Ahimsa - The Science Of Peace: Foreword

Published: 29.12.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015

First is knowledge then compassion; that is how disciplined live. How would an ignorant discriminate between good and evil?

– Dashavaikalik Sutra of Shayyambhava

The greatness of the great is humility. The gain of gains is self-control. Only those rich are truly wealthy who relieve the need of their neighbours.

–  Naladiyar

Once we recognise all that we have in common with others, a feeling of compassion naturally arises and we can no longer treat people with such indifference. We more easily understand their problems, and as we learn how to heal ourselves, we begin to use our knowledge to help them as well.

– Tarthang Tulku



We are living in a paradoxical situation. While on the one hand, modern civilisation is characterised by a concern for fellow human beings, on the other, the foremost problem of our age is growing violence, both in thought and action. A child in Europe may have sympathy and extend help to one of his ilk in Africa who may not have adequate food to eat or medicine to save his body against disease. As never before, this spirit of compassion has permeated state policies and the result is that we have so many enlightened welfare states in the world in which the poor and weak are taken care of at public expense. There are many international organisations as well which are equally concerned and are making significant contribution in arousing conscience as also directly alleviating human misery and suffering. But juxtaposed is the spread of violence at individual, national and international levels, on scales, which are unprecedented. The crime rate has increased many-fold because of growing greed, intolerance, other undesirable and unchecked propensities, and ready availability of sophisticated weapons. Indeed, in some countries, holding firearms is a fundamental right of citizens. Terrorism is becoming common and respectable.

At the international level, the situation is horrendous. The expenditure on arms and armaments has increased manifold because of hatred and intolerance of other countries and their ideologies. The most shuddering situation is in the form of unabated development and stockpiling of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Two small rudimentary atom bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed and maimed several lacs of people. Much bigger and more sophisticated fission and fusion weapons and multi-headed inter-continental ballistic missiles are now capable of destroying the entire life on this planet several times over. Use of one such bomb or device, either by design or by accident, would result in immediate retaliation and escalate into a total nuclear war and complete holocaust.

Such bombs or devices would directly and instantaneously kill millions of people, most of whom would just be vaporised. Others would die because of the effects of radiation. Such bombs or devices would also raise thick dust clouds, which by wind action would fully enshroud this planet. This would lead to total stoppage of sunlight and the consequent prolonged, black icy night, in which the food chain would be destroyed and all remaining human beings would also die because of starvation and radiation. Such a ghastly spectre, spoken about by scientists, is being deliberately played down by politico-military groups dominating the national scenes. These merchants of war are scared of peace. Besides, it is believed that war, or cold war sustains economics. More and more people all over the world are realising that the answer to present problem of violence is to be found in a morality which replaces ravenous greed with contentment, hate with tolerance, and killing with reverence for life. There are many enlightened -And eminent scientists, intellectuals and religious leaders who are talking in this positive language. At the common man’s level also, awareness to these dangers of violence is growing. Many protest groups are contributing their mite in arousing the human conscience further. Principles of Ahimsa, Satya, Aparigraha, Anekantvad, etc. assume great relevance in this context.

One of the basic commandments of Jainism is Ahimsa. Ahimsa is Paramodharma. Acharanga Sutra states, “thus say all the perfect souls and blessed ones, whether past, present or to come-thus they speak, thus they declare, thus they proclaim: All things breathing, all things existing, all things living, all beings whatever, should not be slain or treated with violence, or insulted, or tortured, or driven away. This is the pure unchanging eternal law, which the wise ones who know the world have proclaimed, among the earnest and the non-earnest, among the loyal and the non-loyal, among those who have given up punishing others and those who have not done so, among those who are weak and those who are not, among those who delight in worldly ties and those who do not. This is the truth. So it is. Thus it is declared in this religion”.

Jainism believes in the plurality and equality of living creatures. Since nobody wants to be hurt or killed, the general rule should be that nobody should be hurt or killed. ‘This rule of conduct is not confined only to man but extends even to the smallest of small creatures. It is amazing that more than 2500 years ago, when scientific devices to detect micro creatures were not available, Mahavir stated that there were small living creatures in wind and water and enjoined his followers to avoid, to that extent possible, their killing as well.

