Buddha attached great importance to Ahimsa. He considered it the foremost Dharma (duty). ‘Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah’, declared Buddha. What does Ahimsa signify? It is not merely refraining from causing harm or injury to others. It implies also refraining from causing harm to oneself. One who harms oneself cannot avoid harming others. Whoever desires to observe Ahimsa must see that he does not do violence to himself. How is this to be ensured? By constantly examining whether one’s conduct is right or wrong. For instance, in the matter of speech, one must examine whether one’s words are causing pain to others or not. One must see that one’s looks are not tainted by evil intentions or thoughts. One should not listen to evil talk. All these cause harm to the individual.
Hence, everyone should see that one gives no room for bad looks, bad hearing, bad speech, bad thoughts and bad actions. How does one determine what is bad? By consulting one’s conscience. Whenever one acts against the diktats of one’s conscience, bad results follow. The conscience is the form of the Divine within everyone. Whatever you do, the conscience tells you whether it is right or wrong. However, to ascertain the directive of the conscience you have to wait for some time. You should not be in a hurry. When you want to say something, you must consider for a moment whether it would be proper or not and then speak. When you want to listen to something, you must examine whether it is good or bad to listen and then decide what is proper.
You should be careful not only with regard to how you react to the five elements, but also with regard to your food. Excessive eating does violence to the body. Moderation in food is conducive to happiness. Ahimsa (non-violence) is thus what confers happiness on you. That which hurts you is Himsa (violence). That is not all. Even in drinking/using water, you should observe restraint. Likewise, one's entire life should be governed by the principle of non-violence. Many germs die when one takes a bath or walks or does any other action. Even in the process of breathing many germs die. Violence is present in all these activities. Therefore, to avoid the consequences of such involuntary violence to living creatures, one is advised to dedicate all actions to the Divine. But, there is no meaning in dedicating to the Divine, conscious acts of violence. The conscience will not approve of such conduct. In Vedantic parlance, the conscience is called ‘Chit’. It is also called ‘Awareness’. Awareness is total understanding. This total understanding is within the capacity of every human being. Everyone must strive to express this Awareness. Thus, Ahimsa is the primary duty of man.