Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah

Definition - What does Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah mean?

Ahimsa paramo dharmah is a Sanskrit phrase that is used to promote nonviolence. The phrase appears in the epic poem Mahabharata, but it is perhaps best known today because of its use by Mahatma Gandhi during his nonviolent activism efforts to win independence for India.

The phrase is typically translated as “nonviolence is the ultimate dharma.” Ahimsa means “nonviolence,” but it also refers to “doing no harm,” which can go beyond physical harm to include speaking ill of someone or writing something untrue about a person. Paramo means “ultimate” or “highest,” and dharma means “duty.”

Yogapedia explains Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah

Ahimsa is one of the yamas, or ethical guidelines, that comprise the first limb of Patanjali's eight limbs (eightfold path) of yoga, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras.

The phrase is part of a longer verse in the Mahabharata:

ahimsa paramo dharmaha,
dharma himsa tathiva cha

The second line is translated as “so too is violence in the service of dharma.” The full text suggests that while nonviolence is preferable, violence may be used to protect dharma when necessary.

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