AHIMSA is a sanskrit term generally meaning to do no harm; literally the avoidance of violence.
AHIMSA means kindness and non-violence towards all living things including animals; it respects living beings as a unity, the belief that all living things are connected. Hence AHIMSA is a binding code of conduct which implies a ban on hunting, butchery, meat eating, and the use of animal products provided by violent means.
AHIMSA is an important tenet of Indian religions: Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Hindus do not substantially differentiate the soul within a human body from that of an animal. The question of moral duties towards animals and of negative karma incurred from violence against them, is discussed in detail in some Hindu scriptures and religious law books. There are some Jains(a religious group with many similarities to Buddhists) who take this philosophy so deeply to heart that they avoid killing even the smallest creatures, and provide special houses where insects swept up in household dirt can live out their lives. The expression of this philosophy, particularly in Western culture, is not usually so extreme - but it gives a good example of strict interpretations of the AHIMSA path.
The historic Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in AHIMSA as a way of life. Avoidance of verbal and physical violence is also a part of this principle, although AHIMSA recognizes self-defense when necessary, as a sign of a strong spirit. It is closely connected with the notion that all kinds of violence entail negative karmic consequences in this cause and effect world.(more about Karma later)
AHIMSA Silk, also known as Peace Silk, is processed from cocoons without the otherwise compulsory killing of the pupae inside. In the vast majority of cases, it's more complicated than it appears. There are two main types of AHIMSA Silk, cultivated and "wild" (semi-domesticated).
Most cultivated AHIMSA Silk is from the moth Bombyx mori. It is raised just like conventional cultivated silk, right up to the point where the cocoons would be stifled, or processed with heat, in order to kill the pupae and keep it from breaking through the cocoon, yet AHIMSA cocoons are all allowed to hatch and breed, and the silk is processed from these hatched cocoons. In some cases, the cocoons can be cut open and the pupae tipped out; this avoids the moth soiling the cocoon with its urine.
In this process each fertilized female moth will lay between 200 and 1000 eggs, averaging around 400. In India, where the vast majority of AHIMSA silk is being raised, most silkworm strains are multivoltine. This means that the silkworms do not undergo any refrigeration, and the eggs will hatch approximately two weeks after being laid. The ones that are not fed may die within a day of hatching, from a combination of dessication and starvation. In a batch of, say, 20,000 cocoons, this means that the next generation (if they were all raised) would be two and a half million, and the generation after that, three hundred twelve million. Do the math - It's just not possible to feed so many.
While it may be true that the individual caterpillar that spun the cocoon didn't die inside it, its offspring may be ruthlessly culled. Is it considered more virtuous to create conditions of wholesale starvation then to avoid killing the pupea quickly with heat? Any large scale farming of silk worms will create the causes and conditions for such. Anyone sensitive enough to consider AHIMSA silk as an option should carefully consider all processes & research the source of their silk. This world requires responsible consumerism, there is no turning back.
The different types of silk worms and their diet:
Bombyx mori (Mulberry silkworm) feeds on Mulberry leaves, Philosomia ricini (Eri silkworm) on Castor leaves, Anthraea assama (Muga silkworm) on Som and Soalu leaves, Anthraea proylei (Temperate/ Oak Tasar silkworm) on Oak leaves and Anthraea mylitta (Tropical Tasar silkworm) on Terminalia leaves.
a breeding AHIMSA cocoon
The first signs that a cocoon is about to hatch, is that it will become wet on one end, and often rock back and forth. The wet spot is from an enzyme called cocoonase which the moth squirts out of its head to partially dissolve the cocoon threads. Cocoons usually hatch at dawn, and usually about two weeks after the start of spinning.
The final product of AHIMSA silk thread made, by boiling down the remnant cocoon and so thus the threads separate from the organic plaster that holds the cocoon's shape. From these threads spinning and then weaving may happen.
AHIMSA silk samples
varietal weave from Jharkand