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The significance of the Buddhist concept of Ahi sa

 

The significance of the Buddhist concept of Ahi sa

                          by  Kim Sun-keun

Capitalism in the Age of Globalization gives unlicensed freedom to the individual with regard to the acquisition and use of wealth and thus creates a superiority complex in man, making him feel that his individual ego is all in all. It thus isolates man from the world, from the nation, from society and even from the family. Capitalism, in exaggerating the theory of human rights makes the individual forget his moral duties and spiritual obligations. Thus Capitalism forgets that man as an integrated personality has an inner unity of spirit. Man is potentially free, spiritually divine, and morally sublime. But he is empirically limited, materially bound, and socially restricted. What the ethics of Buddhism points out is that the unity of spirit must be recognized, developed, practised and realized by following a spiritual discipline. This spiritual regeneration however, does not imply the suppression of the material progress achieved by man through science and technology, yet it certainly prohibits the misuse of scientific knowledge and the perversion of political ideologies.
The ethics of Buddhism arises from its metaphysics. The fundamental oneness of Reality leads to the Ahi s  of all. It is this realization of the oneness of the Buddha-nature in all that makes us love all. All human beings are the manifestations of one Reality. The acceptance of  Ahi s  is based on faith of the unity of the existence of the Spirit and the fellowships of all living things on earth. When the ultimate reality, and the Buddha-nature creates no barriers between man and man, then the denial of freedom and equality to all human beings is not only politically unjust but spiritually sinful. Buddha says, “There cannot be happiness for any of us until it is won for all.”It is this principle that is at the root of Buddha's inspiration for the crusade against the caste-system, untouchability, the rule of the Indian princes, the power of the priest craft, the power of capitalists, and the injustice meted out to women. The principal object in view is to the preserve human dignity and divinity. Therefore the application of  Ahi s  to the individual is getting near the truth or the Buddha-nature, who is the source of human-spirit. The goal of Ahi s  conduct is self purification on the one hand, and social well-being on the other. Ahi s  is the most important concept of Buddhist tradition. So I would like to examine the significance of the Buddhist concept of Ahi s . 
Buddhism is indeed known to be the religion which regards peace and non-violence as its cardinal virtues. The Buddha said, "Here is no other happiness greater than peace." The Buddha found around him cruelty and violence masquerading in the name of religion. The teaching of love and the practice of cruelty did not fit with each other. The Buddha wanted men to purify their hearts and give up violence; he propagated compassion and love. Thus Buddhism arose with its basic principles of well-being of all. It is natural to think that when Buddha thought of eliminating the sufferings of all, he had well wishes for all the beings. Therefore, the very idea of well-being of all gives rise to Ahi s . Thus the concept of Ahi s  can be defined as the sublime mental state of well-being of all irrespective of any considerations.
The Buddha revolutionized the concept of Ahi s  by his rational approach. He laid exclusive emphasis on purity of motive. The Buddha insisted upon the necessity of cleansing the mind of base instincts and impulses. He wanted men to be free from greed, anger and self-glorification. He enriched and elevated the concept of Ahi s  by making it the outcome of love and compassion. It became a positive virtue and not a negative attitude. Thus the Buddha reiterates the principle Ahi s  paramo dharmah in its deepest significance. The Buddhist preachings about maitr  and Karu  , (friendliness and compassion) have a universal appeal. The Dhammapada defines noblity as harmless to creatures. It recommends Ahi s  on the basis of self-analogy.
The terms Ahi s  and Avihi s  are only casually referred to in P li and Buddhist Sanskrit texts. Mett  or universal friendliness is of central ethical importance in P li Buddhism , whereas Karu   acquires this position in Sanskrit Buddhism. A Buddhist Sanskrit text even defines avihi s  as Karu   or compassion. We may say that both mett  and karu   imply Ahi s .
Sanskrit Buddhism emphasizes the positive social virtues. No one should suffer and everybody should be full of happiness(saukhya). Friendliness is that conduct which serves as an antidote to hatred(dvesa). or aversion(r ga). One may accumulate benefit by expanding friendliness first to beloved beings(priya-sattva), then to equals, acquaintances, strangers, neighbours, one's own village, another village, a whole region and to ten regions. Compassion embraces all sorrow-stricken beings and it eliminates cruelty. Ahi s  has also its positive counterpart. It demands not only abstention from injury but also the practice of loving-kindness, mett , to all. This shows that the practice of Ahi s  is not limited to human beings only but includes all living beings. When Ahi s  is practiced, one comes to know the true feeling of love and attains happiness, and the happiness in turn leads to Nibb na.
The path of Ahi s  advocated by Buddha rises above all artificial barriers of caste, creed, religion and nationality, and yet raises the dignity of man in all spheres of life. Thus the Buddhist concept of Ahi s  implies a world without economic, political or social disparities. The inherent goodness in human nature has to be provoked, and the only way to do it is to adopt the spiritual discipline, the code of non-violence, which automatically arouses love in man and brings about the victory of love over hatred, of truth over untruth. The path of Ahi s  is the path of spiritual discipline, which can be adopted by all individuals, all communities and all nations the world over. It is the last hope of the survival of human-kind in the dark and dismal hour of doubt and despondency. 

The writer is a professor in the Dept. of Indian philosophy

Kim Sun-keun  dgudp@dongguk.edu

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