Ahimsa – the ultimate winner
More and more people all over the world are realizing that the answer to present problems of violence and environmental degradation is to be found in a morality which replaces greed with contentment, hate with tolerance, and killing with reverence for life. There are many enlightened and eminent scientists, intellectuals and religious leaders who are talking in this alternative positive language. At the common man’s level also, awareness to the dangers of violence is growing. Ahimsa way of life as propagated by Jains, provides an effective solution to these and many other problems.
In the modern commercialized world, with religion getting separated from daily life, killing has increased many-fold and sensitivity to life, whether animal or human, has declined in proportion. The need, therefore, is that this trend should be reversed and man should be made more humane not only in relation to man but also for other living creatures.
Violence grows from acquisitiveness. Jainism does not subscribe to forced poverty but suggests that wants should be minimized voluntarily and there should be no grabbing at any level. Many economic systems today are based only on promoting wants rather than curbing them. This is having disastrous results. One of them is that we are exhausting the non-replenishable resources of this world; another is that material goods and money are becoming the measures of man. Internationally, this spirit is leading to regional and world conflicts.
Another malady of our age is general intolerance. While science hasbeen a great boon both in promoting material prosperity and rationalism, it has made our thinking, even in areas other than science, extremely definitive. The result is that those who do not agree with us are treated as wrong. Earlier dogmatism was based on ignorance; now it is caused by certitude arising out of blind rationalism. What is not being realized is that knowledge is relative. The faculties that we possess are limited. Even as compared to small creatures, our senses are much less developed. For example, dog may have a far better sense of smell and an eagle may have far more developed eye sight. Even in comparison with such creatures, when our senses are so poor, how can we claim absolute knowledge?
Jainism has its philosophy of Syadvad. It is a seven-fold logic, which replaces certitude with relativity in thinking. According to this principle, one may be right or one may be wrong. Even the opponent may be right. In this, there is no place for dogmatism or fanaticism. This is one of the great contributions ofJainism to world thought. Its application to personal conduct could make the world a safe place. The present ideological conflicts that we witness today, would not be as intense as they are now if this principle could permeate the minds of adversaries.
It is also worth mentioning here that mistakenly the negative aspect of Ahimsa has been overemphasized at the expense of its positive form. While non-killing is certainly essential, Ahimsa in its positive form-means reverence for life, which in turn calls for compassion and service. Jainism forbids the killing as well as hurting of all living things small or big. The problem is not one of scale of Ahimsa but of quantity and scope. Killing or hurting is prohibited at all levels (except where circumstantially inevitable). It seems that the indirect cause of this misunderstanding is the excessive stress given on the negative quality of the concept of Ahimsa. The need, therefore, is to reinforce this positive and compassionate aspect of Ahimsa leading to active altruism.
It needs to be added that any religion or doctrine that does not pay adequate attention to the conduct of its followers often degenerates. Jainism, without any disrespect to any other religion, highlights the need for comprehensive combination of knowledge, doctrine and conduct (Samyak Jnana, Darshan, and Charitra); emphasis on one at the expense of others leads to an imbalances result.
Jainism believes in the plurality and equality of living creatures. Since nobody wants to be hurt orkilled, the general rule should be that nobody should be hurt or killed. This rule of conduct is not confined only to man but extends even to the smallest of small creatures. It is amazing that more than 2500 years ago, when scientific devices to detect micro-creatures were not available, Mahavir stated that there were small living creatures in wind and water and enjoined his followers to avoid, to that extent possible, their killing as well.
This kind of comprehensive concept of Ahimsa is unknown in the philosophical world. Indeed, Albert Schweitzer, the world-renowned social worker and noble Laurate while dealing with Jainism in his book Indian Thought and Its Development said — “The laying down of the commandment not to kill and not to damage is one of the greatest events in the spiritual history of mankind. . . So far as we know it is for the first time clearly expressed by Jainism”.
Jainism also believes that the first steps of Ahimsa would have to be taken at the individual level. Individuals, though their number may be small, would have to truly and sincerely practice Ahimsa in their daily life. With personal commitment to Ahimsa and personal transformation of individual, the real remedy to violence could be found. One of the major problems with many of the protest groups trying to fight against violence at national and international levels is that personally they are not non-violent. One of the reasons why Gandhiji also could not succeed was that a large number of his followers were wanting to be non-violent at the social level but were violent at the personal level.
Ahimsa (non-violence) in general and the Ahimsa way of life as evolved by Jainism in particular is today broadly accepted as an effective anti-dote to ever escalating violence around the globe. However, it has yet to be translated into concerted action from the ongoing academic exchanges. This is not to belittle the value of such discourses and debates but to provide a spurt to these activities with the hope that enough people may get inspired to translate word into deed. This book, Ahimsa: The Ultimate Winner, is a sincere effort in that direction.
The author Dr. Narendra P. Jain has been India’s Ambassador to United Nations, European Union, Nepal, Mexico and Belgium. He also has been Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. He is a noted economist, ardent environmentalist, a well-known poet, prolific writer, eloquent orator and above all a renowned Jain scholar. Dr. Jain has delivered key note speeches on non-violence and Jain philosophy at the World Jain conference (1988) Leicester (UK), Asian Jain conference in Singapore (1989), Biennial JAINA Conventions at Stanford University, USA (1991) Chicago (2001) and Cincinnati (2003), UN Earth Summit and Sacred Earth Gathering in Brazil (1992), Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago (1993) and Cape Town, South Africa (1999) and UN Millennium Peace Summit, New York (2000). This book compiles his speeches and essays on various facets of Ahimsa.
We are thankful to Dr. Jain for entrusting the publication of this second revised and enlarged edition of this book to us. We are sure this multi-dimensional elaboration of Ahimsa way of life will inspire people in all walks of life to endeavour to mould their lives accordingly and move towards general peace and beatitude.
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