Ahimsa – the ultimate winner




[Speech at the Parliamentary Earth Summit of the Global Forum of Parliamentary and Spiritual Leaders on June 6, 1992 at Palacio Terendentes- The Brazilian National Assembly Building, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil]

It is indeed a great privilege and honour that I have been called upon to speak in the name of Jain religion at this distinguished gathering of world’s leading statespersons, parliamentarians, monks, priests and spiritual Ambassadors of different religions.The Global Forum of Parliamentary and Spiritual Leaders is meeting in Rio for its historic ‘Parliamentary Earth Summit’ coinciding with the U.N. Earth Summit at the level of Presidents/Prime Ministers of over 170 countries. Never before has a conference of this magnitude at a summit level taken place in world history.It is a happy augury that His Holiness Acharya Sushil Kumarji Maharaj – a Jain monk of renown is in our midst. We were all deeply moved with his eloquent recitation of Jain Namokar Mantra and meditation conducted by him prior to the commencement of one of our plenary sessions.Our meeting hall with its magnificent high dome reverberated with the deep, musical and captivating sound of the “Namokar Mantra”. “Namokar Mantra” of Jain religion salutes all those saints and teachers who have attained different levels of perfection in their endeavour to utilize the life span as a human being for the emancipation of their souls.

Jain religion is among the ancient religions of India and the world dating back in origin to pre-Vedic times. What is perhaps more important is that from the beginning and throughout long years of history, Jain religion has stressed the cardinal importance of not only believing in but also practicing AHIMSA (non-violence). Reverence for all forms of life as well as harmonious peaceful coexistence with nature and its elements has been basic to Jain Philosophy.It is indeed not only interesting but highly symbolic that each one of the 24 Tirthankaras of Jain religion has been identified with the sign of a particular animals, bird, flower or planet. Thus the first Tirthankar Bhagavan Rishabhanaath has the symbol of a bull and association with “Vat-vriksha” – huge tree meditating under which he attained Nirvana. The 8th Tirthankar Bhagavan Chandraprabhu has the symbol of “moon” and association with “Naga-Vriksha” tree. The 16th Tirthankar Bhagavan Shantinaath has the sign of a deer and association with Nandi tree. The 23rd Tirthankar Parshavanaath has the symbol of a serpent; Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankar is associated with Lion and ‘Sagvan’ tree.

The remarkable relevance of the principles of Jain religion to present day problems of environment needs wider universal appreciation and understanding. The Jain maxim “Parasparopagraho Jeevanam” reflects ecological balance and spiritual equality amongst all living elements of the Universe. All living organisms, howsoever big or small, irrespective of the degree of their sensory perceptions, are bound together by mutual support and interdependence. The world is in peril today because human beings have seriously and adversely disturbed this judiciously balanced relationship.Lord Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankar (Pathfinder) of the Jain religion said centuries ago:

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

He also observed:

The instinct of Self-preservation is universal. Every animate being wants to live and avoid death. Nobody likes suffering. Therefore, do not inflict suffering on anybody. This is non-violence. This is equality…..”

Jain scriptures hold forth emphatically on all life being sacred and sacrosanct – right down to a tiny ant or a humble worm or a miniscule living organism:

In happiness or suffering, in joy or grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self. We should, therefore, refrain from inflicting upon others such injury as would be undesirable or unbearable if inflicted upon ourselves. We must endeavour to develop equanimity towards all living beings and elements of nature in this universe.”

Jain religion takes an integrated view of Nature, human beings and all other living creatures. Indeed if this view had been sustained by human beings the world over while exploiting nature and other living creatures, we could have avoided the acute ecological crisis that we face now.Human encroachment of forests has been disastrous. As per FAO studies, in the Asia and Pacific Region alone 2 million hectares of forests are being lost annually, and as high as 5 million hectares of forestland has disappeared on account of commercial logging. World Resources Institute of New York has estimated that deforestation accounts for a third of the Carbon Dioxide being released into the atmosphere, thereby making it the single largest contributor to the global warming phenomenon.A Harvard Biologist has estimated that the chopping down of tropical forests leads to at least 50,000 invertebrate species every year (about 140 every day) facing extinction.

Pollution of rivers, lakes and oceans has upset the natural balance. Fourteen major river systems in India have become giant sewers for the country’s urban population. Depletion of ozone layer threatens global warming and climate change. Environmental degradation, if not checked, can create a paradoxical situation in which human beings would be moving towards their own extinction.An average rise of one to two degrees of earth’s temperature in 25 years has been predicted and in some regions, it may even be as high as six degrees. This may well lead to fertile belts turning arid and rising sea levels threatening 60 odd island nations like Maldives.It is a welcome augury that in the Rio declaration adopted by the Sacred Earth Gathering of over sixty leading representatives of all major religions and faiths the Jain Philosophy been endorsed in the following words:

We believe that the universe is sacred because all is one. We believe in the Sanctity and the integrity of all life and forms. We affirm the principles of peace and non-violence in governing human behaviour towards one another and all life.

We view ecological disruption as a violent intervention into the ways of life. Genetic engineering threatens the very fabric of life. We urge governments, scientists and industry to refrain from rushing into genetic manipulation.”

