Ahimsa – the ultimate winner


The World View of Jainism

[Key Note Speech at the Inauguration of the First Jain Temple in Europe - the Jain Temple at Leicester City in UK, in October, 1988]

I feel deeply honoured to be invited to deliver the keynote address at the inauguration of this wonderful Jain temple in the heart of the city of Leicester in United Kingdom. It is the very first Jain temple in Europe and I congratulate the Jain Community of Leicester and of England for its pioneering effort.

In a very important sense, the ‘flame’ of ‘Ahimsa’ is lit. I am confident from now on the message of Jainism would spread far and wide in the context particularly of its relevance to the ongoing crisis in the western society and the jolt it has received in its history on account of two world wars, and earlier on account of violent religious conflicts.

Today’s war-weary, tension-filled, hatred-infested global community needs the compassionate message of Jain religion to show them the right path towards inner contentment and outer stability, progress and happiness.

The other day when I was with the King of Belgium for a meeting as India’s Ambassador, I was delighted to learn that he had seen the film “Gandhi” seven times, and both he and had the Queen were great admirers of Mahatma Gandhi’s successfully accomplished mission through love, persuasion and tolerance. I was gratified to hear from him that he knew that in his impressionable years, young Gandhi had been deeply inspired by a Jain Guru and in his childhood by his Jain mother.

The great thing about the Leicester Jain Temple is that under one roof all sects and traditions of Jain religion have places of worship in accordance with their religious persuasions. This Temple, therefore, will stand out as an inspiring symbol of the fundamental unity of Jain faith. The flag of unity is unfurled. Let us spread the message that what unites us is far more important and substantive than what may appear to divide us in terms of varying rituals or differing interpretations.

The presence at this function of venerable Jain Saints and Gurus, as well as of distinguished leaders of all traditions of Jain religion is truly heartening. Presenting the message of Jainism to them is like carrying coal to New Castle.

The worldview of Jainism presents an unparalleled concern for life and conservation of Nature. ‘Ahimsa Parmo Dharma’ (Non-violence is the Supreme Religion) has been the corner stone of the entire edifice of the deeply compassionate philosophy of Jainism. In Jain religion non-violence in thought, word and deed has a universal and comprehensive coverage encompassing all living beings as well as Nature. Reverence for all forms of life and adherence to the principle of live and let live is deeply ingrained in the Jain ethos.

Character, vows, virtues and knowledge are meaningless unless non-violence and reverence for life is enshrined in our hearts”


Jain religion is one of the oldest religions of India and the world. Twenty-four Tirthankaras beginning with Rishabh Naath and ending with Mahavir (599-527 B.C.) have guided its evolution and elaboration by first practicing and then preaching. All of them were historical figures enjoying immense princely political power. And yet at the height of their undisputed glory, when the light of Aparigraha (non-attachment) and Ahimsa (non-violence) dawned upon them, they renounced all material comforts and possessions of life, detached themselves from their families and set out on the path of spiritual enlightenment and eventually became ‘JINA’ conquering the suffering and the pleasure inherent in attachment.

All the Tirthankaras were not Gods who came down from the heaven. They were like us persons of flesh and blood. But their resolve, inspiration and earnest effort to look beyond physical existence and delve into the spiritual purpose of life made them our enlightened spiritual guides. Their example, in the words of Jacqueline Synder, reflects, “The promise of the future that many more like them could explore our vast human potential, and the intuition and creative genius that will come forth will fuel the acceleration of our race”. This is so because their “enlightenment” was a result of intense physical effort as well as deep contemplation made by them. Their example is meant to energize us to take to their path in search of fulfillment of life’s purpose.

