable to be most mischievously used. But that is not because
the reasoning is faulty, but because of the inherent frailty of man to catch at
whatever pretexts he can get to deceive himself to satisfy his selfishness or
egoism. But that danger may not excuse one from defining the true nature of
Ahimsa. Thus we arrive at the following result from foregoing:
- It is impossible to sustain one's body without the destruction of other bodies to some extent.
- All have to destroy some life
a) for sustaining their own bodies;
b) for protecting those under their care; or
c) sometimes for the sake of those whose life is taken.
- (a) and (b) in (2) mean - Himsa to a greater or lesser extent, (c) means no Himsa,
and is therefore Ahimsa. Himsa in (a) and (b) is unavoidable.
- A progressive Ahimsaist will therefore commit the Himsa contained in (a) and (b)
as little as possible only when it is unavoidable, and after full and mature
deliberation and having exhausted all remedies to avoid it.
Young India, 4-11-'26, pp. 384-85
To cause pain or wish ill to or to take the life of any living being out of anger or a
selfish intent is Himsa. On the other hand, after a calm and clear judgment to
kill or cause pain to a living being with a view to its spiritual or physical
benefit from a pure, selfless intent may be the purest form of Ahimsa. Each such
case must be judged individually and on its own merits. The final test as to its
violence or non-violence is after all the intent underlying the act.
Young India, 4-10-'28, p. 331
Whilst it is true that mental attitude is the crucial test of Ahimsa, it is not the sole
test. To kill any living being or things save for his or its own interest is
Himsa, however noble the motive may otherwise be. And a man who harbours
ill-will towards another is no less guilty of Himsa because for fear of society
or want [of opportunity he is unable to translate his ill-will into action. A
reference to both intent and deed is thus necessary in order finally to decide
whether a particular act or abstention can be classed as Ahimsa.
Young India, 18-10-'28 p. 352
I am painfully aware of the fact that my desire to continue life in the body involves
me in constant Himsa, that is why I am becoming growingly indifferent to this
physical body of mine. For instance, I know that in the act of respiration I
destroy innumerable invisible germs floating in the air. But I do not stop
breathing. The consumption of vegetables involves Himsa, but I find that I
cannot give them up. Again, there is Himsa in the use of antiseptics, yet I
cannot bring myself to discard the use of disinfectants like kerosene, etc. to
rid myself of the mosquito pest and the like. I suffer snakes to be killed in
the Ashram when it is impossible to catch and put them out of harm's way. I even
tolerate the use of the stick to drive the bullock in the Ashram. Thus there is
no end of Himsa which I directly and indirectly commit. And now I find myself
confronted with this monkey problem. Let me assure the reader that I am in no
hurry to take the extreme step of killing them. In fact, I am not sure that I
would at all be able finally to make up my mind to kill them. As it is, friends
are helping me with useful suggestions and the adoption of some of them may
solve the difficulty at least temporarily without our having to kill them. But I
cannot today promise that I shall never kill the monkeys even though they may
destroy all the crops in the Ashram. If as a result of this humble confession of
mine, friends choose to give me up as lost, I would be sorry, but nothing will
induce me to try to conceal my imperfections in the practice of Ahimsa, All I
claim for myself is that I am ceaselessly trying to understand the implications
of great ideals like Ahimsa and to practise them in thought, word and deed, and
that not without a certain measure of success as I think. But I know that I have
a long distance yet to cover in this direction.
Young India, 1-11-’28, p. 361
The rule of not killing venomous reptiles has been practised for the most part at Phoenix1,
Tolstoy Farm1 and Sabarmati.2 At each of these places we
had to settle on waste lands, we have had, however, no loss of life occasioned
by snakebite. I see, with the eye of faith, in this circumstance the hand of the
God of Mercy. Let no one cavil at this, saying that God can never be partial,
and that He has no time to meddle with the humdrum affairs of men. I have no
other language to express the fact of the matter, to describe this uniform
experience of mine. Human language can but imperfectly describe God's ways. I am
sensible of the fact that they are indescribable and inscrutable. But if mortal
man will dare to describe them, he has no better medium than his own
inarticulate speech. Even if it be a superstition to believe that complete
immunity from harm for twenty-five years in spite of a fairly regular practice
of non-killing is not a fortuitous accident but a grace of God, I should still
hug that superstition.
