Positive Non-Violence




Basically, the concept of non-violence is found mentioned in every religion. So much so that the religions, such as the Vedic and the Zoroastrian, that supported ritual sacrifices, even animal sacrifices, have emphasized the concept of non-violence. Whether in the form of the Vedic hymn, ‘Pumān pumāṁsaṁ paripātu viśvataḥ’ (Ṛgveda, 6.75.14), in which universal mutual protection has been advocated or one – ‘Mitrasyāhaṁ cakuṣā sarvāṇi bhūtāni samīkṣe’ – in Yajurveda, which goes a step further and wishes for universal friendship for all living beings. Animal sacrifice had not only been practiced but was justified by saying that violence committed in the practice of Vedic sacrifices was no violence (Vaidiki hiṁsā hiṁsā na bhavati). Similarly, in the Judeo-Christian scripture – Old Testament – one of the ten commandments is ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Even then the meaning of this commandment cannot be taken as the same as in the case of ‘Savve sattā ṇa hantavvā (all living beings are not to be killed)’ in the Jaina tradition. Here, we have to clearly understand that the development of consciousness about non-violence and its meanings have been gradual. Literally, ‘Thou shall not kill’ and ‘Savve sattā ṇa hantavvā’ mean the same thing – ‘Don’t kill any creature’. However, the meanings drawn of these two explicit commands in these two traditions have been widely different. For a Judeo-Christian it means not to kill or hurt his own kind in caste and creed whereas for a follower of Jainism its meaning is not limited only to his own kind or even the visible moving creatures but also extends to the invisible micro-organisms of the earth-bodies, water-bodies, air-bodies, fire-bodies and vegetable life forms. Thus, the development of the meaning of these commandments, that has come about over centuries, in the Jaina and the Judeo-Christian traditions is quite different. Here, we ought not to forget that this journey of the development of the meaning of non-violence has not progressed according to any one progression but has come about differently in different sections of humanity in accordance with the progress of social consciousness and sensitivity to different life forms. The section of human race that was more sensitive to various life forms, gave non-violence a wider meaning. This development (of the meaning of non-violence) is also not one-dimensional but three-dimensional. On one side it developed from avoidance of violence towards own kind to that towards six categories of gross living beings such as humans, animals birds and fishes as well as insects, and invisibly fine creatures of micro-organisms and earth, water, air, fire and vegetable origins. On the other hand, it developed from its external form of prohibiting of destruction of vitality, dismemberment, beating and bullying, and confinement to its internal sense of avoiding evil disposition and negligence. Here, it was averred that harbouring ill will or evil disposition towards anyone or acting negligently might not have resulted in any of the external forms of violence, but its very possibility was considered as violent. Yet again, the meaning of non-violence developed from its proscriptive or injunctive form of ‘don’t kill or hurt’ to its positive form of mercy, kindness, compassion, co-operation, service etc.

In this discussion, our main subject is that positive aspect of non-violence in the form of mercy, kindness, compassion, co-operation, service etc., which appears in front of us in the form of trying to save life and save the living from pain and misery. It is true that, in itself, the word ‘non-violence’ is injunctive and etiologically its meaning seems to be confined to an injunction to not to practice violence, but leaving a few, the sixty synonyms of the word ahiṁsā (non-violence) that appears in the primary Jaina canonical treatise, Praśnavyākaraṇa, all refer to the positive or practical aspect of non-violence.

