by Neil Amas, Panyaden School Director
These 2 weeks we are practicing awihingsa (pronounced a-wi-hing-saa), or non-harming การไม่เบียดเบียน (อวิหิงสา), amongst our students. Here is some further information on awihingsa that you may find useful.
Awihingsa is the Thai version of the Pali word avihimsa, which originates from the Sanskrit himsa, meaning injury or harm which, when a- is added, takes on the opposite meaning, ie non-harming (a-himsa). Not causing injury or harm has a broader meaning than simply not physically hurting a fellow human being or animal.
Awihingsa means not to say or do anything that creates suffering for oneself or for others and also not to say or do anything that creates or encourages the cause of suffering in oneself or others. We should not do anything which provokes negative thoughts or instigates harmful actions. For example, we might say something to a friend which, though not directly hurting them, may lead to angry thoughts and therefore creates negativity within that person’s mind.
Awihingsa relates particularly to the Buddha’s teaching on moral conduct. He taught that we should adopt ‘’right speech’’ and ‘’right action’’ and proposed an essential minimum of 5 moral precepts for lay people to follow:
- To abstain from killing any living creatures
- To abstain from stealing
- To abstain from sexual misconduct
- To abstain from false speech
- To abstain from intoxicants
These are not an empty formula dictated by tradition, but rather a practical means to ensure one’s speech and actions harm neither others nor oneself.
So what is false speech, or lying? It depends on the intention of that speech and whether that intention is against the best interest of the other person or is for personal interest or gain. A child who teases a classmate because they are ‘fat’ may claim s/he is only telling the truth and so is not breaking the silas. But if the child’s words cause the classmate to feel inferior and depressed, s/he is causing harm.
We are teaching our students, then, that awihingsa means not harming others with your actions, your speech and even your thoughts. That thinking badly of others is just as harmful as saying something mean to them and this is because it is also harming you. Thoughts of revenge make us unhappy. Gossiping about somebody else, even if they are not in the room, creates a negative mind and atmosphere for yourself and those present. We need to help children see that negative thought and redirect it to something positive.
So awihingsa means neither physically nor mentally hurting humans, animals and nature. From killing ants to polluting rivers. We want to help our children understand that harming others is unwise, not because it is a ‘rule’ or a ’sin’, but because of the very direct consequences such actions, words and thoughts have on us as well as others. We can use our children’s actions and reactions in the classroom and at home to teach them the negative impact of harming, and positive impact of awihingsa. We should point out how bad an atmosphere is after someone has used hurtful words. Or we can ask how great it would be if there was no harming at school, when playing with friends or in the world. When there is no harming, we can all live harmoniously, helping each other, forgiving each other and creating positive relationships.