“Alas, how strange it is that we are preparing to commit greatly sinful acts, driven by the desire to enjoy royal happiness.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 1.44)
अहो बत महत् पापं
कर्तुं व्यवसिता वयम्
हन्तुं स्व-जनम् उद्यताः
aho bata mahat pāpaṁ
kartuṁ vyavasitā vayam
hantuṁ sva-janam udyatāḥ
“When someone is introduced to the principle of ahimsa, often times it is like a light bulb goes off. A full awakening, a large curtain opened, allowing entry into this other world. Rather than go along with what everyone around them is doing, as they have been doing for so long, now they can act differently.
“It is like they always had the inclination that something was not right, that there was no need for slaughterhouses and a systematic method of mass killing. It is just that they never had any backing, any support for their position.
“Then they hear from the authority of shastra about the need for respecting all forms of life, and everything clicks. Going vegetarian is easy; that is the first step. They move on to avoiding any kind of killing, such as with the flies in the home or the ants on the floor.
“If they have a fruit-bearing tree on the property, they are concerned with the use of pesticides. They would rather not kill unnecessarily, though they acknowledge the need to keep the fruits from getting spoiled.
“I guess that is the primary area of confusion. Is killing ever justified? Did not Arjuna raise some legitimate concerns in the beginning of Bhagavad-gita? He is not ready to kill others for the sake of control over a kingdom. How can we act in accordance with the principle of ahimsa, non-violence, if there is killing involved to achieve our objectives?”
Throughout the annals of history we come across one conflict after another. In the 20th century, they had to start adding roman numerals in front of the great wars, to name them, so frequent were they fought. Countries define their existence off boundaries, otherwise known as borders. Those boundaries came to be as a resolution to one conflict or another.
Shrimad Bhagavatam explains that one living entity is food for another. This pearl of wisdom from an ancient text would later be described as, “the food chain.” No one can survive without other forms of life; the living entities in this world are never truly self-sustaining.
फल्गूनि तत्र महतां
जीवो जीवस्य जीवनम्
phalgūni tatra mahatāṁ
jīvo jīvasya jīvanam
“Those who are devoid of hands are prey for those who have hands; those devoid of legs are prey for the four-legged. The weak are the subsistence of the strong, and the general rule holds that one living being is food for another.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.13.47)
Bearing these realities of life in mind, how could ahimsa ever be presented as a concept? Shri Krishna covers the principle in Bhagavad-gita in a positive way, but His ultimate recommendation to Arjuna is to forge ahead. Weakness at heart for a kshatriya in upholding the principles of righteousness, dharma, indicates lack of culture, anarya.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that killing for the purpose of sense gratification is never allowed. Simply because I want to satisfy my taste buds does not give me the right to interfere in the life of another being.
The argument may be made that the animal community offers no similar level of respect. The hawk swoops in and devours its prey. The lion kills and so does the bear. If you cut open a fish extracted from the sea, you will find so many tiny fish inside.
The idea is that discrimination is unique to the human experience. Dharma and karma do not apply to the animal community. They are living according to instinct, but the human being can apply intelligence in behavior for moving towards a more fruitful destination.
Arjuna’s killing was within dharma since he was protecting the innocent. It would have been sinful for him to drop the weapons and retreat to the forest, as he was suggesting. He was not in it for the personal comforts. He could live in a small hut, if necessary.
This means that the true spirit of ahimsa is respect for both God’s creatures and God’s laws. If man does not follow the rules laid down by the highest proprietor, they will surely suffer. This life is meant for fulfilling the purpose of pleasing the Supreme Lord, who never accepts something offered to Him that comes at the harm of innocent life or which violates the rules of propriety.
Ahimsa principle confusing,
How proper behavior choosing.
So that dharma’s way not losing,
Like Arjuna for quitting musing.
Idea that all life to respect,
But innocent also to protect.
Where violence sometimes needed,
Best on Krishna’s approval proceeded.