Ahimsa – the ultimate winner


Jainism – The Art of Living

[Inaugural Key Note Speech by Ambassador Dr N.P. Jain at the 12th Biennial Convention of JAINA at Cincinnati International Convention Center on 4th July 2003]

At this glittering 12th Biennial Convention of JAINA, it gives me immense pleasure to recall the eventful 30 years during which JAINA has not only given “western world Jains” a sense of identity, and a spirit of unity, but has contributed towards global projection of the age-old Jain message of universally promoting “socially compassionate, peace-fostering, and nature-friendly art of living”.

It is also an interesting coincidence that this Convention is being held at Cincinnati as a part of the official program to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the state of Ohio, Mr. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio Secretary of State has recognized it “as a unique social – religious event to bring families together for spiritual advancement, friendship, education and cultural enrichment”.

On behalf of the Jain community of India, I would like at the outset to complement JAINA for having undertaken a tremendously successful rehabilitation project in earthquake-hit Gujarat. Through this program JAINA has shown how Jain philosophy teaches not only the art of living but also the art of loving, caring and sharing.

There is a saying:

There is no word out of which a poem cannot be made;
There is no herb out of which a medicine cannot be made;
There is no human out of which
A truly noble human being cannot be made.”

Jain philosophy aims at shaping an individual’s personality not just for himself or herself but also in the wider context of the surrounding social and natural environment. It maintains that everyone is capable of attaining supreme happiness and bliss.

We often take to criticizing others and finding faults with them. I recall the story of a boatman and the professor. The boatman was taking the professor across the river Ganga. The professor was asking him if he had heard anything about tremendous scientific and technology progress the world was making. When the boatman confessed his ignorance, the professor mentioned that he has wasted his life. Suddenly there was a storm and there was a fear that the boat may turn topsy-turvy. The boatman asked the Professor if he knew swimming. When the Professor replied in the negative, it was boatman turn to tell the professor that if he has not learnt the swimming he has wasted his life.

The renowned poet-saint Kabir has very aptly reflected this thought in his poem.

ÕéÚUæ Áæð Îð¹Ù ×ñ´ ¿Üæ, ÕéÚUæ Ù Îè¹æ ·¤æðØ

ÁÕ çÎÜ Îð¹æ ¥æÂÙæ, ×éÛæâæ ÕéÚUæ Ù ·¤æðØÐ

The prescription for transformation into a nobler and kinder personality is, in the first place, through self-effort, self-control, self-restraint and self-renunciation. Curbing one’s ego is the most important element n the journey toward self-realization and looking within oneself. Jain philosophy inspires a human being to wake up and cut through one’s proud ego self to the gentle spirit hidden within you that knows no arrogance, condemnation, revenge or punishment. It carries the mighty power of all inclusive compassion and kindness.

Controlling one’s multiple desires makes for the moulding into a balanced disciplined, rational and harmonious personality. Such a human being radiates strong will power, deep tranquility, inspiring equanimity and adorable truthfulness. There is no room in the Jain art of living for greed, rivalry, anger, hatred and hostility.

A famous philosopher has said ‘ Many a time the thought has crossed my mind that some day the civilization would come to end not by an atom bomb or famine or any such happening but by man’s misuse of his intellect and loss of his self control in the midst of the tensions of our growingly artificial and superficial civilization’.

The Jain art of living is, thus, in the first place, “a discovery of one’s own inner-self” – a process of cementing one’s strengths and eliminating one’s weaknesses. Gurudev Chitrabhanu has beautifully summed it up in the phrase: “The Miracle is you”. Don’t look for crutches or support of others. If there is darkness, do not curse it but light a candle to let light glow around you.

In a charming poem, English poet John Lennon has reflected the core concept of the Jain art of living:

You can wear a mask and paint your face,
You can call yourselves the human race;
You can wear a collar and a tie,
One thing you cannot hide
Is when you are crippled inside.
You can go to a church and sing a rhyme;
You can judge me by the colour of my skin;
You can live a lie till you die,
One thing you cannot hide
Is when you are crippled inside.

In one word, the Jain art of living concentrates first on putting your own soul and inner being in order before preaching others or finding faults with them.

Bhagavan Mahavir’s memorable teaching is:

One who has got victory
Over oneself
Is greater than one who conquers
Thousands of warriors in a battle.”

The essence of Mahavir’s teaching was that while we crave for satisfying the needs of our body like hunger, but become totally oblivious to satisfy hunger of our soul. It is necessary to look within oneself in order to understand the purpose of our existence.

