Relevance Of Jain Philosophy In Gandhian Politics

Published: 16.12.2017

Jainism is one of the most important religions in the world. It is very difficult to give exact date of the emergence of Jain religion. This religion was propagated by 24 Tirthankaras (Prophets). Rishabh Dev was the first Tirthakara of Jainism and Parswanatha was 23rd Tirthankara whose time is about 250 years before Mahaveer.  Mahaveer Swami was 24th Tirthanakar of Jain religion who gave a new orientation to Jainism. He was the contemporary of Gautam Buddha who was the founder of Buddhism. Jainism was a reform movements in ancient India which emerged because of the difficult rituals and inhuman practices in ancient Indian society. This religion gave a new understanding about the concept of God, non-violence, peace, salvation and Brahmacharya to the people so that they could lead their life comfortably.

In modern Indian history, Jain philosophy and ethics influenced Mahatma Gandhi who is one of the most important leaders in the Indian freedom struggle. Though, he did not follow any particular religion yet his political understanding was influenced by ethics and morality that were, for him, a part of religion. Gandhi’s political thought was rooted deeply in Indian way of life but he was also familiar with the West. Gandhi very much focused on self-consciousness. Gandhi critiqued modern civilization and was of the view that the modern civilization was not able to develop morality among human beings.

Therefore, this paper is an attempt to see Gandhian politics from the perspective of Jain Philosophy. Here, in this paper, the focus would be to see to what extant Jain philosophy was practiced by Gandhi in his political career? This paper would also give brief introduction of some Jain ethics that were used by Gandhi in his politics. This paper can be divided in two parts. The first part would enquire about the similarities in Jain Philosophy and Gandhian Philosophy and the second part would focus how Gandhi used his Philosophy in Indian freedom movement.


Gandhi is considered as the Mahatma among Indian freedom movement leaders because of his principles that were used in freedom movement. His principles were influenced by religion. Religion was the source of Gandhian principles and ideas. Gandhi did not focus on any particular religion yet some of his principles were very much near to Jain Philosophy. Gandhi’s idea of God, non-violence, truth, Karma (duty)[1], morality, spirituality and Brahmacharya were influenced by Jain philosophy.


The term ‘religion’ is used as Dharma in Indian religious literatures. According to K.M. Sen, There is difference between religion and Dharma. For him, Dharma is very much related with the nature and human behaviour whereas religion is very much related with human’s belief and faith. Dharma givers liberty in the world of thoughts (Sen, 2005. 28). In this sense, religion and dharma have minor difference. Indian religious philosophy is very much near Dharma. We can take the example of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism and can see that they have very much focused on the practicality of principles rather than beliefs. But, in this paper, the term ‘religion’ and ‘Dharma’ would be used interchangeably.

In Jain religion, there is big debate that what is the real Dharma and how one can understand the difference between Dharma and Adharma? In his book, Sastravartasamuccaya, Haribhadra Suri has explained the difference in Dharma and Adharma. He states that sin always becomes the cause of sorrow and religion always becomes the cause of happiness. He argues that the religion is very much based on its practicality. For him, showing friendly relation with all creatures, serving happily to the teachers and having calm desires, is religion. According to Suri, one can achieve salvation only by religion. Except religion, other things are the cause of sorrow.  Haribhadra is of the view that the fruit of religion depends on Karma. Further, he argues that there are few works that bring someone to salvation and few works that bring someone to sorrow. In this situation, which work should be considered as religious works. In its answer, Haribhadra says that one should not bother about right or wrong work because some thinkers are of the view that the detachment of Dharma and Adharma can bring someone to the salvation (Suri, 2002. 1-7). In this way, Jain Philosophy helps to understand religion and focuses on salvation as the main objective of religion. Therefore, the ultimate aim of Jainism is attain salvation.

