Positive Non-Violence


Acceptability Of Action In Jainism



Egao viraiṁ kujjā, egao ya pavattaṇaṁ|

Asañjame nivattiṁ ca, sañjame ca pavattaṇaṁ\

- Uttarādhyayana, 31.2.

That is, – Renounce one and undertake another. Renounce the lack of restraint and undertake restrained activities.

There are many a quotation available in the Jaina literature that tell the followers to refrain from unrestrained activities and to undertake the restrained ones. They are –


Asuhādo viṇivittī, suhe pavittī ya jāṇa cārittaṁ|

- Dravyasaṅgraha, verse 45.

That is, – Know that to refrain from inauspicious activities and to undertake the auspicious ones is the right conduct.


Sadasatkriyāpravātti-nivātti lakṣaṇaṁ cāritraṁ|

- Tattvārthabhṛṣya vātti, 2.3.

That is, – The right conduct is nothing but the undertaking of auspicious activities and refraining from the inauspicious ones.


Sammatteṇa sudeṇa ya viradīe kasāya- ṇ

iggahaguṇehiṁ jo pariṇado so puṇṇo\

- Mūlācāra, verse 234; Gommaṭasāra Jīvakāṇḍa, verse 622.

That is – The soul that is endowed with qualities like right vision, right knowledge, detachment and passion-control is a pious soul.


Pasatthajogapaḍivanne ca ṇaṁ aṇantaghāipajjave khavei\

- Uttarādhyayana, 29.7.

That is, – The soul that is blessed with auspicious combination of body, mind and speech destroys infinite modes of destructive karmas.

There is, a general misconception, about Jainism, in the minds of the Jainas as well as those other than the Jainas that it is a religion that preaches renunciation and inactivity and that all activity is prohibited in it, because any activity results in karmic bondage and Jainism aims at spiritual emancipation and liberation through destruction and separation of karma from the soul. Therefore, this belief gained ground that activity is spiritually harmful and hence deplorable and only fit to be abandoned. By prevarication it is said that the main aim of Jainism is to gain spiritual liberation by making the soul absolutely flawless and pure. To make the soul flawless we have to renounce flaws. Therefore, all the vows in Jainism aim at renouncing all flaws and sins. Thus, all the texts of giving vows have texts concerning the renunciation of various flaws and various forms of violent activities. None of these renunciation-giving texts ever tell us to undertake any activity and thus, it was believed that Jainism is a faith that advocates avoidance of activity and undertaking inactive means of destroying spiritual flaws and that activity has no place in the Jaina scheme of things.

The second reason that is advanced for inactivity is that Jainism believes in liberation through the destruction of both the sinful as well as the meritorious karmic accumulation and that any activity will result in the bondage, of either pious or sinful karmic bondage, which is bound to hinder the gaining of liberation.

Thirdly, any activity is always beset with the possibility of indulging in some form of violence or the other, which is harmful for the spiritual aspirant.

Because of these and many other reasons many followers of Jainism as well as other learned scholars and members of the Jaina clergy also started believing that Jainism is a purely inactionist and abstainist religion. They started holding the view that Jainism proscribed all forms of action as action meant karmic bondage and worldly transmigration.

However, a thorough study of Jaina scriptures reveals that Jainism is not a purely inactionist and abstainist religion. It also accepts action and activity as beneficial. The Ācārāṅga clearly mentions, in the following aphorism, that he (the knower of the true form of the soul) is a Spiritualist, Universalist, Actionist and a believer in the doctrine of karma-

Se Āyāvādī Loyāvādī Kammāvādī Kiriyāvādī

- Ācārāṅga sūtra, 1.1.7


It is so because it is the soul that acts and works through the mediums of the universe, body, senses, things, etc. Action and work are not possible in the absence of the soul. Therefore, for any spiritualist it is essential to know about action and work and the beneficial and the abandonable.

