Ahimsa – the ultimate winner



[Speech at the Jain temple in Washington D.C. (U.S.A.) July, 2002]

It is a tragic irony that while we wax eloquent and quote chapter, verse and scripture on peace and non-violence, violence is escalating all over the world; violence is escalating in our thoughts, actions and expression on a worldwide scale. It is reflected in the way we are treating Earth’s resources, environment, other living species and finally our own fellow human beings.

After having two world wars in the first half of the 20th century, the world may have made progress towards peace (howsoever cold) among nations, but violence is a much vaster scourge threatening children, women, families, youth, elderly, cities, nations and the air, seas, oceans, nature and living species of our planet.

On the one hand thanks to scientific and technological advances, communications revolution and extensive discoveries about the mysteries of Nature, humanity finds itself in the kindergarten of an entirely new age of promise and hope. On the other hand, humanity finds itself on the brink of universal disaster. There is threat to the very survival of universe because of the rape of the Earth and devastation of its environment by greedy unscrupulous exploitative and ungrateful humans – that is all of us – the supposedly better, more civilized and superior among all living species of this universe!

We have committed grave sins and limitless violence towards what we call Mother Earth. Fertile lands have become barren, deserts are expanding, forests have disappeared, wild life is almost extinct, lakes have dried up, rivers and oceans are highly polluted, and fresh air is becoming a rare commodity.

The violence of resources abuse has reached such proportions that 10% of Earth’s potentially fertile lands have become wastelands and another 25% await the same fate. Every year the world is losing 8.5 million hectares through erosion and silting. Over 20 million hectares of tropical forests are being cut down each year. We are inviting doom at our doorstep by disturbing the peaceful and mutually supportive nature’s equilibrium.

There is the story of a lake region in India with a large frog population. Frogs became extinct because frog-legs were exported for huge profits, and the human population then became victim to the deadly black fever due to the poisonous sting of some insects whom earlier the frogs used to devour. Such things happen when we disrupt nature’s fine balance of interdependent survival and growth.

US industry releases annually about 10 billion pounds of toxic into streams and rivers polluting both surface as well as underground water. Due to intense infiltration of toxic, it is said that rate of cancer is rising by 20% in USA.

We have made geography history – a beautiful geography adorned by bounties of Nature has been turned into a tragic history of environmental degradation. An African proverb reminds us of our responsibility to the Universe when it says that, “the world was not left to us by our parents, but was lent to us by our children”.

Indiscriminate killing of animal and bird life for sport, hunting and consumption is another example of violent behaviour of humans to feed or perhaps overfeed themselves. Non-vegetarian food culture symbolizes support of violence on a massive scale. It is not Jain religion alone that decries meat eating. Manu, the great Hindu lawmaker condemned as killers not only those who killed animals, but also those who gave permission to do so, those who processed, sold, cooked or ate their meat.

Genesis in Judaism (the mother of all Semitic religions) emphasizes:

“I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of the earth and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree giving seed”.

And accordingly the people of Israel for three generations (from Adam to Noah) were vegetarian and frugivorous.

It is interesting to note that as per Islamic tradition in Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed, no creature be slaughtered. In fact Muslim pilgrims approach Mecca wearing a shroud (ihram) and from the time they wear it, no killing is allowed.

More recently Roman Catholic Church has ordained that Catholic should abstain from meat eating on Fridays.

Human kind has come to decry wars because so many human lives have been lost. Yet we go on killing millions of animals, birds and fish in slaughterhouses mercilessly every day – simply to fill our dinner plates. Are killings at these slaughterhouses, in any way, less criminal than the cruel killing of human beings at the Nazi Concentration Camps during World War II?

Next only to illicit trade in drugs and arms, US $ 10 billion a year worth global illicit trade is going on in rapidly varnishing exotic species like apes, sea turtles, giant pandas, cheetahs, elephants, tigers and lions, despite prohibition by United Nations. Fur farms breed, confine, strangle and asphyxiate foxes, minks and rabbits to provide human with fur coats!!!

At Toronto Science Centre, they have a snake and plant in a single jar tightly sealed. The snake produces Carbon Dioxide, which is the food of the plant. The plant produces oxygen, which is essential for the survival of the snake. This experiment demonstrates very beautifully how life forms are interdependent on each other. And yet are we killing animal life on the planet and destroying life support system.

Destruction of genetic diversity

Despite all religious injunctions and moral principles, we are destroying genetic diversity indiscriminately in plant and animal kingdom. In the name of scientific research, we are undertaking potentially harmful genetic manipulations, which can have serious repercussions for universal balance of life. It is rightly said:

“We have not woven the web of life;
We are merely a strand to it;
Whatever we do the Earth
We do it to ourselves”.
Humans are killing humans

And humans are killing humans in merciless ways, hurting each other’s sentiments, causing injury – physical, mental and emotional and exploiting one another cruelly. Somalias, Bosnias and Burundis offer a frightening spectacle of humans depriving ‘right to life’ to their own fellow human beings.