Autobiography, 1948, pp. 524-25
My Ahimsa is my own. I am not able to accept in its entirety the doctrine of non-killing
of animals. I have no feeling in me to save the life of those animals who devour
or cause hurt to man. I consider it wrong to help in the increase of their
progeny. Therefore, I will not feed ants, monkeys, or dogs. I will never
sacrifice a man's life in order to save theirs.
Thinking along these lines I have come to the conclusion that to do away with monkeys
where they have become a menace to the well-being of man is pardonable. Such
killing becomes a duty. The question may arise as to why this rule should not
also apply to human beings. It cannot because, however bad, they are as we are.
Unlike the animal, God has given man the faculty of reason.
Harijan, 5-5-'46, p. 123
To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should
be unwilling to take the life of lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold
that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man
from the cruelty of man.
Autobiography, 1948, p. 290
Rightly or wrongly it is a part of my religious conviction that man may not eat meat,
eggs, and the like. There should be a limit even to the means of keeping
ourselves alive. Even for life itself we may not do certain things.
Autobiography, 1948, pp. 302-03
I do not regard flesh-food as necessary for us at any stage and under any clime in which
it is possible for human beings ordinarily to live. I hold flesh-food to be
unsuited to our species. We err in copying the lower animal world if we are
superior to it. Experience teaches that animal food is unsuited to those who
would curb their passions.
But it is wrong to overestimate the importance of food in the formation of character or in
subjugating the flesh. Diet is a powerful factor not to be neglected. But to sum
up all religion in terms of diet, as is often done in India, is as wrong as it
is to disregard all restraint in regard to diet and to give full reins to one's
appetite. Vegetarianism is one of the priceless gifts of Hinduism. It may not be
lightly given up. It is necessary therefore to correct the error that
vegetarianism has made us weak in mind or body, or passive or inert in action.
The greatest Hindu reformers have been the activest in their generation and they
have invariably been vegetarians. Who could show greater activity than say
Shankara or Dayananda in their times ?
The choice of one's diet is not a thing to be based on faith. It is a matter for
everyone to reason out for himself. There has grown up especially in the West an
amount of literature on vegetarianism which any seeker after truth may study
with profit. Many eminent medical men have contributed to this literature. Here,
in India, we have not needed any encouragement for vegetarianism. For it has
been hitherto accepted as the most desirable and the most respectable thing.
Young India, 7-10-'26, p. 347
It should be remembered that mere Jivadaya (kindness to animals) does not enable us
to overcome the 'six deadly enemies' within us, namely lust, anger, greed,
infatuation, pride and falsehood. Give me the man who has completely conquered
self and is full of goodwill and love towards all and is ruled by the law of
love in all his actions, and I for one will offer him my respectful homage, even
though he be a meat-eater. On the other hand, the Jivadqya of a person
who is steeped in anger and lust but daily feeds the ants and insects and
refrains from killing has hardly anything in it to recommend itself. It is a
mechanical performance without any spiritual value. It may even be worse—a
hypocritical screen for hiding the corruption within.
Harijan, 15-9-'40, p. 285
'I cannot rebuild your body unless you take milk. If in addition you would take iron and
arsenic injections, I would guarantee fully to renovate your constitution.'
'You can give me the injections', I replied, 'but milk is a different question; I have a
vow against it.'
'What exactly is the nature of your vow ?' the doctor inquired.
I told him the whole history and the reasons behind my vow, how, since I had come to
know that the cow and the buffalo were subjected to the process of phooka,
I had conceived a strong disgust for milk. Moreover, I had always held that milk
is not the natural diet of man. I had therefore abjured its use altogether.