Every human being knows something, believes in something and does something. Thus, everyone is endowed with three kinds of powers – 1. Knowledge or the power of discretion, 2. Vision or belief or the power of volition and 3. Conduct or the power of action. The powers of knowledge, vision and conduct are there with every human being. It depends on him whether he uses or misuses these powers. To employ these powers in the enjoyment of sensory pleasures is to misuse them. For enjoying such pleasures only that a person indulges in all the sinful acts of violence, untruth, stealing, etc., and suffers miserably as a result. The reason for such mundane indulgence is to consider the body as the ‘self’ and to believe that the whole existence of the ‘self’ is in the body only, and that sensory enjoyment is the only life. The body is destructible, perishable and transient, it is inert and made of insentient matter – pudgala. Therefore, to consider the body as the ‘self’ is to consider the destructible, perishable and the inert as the conscious. In other words, we can say that the one that holds such a view is a non-spiritualist. The activities of a non-spiritualist are false and base and are harmful for him, the world and the entire universe.

An active spiritual aspirant is a spiritualist. His actions and activities are beneficial for him, the world, and the entire universe. That is why he has been referred to as a Spiritualist, Universalist, Actionist and a believer in the doctrine of karma.

It has been said above that every human being is endowed with three powers of knowing, believing and doing. That is, he is endowed with the powers of knowledge, vision and conduct. For employing these three powers every human being has his intellect, mind and body. He knows through his intellect, visualises and believes through his mind or his inner self and he does things with his body. These three powers can be used in harmful as well as beneficial activities. To use them to harm somebody, is to misuse them and it is this misuse of these powers that has been said to be improper and undoable. To use these powers to benefit somebody is their proper use and it has been said to be proper and doable duty. To engage the body, the senses, the mind and the intellect in sensory and mundane enjoyments is to shackle the ‘self’ in the calamitous chains of dependence, inertness, destructibility, etc. It is to harm oneself. Again, to indulge in violence, untruth, stealing, etc., in order to get the means of such mundane enjoyments is to harm the others as well as the self. Mentally to consider someone as bad, verbally to talk ill of others and bodily to torment others is to render oneself sinful and bad. These very things have been said to be sins, undoable activities and flaws. All such bad activities must be considered as harmful for the ‘self’ and the others and should be renounced.

The activities are of two types – auspicious and inauspicious. 1. To be violent, to tell lies, to deceive, to indulge in attachment and aversion, are sinful and inauspicious activities and they result in sinful karmic bondages, which are painful in retribution and also result in increased worldly transmigration. Therefore, these activities are considered as abandonable. 2. On the other hand, to undertake merciful, charitable, kind, compassionate and helpful activities is meritorious and auspicious and they result in meritorious karmic bondages, which are pleasurable in retribution and also result in obstructing the influx of sinful karma and in reduction of the duration and intensity of the earlier bonded sinful karma. Consequently they result in reduced worldly transmigration. Therefore, these activities are helpful in the destruction of sinful karmic bondages and in spiritual development and are considered as acceptable. The canonical literature only proscribes the inauspicious sinful activities and prescribes undertaking of the auspicious meritorious ones.

Jainism categorises activities variously. Some involuntary activities, like seeing a multitude of things on just opening the eyes, hearing various sounds through the ears, respiration, digestion, circulation of blood, etc., happen on their own. For these activities no conscious effort is required and the creatures also do not have any volitional involvement of doership and enjoyership in relation to such activities. Therefore, these activities do not result in any karmic bondage. These activities also do not result in any spiritual ascent or downfall.

The other types of activities are those that have to be done by a creature. These activities are, again, of two types – auspicious and inauspicious. The sinful activities involving attachment-aversion, sensory pleasures, passions, violence, etc., are inauspicious and are beset with the volitional involvement of doership and enjoyership. These activities destroy the natural attributes of the soul and result in the bonding of destructive karmic bondages. Therefore, they must be abandoned. The auspicious activities of mercy, kindness, compassion, charity, service, etc., give expression to the noble natural spiritual qualities of a living being. They destroy attachment and reduce the passions and result in destruction of sinful karma and in spiritual emancipation and liberation. The twenty-ninth chapter of Uttarādhyayana sūtra, entitled ‘Samyakatvaparākrama’, describes seventy-two activities such as strong craving for liberation (Saṁvega), detachment from the mundane (Nirveda), etc.,. These activities have been said to be means of destruction of the sinful karma, giving meritorious karmic bondage, and that of liberation itself. Therein there is no activity that results in the destruction of meritorious karma. The auspicious activities of mercy, kindness, compassion, charity, service, etc., simultaneously and effortlessly result in the destruction of sinful karmic bondages, the bonding of meritorious bondages and the soul’s progress in the direction of liberation.