Gandhi was born in a Bania caste. His religious understanding came from his father who had firm faith on religion. Another person who affected Gandhi’s religious understanding, was his mother (Gandhi, 2011. 3-4). In England and South Africa, he met with many people who helped him to understand Christianity. His serious intellectual interest in Hinduism emerged when he went to South Africa (Parekh, 1995. 65). Religion influenced Gandhi not only his personal life but also his political, social and economic life. Gandhi was of the view that religion should concerned with every aspects of life.  Gandhi was born in Hindu family but his Hinduism was his own which rooted in ancient Hinduism and developed with the contact of other religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, and Jainism. Religion, for Gandhi, was the source of peace and non-violence. Gandhi focused on the practicality of religion. He says, “Religion which takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them, is no religion” (Gandhi, 1955. 1-9). For Gandhi, religion was a tool that he used in his political theory. He often mixed religious practices into the political arena. Jawaharlal Nehru saw Gandhi as ‘essentially a man of religion’ (Baird, 2003. 21). But Gandhi’s religion was practical rather than sectarian. Gandhian political thought such as truth, morality, non-violence, peace and Satyagraha etc. were influenced by religion. Regarding politics and religion, Gandhi was of the view that there is no politics without religion. But his political religion was not based on superstitions, it was based on universal religion of tolerance. He considered religion as an important tool that could provide ideal conditions on the earth. Therefore, there should be ideal condition in politics also (Gandhi, 2011. 372). In this way, Gandhi focused on such a religion that was more practical rather than spiritual or based on beliefs. Both, Jain Philosophy and Gandhi Philosophy look for the practicality of religious principles. Both focused on humanity in religious practices. In this way, Gandhi’s political Philosophy took shape through religion and he could connect himself with the followers of all religion through his religious ideas.


Karma is an important part of Indian philosophy. Almost all school of thoughts have emphasised Karma. Jain religion focuses on Karma and argues that happiness and sorrow are the products of our karma. Jainism believes that our results are decided by our Karma. Jainism argues that the human being is free to do certain work but not for result. The result is decided by the Karma. According to Jain tradition, karma cannot be exchanged. The result would be received by the person who is doing karma. God Mahaveera has said that we receive sorrow or happiness only because of our own work, not of others (Mangalprajna, 2009. 195-200).

The same kind of arguments have been given by Gandhi also about the Philosophy of Karma. Gandhi says duty to Karma. Gandhi’s understanding of Karma can be understood by his understanding of means and ends theory. For Gandhi, means is more important than ends. He argues that our control is on means not on ends. He further argues that one can get ends as he/ she wants to get by his/ her means. Gandhi’s understanding was that if our means are good then our end would be good (Gandhi, 2007. 77). Gandhi was of the view that one should focus on duty than rights. He found it important to perform duty to establish the rules or order. His understanding was that if everyone performs their duties then the happiest relationship can be created in the different ideologies in the society (Gandhi, 1954. 6). In this way, Gandhi was more concerned about Karma. Gandhi had not any difference in his words and actions. He believed on practice of thoughts through action.


In Indian Philosophy, there are different opinions regarding existence of God among various school of thoughts. Many school of thoughts such as Nyaya and Vedanta believe on the existence of God whereas some school of thoughts such as Sankhya and Jain do not believe on the existence of God. Jainism does not affirm the idea of God. There is no any divine judge in Jain Philosophy. According to Jain school of thought, it is up to us to follow the path that can help us to reach to ultimate freedom (Long, 2009. 2). Haribhadra has explained about the existence of God in detail in his book Sastravartasamuccaya. According to Suri, some thinkers are of the view that whatever human beings do, they do by the motivation of God. In this way God is the motivator to human beings. In this situation, Haribhadra Suri raises question that if all works of human beings are being decided by God then why God involves some people in right work and some people in wrong work. According to Jainism, Atma (soul) is almighty. Haribhadra has seen Atma as the image of God (Suri, 2002. 56-61).

Perhaps, Gandhi was the only leader of Indian freedom movement who explained the existence of God in such an explicit way. He led national movement with believe on God and could get the help of Indian masses. Regarding the existence of God, he wrote in Young India,

‘If we exist, if our parents and their parents have existed, then it is proper to believe in the parent of the whole creature…….I can challenge the whole world and say, ‘God is, was and ever shall be’ (Gandhi, 1955. 46).