This kind of comprehensive concept of Ahimsa is unknown in the philosophical world. Indeed, Albert Schweitzer, while dealing with Jainism in his book Indian Thought and Its Development said - “The laying down of the commandment not to kill and not to damage is one of the greatest events in the spiritual history of mankind... So far as we know it is for the first time clearly expressed by Jainism”.

The concept of Ahimsa as developed by Jainism has many significant features. These are

(i) Ahimsa is not to be practised at the physical level only but at mental -one as well. Apart from Jiva or Dravya Ahimsa there is a Bhaava Ahimsa. In another form, it is stated that there should be no Himsa by “Man” (mind), “Vachan”(speech), or “Kaaya”(body). Even hurting feelings is himsa.

(ii) The concept of Ahimsa means that one would not kill, get killing done, or approve any killing.

(iii) Himsa or violence and “Parigraha” or possession are intimately connected. In fact, the biggest cause of Himsa is possession. Thus to achieve Ahimsa, physical possession and the spirit of possession would have to be restricted.

Jainism believes that the first steps of Ahimsa would have to be taken at the individual level. Individuals, though their number may be small, would have to truly and sincerely practise Ahimsa in their daily life. Cruelty and killing of even small creatures brutalises a man. Indeed, one of the ways of preparing good soldiers in the past was to ask them to kill animals so that they got hardened and, in war, were capable of killing man.

In the present day world, with religion getting separated from daily life and, spreading commercialisation, killing has increased many-fold and sensitivity to life, whether animal or human, has declined in proportion. The need, therefore, is that this trend should be reversed and man should be made more humane not only in relation to man but also for other living creatures. With personal commitment to Ahimsa and personal transformation of individual, the real remedy to violence would be found.

One of the major problems with many of the protest groups trying to fight against violence at national and international levels is that personally they are not non-violent. One of the reasons why Gandhiji also could not succeed was that a large number of his followers were wanting to be non violent at the social level but were violent at the personal level. On 15th August 1947, Gandhiji was the most disillusioned man in this world because his emphasis on purity of personal conduct as a precondition for purity of social conduct was not heeded by his own followers.

As mentioned earlier, part of Himsa grows from acquisitiveness. Jainism does not subscribe to forced poverty but suggests that wants should be minimised voluntarily and there should be no grabbing at any level. Many economic systems today are based only on promoting wants rather than curbing them. This is having disastrous results. One of them is that we are exhausting the non-replenishable resources of this world; another is that material goods and money are becoming the measures of man. Internationally, this spirit is leading to regional and world conflicts. Here again, the start would have to be made from the individual and his mind would have to be changed.

Another malady of our age is general intolerance. While science has been a great boon both in promoting material prosperity and rationalism, it has made our thinking, even in areas other than science, extremely definitive. We learn that two and two can only be four and tend to carry the same certitude into social matters, though they are of a different character. The result is that those who do not agree with us are treated as wrong. Earlier dogmatism was based on ignorance. Now it is caused by certitude arising out of rational thinking. What is not being realised is that knowledge is relative. The faculties that we possess are limited. Even as compared to small creatures, our senses are much less developed. For example, dog may have a far better sense of smell and an eagle may have far more developed eye sight. Even in comparison with such creatures, when our senses are so poor, how can we claim absolute knowledge?

Jainism has its philosophy of Syadvad. It is a seven-fold logic, which replaces certitude with relativity in thinking. According to this principle, one may be right or one may be wrong. Even the opponent may be right. If one acquires this mental attitude, one cannot but be tolerant. In this, there is no place for dogmatism or fanaticism. This is one of the great contributions of Jainism to world thought; its application to personal conduct could make the world a safe place. The present ideological conflicts that we witness today would not be as intense as they are now if this principle could permeate the minds of adversaries.

