Ahimsa - The Science Of Peace: [04] The Action

Published: 03.01.2009
Updated: 02.07.2015

With conscientiousness in activities like walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, eating and speaking, one does not enter into bondage of evil Karmas.

Dashavaikalika Sutra (4/8)

I am absolutely convinced that peace means action - when necessary revolutionary, but non-violent. I recognize that a diseased situation can be brought nearer to health, and therefore nearer to peace, by other means too; but I know that violence, even when directed to good ends, still contains the seeds of death.

Danilo Dolci

The human behaviour codes have been framed as per human potential, for the benefit of humanity, by humans alone. Only the lethargic can utter that these codes are unfathomable. How can any rational person accept these by considering them beyond his reach?

Dvatrinshika of Siddhasen (6/7)

Do not do unto others what you yourselves dislike.

Mahabharat of Vedavyas

The Action

Irya-samiti is defined as the attitude of careful physical movement so as to avoid any harm to others as well as self. Traditionally this has become confined to watching that while walking or moving otherwise, no insects are crushed under a person. The rituals into which this attitude has shrunk are sweeping the floor before walking or sitting, not riding on an animal or vehicle, not traveling on water or in air etc. The followers of mere rituals forget that there are many other facets to harming by careless movement.

To be watchful and ensure that while moving no insects or micro-organisms are harmed does not mean that you ensure that only insects are not harmed. It means that you should be so careful that not even the insects are harmed. If, as is generally done, everything other than the insects is not cared about, the whole purpose of observing this discipline is lost.

It has been explicitly mentioned in Dashavaikalik Sutra that one should be conscientious in all activities. It appears that the numbers have influenced the priorities and importance of discipline of attitude has been pushed down. The so called staunch followers of Jainism have become so overwhelmed with the projected effects of killing of infinite number of micro-organisms that they hardly care about inconvenience or harm caused to fellow human beings through careless movement.

In reality this attitude is much wider in scope and is not unique to Jainism. The development of this attitude is one of the essential parts of social life, because behaviour is nothing but the movement man and animals make. This includes running, swimming, flying, and all other types of locomotion as also talking, making gestures etc. Movement also covers breathing, twitching of muscles, blushing and even seizure of motion.

Behaviour has slowly evolved from the instinct for survival. Mechanically speaking it is a consequence of muscle activity stimulated by nerves. Any single act is not an isolated act of a particular muscle or nerve. It is an organized act of muscle movement initiated by the nervous system. While making any move, one should be aware of things around him and should be careful that the harmony is not disturbed. Also, one should be careful that no harm comes to himself or any other individual component of the biome.

Nature has equipped every living organism with a method of movement suitable to its body and living conditions. The basic need to live and the urge to procreate are the driving forces behind all its activities. The process of protection in nature is infinitely varied, and it is so difficult for an individual to comprehend and be prepared to counter each and every assault he may innocently or otherwise trigger through his careless movements. The story of aggression and defense in nature is age old. The methods of protection have evolved with the evolution of species.

The evolution of human social system too has its roots in this self-protection system in nature. Mahavir, it seems, realized that, as voluntary violence damages soul directly, the involuntary violence triggers the process of aggression resulting in increased chances of harm to the body and soul through the increase in violence all around. This appears to be the basis of formulating the discipline of attitudes and the control of physical movements.

Mahavir observed that if the conduct is based on Ahimsa, it becomes all-enveloping. If one becomes conscious to the harm of others and takes precautions against it, he automatically covers other factors like hygiene, social conduct, ecological balance and almost every facet of behaviour and short term and long term consequences.

The emphasis on discipline has been due to the fact that every individual has his own limitations of direct perception, capacity of observation, depth of knowledge and broadness of outlook. The curiosity and urge to learn has never been denied but discipline becomes essential because in nature ignorance or innocence does not affect the consequences of any action. Eating a poison would harm irrespective of the knowledge or ignorance about its existence or effects. The knowledge is effective only as far as preventive or curative measures before or after the action are concerned.

Violence triggers violence. This is a natural phenomenon. It is a pure biological reaction. Psychology, sociology and other such subjects have been built and developed around that basic, inherent biological need to live, procreate, and progress. In nature uninhibited aggressiveness is almost nonexistent, except for the cases where it has been acquired by unnatural outside influence. Violating others’ realm or stepping out of one’s own realm is the beginning of violence. It is not just the extremely agitated state of mind that is violence.