The opposite or negative counterpart of violence is non-violence. This is a negative definition of non-violence. However, merely giving up of violence is not non-violence. The negative non-violence does not touch all aspects of life. It cannot be termed as a spiritual achievement. Negative non-violence is merely giving up of external or physical violence; it can be the body of non-violence but not its spirit. Not to kill anyone is merely limited to gross and external view of non-violence. In the literal sense, the central tenet of Jainism, non-violence as negation of violence, may be negative but its feeling is not negative. Its feeling has always been positive and prescriptive. One of the proofs that non-violence is positive is that Jainism has used the word ‘anukampā (compassion)’ as a synonym for non-violence. In the Jaina parlance ‘anukampā’ is an important word. It is basically made up of the prefix ‘anu’ and the root word ‘kampā (meaning kampan or vibration)’. Abhidhān Rājendra Kośa explains anukampā as ‘anurūpa kampate ceṣṭate iti anukampā’, which means ‘what vibrates sympathetically is compassion’. Actually, compassion is the feeling of pain in others’ suffering; it is to feel the others’ pain and suffering equally. Again, further clarifying the concept of compassion, it has been said that it is the detached desire to mitigate others’ pain and suffering. Thus, if the concept of compassion is an inseparable part of non-violence, to consider it as negative only is misleading. In compassion, others’s pain is not only felt as own pain, but a natural and selfless effort is also made to mitigate it. When others’ pain and misery become our own pain and misery, it is not possible that an effort may not be made to mitigate it. Actually, as long as compassion does not become a part of one’s life, the gaining of right-vision is also impossible. Others’ pain and misery can become our own only when we feel it as our own. It is only this feeling that is the source from which the right-vision springs and a spring of positive non-violence that is the sacred river of service to mitigate others’ pain flows. The sacred stream of non-violence has always flowed from the positive feelings of kindness and friendship, which are rooted in the feeling of universal oneness. When we consider the discreet view of ‘ātmavat sarvabhūteṣu (all living beings are like the self)’ and the feeling of sensitivity towards various forms of life becomes the logical basis of non-violence, its meaning gets yet another dimension. A positive aspect of non-violence comes to the fore in the form of the discreet view of ‘ātmavat sarvabhūteṣu (all the living are like the self)’ and the feeling of sympathy. Non-violence does not merely mean not to cause pain and misery to anyone but it also means trying to mitigate others’ pain and misery. If we limit the meaning of mercy to not causing pain to anyone, it will not be mercy in the real sense of the term. Mercy means to see others’ pain as our own. When others’ pain becomes our own, the efforts to mitigate it also manifest themselves. Even if someone takes the vow of not killing or causing pain to anyone, and also observes it flawlessly, but if is not moved by others’ pain and misery and does not try to mitigate them, he would be said to be heartless only. It is only when the discreet view of ‘ātmavat sarvabhūteṣu (all the living are like the self)’ establishes itself on the mental framework of sensitivity, the others’ pain becomes our own. Actually, the basis of non-violence is not only the logical discretion, but also emotional discretion. In the emotional discretion, the others’ pain becomes our own and as we naturally act to remove our own pain, the efforts to mitigate others’ pain also express themselves equally naturally. The positive non-violence is included in this natural effort to mitigate others’ misery and pain.

If this positive aspect of non-violence is removed from it, it becomes heartless. When Mrs. Stevenson termed the Jaina concept of non-violence as heartless (The Heart of Jainism, p. 296), she meant the same thing. Although her statement was erroneous because she never tried to see Jainism’s inherent positive non-violence that lives on not only in precept but also in practice to date. She drew her conclusion based on her observation of some contemporary Jaina monks of a particular sect.

The Main Canonical Bases of the Negative Aspect of Non-violence –

It is true that the Śramanic tradition and especially Jainism has given an extensiveness to the meaning of non-violence. It is equally true that this development of the meaning of non-violence also gave rise to many a philosophical problem. While extending the meaning of non-violence, when it was taken for granted that to cause pain or torment any form of life or even to think ill of them is violence, and at the same time it was also averred that there is life in not only the human, animal or vegetable world but in earth, water, air, and fire as well, the problem arose that when one form of life is to be preserved at the expense of the other life forms, the choice would be not between violence and non-violence but between one form of violence and the other. Those thinkers who considered all life forms as of the same value, had to ignore the concept of positive non-violence because, all activities, like mercy, kindness, compassion, charity, benevolence, etc., that constitute positive non-violence are action oriented and all activities – ‘yoga’ according to Jaina glossary – may be in any form, are always beset with the elements of violence or karmic influx. If we consider complete prohibition of activity as the only goal of spiritual accomplishment, the concept of non-violence would be essentially negative. It is worthy of note that for all those religions in which earth, water, air, fire, vegetation, etc. have either been considered as lifeless or that their lives were not considered to be equally valuable, or that the God has made these other forms of life for the use of the human beings only, the attachment or violence that is seen in positive non-violence can be converted from means of bondage to means of liberation by infusing a discreet sense of duty. Just as a medicine made of poison is not only not harmful but positively beneficial, so is also the positive non-violence beneficial for the social health. When we do accept all kinds of activities, and part violence inherent therein, for the preservation and furtherance of our own life, there is no basis for our argument against positive non-violence on the ground of the element of part-violence in it and calling it as poison mixed milk. If the violence for preserving own life is considered excusable, why shouldn’t it be in the preservation of others’ lives as well?

Again, if we feel that there is attachment in acting for others, why should we not feel likewise when we act for ourselves? When it is not possible to give up activity completely, it would have to be given a form that makes it a conduit for non-violence and liberation rather than violence and bondage. Only dutiful activities that are undertaken with a benevolent view can be such activities that can transform our bonding activities to liberating ones.

It is for this reason that the terms like īryāpathik kriyā (non-sticking activity) and īryāpathik bandh (non-sticking karmic bondage) came into being in the Jaina tradition. They may be said to be activities and bondages externally, but actually they do not signify bondage but liberation. All the universally beneficial activities of the Tīrthaṅkaras (Lords Prophet ford makers) are considered to be īryāpathik kriyā (non-sticking activities) and īryāpathik bandh (non-sticking karmic bondages). They bond with their souls in the first samaya (instant), are felt in the second and are separated in the third samaya. Thus, the karmic influx and bondages due to the activities of a detached soul do not stay even for a kṣaṇa (moment). The Uttarādhyayana sūtra (25.42) says that just as a wet ball of mud when thrown to a wall sticks there but a dry ball of mud does not so stick but immediately falls to the ground, the activities performed with a sense of detachment and duty also do not result in sticky bondages. The karmic influx that takes place as a result of such detached and dutiful activities merely touches the soul and does not stick to it. The main causes of bondage are attachment and aversion and the passionate activities performed under their influence. Therefore, the activities that are desirelessly undertaken with a view to be universally beneficial and to mitigate others’ troubles, to serve others, and to be benevolent do not result in sticky karmic bondages and those who see the possibilities of karmic bondages in positive non-violence certainly are devoid of proper thinking.