The second pillar of the Jain art of living is that an individual cannot be a fortress unto himself / herself. Even for his own salvation he has to discharge his responsibilities towards others as a responsible, morally upright and ethically charged social being. He is a part and parcel of the natural environment around him. Bhagavan Mahavir put it very aptly over 2500 years ago:

One who disregards the existence of earth, water, fire, air and vegetation disregards one’s own existence which is entwined with them.”

The guiding principle in relationship with other human beings as well as other living beings is“Parasparopgraho Jeevanam”. This means that all living organisms irrespective of the degree of their sensory perceptions or size are bound together by mutual support and interdependence. Jainism, thus, emerges as a democratic and spiritually socialist creed pinning its faith in the sanctity, integrity and equality of all souls whether in humans, animals, plants or insects.

Bhagavan Mahavir has put it very aptly

To kill of hurt any living being amounts to killing or hurting oneself. Compassion to others is compassion to one’s own self’.

Human beings as the most superior, enlightened, rational and sensitive living beings on Earth need to realize that they have an obligation to fight for all life on Earth and not just for themselves. There is no cause more urgent, no dedication more fitting than to protect the future of our species in a peaceful, serene and healthy natural environment.

In this interdependent universe, the Jain art of living is anchored on taking less and less and giving more and more. One has to be caring and sharing and spreading out one’s umbrella to protect others.

I recall a beautiful anecdote of Emperor Alexander when he came to conquer India. He had an encounter with a Jain Muni. He was puzzled to see that the Jain Muni attracted large and admiring audience wherever he went, while people feared Alexander.

So he asked the Jain Muni: “What is it that you have which I do not? I thought I had everything in plenty – wealth, power, luxuries and armies.”

The Jain Muni replied: “I never take anything; I have given up everything. That is what I teach my followers. Learn to give more and more and take less and less. You, as an Emperor, have always taken from the people, but have given them nothing. You only loot and take away.”

If life is like a blossoming tree, then Jainism regards the culture and practice of Non-violence (Ahimsa) as the mother root, which spreads its culture (Sanskar) all through the trunk, branches, fruits and flowers.

The culture is composed of tolerance (Sahishnuta), coexistence (Saha-astitva), compassion (Karuna), large-heartedness (Sahridayata), sympathy (Sahanubhuti), kindness (Daya)and forgiveness (Ksahma).

In today’s world, violence is raging – physical, mental, verbal and psychological. There is rampant fear, hatred, deceit, exploitation and oppression at individual, societal, national and international levels. If the world remains hostage to rabid terrorism and indiscriminate violence, how can any individual or society hope to live a life of tranquility, peace and inner as well as outer security?

More than ever before, the world needs non-violence – both its culture as well practice. It is not the weapon of the coward, but the courage of the brave and the upright. Martin Luther King (Jr.) has put it very succinctly:

The choice today is not
Between non-violence and violence,
But it is between
Non-violence and non-existence.”

The “Gangotri” or the fountain source of Jain approach to the art of living is all comprehensive culture and practice of Ahimsa. Non-violence (Ahimsa) strengthens the right to life of every living being. Its integral element non-absolutism (Anekant) strengthens the respect for freedom of thought of every individual.

Another integral element is Aparigraha, which strengthens freedom from attachment. Together the trinity of Ahimsa, Anekant and Aparigraha provide the framework for giving shape and content to the art of living. Together they fortify the foundations of synthesis, equanimity and tolerance.

As expressed by Acharya Chandanaji of Virayatan: “Ahimsa is a true and unconditional surrender of our own identity for the welfare of others. Ahimsa is not a mere principle of a particular religion. It is in consonance with the true nature (vastu-swabhaav) of a human being”.

Humanity ushered in the 21st century with great expectations. However, as the Nobel Prize Winner Gabriel Marquez has observed:

Expect nothing from the 21st century;

It is the 21st century which expects everything from you.”

Here is the challenge and opportunity for us the followers of Jain religion to spread worldwide the Jain way of life and the Jain art of living so that humanity shapes a just, peaceful and harmonious future for itself and the entire universe. Human ingenuity must be reinforced by the Jain environmental code of ethics and spiritual awakening rooted in non-violence and compassion.

The Jain art of living is the only effective answer to longevity of healthy ecology and the survival of the web of life entwined with it. It is a perfect guide for the fuller and more creative and compassionate use of human intelligence and ingenuity. Jainism richly contributes towards the present day scientific civilization – a civilization in which both knowledge and its integrity and ethics are equally important.

The true essence of the Jain art of living is ‘be happy and make others happy’. However we can be truly happy only when we make others happy. The motto of ‘Live and let live’ will remain incomplete until we compliment it by ‘be happy and make others happy’.

A poet has written

Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of Man
Imagine all the people sharing the world
You may say I am a dreamer
But I am not the only one
I hope some day you will join me and
The world would live as one”.


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