jain religion and teachings of bhagwan mahavir






Jain religion is unique in as much as in its long existence, it has never compromised on the principle and practice of non-violence. While the important role and moral value of Ahimsa has been recognized in almost all religions of the world, it is in the Jain religion alone that Ahimsa has been regarded as the sheet anchor of life’s philosophy both for thought as well as action. In Jain religion, Ahimsa is regarded as the Supreme Religion. Indeed Jainism is Ahimsa and Ahimsa is Jainism.

Jain philosophy does not consider Ahimsa as a mere religious doctrine or principle. Fundamentally it is in consonance with the nature (Vastu Swabhava) of all living beings. The holy text ‘Tattavartha Sutra’ sums it up in the phrase PARASPAROPGRAHA JEEVANAM which means all living beings are interdependent and need to be mutually supportive and to coexist peacefully. YOGASHASTRA describes it as Atmavat Sarva Bhuteshu i.e., look upon others as you would at yourself.

The three A’s of Jainism viz., Ahimsa, Anekant and Aparigraha constitute an integrated and comprehensive definition of Ahimsa. Ahimsa ( non-violence strengthens the autonomy of life of every living being, Anekant (Non-absolutism) strengthens the autonomy of thought of every individual, and Aparigraha (Non-possession) strengthens the interdependence and mutual-supportiveness of all existence. Together these three strengthen the comprehensive culture of non-violence and fortify the foundations of peace and equanimity.

Mahavir observed :

There is nothing so small and subtle as the atom,

nor any element so vast as space;

Similarly, there is no quality of soul

more subtle than non-violence and

No virtue of spirit greater than reverence for all life.

Jaina Yogashastra gives a comprehensive definition of Non-violence :

Reverence 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.

Adinath Bhagwan, Vimala Vasahi Temple, Dilwara, Mount Abu

Acharya Shubhachandra writes in his memorable work ‘JNANARNAVA’ :

All the scriptures regard Ahimsa as the core attribute of religion and the contrary as sin. Ahimsa is the fountain spring of all virtues like learning and meditation, compassion and charity, non-attachment, pursuit of truth and ethical conduct.”

For centuries, Jaina teaching of Ahimsa has been passed on from generation to generation as a positive life force legacy equally worthy of all. Niragrinth Pravachan containing account of answers given by Mahavir to his chief disciple, Indrabhuti Gautam says in gatha 18 that “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.” In essence Jain religion presents in its conception of Ahimsa a truly enlightened perspective of equality of all souls irrespective of differing physical forms of living creatures ranging from human beings to animals and infinitesimal living organisms.

Inherent in it is the concept of love for all of creation. Thus, non-violence is not mere negation or elimination of violence. It is even more a vehicle to promote positive and rational approach and attitude to life in relation to others. Inspired by this philosophy, Mahatma Gandhi used to say:

Keep your thoughts positive and nonviolent

Because your thoughts become your words,

Keep your words positive

Because your words become your habit,

Keep your habits positive

Because your habits become your behavior,

Keep your behavior positive

Because your behavior becomes your destiny

Bhagwati Sar quotes Mahavir preaching that

Unless we live with non-violence and reverence for all living beings in our hearts, all our humaneness and acts of goodness, all our vows, virtues and knowledge, all our practices to give up greed and acquisitiveness are fruitless.”

In Dasavaikalika scripture, Ahimsa has been defined as establishing unity with all the living beings without any kind of distinction. Mahavir said,

I have friendship with all the living beings; I have no revenge nor enmity with anybody. Molest no one, not even your own soul.”

Thus, the Jain concept of Ahimsa covers both “PARA-HIMSA” (violence towards others) as well as “SVA-HIMSA” (violence towards oneself). The reasoning is that if you practice non-violence towards others, it is in the first place for your own good, as it would make you a nobler human being full of large-heartedness, compassion and generosity. Scriptures say that “He who negates or ignores, or harms other beings, negates, ignores and harms one’s own self”. In essence, Ahimsa is a true and unconditional surrender of our own identity for the welfare of others.

In his sermons, Mahavir always insisted upon the observance of non-violence in thought, expression and action both at the level of the individual as well as the society. He envisaged its observance not only among humans, but on the wider plane among all life on the planet and the elements of nature that nurture and sustain it. Jain religion regards that both scientifically as well as spiritually all life on earth is harmoniously interdependent. There is a common organic chemistry, a shared evolutionary heritage and a common destiny passing through the cycle of birth and death towards eventual emancipation. Jain scriptures have vividly stressed on how and why Nature’s bounty such as soil, forests, trees, minerals and water should be used judiciously “ as the bee sucks honey in the blossom of a tree without hurting the blossom”.

Mahavir’s greatest contribution was to articulate with great clarity, comprehension and thrust the wide-ranging vision and definition of Ahimsa. He transformed the concepts of Oneness of all Creation and the doctrine of LIVE AND LET LIVE into compassionate life ethics. Integrating practice of non-violence simultaneously in thought, expression and action was a challenging task both for the individuals as well as the society as a whole. Mahavir felt that without such an integrated approach, the culture of non-violence would not become all pervasive. American Jain scholar Michael Tobias has very aptly observed that in no other religion, has thought and action been so intricately merged into a unity of behavior.

It may perhaps be easier to curb physical violence (DRAVYA HIMSA), but it is far more difficult to control violent instincts, thoughts, intentions and expressions (BHAVA HIMSA). Anger, pride, ego, vanity, deceit, greed, suspicion, fear, revenge, cruelty, malice, hatred, hostility are all constituents of violence in attitude, thought and behavior. By contrast, non-violence is equated with attributes such as peace, compassion, piety, sympathy, harmony, faith, fraternity, fearlessness, forgiveness, tolerance, generosity and mutual supportiveness. In one word, Jain concept of Ahimsa represents all virtues and the concept of violence all the vices. It boils down to a choice between the good and the evil. Jainism has been rightly described as a “philosophy of biological ethics and spiritual ecology”.