The Tīrthaṅkara Way of Life and Positive Non-violence –

In Jaina tradition the Tīrthaṅkaras rank the highest. In both – Śvetāmbara and Digambara – sectarian traditions of Jainism the activities that are considered as main causes for earning the merit necessary to be reborn, at some stage in the worldly cycle of transmigration, as a Tīrthaṅkara are the activities involving service to the needy and affection for all. Therein a dictate for service to the old and the ill has been clearly mentioned. Besides this, two, traditionally the distinguishing features of the Tīrthaṅkara Way of Life are found mentioned prominently, one is that before His monastic ordination every Tīrthaṅkara gives in charity tens of millions of gold coins everyday for a period of one whole year. This clearly indicates that the activities of charity and service are practiced and approved by the Tīrthaṅkaras themselves. In the Jaina legendary literature it has been mentioned that, in one of His previous lives, Bhagvān Śāntinātha gave away even the flesh from His own body for saving the life of a pigeon. Similar incidents of life saving, service, charity, etc., can be seen in the life sketches of other Tīrthaṅkars as well. Bhagvān Mahāvīra himself not only gave away His celestial cloth to a poor Brahmin but also saved the life of false-visioned Gośālak, from a fiery energy that attacked him, by projecting the cold energy to counter it.

Not only this, even after self-realisation and gaining the highest form of enlightenment – Kevalajñāna, the Tīrthaṅkaras mainly tour the country side for spreading their message for the welfare of the masses. The Tīrthaṅkars themselves have nothing to gain after the supreme accomplishment of Kevalajñāna. All activities of their lives are dedicated to the weal and welfare of the other living beings. It has been clearly mentioned in the aphorism, ‘Savvajīva-rakkhaṇa-dayaṭṭhayāe pāvayaṇaṁ Bhagavayā sukahiyaṁ (the Lords preach only for preserving the lives and motivated by mercy towards all living beings)’ from the primary canonical treatise, Praṣnavyākaraṇa (2.1). It means that the intent for general weal is present in the detached supreme souls also. If this activity aimed at general weal were binding then how would a detached supreme soul have it? One of the meanings of this observation is that even ordained ascetics can engage themselves in the activities aimed at general weal while steadfastly adhering to their monasticism.

Do Meritorious Activities Cause Karmic Bondage?

The concept that most hinders the acceptance of the value of positive non-violence signified by saving lives, service to the needy and altruistic activities like charity, co-operation, etc., is the concept that all such activities cause meritorious karmic bondages and not karmic separation, which is essential for spiritual emancipation. The bondage, whether of meritorious kind or that of sinful one, is bondage after all and is, therefore, an obstruction in spiritual practice. By thus projecting meritorious acts also, as causes of bondage, these thinker-preceptors ignored the positive aspect of non-violence. In Smayasāra (146), Ācārya Kundakunda has called merit as a golden shackle and sin as an iron one and advocated rising above both. It is true that most concepts concerning merits and sins stand on this premise that activities of mercy and those that protect life are acts of merit and those that harm or hurt others are acts of sin. Generally, it is said that ‘Paropakārāya puṇyāya pāpāya parapīḍanaṁ’ meaning that the acts of benevolence are meritorious and those of tormenting others are sinful. Gosvami Tulasidas has also said, ‘Parahit saris dharma nahīn bhāī, parapīḍā sam nahīn adhamāī’ meaning that there is no duty greater than benefiting others and there is no wretchedness greater than harming them. It is true that benevolence is meritorious and in Tattvārthasūtra (6.2-4) Umāsvāti has averred that merit and sin are both causes for karmic influx. Afterwards, as karmic influx was considered as a cause of karmic bondage, the view that meritorious acts also cause karmic bondage, gained ground. However, this viewpoint is incorrect and misleading even according to the Jaina precepts. Firstly, all karmic influx does not convert into karmic bondage and, also, it is misleading to believe that all meritorious acts only cause karmic influx. In the ancient scriptures merit has been mentioned as a separate element (fundamental verity). If it causes influx and bondage, it also causes stoppage of and separation from the same. The Jaina acāryas (masters) have taken auspicious activity as a cause of karmic stoppage. It results in karmic separation, too. Meritorious acts are that soap, which not only washes the dirt of sin clean but also separates itself automatically. It must be noted that sinful bondages have to be separated; the meritorious ones separate by themselves.