Even animals follow the rules of movement ingrained in them as reflexes, which keep on modifying by experience. The actions of animals are caused by events immediately preceding the action; they do not plan with future accomplishment in mind. The results of their actions may appear to be useful for the future but, in fact, they are just results of spontaneous or habitual reactions caused by immediate need or cyclic urges. The life of an animal runs in cycles. Some, like feeding, run on a short time scale and others, like sex, on longer time scale.

To be efficient, the behaviour of animals must include the ability to do the right thing in the right circumstance. For this they must have information about conditions in the outside world, which comes through sense organs. In fact, sensory stimulation is often the starting point of behaviour. This reception of stimuli varies with the species. In some the sensory equipment is much poorer then that of human beings and in others it is far superior.

Insect eating falcons are able to see individual dragonflies a half-mile distant, whereas for us the same insect becomes unrecognizable at 100 yards. The pit viper has the ability to sense heat and recognize its prey with temperature differences. Octopus can see only projected dimensions or rough shapes, whereas cats can see objects in much sharper contour definitions then us. Bats can locate by echo sounding and can produce or hear sounds up to 100,000 cycles. Some senses like electric field sensing, salinity sensing, humidity sensing and many other hitherto unknown senses are almost totally alien to humans.

Tiniest of the movements is influenced by numerous variables and, in turn, the movement also influences innumerable things in variety of ways. An unintentional stance, cultivated through careless habits, may provoke defensive reaction of aggression from a totally unconcerned venue.

Living with such complex neighbours, with the added responsibility to maintain the balance in nature, is a tough job. When tackling those equipped with superior senses, we have to take care of ourselves and when tackling those with inferior senses, we have to take care of others. Experience and the unique thinking apparatus made human being the master manipulator of himself and the conditions around, to the extent that it became necessary to guard against misuse of his much superior prowess. That is where discipline came handy.

What, unfortunately, has happened is that the intoxication of ambition and success has made us forget even the natural discipline we inherited from the animal kingdom. One of the most striking things about the creatures is that they not only do which is required, but they also do no more then is required. They do not need to be switched off by an outside manipulator; something is built into them that makes them stop at proper time.

Man, with the development of his mental faculties, has lost that natural reflex of containing himself within the bare and minimal needs. The numbing of this restricting mechanism enhanced the feeling of greed, which today reflects in almost every action and behaviour of the humans. Exploiting of fellow human beings, other life forms, natural resources etc. has become an accepted way of life. He has forgotten when to stop. The attributes that have been responsible for elevating human beings from the cyclic world of animals have, through indiscipline of movement, become the factors responsible for this despicable degradation.

The natural discipline is that to be effective, behaviour has to be controlled in space as well as time. Where and when to go is very important. The time factor is generally controlled by inside stimuli whereas the orientation by outside ones.

No behaviour is perfect the first time it is shown. In case of lower animals, the innate equipment is relatively complete and often efficient from start. But in case of the higher animals outward information in terms of experience plays major role. This is maximum in case of humans. Many complex behaviours are combination of innate programming and external experience.

To be observant of surroundings and careful in movement is the most important requirement of life in this extremely complicated and unpredictable soup of life and matter. Every society, religion or law has evolved methods of teaching this carefulness; only different names have been given to the process. Jains have gone much deeper and started at the roots of actions and reached the ultimate discipline.

In simple terms, the discipline is walk carefully, see where you put your next step, move gracefully, think before uttering, etc. These are the terms naturally evolved from the basic attitude of careful movement. Harm to self is as despicable as that to others. By careless movement one may stumble and fall. This simple and innocuous looking consequence of a careless movement may end up in grave and irretrievable situation, effecting many lives in a chain reaction of events. Even the most insignificant thing like defective posture or gait causes grave physical disorders. The violent consequences of a simple movement of a tiny eye-lid muscle can trigger may be experienced by winking at an unacquainted lady.

Movement also means and implies the movement in life or the way of living. It is a very broad term covering almost every facet of life. That is the reason that the Jain thinkers have given it such an important place while defining conduct. Careful movement also reflects the state of alertness of mind and its discipline.

With the increase in purity the mind becomes open to more information around and beyond. As purity and alertness are complimentary, this attitude is equally important in the path of purity and liberation of soul. The purpose of this attitude is to discipline oneself for survival, maintaining of nature’s balance and progressing in the path of purification.


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

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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. Ahimsa
  2. Body
  3. Dashavaikalik
  4. Discipline
  5. Greed
  6. Jainism
  7. Karmas
  8. Mahabharat
  9. Mahavir
  10. Soul
  11. Space
  12. Sutra
  13. Violence
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