To derive enjoyment from the material means like the body, senses, mind, intellect, other material objects, etc., that are different from the self-form is mundane enjoyment. To try to obtain these means and to indulge in such enjoyment is lack of restraint. The lack of restraint is behind all kinds of ills like attachment-aversion, delusion, etc.,, which, in turn, results in all pain and misery. Therefore, to free the self from all these flaws and consequent pain and misery, it is essential to give up the craving for such mundane enjoyments. This amounts to restraint, which is natural to the soul. For a spiritual aspirant it is essential, that all his volitions and activities must be restrained. What is meant here is that giving up inauspicious activities and to engage in auspicious ones is restrained monastic conduct. As has been said –


Eyāo pañca samiīo, caraṇassa ya pavattaṇe|

Guttī ṇiyattaṇe vuttā, asubhatthesu savvaso\

- Uttarādhyayana, 24.26

Five comportments (samitis) have been enunciated for the purpose of engaging in monastic conduct and three restrictions or self-controls (guptis) have been enunciated for disengaging from the sinful activities.


Here, the disengagement has been prescribed only for the sinful inauspicious activities and not auspicious and inauspicious both. There is no restriction on the pursuit of meritorious auspicious activities. If it were intended to prescribe giving up of all kinds of – auspicious as well as inauspicious – activities the fourth part of the aforesaid verse would have read ‘savvatthesu savvaso’ and not ‘asubhatthesu savvaso’.

The self-controls are three – mind control (mana gupti), speech control (vacana gupti) and body control (kāya gupti). In observing these it is expected that the spiritual aspirant would restrict himself from the inauspicious mental, vocal and physical activities. Engaging in auspicious and meritorious activities such as scriptural study, contemplation and meditation etc., have not been restricted.

Importance of Auspicious Activities such as Mercy, Charity, etc., –

The question arises as to why a spiritual aspirant should pursue activities like mercy, kindness, compassion, charity, service, affection, spreading the gospel etc., when activities result in karmic influx, karmic bondage and consequent worldly transmigration?

In reply we would have to say that to believe that all activities result in karmic influx, karmic bondage and consequent worldly transmigration and that all inactivity results in liberation is not correct. Bondage and liberation depend on the coming into being, presence and activity of the passions. Any activity or inactivity that is passionate is a cause for the coming into being of the passions and consequent karmic bondage. On the other hand the activity or inactivity that reduces or destroys passions is the cause for liberation. The meritorious auspicious activities result in such reduction of passions and, therefore, result in karmic stoppage, karmic destruction, karmic separation and liberation.

Through charity one reduces attachment towards one’s possessions and greed-passion becomes leaner. Mercy, kindness and compassion result in a feeling of friendship and the pride melts. The feeling of affection and friendship can arise only when delusion or attachment-aversion gets reduced. Anyone with strong delusive attachment will care only about oneself and one’s relatives. He cannot feel others’ pain or misery. He cannot be sensitive or sympathetic to such painfully miserable people or creatures. The feeling of affection just does not rise in such a person. As a rubber balloon is blown up its walls become thinner and thinner and after being stretc.,hed to the limit it explodes and is destroyed. This applies to the auspicious activities of mercy, kindness, compassion, charity, service, affection, feeling of friendship, etc., also. As these activities that represent positive non-violence increase, the passions, attachment, aversion, delusion etc., become thinner and thinner. Mercy, kindness, compassion, charity, service, affection, feeling of friendship are various manifestations of selfless feelings of spiritual affection. Pride is a delusion. Greater the pride of a person, narrower will be the limits of his selfishness. In him the feeling of selfless affection will be almost negligible.

