Ahimsa – the ultimate winner




[Major presentation at the 1999 Parliament of World’s Religions at Cape Town, December- 1999]

The world of today stands on the threshold of a defining moment in history. Time has come for the realization of global commitment to the culture of Non-Violence. Victor Hugo was almost prophetic when he said:

There is one thing stronger than all the armies of the world and that is an idea whose time has come”

Far-reaching technological strides have made our world ‘a global village’. InfoTech is at our doorstep and communications have been revolutionized. Spirit of globalism offers us the hope of a greater, wider and better civilization- fostering global community values.

Time has come to think of our collective future – future together of all human beings, irrespective of caste, color or creed, race or nationality, future together of all living beings, future together with Mother Earth, which sustains us. Jain tenet of “Parasparopagraho” (mutually dependent and mutually enriching coexistence among all living beings and Nature) has to become the universal guiding star.

Earth is a bright jewel in the enormously vast cosmos. It is the only live planet endowed with marvelous variety of forms of life and with atmosphere, fertile soils, forests, water and oceans. On this planet, humans are linked with other living beings and forces of nature in a divine web of interdependence. The universe belongs to all of us in equal measure – as much to plants and animals as it does to human community.

We can preserve this marvelous heritage only through global commitment to the culture of non-violence. We cannot let it be frittered away through current process of ever-increasing violence and bloodshed, reckless exploitation and wanton destruction.

Time has come to bid farewell to the culture of violence, which threatens to terrorize us all out of our very existence.

Time has come to transform our lives, our thoughts, actions and expressions with the compassionate culture of non-violence. It would be a folly to regard practice of non-violence as a religious dogma or a ritual or an austere doctrine only for the religious devotees. Non-violence must become a driving force in our life spiritually, morally and ethically. It must become a quality of life.

Jain Concept of Non-Violence

The concept of non-violence is not a new discovery. Mahatma Gandhi, the most vocal and effective champion of Non-violence wrote:

No religion of the world has explained the principle of non-violence as deeply and systematically in its applicability to life as Jainism.

A spiritual dimension was given to non-violence in Jain scripture of 4th century B.C. “Acaranga” Violence towards other is spiritually regarded as violence towards one self in the Jain faith.

He who ignores or negates other beings
Ignores or negates one’s own self
He who you wish to inflict suffering
Is eventually yourself. You cannot
Kill or harm others without hurting your own self”

Acharya Hem Chandra observed in “Yogashastra”

¥çã¢Uâæ ÂÚU×æð Ï×üSÌÍæùçã¢Uâæ ÂÚUæð Î×Ñ Ð
¥çã¢Uâæ ÂÚU×¢ ÎæÙ×çã¢Uâæ ÂÚU×æð ÌÂÑ H

(Reference for life is the supreme religious teaching; Non-injury to life is the supreme moral guidance; giving freedom from fear to life is the supreme act of giving; Non-Violence to life is the supreme renunciation)

There is increasing awareness about the relevance of the Jain concept of active non-violence for universal sustainability and coexistence. Jain religion charts out a clear path of guidance and spiritual motivation to human beings on how to relate themselves to other human beings as well as other living species. Active non-violence implies that “a person should not act sinfully towards other living species, nor cause others to act so, nor allow others to act so”.

The Jain view of the culture of Non-violence is all pervasive and comprehensive. Let it not be dismissed as too utopian or too impractical since such a half-hearted approach so far has perpetrated aggravation of violence in all walks of life. American Jain Scholar Michael Tobias has thoughtfully articulated:

In no other religion has thought and action been so intricately merged into a unity of behaviour, and an environmental code of ethics that permeates every aspect of Jain life, posterity and history”.

Etymologically the word “non-violence” may appear to be the negative of the word “violence. In true essence, however the concept of non-violence in Jain philosophy stands for total negation and elimination of violence in all its manifestations – in deeds, words and thoughts. Cult of violence includes not only physical violence (Dravya-himsa) but also violence that hurts through words and thoughts (Bhaava-himsa).