In this way Gandhi had believe in the existence of God. Though, Gandhi believed in God yet he did not force anyone to believe in God. Gandhi was of the view that if someone if someone denies the existence then let him do this because it is his liberty. Gandhi found God as mysterious power that pervades everything. Gandhi used some principles in his political life and those principles were guided by his belief in God. Gandhi’s idea of truth, non-violence and morality were guided by his faith in God. Gandhi considered truth as God. Gandhi said, ‘To me God is Truth and Love; God is ethics and morality; God is fearlessness’ (ibid. 46-52). In this way Gandhi had firm belief in the existence of God. His understanding about God was very much related with practicality.

Therefore, Jainism and Gandhi had different opinion on the existence of God. In Jainism, God has not been seen as the operator of the Universe but in Gandhi’s view God has been seen as the operator of the universe. In Jainism, Haribhadra has given more importance to soul than to God (207 karika of third stabaka in Sastravartasamuccaya).


The foundation of Jainism is on truth and morality. There are many principles and concepts in Jain Philosophy that focus on truth and morality such as the concept of Samyakagyana, Samyaka Charitra and Accar Mimansa focused on Jain believes on truth and morality. Samyakagyana is the real knowledge about the reality of Atma, and Anatma, Bandhan and Moksha and Sukha and Dukha. It is the knowledge of self and other. It is the knowledge about having control on the desires and on body. The Jain concept of Samyaka Charitra focuses on the knowledge about the right and wrong things and actions. The Jain concept of five Anuvrata have focused more on morality. The idea of Ahimsa Anuvrata, focuses on non-violence by mind, words, and actions. The violence for the defence of one’s own country is not considered as violence in Jain philosophy. The concept of Satya Anuvrata forbids to speak such words which is harmful for others, against the self-respect of any person, and increase injustice and violence. The concept of Achauryanuvrat focuses on to not take such things without orders that can be the cause of punishment by the state. This concept views that one should not capture other’s wealth because it is like capture of the life. In Jain Philosophy, stealing is the cause of violence. The concept of Brahmacharya focuses on the control of sensual desires. The last Anuvrata of Parigrahaparinamanuvrta focuses on the control of desires. It focuses that one should not collect things more than one’s need (Dauneriya, 2011. 128-131). In this way, Jain Philosophy focuses more on truth and morality in the human life.

Truth and morality were essential part of Gandhian politics and these qualities placed Gandhian politics on higher stage.  For Gandhi, truth was completely to realize oneself and one’s destiny. Gandhi considered truth and morality as God. For him, truth is the sovereign principle that includes many other principles. Gandhi considered truth as eternal principle that is God. Gandhi had full faith on God therefore, he believed that God is truth but he changed his view later and said that ‘truth is God’. In this way, Gandhi gave higher place to truth than to God (Gandhi, 2011. 81-82). Gandhi’s truth was clear. For Gandhi, truth is the voice that comes from within one’s heart. He believed that those who want to know truth, they should hear the voice of their heart before speaking. He related truth with God because God is almighty, pure and just. His actions never be wrong, therefore, those who believe on God, will never speak lie. For Gandhi, truth was more powerful than the power in the name of Allah, Khuda and God. (Bose, 1950. 4-8)

Gandhi focused more on morality because it was an important tool for leading movements in proper way. Gandhi finds morality as an essential part of religion. He viewed that without morality, religion cannot exist. Gandhi has related desires with morality. According to him, we always give importance to the thinks that we do not have. We should be satisfed with the things that we have (Gandhi, 2011. 6-7). For Gandhi, morality can help to lead society peacefully and properly. Gandhi emphasised more on morality in many movements that he led such as peasant movements in Awadh. He suggested his followers not to steal, not to hurt anyone, try to influence opponents by kindness, carry our all government orders and not to oppose arrests of the leaders (Pandey, 2010. 152-154). 