Kasturba was standing near my bed listening all the time to this conversation.
'But surely you cannot have any objection to goat's milk then,' she interposed.
The doctor too took up the strain 'If you will take goat's milk, it will be enough for me,' he said.
I succumbed. My intense eagerness to take up the Satyagraha fight had created in
me a strong desire to live, and so I contented myself with adhering to the
letter of my vow only, and sacrificed its spirit. For although I had only the
milk of the cow and the she-buffalo in mind when I took the vow, by natural
implication it covered the milk of all animals. Nor could it be right for me to
use milk at all, so long as I held that milk is not the natural diet of man. Yet
knowing all this I agreed to take goat's milk. The will to live proved stronger
than the devotion to truth, and for once the votary of truth compromised his
sacred ideal by his eagerness to take up the Satyagraha fight. The memory of
this action even now rankles in my breast and fills me with remorse, and I am
constantly thinking how to give up goat's milk. But I cannot yet free myself
from that subtlest of temptations, the desire to serve, which still holds me.
My experiments in dietetics are dear to me as a part of my researches in Ahimsa.
They give me recreation and joy. But my use of goat's milk today troubles me not
from the view-point of dietetic Ahimsa so much as from that of truth, being no
less than a breach of pledge. It seems to me that I understand the ideal of
truth better than that of Ahimsa, and my experience tells me that, if I let go
my hold of truth, I shall never be able to solve the riddle of Ahimsa. The ideal
of truth requires that vows taken should be fulfilled in the spirit as well as
in the letter. In the present case I killed the spirit—the soul of my vow— by
adhering to its outer form only, and that is what galls me. But in spite of this
clear knowledge I cannot see my way straight before me. In other words, perhaps,
I have not the courage to follow the straight course. Both at bottom mean one
and the same thing, for doubt is invariably the result of want or weakness of
faith. 'Lord, give me faith' is, therefore, my prayer day and night.
Autobiography, 1948, pp. 556-58
I abhor vivisection with my whole soul. I detest the unpardonable slaughter of innocent
life in the name of science and humanity so-called, and all the scientific
discoveries stained with innocent blood I count as of no consequence. If the
circulation of blood theory could not have been discovered without vivisection,
the human kind could well have done without it. And I see the day clearly
dawning when the honest scientist of the West will put limitations upon the
present methods of pursuing knowledge. Future measurements will take note not
merely of the human family but of all that lives, and even as we are slowly but
surely discovering that it is an error to suppose that Hindus can thrive upon
the degradation of a fifth of themselves or that peoples of the West can rise or
live upon the exploitation and degradation of the Eastern and African nations,
so shall we realize in the fullness of time that our domination over the lower
order of creation is not for their slaughter, but for their benefit equally with
ours. For I am as certain that they are endowed with a soul as that I am.
Young India, 17-12-'25, p. 440
Bowing to the Earth we learn or ought to learn to be humble even as the Earth is humble.
She supports the beings that tread upon her. She is therefore rightly the
consort of Vishnu. This conception, in my opinion, does no violence to truth. On
the contrary, it is beautiful and is wholly consistent with the idea that God is
everywhere. There is nothing inanimate for Him. We are of the Earth earthy. If
Earth is not, we are not. I feel nearer God by feeling Him through the Earth.
In bowing to the Earth, I at once realize my indebtedness to Him and if I am a
worthy child of that Mother, I shall at once reduce myself to dust and rejoice
in establishing kinship with not only the lowliest of human beings, but also
with the lowest forms of creation whose fate—reduction to dust—I have to share
with them. The lowest form of creation is just as imperishable as my soul is.
Bapu's Letters to Mira, 1949, pp. 147-48
 Ashrams founded by Gandhiji in South Africa.
 An Ashram founded by Gandhiji in Gujarat, India.