It is true that if there is a feeling of attachment present at the back of acts of service, benevolence and saving of lives, they do cause karmic bondage, but if they are performed without any self-interest and attachment, and if such activities are also undertaken under the influence of feeling the others’ pain as one’s own. When the vision becomes so wide that others seem as the self, their pain and misery becomes our own pain and misery. Under such circumstances, just as we try to get rid of our own pain we also try to rid others of their pains. From the intellectual point of view the thought of equality between the self and the others and from the emotional point of view the feeling of others’ pains as one’s own result in universal weal and give rise to such activities as protection, service, charity, benevolence, etc. Therefore, it is incorrect to believe that there is a feeling of attachment behind all acts of universal weal. In practical life, too, there is many an occasion when we feel moved by another’s pain and we try to mitigate it. There is no feeling of attachment there. There is only discreet thought and a sense of duty brought about by the feeling of his pain as our own, which motivates us to act in the spirit of positive non-violence. There is a great difference between attachment and sense of duty. Attachment is always coupled with aversion while in the case of sense of duty there is a total absence of the feeling of aversion. When we are moved by the pain of any stranger lying on the road and try to help him, there is no feeling of attachment there, but only the feeling of his pain as our own. There is, again, a difference between helping a pet dog and helping a stray dog. There is a feeling of attachment in the first case while there is no attachment in the second, only a feeling of its pain as our own. There is no feeling of attachment in the acts of protection, nursing, service, and benevolence and such acts are performed purely with a sense of duty arising out of feeling of others’ pain as our own. Also, it is clear that in the absence of attachment even if an activity results in karmic influx, it will definitely not result in karmic bondage. It is so, because according to Jain scriptures like Uttarādhyayana (32.7), etc, it is the feeling of attachment and aversion that have been considered as the main causes of karmic bondage. In trying to protect others we may have to, to some extent, even resort to some minor external violence, but it is certainly not a cause for karmic bondage. If we would consider such activities as causing karmic bondage, the religious peregrinations and discourses by the Tīrthaṅkaras undertaken purely for the purpose of universal weal will also have to be considered as causing karmic bondage. However, according to the canonical lore, these activities of the Tīrthaṅkaras are for the purpose of all worldly souls and they do not result in any karmic bondage.

Work Without Desire is Not Binding –

From all this discussion we can conclude that if the meritorious acts are undertaken with purely a sense of duty or by rising above attachment and aversion, they do not result in karmic bondage. The meritorious bondage also takes place only when the acts of merit are performed under the influence of attachment and aversion. It must be noted that the mentality in making efforts to save the lives of our kith and kin and that to save the life of a stranger on the way are never the same. In the first situation all the efforts to save life are motivated by the feeling of attachment or selfishness while in the second the others’ pain is felt as one’s own owing to considering the others as also equal to the self. It is this feeling of others’ pain or the sense of duty that motivates one to perform altruistic acts of benevolence.

In the Jaina tradition, the following couplet beautifully brings out the conduct of a right thinking person –

Samyakdṛṣṭi jīvaḍā, kare kuṭumba pratipāla| Antar sūṅ nyāro rahe, jyūṅ dhāya khelāve bāla \

This detached view is very important. Actually, detachment and disirelessness are the only such entities that can destroy the binding power of karma. Where there is detachment, there is lack of attachment, there is no bondage. The puṇya (merit), which has been referred to as binding is the puṇya (merit) with attachment. We cannot say that all worldly activities are conducted under the influence of attachment. There are many activities that are carried out purely with a sense of duty. The other’s pain does not become our own because we have any attachment for him but it is the feeling of oneness with him that results in such a feeling of his pain as our own. When we see a strange person in a strange town lying hurt or wounded on the road, we get moved by a feeling of kindness and compassion towards him. Where is the question of attachment here? One who goes to distant villages and organises medical camps there, has no attachment what so ever for those who come and get treated in those camps. He does not even know as to who would be coming for treatment there. Under such circumstances how is it possible for the organiser to have any attachment for the suffering multitudes that come to and benefit from those camps? Therefore, it is an erroneous belief that there is always a feeling of attachment behind activities like protection, service, benevolence, etc., that constitute positive non-violence. When there is no feeling of attachment there, there cannot be any possibility of karmic bondage. Similarly, there is no feeling of aversion, towards the bacteria that fester a wound, in the mind of a surgeon who cuts away the putrefied wound and thus deprives the bacteria present therein of their means of sustenance. His activity is conducted with only a sense of duty. He is guided by the thought of saving the wounded creature’s life and not by any feeling of attachment towards the wounded or that of aversion towards the bacteria. When we give water to the thirsty, we neither have a feeling of attachment towards him nor that of aversion towards the water-bodied creatures. Thus, the activities of service, benevolence, etc., are not motivated by attachment or aversion and, therefore, are not binding.