Non-violence is one of the most important principles of Jain Philosophy. Jeffery D. Long has made distinction between the term ‘Ahimsa’ and ‘non-violence’. According to Long, Ahimsa not only stops us to do physical harm but it also stops desire to do harm to any living being in thought, word and deed. In this way, Long has found Jain Philosophy of non-violence as Ahimsa rather than non-violence. In Jain tradition Ahimsa is the result of Jain Karma theory. Jain Philosophy believes that there should not be any kind of harm to living things, either deliberately or even through one’s carelessness (Long, 2009. 97). Dr. Sadhna Dauneriya has seen Jain Philosophy of peace in five Anuvratas and five Mahavratas. She argues that violence is when someone thinks, says or do action of violence or he provokes someone to do violence or even he supports violence then he does violence. According to her Anivrata is the method of purity, therefore, one should have the feeling of brotherhood for human beings (Dauneriya, 2011. 30+60). Jain Philosophy believes on detachment (Nivrati). It focuses on the detachment from desires. According to Vinoba Bhave, Jain Philosophy of peace is very broad and deep. He argues that Jainism teaches us that humanism of human being is in the defence of other creatures. Making them as their meal is wrong. He is of the view that Jain Philosophy of peace leads us towards vegetarianism (Bhave, 2013. 40). In this way Jain Philosophy focuses very much on non-violence in its principles and daily practices.

Gandhi’s idea of non-violence finds relevance all over the world. Non-violence was not introduced by Gandhi but before him many spiritual leaders had spoken about it. Gandhi himself accepted that he did not teach anything new to the world about truth and non-violence, they are as old the hills (Gandhi, 2011. Last cover page). Gandhi reintroduced non-violence theory in practice. He considered non-violence as soul-force. He related non-violence with love and said that ‘Ahimsa means Universal Love’ (Gandhi, 2011. 131). Gandhi makes difference between non-violence and cowardice and finds violence, better than cowardice. Gandhi is of the view that if you have power to beat opponent but you are not beating that is non-violence (Gandhi, 2011, 141-152). Gandhi advocate to show love to those who hate you and in this sense, it was a real non-violence for Gandhi. Gandhian non-violence is not for only for human being but also for all creatures. Gandhi gave a special status to non-violence. Gandhi adopted non-violence as a Philosophy and an ideal way of life. Gandhi led Satyagraha movement through non-violence.

Gandhi used non-violence theory in his politics. He emphasised more on non-violence because he knew that violence could not give freedom to India. He was aware of the British power. Gandhi knew the situation of Indian society. He knew that the people of India could be joined in the movements, based on violence. Gandhi had seen extremist movements that could not be more successful in India and they could not connect the common people. Gandhi was also aware with British reaction towards Indian national movement. Many leaders criticized Gandhi for his non-violence and viewed that India could not get freedom with non-violence but in the end of all Gandhi was convinced with the view that violence could never achieve lasting result.


Brahmacharya is one of the principles of Jain as well as Gandhian philosophy. Both philosophies have considered Brahmacharya important the purification of soul and mind. In, Jainism, Brahmacharya is one of the five Anuvratas that have to take by those Jain people who pass family life. Dauneriya defines Brahmacharya as, having sexual relation with own wife, not to have sexual relation with other women except their own wife, one should not allow his wife to have sexual relation with others and one should not accept sexual intercourse with others. One who follows these rules, becomes controlled minded and his mind becomes pure (Dauneriya, 2011. 31). In this way Jain philosophy of Brahmacharya focuses on self-control.

For Gandhi, Brahmacharya is the conduct which puts one in the touch with God. He never sees Brahmacharya only as the mean of control over physical desires but he finds it as the method of control over all senses. He is of the view that one cannot control over physical desire without controlling all his senses. He focuses on the control of mind to follow Brahmacharya. Gandhi is of the view that Brahmacharya is important for becoming a universal lover. He says that faithful wife and husband towards each other, cannot love the universe. They create boundary wall around their love. He is of the view that one who wants to obey the law of Ahimsa, should not marry. Gandhi says that those who have already married, they can follow Brahmacharya by considering each other as brother and sister (Gandhi, 1954. 10-11). In this way Gandhi has considered Brahmacharya as an important method to control over physical desire as well as mind. Gandhi’s view of Brahmacharya is very similar to Jain philosophy of Brahmacharya. Both Jainism and Gandhi, focused on self-control.


Non-stealing is one of the most important principles in Jain as well as Gandhian Philosophy. In Jain Philosophy, non-stealing is known as ‘Achauryanuvrata’. In Jain Philosophy, taking anything without permission of the owner or the state, is considered as stealing. Jain Philosophy believes that stealing of anybody’s wealth would be considered as stealing of the life of owner. Because, In Shastras, wealth is considered as the outer life of the owner. Therefore, stealing is considered as the cause of violence in Jain Philosophy. Jain Philosophy believes that stealing should be prohibited by thought, voice and action (Dauneriya, 2011. 31).

