Non-violence or Ahimsa is the main identity of Jainism. It is its over-arching principle. Its significance has been highlighted by other Indian religious traditions as well. For example in Mahābhārata, Bhishma had hailed Ahimsa or Non-violence as “Parmo Dharma” or the ‘ultimate religion’.
Non-violence or Ahimsa has both positive and negative connotations, which have equally to be kept in view. However, many Jain scholars and thinker-preceptors have used the term ‘Non-violence’ or Ahimsa mostly in a negative or proscriptive manner alone. Philosophically, this approach amounts to half-truth and is also misleading. Indeed, it detracts from the principal of Non-violence or Ahimsa. On the practical level too, ascribing such a negative meaning to Non-violence or Ahimsa, has done immense harm by encouraging a de-humanized code of human conduct.
Albert Schweitzer, a Nobel laureate, known for his matchless service to humanity and great learning, wrote a book titled ‘Indian Philosophical Thought’ while he was living in the deep forests of Congo in Africa. In spite of his belonging to Christian denomination, he liberally praised Jainism for its great contribution in the form of Non-violence or Ahimsa. Indeed, according to him the development of the concept of Non-violence or Ahimsa by Jainism is one of the most important events in the world history of spiritual and philosophical thought. However, he noticed that this noble principle of Jainism was presented in a negative form. Apparently he came across only such Jain works which gave Non-violence or Ahimsa a negative connotation. Some other western scholars too had the same perception for the same reasons.
Those Jain scholars and thinker-preceptors, who exclusively emphasize only the negative aspect of Non-violence or Ahimsa appear to have understood Non-violence or Ahimsa only as non-killing or non-harming and bereft of any element of compassion. Some of them have even expressed the extreme view that kindness or similar sentiment is a form of delusion only. Also, it has been said that actions of mercy, kindness, service, etc., result in karmic bondage, though of a pious kind, which may at the most lead to material benefits or noble rebirth and not the ultimate liberation. This line of thought distorts the real meaning of Ahimsa and, in turn, Jainism.
According to these thinkers, only abstinence can lead to liberation and is thus the true religious route. Again, this line of thought is incomplete as it misses out the positive aspect of Ahimsa.
In the Indian tradition, although the etiology of the word ‘Ahiṁsā (Non-violence)’, according to its very definition – Na hiṁsā iti ahiṁsā (what is not violence is Non-violence) – requires a negative prefix ‘a or non’ before the word ‘hiṁsā (violence)’ on one hand, but on the other hand, imparts a positive or prescriptive meaning. As a proof, in Praśnavyākaraṇa Sūtra, out of sixty synonyms of the word Ahiṁsā, there are words like dayā (mercy), maṅgal (wellbeing), abhaya (encouraging to be fearless), etc. These synonyms do not merely mean lack of violence, but also signify positive feelings and actions, which are opposite of himsa (Violence), such as mercy, kindness, compassion, friendship, service, etc., which involve thoughts and actions that are quite opposite of violence.
Again in Saṁskṛt language, the negative particle ‘nañ (na=a)’ has been ascribed six meanings. In the word ‘ahiṁsā’ ‘nañ (na=a)’ has two meanings – ‘lack’ and ‘opposite’. According to the first meaning, the lack of violence in thought and action is Non-violence or Ahimsa. According to the second meaning of ‘nañ (na=a)’ in Ahimsa, positive thoughts and actions such as kindness, compassion, mercy, friendship, service, etc., being the opposite of violence, too constitute Non-violence or Ahimsa.
It would be pertinent to mention here that if there were no positive aspects of Non-violence or Ahimsa, it would be meaningless as a religious or moral principle meant for spiritual uplift. No philosophical system or organization can stand only on the strength of negative thought content.
It will also be apt to give some examples from the Jain texts. According to Tattvārtha Sūtra, acceptable equally across all the sub-sects of the Swetambara and Digambara sects of Jaina tradition, liberation cannot be achieved unless there is right belief, right knowledge and right conduct. Out of the five characteristics of right belief, mentioned in the explanatory works like Tattvārtha Bhāṣya‘Anukampa’ or ‘Compassion’ is one1 Thus without anukampa or compassion there cannot be right belief and without right belief there cannot be liberation. In this context how can a liberating element be the cause of Karmic bondage?
Kundkundacharya, the great Digambara Acharya in his famous work Pancastikaya says that one who is moved by the travails of the thirsty, hungry and miserable and treats them kindly, is said to be compassionate.
Veerasenacharya, another earlier great spiritual master of the Digambara tradition, has said in the Dhavalā commentary on ¬aṭkhaṇḍāgama that karuṇā (compassion) is the inherent nature of all living beings and that if liberation cannot be achieved through pious thoughts and actions such as mercy, kindness and compassion, it just cannot be achieved.
Physiologically too, a person without the normal human qualities of empathy, brotherhood etc., is not treated as normal. In our day-to-day life a person devoid of compassion is considered inhuman and as hard-hearted as a stone. In our view, in terms of human nature or true religion, the guiding principles of life should make human beings more rather than less humane.
It seems to me that the cause of the distortion in the true meaning of Non-violence or Ahimsa arose because of the comparison between the concept of Punya with that of Dharma. It is popularly believed that Punya means pious acts which still lead to Karmic bondage. Dharma on the other hand means abstinence, penance, Tapasya (austerities) and other aspects of Nivritti (Non-activity or Non-indulgence). This distinction is not visible in the ancient texts of Jains and seems to be a later development introduced by the medieval Jains scholars or saints, without having the kind of omniscience which Mahavir had.