Actually, positive non-violence, that is, acts of life-saving, service, benevolence do not depend on attachment but on a feeling of oneness towards all the living. This feeling of oneness towards all living beings does not materialise unless we can feel the pain and misery of others just as we feel our own pain and misery. Although Jaina philosophy accepts an independent existence of all individual creatures, it also believes in the benevolent thought that they are all like one’s own self. The Ācārāṅga (1.5.5) clearly says, “One whom you wish to torment is none else but you yourself.” Here, the feeling of oneness with all the living beings stands on the plane of discretion and sensitivity. It is not merely a debating point. Unless we develop this feeling of oneness towards all the living, the seed of non-violence cannot germinate and become a shoot. For underrating acts of positive non-violence what we need is not attachment but a sense of identification with others. For, if the service were based on attachment, one would undertake the service of own folks and not of unknown strangers. The basis of positive non-violence i.e. selfless service, life-saving activities charity, etc., is neither selfishness, nor that of returned favours, nor attachment. It stands on the firm ground of discreet sense of duty emanating from the feeling of oneness towards the living.

Are all Forms of Life of Same Importance?

The concept of equal importance and value of all forms of life has been mainly responsible for a negative interpretation of non-violence. As a result, the absolutely essential violence towards one form of life in order to serve or save another form of life was also considered as an act of violence and, therefore, a sinful act. It is true that in order to save some form of life, another form of life has to be sacrificed. If we wish to keep a plant alive we will have to water it. For saving the lives of living beings of vegetable origin, the lives of those of earth-bodied and water-bodied living beings will have to be unavoidably sacrificed. If we wish to save the life of a moving living being, the violence towards creatures of earth, water, air and vegetable origin may become unavoidable. The worldly life cycle is such that the life of one form of life depends on that of the other form, and without taking the lives of the latter types we cannot keep the former type alive. This problem was faced by the ancient Jaina spiritual masters as well, and they resolved it on the basis of the principle of lesser and greater violence.

This principle of lesser and greater violence has been mainly thought of on the basis of two views – firstly, from the consideration of the motivating mentality behind such violence, which could be of two types – 1. Discreet and 2. Sentimental and secondly, based on the form of life that is taken in such acts of positive non-violence. Among the motivating factors or mentality behind discreet acts of positive non-violence, we basically see as to why activity is being undertaken at all. Whether it is being undertaken with a purely altruistic motive or selfish one. The acts that are undertaken with pure sense of duty and without any feeling of attachment are the non-binding Īryāpathik – activities. On the other hand the acts that are undertaken with selfish motives are the binding – Sāmparāyik – activities. It is possible that a person may commit some violence in discharging his duties or that he may have to commit some violence as a part of his duties. However, such violence that is committed by rising above attachment and aversion and merely in selfless discharge of one’s duties is not binding or improper. For example, when a Jaina monk undertakes monastic peregrinations, or moves about in carrying out various monastic duties such as inspecting and dusting his clothes, reading material or other items of his monastic equipage, his bodily movements definitely cause some violence towards some seen or unseen fine creatures. He may be very careful and vigilant in carrying out these activities but even then some violence towards such small creatures becomes unavoidable. All these activities of monastic life are considered to be liberating rather than binding even though they involve some violence. In the practical life also a judge awards punishments in accordance with social and legal system of the country. He may even award death sentence to someone. Under such circumstances will we consider the judge a perpetrator of murder? He does so because he is bound by his duty and by the law of the land. Therefore, though manslaughter is committed by his order, the judge is not considered to be a murderer. Therefore, as long as there are no volitional passions or no animosity towards anyone, the external circumstantial violence is neither considered as binding nor considered as improper. Ācārya Kundakunda has clearly said that a vigilant monk who is devoid of passions is considered as non-violent even when some violence is committed by his external bodily activities. Therefore, to believe that activities constituting positive non-violence are not correct because in carrying out those activities external violence is committed, is improper. It is a misleading viewpoint. Even when violence is committed, if the person who commits such acts has no desire to torment any creature, and he has done it with a sense of duty, he cannot be considered as violent. Also, whatever is done carefully and vigilantly becomes least violent. Even when there is some attachment in some activity, if that attachment, too, is of noble kind, the violence committed would be minimal.

The second consideration in deciding the question of greater or lesser violence is that if there is a choice between two types of violence, we must choose the alternative that involves lesser violence. The Jaina thinkers have considered this lesser or greater quantity of violence not on the basis of number of creatures involved but on the basis of stage of development of the creatures involved. If the choice be between committing violence to thousands of one-sensed creatures and that to one five-sensed being, according to this consideration the violence to one five sensed being amounts to greater than that to thousands of one-sensed beings.