You often hear people saying that ‘that world is going to dogs! What a pretentious expression! We should re-coin that phrase to say, “The world is going to doom through the inhumanity of the humans”. Dog has at least common letters with God; Man is only a name!

A river does not drink its own water; a cow does not drink its own milk; a tree does not eat its own fruits; life grows with such mutually supportive generosity, tolerance and give-and-take. Let humans not turn blind to such wonderful and inspiring examples.

Terrorism at every street corner and gangsterism spreading like wild fire has deprived innocent men, women and children to a life without fear.

Although no world war has taken place in the later half of the 20th century, local conflicts, limited wars and armed clashes in different parts of the world continue the sad saga of inhumanity. Expenditure on armament and stock piling of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction continues to go up. Over one trillion dollars is being globally spent on military expenditure.

If diverted to development programmes, it could double the income of 2.6 billion people in 44 poorest countries. The cost of two fighter aircrafts could by three million hand pumps for water supply in villages, 250000 children under the age of five are dying every day of malnutrition and disease.

The billion-dollar question is how to surmount this vicious spread of violence and non-peace, which has spread over the entire spectrum of universal life. The answer is a determined efforts to establish the culture and practices of ‘ “PEACE THROUGH NON-VIOLENCE” at all layers of life and all segments of human endeavor.

A step-by-step approach is needed. Small steps will help us to take giant strides. A brick-by-brick approach is needed to build the Cathedral of World Peace. To give a few illustrative examples:

w Promotion of Inter-faith harmony and cooperation is called for with the common denominator of building the culture of non-violence.

w Munis, monks, missionaries and Maulvis need to form an “Inter-faith white Brigade” at local levels to propagate and practice peace through non-violence. If Mahatma Gandhi could win independence for India through a non-violent struggle, surely the holy men could also wage a locally focused campaign for peace, harmony and non-violent coexistence.

As Vivekananda said -

“The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor
A Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each
Must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve
His individuality and grow according to his own laws of Growth”.

w Education in schools, colleges and universities should include the concept of “reverence of life in all its forms”. The education in Earth Ethics will alone rekindle a mutually nurturing (and not exploitative) relationship between human and natural world. Realization must grow at every step in life and in every walk of life that Planet Earth is a vastly complex but basically a unitary living system.”

w Films, TV programmes, textbooks, must be censored to remove violence-orientation. Children’s toys, storybooks, cartoon, magazines and amusement parks must avoid playing up violence, gun-culture and trigger-happy leanings. The process of education and upbringing should be inspired by the concepts of amity, compassion, appreciation, equanimity and courage.

w Spread of Vegetarianism can be a very potent instrument towards strengthening the belief in and practice of non-violence. Already vegetarian food habits are gaining ground in Western countries as well. But it is still a mere drop in the ocean. We would be better Jains if we could persuade more and more non-vegetarians to take to vegetarian diet.It is time to mount an energetic campaign to arouse public opinion against the merciless slaughter of thousands of innocent animals every day to provide food to humans.

w Global Community should encourage non-violent and cooperative communication to combat the current violent communication through exploitation, arrogance, oppression, domination, dogmatism and fundamentalism. This can be developed at all levels beginning with local action at grass root in small and big communities – with the leadership provided by social service volunteers.

It will be clear that violence is in its basic sense a reflection of lower instinctive consciousness of fear, anger, greed, jealousy and hate. It springs from a mentality of separateness and unconnectedness. The challenge is how to live in a world of differences without threatening others and without being threatened.

Peace in its true perspective mirrors a dynamic state of cooperative peaceful coexistence between human and natural world. This kind of vibrant peace will make the world achieve not only scientific advancement, economic excellence, social progress and cultural refinement, but also make the ethical and spiritual foundations of our life more stable, secure and firmly rooted.

The concept of non-violence runs through teachings of all world religions and faiths, but it is only in Jain Religion that it has been put at the highest pedestal with a comprehensive perspective.

Realization of the imperative need of translating AHIMSA in our thoughts, behaviour, action and utterances is the key to peace of the individual, family, society, nation and universe. In this task as Lord Mahavir has said

“Never be careless even for a moment”

It is going to be a long and determined struggle. Overcoming the forces, attitudes and culture of violence is indeed a formidable task. So far, humanity has succumbed to the temptation of curbing violence by counter-violence. Planting the seed of non-violence and its germination may take time, but it is the only way to durable peace. It is therefore imperative to pursue promotion of non-violence boldly and with confidence. Hence, as German Poet Goethe said:

Whatever you can do or dream you can,
Begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it
Begin it now.


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