Affection and delusion are different. In delusion there is a craving for sensory and mental pleasures and there is always a desire for return or counter favours. There is an attachment or the feeling of possessiveness towards things and beings. One gets shackled in the relationships with them. This relationship itself is the bondage and results in karmic bondage, which is at the root of pain and misery. In the feeling of affection there is always a feeling of giving away whatever means of pleasure that we have so that they can give pleasure to others. There is no feeling of getting anything in return. Mercy, kindness, compassion, charity, service, feeling of friendship, etc., are also auspicious activities that signify such selfless feeling of affection in which there is always a feeling of reducing our own attachment and pleasures and to mitigate others’ troubles. This helps in reduction of attachment. That is why the activities of serving have been included amongst internal forms of penance and have been said to be the means of karmic destruction, reduction and separation.

How to walk, how to talk, how to eat, how to use the available means, how to dispose of the excretions, etc., are the five comportments, which are in the forms of activities. All these are activities are related to the body. According to the canonical dictates, properly done, these activities have been said to be the means of karmic stoppage and restraint. The reason being that in seeking liberation also one has to take recourse to one’s body, mind and speech, which are the three means or implements of spiritual practice. These are also the means of liberation. These constitute the path of spiritual emancipation and are the activities of karmic stoppage and separation. As long as the body and the mind are present some physical and mental activities are unavoidable. To direct these activities in the direction of worldliness is the path of mundane pleasures and it amounts to sin whereas to direct them towards restraint is the means of karmic stoppage and separation.

It is not that inactivity is the only path of spiritual practice. If someone goes without food for some time in order to give rest to his digestive system and to reawaken his digestive faculties so that he can relish his food better, it does not amount to the fasting penance and is not a cause of liberation but that of bondage. The cessation of all activities by the crane in order to concentrate on catching the fish is not inactivity but activity only. What is meant here is that any inactivity that has the motive of enhancing mundane indulgence and pleasures at a later time is an activity that results in karmic bondage. Such inactivity has no place amongst the means of spiritual practice.

Here, we mean that the activity or the lack of it that results in sensory enjoyment or passionate feelings is flawed, binding, and causal to worldly transmigration and the activity or the lack of it, that result in reduction of carnal enjoyment or the feeling of passion, or its subsidence or destruction, is useful and acceptable because such an activity, or the lack of it, results in karmic stoppage and separation that eventually results in spiritual emancipation and final deliverance or liberation.

The activities of mercy, kindness, compassion, charity, service, feeling of friendship, etc., are non-violent and are, therefore, acceptable as parts of the practice of right conduct. The non-violent activities are never abandonable. Only the violent activities like terminating or compromising of vitalities, telling lies, stealing, sexual indulgence, possessive-ness, anger, pride, guile, greed, attachment, aversion, etc., are abandonable. That is why the renunciation is always in respect of violent and sinful activities and not in respect of the non-violent and meritorious ones. Nowhere in the canonical literature is found a mention of giving up the meritorious and auspicious activities.

It is clear that attachment is at the root of all evils. The reason why attachment arises is that we crave for worldly pleasures. Therefore, the activities that do not give mundane pleasures do not mark attachment. The activities that do not mark attachment are not craved and once the craving is gone, the contemplation of the transcendent starts. This is the meaningful contemplation. As the lighted fire douses itself after consuming the fuel, so does the meaningful contemplation cease itself after eating away the meaningless contemplation, and disappears for good. As soon as attachment disappears totally, the total detachment manifests itself and the attainment of eternal liberated life takes place. From this point of view, the purpose of all auspicious and meritorious activities is to take the practitioner in the realm of the transcendental. The activities of mercy, kindness, compassion, charity, service, feeling of friendship, etc., are the means of transcending the senses, body, and worldliness and of attaining eternality. This is the way of attaining peace, liberation and love. In peace there is infinite power, infinite wealth and infinite and interminable pleasure. In liberation there is immortality, indestructibility and eternal unhindered pleasure and in love there is ever-fresh sense of pleasure. Thus, auspicious activities are the means of attaining eternal pleasure of liberation and they do not hinder spiritual emancipation.

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