Deeply influenced and inspired by Mahavir’s teachings, Mahatma Gandhi came to believe in the courage and potency of non-violence. He observed:

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

In a similar vein, renowned American scientist Carl Sagan writes:

There is no Right to Life recognized in any society on earth today nor has there been at any time with a few rare exceptions such as the JAINS of India.”

Mahavir lucidly explained the rationale of non-violence with a simple logic by saying :

 “In happiness and 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, suffering or pain as would be undesirable or unbearable if inflicted upon ourselves. We must endeavor to develop equanimity towards all living beings and elements of nature. I cannot take what I cannot give back. No one can give back life. Therefore, no one should take it.”

Acaranga Sutra quotes the constant refrain in the teachings of all the Tirthankars:

All breathing, existing, living sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented nor driven away.”

In order to understand and realize the true essence of Ahimsa, Jain scriptures have in-depth analysed the entire anatomy of Himsa or violence. Himsa can be internal as well as external. The actual act of harming, hurting or killing is DRAVYA HIMSA; while the intention to do so is BHAVA HIMSA. There could be, broadly, four forms of violence arising out of this classification. These are (1) Both intention and act of killing, (2) Only intention, but no killing or physical hurting, (3) Only act of killing minus intention to kill and (4) Neither the act of killing nor the intention to do so.

From this it should be clear that violence in the first place arises in one’s mind as a negative ego-centric emotion or feeling of revenge and then gets translated into expression and action. Violence takes the worst form when the intention gets combined by the actual act of hurting or killing. Only violent intention is also not desirable even though it may not be accompanied by violent action. It is so because it betrays an attitude of ill-intention which creates disharmony and sows the seeds of violent behavior. Without intention to kill or hut, if violent action occurs, it may be accidental like a patient dying in an operation performed by the doctor with the noble intention of curing him. When there is both no intention as well as no action to hurt or kill, it is a very aggreable situation away from violence.

Violence can, thus, be (1) Intentional (Sankalpi), (2) At work (Udyogi), (3) Initial in process of construction (Aarambhi), and (4) In defence (Suraksha). Intentional violence is worst. At work, it may be unavoidable type, like a tiller tilling the land and in the process several life forms getting destroyed. However, morality requires it to be kept to the minimum unavoidable. In defence violence is justified, but here again effort should be to keep it within limits for achieving one’s aim of defence.The sum and substance of the detailed exposition of different forms of violence is to guide the people to restrict violence to the bare minimum, and never have the intention to indulge in it. If the culture of non-violence and a compassionate attitude gets developed in an individual or society, violence shrinks.

In order to provide a solid and substantive base to strengthening non-violence culture, Jain religion provides scientific biological facts about all living organisms in order to work for their due protection. Besides humans, animals, birds and plants, there are one-sensed living elements like earth bodies (Prithvikaya), Air bodies (Vayukaya), (3) Water bodies (Jalkaya), Fire bodies (Agnikaya) and Vegetations (Vanaspatikaya). There are also a variety of two-sensed, three-sensed, four-sensed and five-sensed creatures.

The Jain Pratikraman Sutra prescribing the ritual of Pratikraman for seeking forgiveness from all living beings very vividly illustrates the depth of the Jain philosophy of Ahimsa :

While walking, I may have pained living beings; while coming and going, I may have crushed living beings such as live animate seeds, green grass and plants; I may have crushed beings living in the dew, in the anthills, in the living moss and in water particles; the live earth, web of spiders, I may have harassed or crushed;

Whomsoever may have been crushed, tormented or hurt by me : beings with only one sense, the sense of touch ( such as earth, water, fire, air and plant life); beings with only the two senses of touch and taste (like worms and shell creatures); beings with only the three senses of touch, taste and smell (like ants); beings with the four senses of touch, taste, smell and sight (such as bees and other insects); beings with all five senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing like fish, mammals, animals of all kinds and human beings;

Whomsoever may have been caused to collide accidentally with one another; whomsoever may have been tormented, whomsoever may have been caused pain, to whomsoever I may have given agony; whomsoever I may have frightened; whomsoever I may have shifted causing hurt from one place to another; whomsoever I may have separated from life and made lifeless;

May all of you who suffered because of me forgive me. May the ignorance in me that caused pain to other beongs cease and be brought to an end; May all be forgiven and forgotten.”

Ahimsa is the top most vrata (oath) among the five Mahavratas for the ascetics and the five Anuvratas for the lay persons. Ascetics have to follow most rigorously the discipline of avoiding even the minutest kind of dravya himsa in the manner of living, traveling, eating and talking and communicating and conducting their other activities. In their case Bhav-himsa avoidance is also of strictest standards and parameters.

It will be seen that on the one hand Ahimsa implies negation or minimization of violence, on the other hand on the positive side, Ahimsa mirrors piety, compassion, sympathy and love towards all. Secondly Ahimsa in Mahavir’s teachings is also ‘active ahimsa’. Far from being a bookish doctrine, it needs to be pursued in an integrated and consistent manner in thought, expression as well as conduct. Integrated approach creates the non-violent mind-set and makes the individual as well as the society pursue the path of equanimity and harmony.

Acharya Maharapgyaji has put this in the wider perspective as follows :

“The world needs a healthy society and a healthy individual.
As long as violence remains a medium for the solution of problems,
the society and the individual will remain sick with distorted vision
and misguided perceptions.”