In its environmental consciousness, Jain philosophy is at once rational and wide-ranging. In the Jain view, ecological consciousness must be grounded in a judicious mix of divine holism and a vision of ethically inspired science and technology. Religion and science should go hand-in-hand to chart a single path to guide humans in the direction of preservation of our planet and conservation of its bounties. Humans must become the spiritual agents who restore and preserve the grace and dignity of Mother Earth and enhance the capacity, productivity and vitality of natural surroundings. After all, humans, nature and other living beings are a part of an organic whole-oneness which not only Jain, but other religions have also preached from times immemorial.

The message of Jainism with its emphasis on non-violence and compassion becomes highly relevant at a time when humanity, nature as well as other species are beleaguered with ecological degradation of an unparalleled magnitude. If we do not act now with wisdom, circumspection and foresight, we will end up destroying the entire edifice of civilized and cultured: life, which we have painstakingly built up over the centuries for our happiness, comfort, advancement and contentment. Are we going to uproot the tree on the strong branches of which we are sitting? It would be suicidal.

The practice of non-violence through vegetarianism, animal protection and care, afforestation, elimination of pollution of rivers, lakes and oceans can give a collective code of ethical conduct for the society-both national as well as global. Only through non-violence, our alienation from nature would be eliminated and we would be tuned to the feeling of oneness with nature and other species in harmony, non-exploitative interdependence and peace. This would bring not only beneficial ecological results for all living creatures and natural environment, but would also be conducive to inspire spiritual enlightenment of the soul.

Along with non-violence (Ahimsa), Jain religion also places equal emphasis on non-possession (Aparigraha), Jain philosophy advocates self-restraint, abstinence, austerity and elimination of aggressive urge. Through intense discipline – both mental and physical – human can achieve peace of mind, compassion and equanimity. Aparigraha is the answer to unrestrained and wasteful consumerism, which dominates the materialistic civilization particularly in the industrialized world today. For a better ecology, for harmonious oneness with Nature, it is important to practice simple living with a minimum of wants. There is no end to desire. The world of today has succumbed so much to unending desires that it has come to be dominated by ‘consumption-phobia’ – rather than a feeling of peace and contentment both materially as well as spiritually.While millions starve or face misery and deprivation, a privileged few indulge in wasteful consumption, which eventually is harmful to them in terms of health and physical well being.

Earth Save Foundation has calculated that to feed the world’s current population with the American-style diet, we would require 2½ times as much grain as the world’s farmers produce for all purposes. The developed countries with just 23% of global population and 50% of land area consume 60% of the total energy and earn 85% of the world’s total income. The developing countries fare very poorly by striking contrast. Hunger and poverty are rampant in developing countries whereas in developed countries like USA an average citizen eats 112 Kgs. of meat and consumes 7822 Kgs. of oil. Developed nations need to eliminate wasteful consumption, curb non-vegetarian food habits and move towards a more sustainable vegetarian diet. Among other things it would mean saving of the lives of so many innocent birds, fish and animals. Equally, developing nations need to recognize the resource they have in their predominantly plant-based vegetarian diets. This would inter-alia help develop ecologically sound agriculture.

As a further articulation of the principle of ‘aparigraha’, is the concept of being happy with limited possessions. Lord Mahavir used to counsel his affluent followers that there was no objection to their getting richer and prosperous, but they should voluntarily put a ceiling and whatever they earn above it should be given over to the needy in the society. This kind of “trusteeship principle” can prove very vital. The Global Forum is a mini-world of leading thinkers and men and women of action who are alive to the critical dimensions and depth of theological crisis confronting not only the entire humanity, but also indeed the entire Universe. Ecological degradation and mismanagement has reached a point where conventional resource management or ‘fine tuning’ of techno-economic solutions would provide only patch-work remedies.We must stop any further destruction of the earth’s life support systems interwoven with the deeply ecological relationship since creation between humanity and nature, between humanity and other living beings.

The spiritual voices heard at this distinguished gathering have brought an important message to the world. The voice of reason must be, once again, reinforced with the voice of faith. Spiritual perspective must be restored to its pride of place. Jain philosophy is highly relevant for the purpose of strengthening the spiritual perspective in our thinking and conduct. Ahimsa or Non-violence, in its comprehensive orientation, should become a way of life.Steady and sustained growth of the culture of non-violence would alone provide a durable answer to the impending ecological disaster. It would bring about a basic attitudinal change and would be instrumental in restoring peace, harmony and accommodation in the relations among humans and between humans of other living beings and elements of Nature.

It is in this context that the great Jain Monk Acharya Sushil Kumarji has launched here in Rio de Janeiro at this Earth Summit, a World Movement of Non-violence. I call upon this distinguished assembly of men and women of experience and wisdom to endorse the proposal so that on a global basis a worldwide culture of non-violence could begin to inspire our thoughts, actions and expressions.



Thou shalt not kill” does not apply to murder of one’s own kind only, but to all living beings and the commandment was inscribed in the human breast long before it was proclaimed from Sinai”.

 -Leo Tolstoy

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