Ahimsa - The Science Of Peace: [02] The Life

Published: 01.01.2009
Updated: 30.07.2015

See and understand about peace of every living organism.

Acharanga Sutra

One should neither directly or indirectly cause death to any mobile or immobile living being nor support anyone doing so.

Suttanipata, Dhammik Sutta

He, who does not seek to cause the sufferings of bonds or death to living creatures but desires the good of all beings, obtains endless bliss.

Manusmriti (5/46)

We cannot create so much as one particle of dust, therefore, what right have we to destroy the very least form?

Max Heindel

The Life

Mahavir did not stop at the concept of equality of all life forms. He went still deeper. In the history of human knowledge he was, most probably, the first person to conceive that the existence of living beings is not confined to the visible animal kingdom. It goes beyond the world conceivable through normal physical senses. He could perceive and conceive that living world existed even at the micro-level of particles.

It is obvious that this concept could not have been developed without a profound insight into the functioning of living organisms at all levels. The basics on this subject are very sound but, once again, the interpretations appear to be representative of the limited knowledge and fixed thinking of the later traditional authors.

The words used, by Jains, for living organisms are Jiva and Prani, which are common throughout the Indian religions. Jiva means to live; be or remain alive; alive; living; and existing. Prani means one endowed with breath or life. The word more commonly used by Jains is Jiva, which, to them, also means soul.

When dealing with life forms, their pleasures and pains, a sense of degree and quality of life comes into play. While elaborating Ahimsa, the Jain thinkers have done detailed study of full spectrum of living organisms and classified them on the basis of physical faculties. This classification starts with two broad divisions: Sthavar1 and Tras. The traditionally accepted definitions of these categories are:

Sthavar Jiva: (Immobile beings): This category covers all those organisms that have no mobility. All this type of beings are one-sensed beings having the sense of touch. These have been further divided into five categories according to their living media. The five categories are: Prithvikaya (Earth forms), Apkaya (Aqueous forms), Teukaya (Fire forms), Vayukaya (Air forms) and Vanaspatikaya (Plant forms). Every one of these forms has two types according to the size; micro and macro.

Tras Jiva (Mobile beings): This category covers everything in the animal kingdom and also some conceptual forms. These have been further categorized into four types according to the physical senses. Two sensed, having the sense of smell in addition to the sense of touch; like shells, leeches etc. Three sensed having the sense of taste also, like lower forms of insects. Four sensed having the sense of vision also, like fly, scorpion etc. The five sensed beings having also the sense of hearing; like all the animals, birds, humans etc., as also the conceptual ones like gods, hell beings, demons etc.

It appears that, although the terms have been taken from the original concepts, the details have been filled in by people having very limited knowledge of the physical world. Also, the later scholars never tried to reform and redefine with the help of factual information. May be, this has been due to the inertia of tradition or closing the doors in face of up-to-date scientific research.

When the followers did not properly understand the basis of division of living organisms into the two broad categories, it appears that they took the simple literal meaning and collected a heap of logic around their belief. Capacity of movement was taken as the basic dividing factor. Based on this, at some point Vayukaya (Air beings) was put into the Tras (mobile) category with the argument that air has movement. As it does not have any initiative or will to move, Vayukaya was also put in the Sthavar category.

When someone put forth the idea that Teukaya (Fire beings) should also be put in the Tras (Mobile) category, it was rejected on the basis that Teukaya does not move on its own but is forced to move by air. Postulations on such weak grounds, like gross movement, appear to be out of place for a school of thought that specializes in minute details, accuracy and logic.

It is surprising that people belonging to the school of thought that was probably first to conceive that sub-atomic particles of matter are in state of constant motion, would put forward such illogical views when dealing with living organism.

It is even more difficult to accept that a man of Mahavir’s insight and in-depth knowledge would put forth theories based on such flimsy grounds. Who would believe that a person who could perceive the existence of micro-organisms and micro-particles, would not know that everything including plants, earth, air, water etc. are always moving in some way or the other. One component of every motion is the result of the numerous unseen physical and cosmic forces ever active on our planet.

Modern man, equipped with ever growing scientific information, ridicules such traditional interpretations. The irony is that with the rejection of decaying tradition the valuable, correct and profound knowledge is also rejected.

If we start at the beginning and try an open minded and analytical approach, it becomes evident that the basic concept is correct and scientific. The word Sthavar certainly means immobile or fixed at a place. But it also means stable, constant, invariable, dormant etc. As the classification given by Mahavir is based on level of development of faculties, the division of Sthavar and Tras should also come from those premises. The life forms at the initial level are Sthavar and those at the gradual higher levels of development are Tras.