Anger, pride, ego, deceit, greed, fear, revenge are all constituents of violence in thoughts and behaviour. By contrast, non-violence is equated with attributes such as peace, compassion, piety, harmony, welfare, faith, fearlessness and fraternity. In one word, Jain Philosophy regards non-violence as representing all virtues and violence all the vices. The choice is between the good and the evil.

In the Jain view, the culture of non-violence stands for tolerance and understanding, love and compassion, coexistence and trust among all life forms in this universe in a judicious balance with nature. Jainism has been rightly described as “a philosophy of biological ethics and spiritual ecology”.

Spiritual sustenance for such wide-ranging culture of non-violence has been beautifully and succinctly expressed in Jain Scripture “Tattvartha Sutra”. (Meaning, “That which is” written by Jain Monk Umasvati in second century B.C.)

Souls influence each other through service which may be favorable or unfavorable, beneficial or harmful. They cannot live independently of one another. They have to share their pleasure and pain with other. As partners in good and evil acts, they are jointly responsible although they must bear the karmic results individually for the part they play. They create a common environment and live together in weal and woe”.

Jain enlightened view of non-violence is not an isolated ivory tower doctrine. For thousands of years this lofty principle has found expression in many religious and ethical traditions.

In inter-faith cooperation, therefore, common ground can be identified for propagating world wide the culture of non-violence and practical programmes can be drawn up to contribute towards eradicating violence and increasing the practice of non-violence.

Challenging Task of Curbing Violence

The task of spreading the culture of non-violence worldwide is by no means an easy task.

The world in the coming millennium will be more crowded, more polluted, less stable, economically and ecologically more vulnerable to violent disruption than the world we live in now.” – Vision 2000 revisited

The cult of violence has found its way in every lifestyle – be it the life of an individual or a community, a nation or the community of nations. History of world is replete with violence manifesting itself through animosity, hatred, mistrust, intolerance, discrimination, prejudice, torture and physical harm at the individual level as well as among ethnic groups, races, nations and religious sects.

Twentieth century witnessed two world wars and a large number of local and regional conflicts. In search of peace, United Nations Organization was established. Its charter dedicated itself to eliminate the scourge of wars. This marked a move towards growing awareness of the need of the culture of non-violence.

Time has come for preamble of UN Charter to be amended to include as a basic objective ‘promotion of a global culture of non-violence’ among all living species. UN should take the cue from the declaration of a Global Ethic formulated at the 1993 Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago. The declaration carried the inspiration from Jain philosophy when it described commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life as one of its irrevocable directives.

Inspired by Jain teachings, Mahatma Gandhi boldly and effectively used the tool of non-violence in political and community life.

Mahatma Gandhi inspired Martin Luther King in USA to bring about significant social changes through spiritual power of non-violence.

In his bus campaign at Montgomery USA, Martin Luther King said,

The chronicle of 50,000 Negroes who took to heart the principles of non-violence, who learnt to fight for their rights with the weapon of love and who in the progress, acquired a new estimate of their own human worth”’

Yet parallel Hiroshima annihilation, brutal Nazi atrocities during World War II, killing fields in Cambodia, brutal violence in Kosovo and many such incidents in all parts of the world keep recurring. Agonizing aggravation of terrorism has in recent years raised its destructive head in an alarming manner all over the world.

Jain religion offers the persuasive tool of non-violence to eradicate the culture of violence from the hearts and minds of human beings and to bring in its place the culture of non-violence through attitudinal change for promoting healthy understanding.

Diplomats at United Nations and spiritualists at the Parliament of World’s Religions ought to work in unison to bring about attitudinal change in favor of non-violent modes of settling disputes between nations instead of taking to arms at the slightest pretext. Cessation of hectic arms race, destruction of nuclear weapons arsenal and progress towards disarmament would set the tone for a more effective role of global culture of non-violence for durable world peace.