This question was raised in the time of Bhagvān Mahāvīra also. In those times there was a sect of austere monks that was called Hasti-tāpasa, which used to kill one elephant in a year and sustain themselves by eating its flesh for the rest of the year. They claimed that they were the least violent as they killed only one creature per year (Sūtrakṛtāṅga, 2/6/53-54). Monk Ārdraka refuted this viewpoint by saying that this viewpoint was misleading. He clarified that killing one five-sensed animal like an elephant was more violent as compared to killing thousands of one-sensed beings. This question was considered even more seriously in Bhagavatī-sūtra and there, it was said that killing one five-sensed animal like an elephant was more violent as compared to killing thousands of one-sensed beings and that killing an accomplished monk was even more violent as compared to killing a five-sensed being (Bhagavatīsūtra, 9/34/106-07). Thus, according to Jaina philosophy, the question of greater or lesser violence is to be decided not on the basis of number of creatures involved but on the basis of their sensory or spiritual development. When we have to choose between two alternatives involving greater or lesser violence we must always choose the alternative that involves lesser violence and here the question must be decided on the basis of sensory development of the creatures being subjected to such violence.

If on one side we believe that we are entitled to and we may commit violence towards one-sensed beings in order to save our own lives, and on the other side we say that such violence may not be committed in activities that involve saving of others’ lives or serving them and that activities like protection, charity, kindness, compassion, are fit to be abandoned as it involves violence towards one sensed beings, it will amount to deceiving ourselves. Leave aside the householders’ lives, even in monastic life, one may not be able to be fully non-violent towards one-sensed beings. Therefore, to abandon such activities (of mercy, kindness, compassion, service, co-operation, friendship, affection, etc.,) that constitute positive non-violence on the pretext of violence to one-sensed creatures is neither correct nor ethical.

Positive Non-violence and Social Life –

Positive non-violence is essential because it is the very basis of our social life. ‘Man is a social animal.’ It is difficult to imagine his existence away from social life. At the same time, we cannot imagine a social life devoid of non-violent consciousness or sensitivity. The society stands on the pillars of affection, love, co-operation, and giving up self-interest for the sake of others’ interest. Ācārya Umāsvāti has said that to help each other is the rule of the living universe (‘Parasparopagraho jīvānāṁ’, Tattvārthasūtra, 5.21). The western thinkers have this false concept that the living universe is based on struggle for survival. The rule for living together is not struggle and survival of the fittest but co-operation and coexistence in which every one can exist. The life itself comes into being only when two elements (male and female) come together and it is by mutual co-operation that it flourishes. It is co-operation and the spirit of giving up self-interest for the sake of others upon which social life exists. In other words, we can say that the society stands on the basis of positive non-violence. The negative non-violence may become the basis of individual spirituality but it evidently can be the basis of social life. The non-violent society that we talk about today, whenever it comes into being will stand on the basis of positive non-violence. As long as the members of the society will not be imbued with the sentiment of understanding others’ pain and with a heart to try to remove it, the society may well nigh not be there at all. For the society to exist it is necessary that there be a feeling of affection between its members; that there be a realisation of others’ pain as one’s own and that there be an effort to mitigate it on everybody’s part.

Generally, affection is misunderstood as attachment. However, there is a subtle difference between affection and attachment. While affection is without any selfish interest and desire for a counter favour, attachment is with desire and there is an element of selfishness at its root. It demands counter favours. Affection has a feeling of looking after the others only. It is for this reason that various synonyms of non-violence, given in the Praśnavyākaraṇa sūtra have the synonym of ‘rati’ or affection also. By rati we do not mean the sensual attraction or desire based attachment but desireless affection. Actually, affection becomes affection only when it has no expectation of any counter favour and becomes universal in nature. As long as we do not have the realisation of equality with other living beings and a sense of respectful coexistence with them as well as a feeling of their pains as our own, the non-violent consciousness does not come into play. A feeling of affection is the fundamental basis of non-violent consciousness. It is the feeling of attachment wherein there is no feeling of even a trace of aversion. In such attachment all the living beings of the world are like the self. There is no feeling of the ‘other’. Actually, such attachment is not considered attachment at all. Attachment always thrives on the basis of the aversion. In the absence of aversion, selfishness, and expectation of counter favours the attachment converts itself into affection or universal love. This affection is the basis of social structure. The states of hatred, enmity, contempt, and aggressiveness are always against the social structure. They are the other face of violence. Whenever these conditions dominate the social structure crumbles and the society perishes. It is amply clear that whenever the society stands intact it is neither on the basis of violence nor on that of negative and indifferent non-violence; it will always be on the basis of positive non-violence. However, we must remember that as it is not possible to observe indifferent or unconcerned non-violence while being engaged in the activities of positive non-violence, it is also not possible to observe indifferent negative or complete non-violence in the social life as well.