One of the four Bhavnas or sentiments, which are the pre-requites of the five main mahavratas or vows (Ahimsa, Satya, Achorya, Bramcharya, and Aparigrah) for the Jaina clergy and twelve anuvratas for Jaina laity is Maitry (Friendship with all life forms). Mahavir says ‘mitti me savva bhūesu’, ‘mitti bhūesu kappae’, etc., which enjoins friendship with all. It goes without saying that Maitry or Friendship is a positive concept. It involves empathy and ensuing help to the other beings. It goes beyond mere abstinence : non-harming : or non-killing.
Sometimes some of the Jaina scholars say that ‘friendship’ means not the help but just lack of animosity towards others. But this meaning is clearly misleading and incomplete. Obviously, the term friendship must have a positive thought and, if necessary, followed by action. My friend is one who helps me when I am in need. It is not just having no-ill-will but also of rendering definite support when needed. The words of Lord Mahāvīra, ‘Mitti me savvabhūesu, veraṁ majjhaṁ na keṇai’, meaning ‘I have friendship for all the living, I have no animosity towards anyone’ have been read only partially. The first part of his saying has already been dealt with earlier and this has to be juxtaposed with the second part dealing with non-animosity.
In Saṁskṛt language, too, the word ‘mitra’ consists of the root ‘mid snehe’, which means affectionate. Thus, friendship has been depicted as a positive concept and not as lack of animosity alone. From this point of view, if we wish to practice Non-violence or Ahimsa, it becomes necessary for us to help and serve others.
Besides the Jaina tradition, in other Śramanic traditions, too, the positive meaning of Non-violence or Ahimsa has been accepted. Especially, the concept of mahākaruṇā (great compassion) has been mentioned repeatedly in Mahayana Buddhism. There, compassion has been made the root of the faith. According to this tradition, Lord Buddha goes to the extent of saying, “I do not desire liberation, so that I may be here in this world and spread the gospel of kindness and compassion. The word ‘metti’ meaning friendship also has great significance in the Buddhist tradition.
Service can be said to be the practical side of friendship. In service, besides forgoing violence, freedom from fear is also granted. In the Jaina canonical lore, the giving of freedom from fear has been hailed as the best form of charity – ‘Dāṇāṇa seṭṭhaṁ abhayappyāṇaṁ’. Only a compassionate person can free a creature from fear, and grant it the gift of life and protection. Generally, such feelings do not rise in the heart of a cruel and brutal or heartless person. The altruistic person has a generous heart. He engages himself in mitigating the troubles of others in disregard of his own pleasure and pain. Forgetting his own troubles and discomforts, he is ever ready to partake of others’ sorrows.
Bhagvān Mahāvīra has said –
“Kiṁ Bhante! jo gilāṇaṁ paḍiyarai se dhaṇṇe udāhu je tumaṁ daṁsaṇeṇa paḍivajjai?”
“Goyama! je gilāṇaṁ paḍiyarai|”
Se keṇaṭṭheṇaṁ Bhante! evaṁ vuccai?”
Goyama! Je gilāṇaṁ paḍiyarai se maṁ daṁsaṇeṇa paḍivajjai| Je maṁ daṁsaṇeṇa paḍivajjai se gilāṇaṁ paḍiyarai tti| Āṇākaraṇa-sāraṁ khu Arahantāṇaṁ daṁsaṇaṁ| Goyama! evaṁ vuccai – “Je gilāṇaṁ paḍiyarai se maṁ paḍivajjai| Je maṁ paḍivajjai se gilāṇaṁ paḍivajjai|”
- Āvaśyakasūtra, Haribhadra’s commentary, 6.
“Lord! Who is blessed, the one who serves the sick and the miserable or the one who serves you?”
“Gautama! The one who serves the sick and the miserable.”
“Lord! Why do you say so?”
“Gautama! One, who serves the sick and the miserable, serves me and the one who serves me, serves the sick and the miserable. This is the essence of the Arihanta’s teaching. Therefore, O’ Gautama! I say that, one who serves the sick and the miserable serves me and one who serves me serves the sick and the miserable.”
Some of the misconceptions about Jainism need to be corrected so that its nobility and grandeur get highlighted. Jainism is a friendly, humane and compassionate philosophy and religion. Ahimsa or Non-violence, its seminal contribution to the thought and conduct in the world, deserves to be brought-out in its complete and pristine form. The result is this book.
We are indebted to K.L. Lodha for this learned and authentic treatise on the real import of Non-violence or Ahimsa. It will undoubtedly stimulate a healthy understanding of the real meaning of Non-violence or Ahimsa in the Jaina tradition. More importantly it will be able to stem the dehumanization of Jaina tradition.
The learned Jaina scholar Dr. Sagarmal Jain has kindly contributed his erudite and detailed Preface for this book. We are highly obliged to him.
Dr. Dharmachand Jain has put in considerable effort in editing this work and we thank him, too. He has specially contributed a collection of quotes from the canonical works of both – Śvetāmbara and Digambara– traditions, which are being given as an appendix at the end of this work. This collection enhances the authenticity of the book and will help in dispelling the doubts of readers and scholars.
We are also greatly thankful to Dr. (Col.) D. S. Baya, who has, very painstakingly, produced an authentic and lucid English translation of this work, which was originally produced in Hindi. It is sure to come in handy for the interested English speaking readers of Jainism and other pursuits.
Ms. Anju Dhadha Mishra read through the English text and made suitable changes. We are thankful to her as well.
Founder and Chief Patron
Prakrit Bharati Academy
Jaipur – 302017
- Tadevaṁ praśama-saṁveganirvedānukampāstikyābhivyakti-lakśaṇaṁ tattvārthaśraddhānaṁ samyagdarśanaṁ |
-Sabhāśya Tattvārthādhigamasūtra 1,2. [↩]