It is also worth mentioning here that, mistakenly, the negative aspect of Ahimsa has been overemphasised at the expense of its positive form. While non-killing is certainly essential, Ahimsa in its positive form-means reverence for life, which in turn calls for compassion and service. In Jainism, for attaining Moksha, Samyak Jnana (pure knowledge) Samyak Darshan (pure doctrine), and Samyak Charitra (pure conduct) are essential. To achieve Samyak Darshan or pure doctrine there are five requirements, one of them being “Anukampa” or compassion. Besides, the definition of Ahimsa is compassion. According to one of the Shastras (Visheshavashyak Sutra), which deals with the Ahimsa in 60 ways. Mahavir also speaks of “Maitri”, “Vatsalya”, “Vaiyaavachch” etc. It seems that the later Acharyas who had more of logic than realisation tended to ignore this aspect. If by doctrine, one has to be, the friend of all creatures, one is expected not only to, indulge in their non-killing, but also to help them. In one of the stories, relating to the life of Adinaath, it is indicated that he attained Tirthankarhood because in one of his earlier lives he treated the people well as a Vaidya. The need, therefore, is to reinforce this compassionate aspect of Ahimsa.

The author has dealt with these and some other facets of Ahimsa. His main anxiety has been to convey the traditional concept of Ahimsa properly to rationalistic and modern citizen. This makes this book quite different from many others on the subject. In pursuit of this he has mustered support from other thinkers belonging to different traditions but appreciating various aspects of Ahimsa. The effect of these supporting thoughts has been quite telling.

The author has also pleaded for giving a modern shape to the concept of Ahimsa. While doing so he also appears to be in mood for a combat, of course of a non-violent nature. Indeed, in his ‘Author’s Note’ he himself describes his effort as one to promote a dialogue. Occasionally one may not agree with him; however, every author has his freedom to express his views. Taking advantage of the concept of Syadvad and this opportunity of writing the Foreword, I have expressed my own viewpoint on this matter briefly and in the same healthy spirit.

The general impression that Ahimsa of Jains is confined only to non-killing of small creatures and micro-organisms and does not extend to man is not in conformity with the Jain doctrine. Jainism forbids the killing as well as hurting of all living things small or big. The problem is not one of scale of Ahimsa but of quantity and scope. Killing or hurting is prohibited at all levels (except where circumstantially inevitable). It seems that the indirect cause of this misunderstanding is the excessive stress given on the negative quality of the concept of Ahimsa. What has been emphasised is non-killing rather than the positive concept of active altruism. The author finds fault with some of the rituals regarding foods and eating habits, while he may be largely correct, as some of the rituals do not partake of the basic spirit of Ahimsa, many others, which can be justified both in terms of religious doctrine and science, may be worth following.

It also needs to be added that any religion or doctrine that does not pay adequate attention to the conduct of its followers often degenerates. Jainism, without any disrespect to any other religion, highlights the need for comprehensive combination of knowledge, doctrine and conduct (Samyak Jnana, Darshan, and Charitra); emphasis on one at the expense of others leads to an imbalances result.

Though the author has relied more on Jain concept, his overall view transcends any sectarian treatment. He has relied on other spiritual and practical thinkers as well as scientific facts to present his views properly and forcefully. I look forward to more such works from him.

- D.R. Mehta


Prakrit Bharati Academy
D.R. MEHTA, Founder & Chief Patron

First edition: 1987
Second enlarged Edition May: 2004
Third Edition July: 2008

© All rights reserved with the author

Printed at:
Raj Printers & Associates, Jaipur, India

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharanga
  2. Acharyas
  3. Ahimsa
  4. Albert Schweitzer
  5. Anekantvad
  6. Aparigraha
  7. Bhaava
  8. Body
  9. Charitra
  10. D.R. Mehta
  11. Darshan
  12. Dashavaikalik
  13. Dravya
  14. Gandhiji
  15. Greed
  16. Himsa
  17. Jainism
  18. Jiva
  19. Jnana
  20. Mahavir
  21. Moksha
  22. Samyak Charitra
  23. Samyak Darshan
  24. Satya
  25. Science
  26. Shastras
  27. Sutra
  28. Syadvad
  29. Tolerance
  30. Vaidya
  31. Violence
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