Jain philosophy is grounded in “Shraman Sanskriti” (effort culture). Hence every individual has to oneself decide what great and splendid things one would like to achieve in life beyond mere material comfort. Each individual in one’s own way within his/her capacity needs to make up one’s mind to embark upon the journey towards enlightenment. It is not prayer alone which will make us proceed. With aroused consciousness and recharged soul energy, we can seize opportunities to move ahead just as the coral insect takes from the running tide the elements it needs. There are no shortcuts. It has to be an effort well-disciplined, well-motivated, well-grounded in knowledge and conviction, accompanied by strong will power to disentangle oneself gradually and steadily from the ‘Karmic’ bondages and material possessive instincts and proceed towards identifying divinity within oneself.

The Jain approach is beautifully reflected in Epictetus, A.D.50, and should help us in strengthening our soul energy. It says:

You are a distinct portion of the essence of God; and contain part of God in yourself. Why, then, are you ignorant of your noble birth? Why do you not consider whence you came? Why do you not remember when you are eating, who you are who eat; and whom you feed? Do you not know that it is the Divine you feed; the Divine you exercise? You carry a God about with you”.

The teachings of Tirthankaras and their life example invoke and inspire an intense and constant awareness of communion and interdependence not only with all living beings but also indeed with all elements of nature. The holy text ‘Tatvartha Sutra’ sums it up in the phrase ‘Parasparograho Jeevanam’ and Yogashastra says, “Atmavat Sarva Bhuteshu”.

This concept of interdependence has been beautifully expressed by Francis Thompson in his book “The Mistress of Vision”. He writes:

All Things by immortal power near or far hiddenly to each other linked are. That than canst not stir a flower without troubling a star”.

In its global perspective, Jain philosophy postulates six substances (dravyas) in the universe. Jiva (Soul) is the animate substance (Jivastikaya). It includes apart from human beings and animals the entire range of living beings and life forms and entities ranging from plants, vegetables and trees to minutest insects and birds.

Entities or Life forms in the Universe

JIVA (Life) AJIVA (Non-life)
Living elements
like humans
Animals, plants
(Those who have attained salvation)
Immobile (Sthavar) Mobile (Tras)
One sensed like: 2-sensed
1) Earth bodies 3-sensed
2) Air bodies 4-sensed
3) Water bodies 5-sensed
4) Fire bodies
5) Vegetation

The other five substances are inanimate (ajivastikaya) (non-soul) viz. Pudgal (matter) Dharma (motion), Adharma (rest), Akasha (space) and Kala (time). Jain concept of universality is that the elements of nature – the earth, the sky, the air, the water and the fire as well as forms of life are all bound to each other. Life cannot exist without mutual support and respect.

To be human being is a gift in the evolution of life as it enables him to bring out his humanity towards other fellow living beings and the natural elements thereby achieve oneness with all life. It is human being alone endowed with all the six senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching and thinking, who can utilize his rationality and power of reasoning (viveka) to be compassionate, loving, friendly, forgiving, tolerant and broad minded to the universe around him.

Far from being dogmatic, Jain religion has a well-defined and clearly articulated scientific base, which elucidates interrelated properties and qualities of animate and inanimate substances in terms of evolution and growth of atoms in time and space.

Religious impulse is equated with the search for ‘Truth’ (Satya), that “by soul alone I am governed” (appanam anusasayi) and “let karma not bind you” (pavam Kammam na bandhaye” (Dasavaikalik Sutra). The path of enlightenment is sought by finding the Kingdom of God within one’s inner self through right belief (Samyak Darshan), right knowledge (Samyak Jnana) and right conduct (Samyak Charitra).

Animate and inanimate substances constantly interact causing the world to be what it is. Soul is, by nature, omniscient and omnipotent, free and immortal. Freedom and bondage are its own creation through Karma, good and bad.

In the cycle of transmigration, the soul goes through successive embodiments in different life forms until it purifies to the greatest degree spiritually, emancipates from its attachment with all matter and experiences salvation (moksha).

Jain philosophy envisages harmonious co-existence between man and nature in the constant exertion for creating environment that is pure, peaceful and non-polluted and thus congenial and inspirational to the spiritual endeavour of human beings.

