Ahimsa – the ultimate winner



[Key Note Presentation at the Ahimsa Varsh Celebrations held under the auspices of Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan at New Jersey (U.S.A.) in April 2002 to mark the 2600th Janma Kalyanak of Bhagavan Mahavir]

Let me begin with a couplet

To forgive is ennobling
To be forgiven is bliss
May we all embrace this culture
Preach later first practice.

Forgiveness (Kshama) has been identified as a very desirable quality in different philosophical traditions. However Jain philosophy anchored on the bedrock of Ahimsa (Non-Violence) accords it a prominent place not only in thought but more so in day-today conduct of life, which is enmeshed in an intricate web of social relationships. Jain philosophy is focused on the relevance and importance to the human art of living of forgiveness. The belief in and practice of the culture of forgiveness enables human beings to rise above the humdrum of ego and false pride, envy and prejudice, hate and hostility, anger and revenge.

In the midst of a wide variety of tensions-personal, social, psychological, physical and mental, how much we need acquiring the habit and culture of restraint, patience, tolerance and large- heartedness. The ocean of compassion is unfathomable. More often than not, we the ordinary mortals stand on its shores desiring just a few drops of it to fall on us and make our lives full of true happiness and bliss.

Mark Twain has captured the quality of forgiveness in the following beautiful expression:

Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet releases to the heel that crushes it.”

Life is like an echo. We get back what we give. Love begets love; hatred arouses hatred. There is the story of a boy who got angry with his mother and shouted at her, I hate you”. Because of fear of reprimand, he ran out of the house, went up to the valley and shouted,” I hate you; I hate you. Back came the echo:”I hate you, I hate you”. He got scared and went back to his mother and said many voices in the valley were shouting at him: “I hate you”. The mother understood and asked the boy to once again go to the same spot in the valley and shout:”I love you”. When he did so, came back the echo “I love you. I love you” He returned to his mother and said to her delight “I love you.”

Forgiveness should not be confused with or over-simplified as simple mannerism or courtesy of behaviour towards others. Behind the expression of “sorry”, it is necessary to nurture the much deeper thought and feeling of wanting not only to be excused but also forgiven. Equally it has to be reciprocal. If someone hurts us through words, intentions and conduct, to win him over we need to muster the resolve of non-violence and forgive him/her.

Such a forgiving approach would make one who forgives more gentle, fearless and tranquil. Such a person would inspire others who have deviated from the path of fraternity and fellowship. The gentleness of Mahatma Gandhi gave him vibrant soul-energy and confidence to mobilize the entire nation of India to fight for independence of India from British colonial rule through non-violence. Thanks to the forgiving attitude of Gandhi that struggle of independence became devoid of rancour or hatred.

Gladys Staines, the widow of the Australian Christian Missionary Father Staines who was brutally murdered in Orissa (India) in the year 1999 has borne the brunt of the gruesome tragedy by expressing her emotions very beautifully as follows:

Experience forgiveness & forgive others. Grace is available. Once you forgive, there will be healing.”

Some 25 years ago, I spent a morning with Mother Teresa in Kathmandu (Nepal) when I accompanied her to an old persons home located next to the highly revered Pashupatinath Temple. Mother Teresa went to each dying person and attended to him with a gesture of love, emotion of affection and an approach of caring and sharing. I saw a flicker of smile on the old man’s face. It was momentary. Mother Teresa said, “Look Ambassador Jain, I feel so happy, because I have sought, through nursing and care, forgiveness from this person who has gone through a lot of suffering and unhappiness and whom his family members have left unattended near this holy temple. He will now die with a smile. This would be the victory of love and would symbolize how compassion, which is at the heart of the feeling of forgiveness, can remove bitterness born out of injustice, neglect and inhumanity.

In Jain philosophy, Kshama has been put at the highest step level for scaling the summit of the culture of Ahimsa. Jain scriptures have expressed it in a very deep and multi-layered perspective:

I forgive all souls, let all souls forgive me. I harbour friendly feelings for all. I have animosity towards none.”

Forgiveness starts with oneself. One has to be honest and open with ones inner – self. A feeling needs to be developed as a conviction that on the brink of doing anything wrong or causing hurt to others, a feeling must arise that “If I were to do this, say this or intend doing it, I would not be able to forgive myself.” This is the preventive aspect of the virtue of forgiveness. The emotion of Kshama rising in our conscience cleanses our mind and heart of “Maya” (illusions), attachment to material bondages, greed, ego and envy and jealousy.

It makes us more transparent, open, sincere, accommodating and understanding. Our self-esteem is enhanced which gives us strength to practice generosity in an honest manner without any hypocrisy. Benjamin Franklin put it very aptly:

When you are good to others, you are best to yourself ”

What the humanity needs to realize is the teaching of Jain prophet Mahavir who said:

The world we live in is not an island. A saint contemplating in Himalayas may realize the key to the Kingdom of wisdom, but loses it if he does not use it for the benefit of others.”

It is often preached: “Forgive and Forget” In practice, it is somewhat difficult to persuade oneself to erase the memory of a hurt caused by others. The point to begin is to realize that to forgive is to make a new beginning and to start all over again with the person who caused you pain or hurt. It does not take away the hurt, nor does it undo the past injury. It merely ceases to obstruct the path of a new beginning. As author T.G.L. Iyer has observed:

To forgive, you don’t have to aggravate the guilt and squeeze the soul of the person. By forgiving, you can walk together into the future without rancour and with enhanced peace of mind.”