If we redefine the Sthavar Jiva on this basis, the definition would be: The life forms at the initial level, which are constant or uniform or basic for all evolved forms and are incapable of willful movement are Sthavar Jivas. From the viewpoint of physical senses, they only have the sense of touch, not yet evolved into its finer branches of taste, smell, vision and hearing. The sense of touch, again, is a basic and constant factor, as the existence itself is evident through touch. This sense is also the constant for all the other senses, as all the other senses are nothing but touch of a variety of particles in varieties of motions.

In modern terminology the Sthavar category of life form would probably be termed as mono-cellular organism or flocks of them. It may be bacteria and virus, which are the simplest forms of life known till date. It may even be DNA, the basic building block of all life forms; or the clay crystals that are supposed to be the earliest duplicating system formed on our planet.

The latest scientific information also corroborates this interpretation. It has been observed that the undifferentiated cells of early stages of an embryo are similar across most of the animal kingdom. In their basic architecture all living cells have greater similarity than differences. All known life carries the same genetic language and other identical traits. Scientists believe that the trail of evolution of every form of living organism, including plants, animals and human beings, when traced backwards, ends up at individual ancestral cell.

The sub-categories, Prithvikaya (earth beings) etc., simply denote the biochemistry of the formation and life process of these simple cellular organisms. The second category, Tras (mobile), covers all the living forms evolved at random from these basic organisms in different directions. At these higher levels willful as well as evolutionary movement is evident. Finer senses gradually evolve and with them the capacity of the brain. All these living beings, which are various as well as variable, come from the same source - the constant and uniform world of the Sthavar. The Tras beings can be placed in their proper sub-categories depending on the number of senses apparently functioning in them.

This factor, again, should be kept open to, progressive changes and not made rigid, as done by tradition, because the process of evolution is dynamic and ever changing. A living organism, known to have four senses may have the fifth sense in some hidden form. It may, at some later period in its evolutionary progress, develop the fifth sense. Any rigidity in factors that continue to change could lead to distortion and misinformation.

A startling example of such phenomenon is a small fish called the blind cave characin, which has no eyes. Long ago, these fish were trapped in a dark subterranean lake in some caves in Mexico. Eyes were of no use in the light-less water and the fish eventually stopped growing them. Other examples of such changes in form are the peculiar organisms like slime moulds, which in some instances spend half their life unmistakably as animals and other half unmistakably as plants.

These facts suggest that the terms Sthavar and Tras were used in dynamic evolutionary context and not just static physical context. The modern concept of when and how life began on this planet would be an interesting reading here. It would also reveal that how close is the Jain concept of life to the modern scientific concept.

The story of life starts most probably at a period when earth was still cooling and completely lifeless. The clouds of water vapour that surrounded earth had condensed to form seas, but they were still hot. There was a crowd of volcanoes spewing ash and lava. The atmosphere was thin and consisted of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, ammonia and methane. There was little or no oxygen, and an abundance of ultraviolet rays reaching earth’s surface. Electrical storms raged in the clouds, bombarding the land and sea with lightning.

What would have been the result of this mixture of natural elements? Experiments were performed in laboratory and it was found that complex molecules like sugars, nucleic acid, amino acids etc. were formed in the solutions.

With this knowledge we go back to the primitive earth and speculate the progress from then on. (It is worth noting that the origin and progress of life forms remains a subject of speculation, even in science, till date). With passage of millions of years the concentration of these building blocks of proteins increased and the molecules started interaction forming more complex compounds. There are possibilities of some totally new factors being brought down through meteorites. (This unknown factor may be the dormant stage Jiva, or life particles that, according to the Jains, are present in abundance throughout the expanses of the Universe.)

Sometime during this increasing complexity of compounds there appeared a substance, which proved to be most crucial for the further development of life. We today know it as DNA. It has two unique properties: it can act as a blue print for the manufacture of amino acids and it has the capacity to replicate itself.

Surprisingly enough, these two characteristics are also those of the simplest living organisms like bacteria. Bacteria, besides being the simplest form of life, are also the oldest fossils hitherto discovered.

The bacteria, evolved from DNA, fed initially on the various carbon compounds accumulated during the preceding millions of years. (As the carbon compounds were formed from the condensed vapours, the life forms formed from them and feeding on them may be the Vayukaya, air beings). With the flourishing of these bacteria the availability of this type of food must have reduced.