Jain scriptures have brought out vividly how and why Nature’s bounty such as soil, forest, trees, minerals and water, should be used judiciously “as the bee sucks honey in the blossom of a tree without hurting the blossom”. Nature should not be exploited or destroyed in a reckless manner, and Nature’s balance should not be disturbed. Lord Mahavir regarded reverence of Nature as the highest virtue and destruction of environment as cruelty to Nature. He observed, “One who knows the demerit of the destruction of plant and trees, knows the merit of reverence for Nature”.

Jain religion presents a truly enlightened perspective of equality of souls irrespective of differing physical forms of living creatures ranging from human beings to animals and infinitesimal living organisms. Acaranga Sutra says: “To do harm to others is to do harm to oneself. We kill ourselves as soon as we intend to kill other”.

Niragranth Pravachan containing the gist of answers given by Bhagavan Mahavir to his principal pupil Indrabhuti says in gatha 18:

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One who regards this life as transient and considers all small and big living beings as like him is the real learned with due restraint”.

Both in its principles as well as in day-today practice, Jain religion advocates non-attachment and non-possessiveness to material things of life through self-restraint and abstinence from over-indulgence, voluntary curtailment of necessities and elimination of aggressive urge. The rituals and practices prescribed for the monks (Mahavrata) are more rigorous than those (Anuvrat) prescribed for the ordinary followers.

In the words of Arnold Toynbee, “that a certain number of finest minds should remain unattached and unbound by social ties is bound to set an example of purest natural life unfettered by worldly desires”. All such virtues are embodied in Jain Monks in terms of their strict code of conduct, austere life and gaining of deep insight and knowledge into the mystery of existence.

However, more than abstinence and renunciation, Jain philosophy puts emphasis on fully understanding and practicing in one’s own station of life the principles of non-violence whether one is a monk or one is a normal householder.

Acaranga scripture observes very pointedly and clearly:

There is no use to memorize thousands of verses which do not even teach a man to be non-violent”.

Ahimsa in practical life is an exercise in forgiveness, friendliness, tolerance, compassion, self-control and fearlessness and whether one is monk or a layperson, he must practice these positive virtues.

Jain community has exerted a great deal of humanitarian influence on Indian society as a whole, though it has remained numerically a minority. Largely as a result of the impact of Jainism that vegetarianism is practiced in all parts of India and animal sacrifice is now illegal in most States. The Jain Monk Hiravijaya – Suri persuaded the Moghul Emperor Akbar (1556 –1605) to prohibit killing of animals on certain days. Akbar eventually renounced hunting and very nearly became a vegetarian.

As a logical outgrowth of the doctrine of non-violence, Jain philosophy pins its faith in Anekantvad (literally “not only one solution”). Anekantvad puts relationship between human being as well as other living creatures and elements of nature in a multi-ended, broader, more universal and tolerant perspective. It rejects absolutism and dogmatism. Open mindedness is regarded as the only way to the discovery of truth. Anekantvad is the antidote of indoctrination.

The humanitarian, liberal and compassionate orientation of Jain religion has inspired a distinct stream of culture which has enriched Indian philosophy, literature, art, architecture and sculpture, pattern of living and ethical tradition.

Jain philosophy in today’s world is an ever – vibrant stream of thought invoking a new universal human as well as a new universal environmental order. It seeks to take the humanity above the din and pollution of hatred, violence, mistrust and exploitation. It is an open philosophy, the benefit of which can be taken by anyone willing to improve one’s quality of life.

Shivamastu Sarva Jagatah
Parahita nirata bhavantu bhutagana
Dasha prayantu nasham
Sarvatra sukhi bhavantu lokah

(Blessings to be the entire universe
May everyone be engrossed in each other’s well-being?
May all weaknesses and faults be eradicated?
Everywhere let everyone be in bliss)

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