The practice of forgiveness strengthens the fiber of humility in our approach towards others. It helps in removing the self-intoxicating element in our ego and seeks to eliminate negative sense of pride, which eventually leads to arrogance and anger. Ego is at the central point shaping human conduct and behaviour. And in it anger often springs up as a natural emotion when we find someone, howsoever close does not agree with us or irritates us by doing contrary to what we feel he/she should be doing. Anger is losing ones rational balance. But it is a transient phase and like boiling milk subsides. If we do not control our anger or tendency to lose temper, it could develop more violent reactions in arousing passions of revenge, hostility, hatred and animosity. The practice of an approach of forgiveness can emerge as an effective remedy for controlling our anger.

Bhagwat Gita describes 35 qualities of a devotee; one of them is a forgiving nature. Learn to forgive and the rancour, anger within which was eating the vitals gets automatically washed.

Jainism elaborates the meaning and content of Kshama in a very comprehensive way. Kshama is not aimed only towards other human beings, but is intended to be practiced towards all living creatures as well as vibrant elements of the natural environment surrounding us. Here forgiveness emerges as a prerequisite for the practice of non-violence in our daily lives in relation to the universe around us. The lasting solution to the environmental crisis confronting the world today lies ultimately in human beings adopting an approach of Kshama towards all and learning to co-exist with them and not recklessly exploit them.

We human beings need to give up the easy temptation of indulging in the blame game. It is easy to pass on the buck to others even if we are at a fault. This is where forgiveness could be of immense help in curbing such temptations of getting rid of our guilt complex. There is the story of a boy who complained to his mother that his friend and not he had broken the window glass. When the mother asked how his friend did it, the boy replied “I threw a stone at him and he ducked”!

2000 years ago philosopher Epictetus wrote:

It is not he who gives abuse that affronts, but the view we take of it. Your hurt comes from not what others do to you, but from what you chose to do with their actions. If you change your attitude about the hurt, you will soon find your victim status eliminated.”

Intentionally or unintentionally, advertently or inadvertently we hurt others not only by a violent physical act, but also through our intentions reflected in our body language and use of insulting unpleasant or abusive expressions. Such behaviour not only hurts others and produces anger, revenge or hate reactions, but pollutes the life ethics of the doer. A vicious circle starts enlarging misunderstandings, and bitterness in the social environment. If only one could learn to muster the will power and soul awareness to be forgiving, a circle of love could be created radiating harmony and equanimity.

Much has been written and spoken about the virtue of Forgiveness. However it is clear that it is a virtue most required, but difficult to acquire. Jain religion has endeavoured to provide a road map to learn to be forgiving and be forgiven. In the annual calendar of Jain religious events, Paryushan Parva, coming in the months of August-September, occupies a prominent place. It is an eight-day festival as per Swetambar tradition followed by a ten-day festival as per Digambar tradition. Both reach a climax with a day dedicated to Kshama (Forgiveness) under the nomenclature of Swetambar Samvatsari and Digambar Kshamavani.

This day has been observed by Jains for well over 25 centuries as the DAY OF UNIVERSAL FORGIVENESS. People meet to seek mutual forgiveness for any hurt caused during the preceding one year. Invariably the words from Prakrit language “Michchami Dukkadam” (May all transgressions be forgiven) are uttered. Another phrase used is “Uttam Kshama Bhaava” meaning the highest level of the feeling of forgiveness.

The ambience for the Day of Universal Forgiveness is created in the preceding 8 or 10 days of intense devotional activity involving worship of Tirthankars (prophets), reading of holy scriptures, listening to the sermons of learned Saints and Nuns, chanting of bhajans (devotional songs), and observance of fasts, abstinence and penance. The objective is to devote maximum time, energy and emotion to self-introspection and to the recharging of soul energy. It is intended to be a kind of a wake up call for an individual’s soul for one’s own emancipation as well as for the good of the society.

Each day of Paryushan Parva is dedicated to understanding the significance of and endeavouring to assimilate in ones life virtue and practice of forgiveness, humility, honesty, purity, truthfulness, self-restraint, asceticism, study, detachment and celibacy. This devotional activity reaches a climax with the observance of the Day of Universal Forgiveness. It completes the observance of Ahimsa in its wholesome perspective and fulsome clarity.

It would be a matter of immense delight if the world community could take over the celebration of the Day of Universal Forgiveness for the entire world community under the auspices of the United Nations. This would be a significant step forward towards strengthening the fiber of world peace if we could have a global day of forgiveness.

Let us not wonder, “Who moved my cheese” or “who will move it”. Let the humanity in this age of extraordinary technological advances and explosion of information, not feel lost or confused. Let us prepare ourselves for a change that would bring us inner contentment and bliss.

Cronin A.J. has wisely observed:

Life is no straight and easy corridor along which we travel free and unhampered, but a maze of passages through which we must seek our way, lost and confused, now and again checked in a blind alley. But always if we have faith, God will open a door for us, not perhaps one that we ourselves would ever have thought of, but one that will ultimately prove good for us.”

Forgiveness is the key to such a door because “To Forgive is Divine”.

May I conclude repeating the couplet with which I began:

To forgive is ennobling

To be forgiven is bliss

May we all embrace this culture

Preach later first practice.


When man frees himself from the restrictive consciousness with its laws, plans and rules, he will find the joy and peace of being, that will allow him to love himself and all humanity. It is then the precious soul blooms into a magnificent flower of wisdom, compassion and love encompassing all life.”

-Munishri Kshamasagar ji.

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