The inherent capacity of the living organism to adapt and evolve according to the changing environment brought a variety of changes. Instead of taking readymade food from the surroundings, some started manufacturing their own, within the cell walls, drawing necessary energy from the sun. The process is known as photosynthesis and hydrogen, a gas produced in abundance in volcanic eruptions, is an essential part of the process. Conditions very similar to those in which the early photosynthesizing bacteria lived can still be found in such volcanic areas as Yellowstone in Wyoming. In the scalding mineral laden waters of the slope, these bacteria still flourish. (These could be the Teukaya, fire beings).

Other forms eventually arose, which were able to extract hydrogen from a much more widespread source, water. (These may be the Apkaya, water beings.) This was the turning point in the history of life on our planet. When hydrogen is removed from water, free oxygen remains. The oxygen accumulated through millions of years is the component on which all life on earth sustains. These organisms, which are complex only as compared with bacteria, are found wherever there is constant moisture and are close relatives of green algae. The compound used in this intake of energy in the form of hydrogen is chlorophyll. Some of these algae, which are blue green, have developed a strange lime oozing form.

The blue-green pillars of Hamelin Pool are living stromolites and the group of them standing on the sun dappled sea floor are as close as we may ever get to a scene from the world of two thousand million years ago. They are living organisms that secrete lime, forming strong cushions near the shores of the pool and teetering columns at greater depths; an organism that produces a skeleton of stone and lives in an environment where deposits of ooze and sand are being laid down. (These may be the Prithvikaya or earth beings).

The most primitive life-like forms that share plant characteristics are also smallest viruses. Bacteria, which also cannot be seen with the naked eye, are closer to true plants. Algae that are microscopic can be seen only when they grow in great colonies in fresh or salt water, in soil or hot springs, on other plants or animals or even on snow, while the large algae are the familiar seaweeds. (These could be the Vanaspatikaya or plant beings).

The next jump in the evolution of life forms came with the formation of Protozoa. Although they are single cells they are much more complex than the bacteria. This is the starting point of purposeful movement, communal life at microscopic level, absorption of food more complex than single elements like hydrogen, sexuality etc. From this point onwards the rate of evolution accelerated and more and more complex forms evolved. This micro world of mono-cellular organisms continues to exist in almost all stages of its evolution, whereas the higher forms of life exist mainly in their final evolved stage.

All organisms from algae to giant trees are composed of cells. In the plant kingdom many of the most primitive living things are simply single cells. Each cell is able to carry out the same basic functions as the whole plant. It must breathe, feed itself and reproduce. When there is a change in environment the cell either adjusts to continue these functions of life under new conditions or it dies.

This micro world of the living organisms, evolved through the chain - Chemo-bacteria to Bacteria to Photo-bacteria to Stafilis Bacilli etc., should be the Sthavar world of Jains, not because it is stationary but because it is constant throughout the world of the living. The organisms higher than this level, having variety of form and senses should be the Tras world of Jains.

It would be worthwhile for researchers to go into the finer details of the Jain theory on living organisms, with an analytical approach. A lot has been written about the levels of consciousness at different stages of evolution, the process of evolution and regression into higher and lower forms, the possible ages etc. All this is connected by the central thread of theory of bondage and liberation with and from Karmic particles. This theory, again, is an original concept of the Jains.

The evolution according to the Jain theory does not solely depend on physical changes in the environment, it is also dependent on the purity of soul. It seems that according to Jain theory nature’s physical parameters affect the evolution of species in general. The place of an individual in the overall fabric of dynamic evolution is dependent on the state of his soul in terms of the fusion of Karmic particles with it. The individual takes evolutionary leaps or falls depending on the quality and quantity of Karmic particles and the intensity of fusion. Ahimsa conduct helps him avoid the falls and take leaps that may ultimately lead to liberation.

Establishing that the existence of life is so wide spread as to defy the limited capacity of physical senses, the scope of Ahimsa automatically expands from grosser to micro levels of the physical world. Covering the physical world it enters into the subtler inner world of mind and soul.


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. Ahimsa
  3. Apkaya
  4. Brain
  5. Concentration
  6. Consciousness
  7. DNA
  8. Environment
  9. Jiva
  10. Mahavir
  11. Science
  12. Soul
  13. Sthavar
  14. Sutra
  15. Sutta
  16. Teukaya
  17. Vanaspatikaya
  18. Vayukaya
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