Buddhism A–Z
What is Ahimsa in Buddhism?
Photo courtesy Didier Moïse

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit and Pali word that translates to “non-harming,” “nonviolence,” or “the absence of harmful intentions.” Although more widely associated with the Hindu and Jain religions, ahimsa is also an important principle of Buddhism.

Not harming others is one of the most important ways we can reduce suffering, which is Buddhism’s central goal. The principle is closely related to the concept of compassion (karuna) and is an essential aspect of ethical conduct (sila).

The practice of ahimsa can take many forms. It might involve, for example, abstaining from eating meat, avoiding violent movies or video games, or being mindful of one’s words to avoid harmful speech. When you live according to the principle of ahimsa in your life, you’re not only making the world a better place but transforming yourself into a more compassionate and peaceful being.

Ahimsa Can Be Understood in Several Ways


Ahimsa entails refraining from physical, verbal, and mental actions that cause harm or injury to oneself or others. This includes avoiding violence, killing, harming living beings, and engaging in actions rooted in hatred, greed, or ignorance.

Compassion and Loving-kindness

Ahimsa also involves the cultivation of compassion and loving-kindness toward all beings,  developing a sincere concern for the well-being and happiness of others, and treating them with kindness, empathy, and respect.

Inner Nonviolence

Ahimsa also includes cultivating nonviolence in one’s thoughts, emotions, and intentions by cleansing the mind of anger, ill will, and harmful intentions, and practicing harmony and peacefulness within.

Nonviolence Toward Oneself

Ahimsa also includes being mindful and compassionate towards oneself. It involves self-care, self-compassion, and avoiding self-harming thoughts, actions, or behaviors.

A Stepping Stone on the Path to Enlightenment

By embracing ahimsa, Buddhists seek to create a world characterized by peace, harmony, and the well-being of all beings. It is an integral part of the path to enlightenment, as it supports the cultivation of wholesome qualities, ethical conduct, and the reduction of suffering (dukkha) for oneself and others.

Related Reading

First Do No Harm

When the Buddha attained enlightenment, he touched the earth. If he touched it now, it would cry out in pain.

Buddhism A–Z

Explore essential Buddhist terms, concepts, and traditions.