It is distressing that human race which has already crossed 6 billion marks continues to mercilessly kill animals and birds to provide food. It is feared that the Earth’s total biological diversity, 25% is at serious risk of extinction. Human population goes on adding 90 million every year, while increasing human appetite goes on slaughtering and reducing animal population leading to a dangerous imbalance in the globally interdependent universe. Interdependence as per Jain view should be constructive and not destructive.

Violence for food must cease. It is time to stop this shocking desensitization of consumer taste buds. It is time to stop trading in meat importing or exporting it. It is time to consider closing down slaughterhouses. It is time to give up making our stomachs a graveyard of dead animals.

Jain religion propagates taking to vegetarianism, which would spare precious animal and bird life. Vegetarian way of life is not only a way of removing ourselves from supporting the machines of violence and the mentality of callousness towards helpless creatures but it gives a new and fresh outlook on life, of feeling one with the creation, feeling a deep kinship with the beings with whom we share this planet. George Bernard Shaw wrote:

Like carrion crows,
We live and feed on meat
Regardless of suffering and pain.
We cause by doing so.
If thus we treat defenseless
Animals for sports and gain.
How can we hope in this world to attain?
The peace we say we are so anxious for?”

Earth is rapidly dying. In the name of progress humans are destroying forests that influence the climate. Cradles of world’s vegetational wealth are being bulldozed and burnt. Air, water and space are being polluted. Earth’s survival is at stake. 21st century may well face a water crisis if we do not judiciously conserve and develop our water resources. Humans need to realize the dangerous situation being created by their reckless exploitation of Earth’s resources virtually amounting to rape of the Earth. Jain philosophy calls for restraints in consumption and limitation of wants so that nature’s resources are not plundered and exhausted. The culture of unbridled as well as wasteful consumption in affluent societies is the violence of most undesirable nature and it must be halted.

Exploitation of the weak, the poor and the downtrodden has split the society into the haves and have-nots. Promotion of the culture of non-violence would imply prevention of child abuse, promotion of equality between men and women and cessation of exploitation of the poor and the underprivileged. Jain philosophy rejects class distinctions and caste divisions and subdivisions. The basis is the vision of a peacefully coexisting and co-prospering human society irrespective of differences of caste, colour or creed.

The Three Ns of Jainism : In this context, it is worthwhile to grasp the meaning and to increasingly use the potential of the three basic tenets of Jainism abbreviated as the three Ns.

1. Non-violence (Ahimsa)
2. Non-absolutism (Anekant)
3. Non-possession (Aparigraha)

The three tenets form an integrated whole with Non-absolutism and Non-possession reinforcing Non-violence. Non-violence strengthens the autonomy of life of every being. Non-absolutism strengthens the autonomy of thought of every individual and Non-possession strengthens the interdependence of all existence. Together these three tools can be used to strengthen nonviolence culture and fortify the foundation of peace and equanimity.

The concept of Anekant is easily adaptable in international relations, inter community dealings and in relations at individual level. Anekant maintains that each individual entity has its unique perception of the world, which is a mixture of truth and ignorance. All perceptions may be valid, but are incomplete view of reality. Anekant therefore projects awareness at all times of the multi-dimensional relativity. It seeks interpretation of a fact or situation not in absolute or single-track terms but as seen from various related angles. Thus, Anekant stimulates an effort to understand and harmonize different points of view and to discover the reality from among them. It promotes synthesis, tolerance and understanding, removes ego-generated tensions and promotes wider, open hearted and compassionate outlook. Anekant provides a very logical and scientific basis for peaceful orientation to inter-human relations. It can effectively promote higher degree of tolerance and accommodation, peaceful coexistence and peaceful co-prosperity.