Gandhi’s understanding about non-stealing is very deep. Gandhi relates stealing (theft) with need. Jain Philosophy considers stealing to those conditions in which permission is not taken by the owner of the thing but Gandhi considers stealing when one is taking anything with the permission of the owner without its need. Gandhi has related stealing with non-possession. Gandhi argues that it is difficult to understand the actual need but by the observance of non-stealing, one can understand his need. Gandhi believes that one should not have desire to acquire anything which belongs to others. Gandhi has considered acquisition of others property as stealing (Gandhi, 1932. 14-15). In this way Gandhi’s understanding about non-stealing has some differences with Jain Philosophy. But both Philosophies focus on morality and honesty through non-stealing.


Jain Philosophy focused on non-violence, peace, morality and ethics in the life of human beings. The relevance of Jain Philosophy can be understood by Gandhian politics in which Gandhi very much focused on non-violence, peace, morality and ethics. Though Gandhi did not claim that his ideas were based on particular religion yet his most of the principles were near to Jainism. Jain concept of Dharma-Adharma can be seen in Gandhian concept of Pap-Punya. Both, Jain and Gandhian philosophies have focused on non-violence, not only for human being but also animals. Gandhi’s understanding of Vegetarianism can be seen the best example of Gandhi’s idea of peace towards all living creatures. Gandhi followed non-violent path during his engagement in Indian freedom movement. There can be seen difference with Jain concept of God and Gandhi’s concept of God. Jain Philosophy does not give more importance to God whereas Gandhi has shown his full faith on God. In his view, God always shows us right path. Both Jainism and Gandhi have focused more on truth and morality. Gandhi suggested leaders to follow moral values in the movement. Gandhi could manage freedom movement with the help of moral values. Gandhi’s constructive programme is one of the most important document that shows Gandhi’s view towards Indian society. Gandhi has visualised the image of self-depended Indian villages through his constructive programme. In this way Gandhi’s political ideas were very close to the Jain Philosophy.


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Gandhi, M.K. The Story of my Experiments with truth. Ahmedabad: Navajivan, (2011). Print.
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Long, J.D. Jainism: An Introduction. London: I.B. Tautis, (2009). Print.
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Pandey, G. Peasant Revolt and Indian Nationalism: The Peasant Movements in Awadh, 1919-22. In Ranajit G. (Ed.), Subaltern Studies 1st. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, (2010). Print
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Suri, H. Sastravartasamuccaya. Ahmedabad: L.D. Institute of Indology, (2007). Print.


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  1. Adharma
  2. Agam
  3. Ahimsa
  4. Ahimsa anuvrata
  5. Ahmedabad
  6. Allahabad
  7. Anuvrata
  8. Anuvratas
  9. Atma
  10. Bandhan
  11. Body
  12. Brahmacharya
  13. Buddha
  14. Buddhism
  15. Charitra
  16. Christianity
  17. Darshan
  18. Delhi
  19. Dharm
  20. Dharma
  21. Fearlessness
  22. Haribhadra
  23. Haribhadra Suri
  24. Hinduism
  25. Jain Philosophy
  26. Jainism
  27. Karma
  28. L.D. Institute Of Indology
  29. Ladnun
  30. London
  31. Mahatma
  32. Mahatma Gandhi
  33. Mahaveer
  34. Mahavratas
  35. Mandir
  36. Mimansa
  37. Moksha
  38. New Delhi
  39. Non-violence
  40. Nyaya
  41. Prabhu
  42. Prof. Dr. Jeffery D. Long
  43. Rishabh
  44. Sadhna
  45. Sangh
  46. Sankhya
  47. Sarva
  48. Sarvodaya
  49. Satya
  50. Seva
  51. Shastras
  52. Soul
  53. Sukha
  54. Swami
  55. Tirthankara
  56. Tirthankaras
  57. Tolerance
  58. Varanasi
  59. Vedanta
  60. Vegetarianism
  61. Vinoba Bhave
  62. Violence
  63. Yog
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