Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term meaning: "to abstain from causing harm", "non-violence", "non-harming", "non-injury".
The ethical principle of not causing harm to any living being and absence of desire to harm any form of life.
Ahimsa applies not just to humans, but also to all animals, insects, plants, micro-organisms and all beings having life or life potential. It respects living beings as a unity, the belief that all living things are connected. Ahimsa implies compassion, kindness and love towards all living entities.
Ahimsa does not merely indicate the absence of the act of inflicting a physical injury, but also indicates absence of the desire to indulge in any form of violence (evil thoughts, hatred, unkind behavior, harsh words, etc.) Nonviolence in thought, word and deed.
Ahimsa is an important tenet in the religions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Ahimsa became influential in India after 600 BC, contributing to the spread of vegetarianism. In Mahayana Buddhism the principle is widely interpreted as requiring a vegetarian diet. In the Jain tradition lacto-vegetarianism or veganism is mandatory.
Ahimsa is the first of the Five Precepts of moral conduct (yamas). In Jainism, ahimsa is the standard by which all actions are judged and protection of life (abhayadanam), is the supreme charity that a person can make. Jains consider harsh words to be a form of violence, so they often keep a cloth to ritually cover their mouth, as a reminder not to allow violence in their speech.
The most famous proponent of ahimsa in modern times was Mohandas Gandhi. He used ahimsa as the basis of his satyagraha (truth struggle) movement to end British colonial rule in India. Gandhi's non-violent movement of passive resistance influenced other peace activists including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A thorough historical and philosophical study of ahimsa was instrumental in the shaping of Dr. Albert Schweitzer's principle of "Reverence for Life".
Ahimsa is a matter of principle or way of life and not rule. Principle leaves you freedom to act, a rule does not. Rule either breaks you, or you break the rule.
Ahimsa recognizes self-defense when necessary. Violence against an armed attacker is justified.
"Ahimsa Paramo Dharma - [Non-violence is the highest duty]."