(Non possession/voluntary abstinence)- It is an approach on meeting your needs but not succumbing to greed. It promotes the culture of “taking less and giving more”. Seen in the wider perspective of modern world, this focuses on limiting undue indulgence in materialistic pleasures and voluntary abstinence from surplus necessities, comfort and luxuries. In this age of consumerism-generated wasteful consumption, adoption of Aparigraha attitude could be of immense help. Self-control (samyam) is the key to Aparigraha. Through voluntary self-restraint, humans can “fence in” the otherwise uncontrollable craving, passions and lust.

Aparigraha is symbolized at an individual level in the form of fasting or voluntary abstinence from consumption of particular foods, clothes or other items, designing for oneself a life of judicious voluntary restraint, control and discipline. It should not be mistaken for austere life because it is a judiciously regulated life.

Aparigraha can prove an immensely effective tool to curb reckless exploitation and wanton destruction of limited natural resources to meet growing human needs arising from ever-increasing population pressure.

Attitude and practice of Aparigraha is the only effective remedy to the evils of hypnotic consumerism, which has already driven advanced economies into a mad pursuit of limitless materialism.

To promote and increasingly adopt this trinity of humane principles – the three Ns of Non-violence, Non- absolutism and Non-possession, the responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of global human community.


Over 6 billion human beings inhabiting this planet owe it to take spiritually and ethically inspired steps towards a more humane and a globally more sustainable future.

Human community can ill-afford to persist in its self-centric and egoistic, exploitative and violence oriented approach not only towards other human beings but also towards the global eco-system and other living organisms.

Jain philosophy puts the stewardship of the earth in human hands as superior beings with highly developed physical mental and intellectual faculties. It exhorts humans to develop an enlightened view of the universe around them since in that approach lies the path of salvation’ both of individuals as well as societies and nations. Echoing the Jain perception, William Faulkner wrote:

I believe that man will not merely endure but will prevail. He alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice and a soul and a spirit capable of compassion, sacrifice and endurance.”

Thus, Jain principles are synonymous with sound ecology, synonymous with humanitarianism and synonymous with peace. Jain ethos like the Hindu ethos regards our planet as Mother Earth. The approach of respect for it is beautifully brought out in the following quotation from Vedas:

The ocean is your girdle
Your bosom the mountains
Goddess Earth, my obeisance to you
Forgive me for daring to touch you with my feet

The task of promoting global culture of non-violence is arduous but attainable because the starting point is the reformation of the individual soul and tuning it to love and compassion. “Uttaradhyayana” (Jain Scripture) provides pearls of wisdom in the following:

If you want to fight, fight against your passions. If someone is to be conquered, it is no other than your own self. One who has victory over one’s own self is greater than the one who conquers thousands and thousands of warriors”

The buck starts and stops at each human individual. For the future well-being of human community as well as the universe, spiritual awakening in each human soul is needed. The culture of non-violence will spread collectively with the sincere commitment to it at the individual level. Unless this comes about, the world would go on lapsing into violence, terrorism and armed conflicts, which would go on negating the progress of civilization. The world needs many more to emulate Jesus Christ, Gautam Buddha, Ram, Krishna and Mahavir. Human beings cannot be indifferent to their own inner voices if they want to live happily and purposefully as responsible members of the wider community.

It is worth recalling a story about a time when many Gods congregated to determine where to safely place the Divine Spark in human kind. After a lively debate it was decided to position it in the place where man would least suspect it and yet where, when he found it he would treasure it most – in the core of his inner most being. The story unfolds with humans looking everywhere on earth for this treasure only to arrive ultimately at the knowledge that the treasure was already within them all the time.

Time has come to brightly light up this Divine Spark in every human soul for spreading worldwide the message of “Reverence for Life” and the “Culture of Non-violence. It has been rightly observed:

“Nothing is more powerful than an individual
Acting out of his conscience
Thus helping to bring
The collective conscience to life”


If man realizes the divine truth within himself and having realized his own infinite core, becomes able to comprehend the divinity at the heart of humanity – it is then that man turns truly human.”

Selina Thielemann
(renowned musician)

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