It is the relative non-violence or the one with exceptions that is the basis of social life. The main consideration in front of any social organisation is that of the preservation of its members’ interests, and where such a consideration prevails it is not possible to observe absolute non-violence. Conflict of interests is an essential part of social life. Many a time the benefit of some depends upon the harm to the other. Under such circumstances of social or organised systems of living observance of absolute or indifference or irrespective non-violence becomes impossible and we have to resort to exceptions. Again, when there arises a conflict between personal interests and social interests, we cannot remain aloof or indifferent under the pretext of complete or absolute non-violence. When there is a conflict between personal interests and social interests, we have to sacrifice personal interests for the sake of social interests. Those personal interests may be our own or those of the others. When some society or nation or some of their members are driven by their selfish interests and become bent upon violence or injustice towards others, we cannot remain aloof or indifferent watchers under the pretext of complete or absolute non-violence. As long as the complete unification of the whole human society, as visualised by the Jaina thinkers of yore, is not realised, as long as the whole human society does not become committed to observance of complete non-violence, it will not be possible to claim complete or absolute non-violence in the human society.

Within the ideal of complete or absolute non-violence presented by Jaina seers, whenever a question of safety of the religious or social order or that of some of its members has arisen they have advocated the practice of exceptional non-violence itself. This concept is clearly depicted in the examples of Ācārya Kālaka and Ceṭaka the chief of the Vajji Republic. In the Niśītha cūrṇi (verse 289) it is clearly laid down that not only a householder, but also a monk can resort to violence to preserve the safety of the religious order or the modesty of a righteous woman. Under such circumstances externally his acts may appear to be violent, as they do amount to physical or material violence, if he has no selfish interest in the whole happening or a feeling of attachment towards the beneficiary of his action and that of aversion or hatred towards the object of that physical violence, at the volitional level at least his violent actions will be considered to be non-violent only. As long as even one member of the human society is beset with animal instincts, it is fruitless to think that the ideal of complete or whole or absolute non-violence can become practical in the social life. Considered from this point of view, the concept of negating life values like protecting or defending the weak and the defenceless, providing necessary service to the needy, and co-operating with others in the society on the ground that they involve some obscure kind of values and that it is not possible to observe complete and absolute non-violence in pursuing such activities cannot be said to be right and reasonable.

It is possible that some would not approve of the incidents mentioned in the examples given in the Niśīth cūrṇi as the perfect example of monastic observances but would it not amount to impotence if a young nun or a girl is being abducted or molested or raped in front of the eyes of a group of able bodied monks and they keep watching the whole incident and maintain a stoic silence and do not raise a finger on the perpetrators of such atrocity in the name of observing complete and absolute non-violence. Don’t they have any social responsibility? Looked from this standpoint the question of violence or non-violence is not purely personal. As long as the whole human society does not become one in observing absolute non-violence, the proclamation of absolute non-violence by one individual or one nation is meaningless. Again, if the whole society starts observing absolute non-violence towards all the creatures of the six kinds of living beings and does not indulge in even minor forms of violence towards lower order of lives in supporting the monastic institution, will there be any existence of this institution? Will this institution be able to, or even need to, survive in the face of absolute non-violence? Therefore, it is not right to ignore the positive aspects of non-violence in the name of absolute non-violence. The violence that is committed for instituting safety and security measures is unavoidable.

Exceptional and Positive Non-violence -

The consideration of violence and non-violence is mainly internal. A vigilant person who is above the feelings of attachment and aversion is non-violent even when he is seen committing some sort of violence externally while a negligent person who is given to attachment and aversion is essentially violent even when he refrains from committing external violence. Also, on one side to refrain from activities of positive non-violence in the name of observing absolute non-violence and to enact exceptions for meeting one’s or one’s social and religious orders is just not justified. If we accept that some minor violence is necessary for supporting a monk or the monastic institution and some exceptions can be made in the observance of absolute non-violence to meet this end, we will also have to accept some exceptions therein in order to undertake some activities for furthering the weal of the living beings at large.

Again, the householders who do not take the vow of absolute non-violence and do indulge in violence towards one-sensed creatures in his day to day activities and who is bound to obviate only the intentional violence (saṅkalpajā hiṁsā) towards the higher mobile forms of life and is permitted incidental or occupational violence (ārambhajā hiṁsā), industrial violence (udyogajā hiṁsā) and oppositional or defensive violence (virodhajā hiṁsā) towards them is certainly not entitled to refuse the activities of positive non-violence in order to protect or save other living beings under the pretext that it involves some sort of violence. It is not proper to refuse those activities for the fear of violence. They are included in the duties of the householders and they must discharge them with a desireless disposition.

Violence within Positive Non-violence is Also Violence –

However, it is necessary that we understand that the violence committed in the pursuit of activities that constitute positive non-violence is also positively violence. Otherwise our spring of kindness and compassion will dry up. We may have to commit violence due to it’s being essential and unavoidable, but we must have a feeling of remorse for committing it and must also have a merciful disposition towards the objects of that violence otherwise violence will get ingrained in our nature just as it does in a butcher’s child. The discretion dictates that we do not only free ourselves from passions, attachment and aversion but that we also keep our sensitivity intact. The stream of mercy, kindness and compassion must keep flowing eternally in our hearts. We don’t have to pursue heartless non-violence. The reason being as long as we remain sensitive to others, pain and misery the amount of violence in any activities that we pursue will be barest minimum and in due course we will also be able to observe the ideal of absolute non-violence. It is then that our pursuit of non-violence will become positive and will be able to release the flow of service and co-operation in the human society.

