01 August, 2021

The Warlike Bodhisattvas

Indian religions were all practically ambivalent vis-a-vis violence. Persecution existed, but widely spread state patronage kept bloodshed to a minimum.

Illustration by R. Prasad
The Warlike Bodhisattvas

A strong tradition of non-violence is one of the most striking features of ancient Indian religious history. Jainism and Buddhism, both of which were non-god-oriented and emphasised renunciation as the path to liberation, stress the importance of ahimsa. Non-violence also appears in the Brahmanical tradition, in association with the idea of the sannyasi and as one of the elements of samanya-dharma or sadharana-dharma, the dharma that applies to all, regardless of social class or gender. Within Hinduism, non-violence also came to be associated with Vaishnavism.

To what extent did religions centred on non-violence rem­ain true to their original principles in the long run? Are followers of ahimsa-oriented religions more non-violent or compassionate than others? To what extent did the ethics of non-violence have an impact in the political sphere, especially in the attitudes towards war?

Attitudes towards war

Jainism is the most non-violent of all ahimsa-oriented religions; members of the monastic community and laity are supposed to practice...

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