Also, even when violence becomes absolutely essential and if there is a choice between two forms of violence, we must choose the lesser of the two. However, the question as to which form of violence is lesser will depend on many considerations such as place, time, circumstance, etc. Here, we will have to assess the life-value of the creatures at stake. The life-value of any creature depends on two considerations, namely – 1. The sensory and spiritual development of the creatures in question and 2. Their social utility or usefulness. Generally, a human life is more valuable than an animal life and within the human lives also the life of a spiritually accomplished saint is considered as more valuable. At times, however, an animal life may be more valuable than that of a human being. Possibly, in the development of this sensitivity between lives, this question of life-values has remained ignored and, therefore, we could become sensitive to the lives of ants but remained aloof or even indifferent towards those of the human beings. Today, we require turning the direction of this thought current and becoming more sensitive towards the humans as well. It is only then that our non-violence will become positive.

The Importance of Positive Non-violence -

The importance of positive side of non-violence was realised from the ancient times only. From the ancient times to date leaving aside some exceptions almost all Jaina masters and preceptors have accepted the value and importance of positive non-violence. They have always accepted it among the essential activities to be practiced by the householders. Today, the population of Jainas in India may be merely one percent but the number of charitable and socially useful institutions run by them exceeds far beyond their representation on the demographic population figures. Today almost 30 percent of the charitable and public welfare organisations are run by the Jainas. The contributions of the Jainas in the relief activities following natural and man-made calamities are simply unforgettable, none can ignore them. Whenever the questions of saving not only human lives but also those of the animals have arisen, the Jaina community has always come to the forefront. Even today there are such silent public welfare workers in the Jaina community that donate their physical, mental and material resources freely for such noble causes. This has become possible only due to prompting and encouragement by their religious masters, preceptors and ascetics. The value and importance assigned to positive non-violence in the Jaina thought can be judged by the following quotations from the Praśnavyākaraṇ sūtra, which are being reproduced here for their clear indication: -

Esā sā bhagavaī ahiṁsā jā sā bhīyāṇaṁ viva saraṇaṁ,

Pakkhīṇaṁ viva gamaṇaṁ,

Tisiyāṇaṁ viva salilaṁ,

Khuhiyāṇaṁ viva asaṇaṁ,

Samuddamajjhe va poyavahaṇaṁ,

Cauppayāṇaṁ va āsamapayaṁ,

Duhaṭṭhiyāṇaṁ va osahibalaṁ,

Aḍavīmajjhe va satthagamaṇaṁ,

Eto visiṭṭhatariyā ahiṁsā jā sā


This Goddess which is called non-violence (Ahiṁsā bhagavatī) is

Like shelter for all frightened (worldly creatures),

Like flying for the birds,

Like water for the thirsty,

Like food for the hungry,

Like a ship for the drowning in the vast ocean,

Like a safe place of residence for the animals,

Like medicinal support for the indisposed and the diseased,

Like moving with a caravan in the dense forest,

Not only this, the goddess called non-violence is even more so. It is a means of weal and well-being for all the creatures of the mobile and immobile categories such as the earth-bodied, water-bodied, air-bodied, fire-bodied and seed and green vegetable-bodied one-sensed immobile living beings as well as waterborne, earth borne and airborne mobile creatures.

This public weal inducing non-violence will be useful and beneficial for achieving its proclaimed objective of general benefit when its positive aspect will be highlighted and presented to the general public and the inner consciousness relating to mercy, kindness, compassion, etc., will be brought to the fore. The banes of the human society such as violence, conflict and selfishness will be overcome only when we will be able to feel others’ pain and misery and their pain and misery will become our own. The stream of non-violence that will flow out of such a feeling will be positive and it will establish the values like mercy, kindness, compassion, service, friendship, co-operation, etc., the world over.

In the present work Shri Kanhaiyalalji Lodha has tried to present this positive aspect of non-violence with adequate clarity and on agamic authority. Shri Lodha is a serious scholar of Jaina scriptures and this work by him has succeeded in presenting the positive aspect of non-violence to the general populace. The publisher of this work Shri Devendra Raj ji Mehta is already engaged in the noble work of service to the disabled millions in India and abroad. He is a living example of positive non-violence. The present work has seen the light of day with his motivation only.

With the hope that this work will become a medium of promoting the feelings of selfless service, mercy, kindness and compassion in the general populace in general, and its readers in particular.

Prof. Sagarmal Jain

Secretary, Pārśvanātha Vidyāpīṭha
Director Prachya Vidyapeeth,
Shajapur (M.P.)

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