Ahimsa - The Science Of Peace: [10] The Application

Published: 09.01.2009
Updated: 02.07.2015

Why not declare that there is only one truly dangerous subversion, the subversion of life............ Why not encourage our best brains, scientists, artists, educators to make suggestions on how to arouse and stimulate love for life as opposed to love for gadgets?

Erich Fromm

But above all you should understand that there could never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.

Black Elk

It is because of the injustices of our society that the spiral of violence initially gets launched, and until and unless we get at the roots of injustice, we will be dealing in only a superficial way with the problem of violence.

Robert McAffe Brown

The choice today is no longer between violence and non-violence. It is either non-violence or non-existence.

Martin Luther King Jr.

The Application

Ahimsa, although a concept given by Jains in its minute details, has been accepted and propagated by almost every religion and society in one form or the other. While popularizing Ahimsa, it should not be painted a sectarian colour, nor should it be assumed that its popularity would benefit Jainism only. It has a universal appeal. Its strength comes out of its universal application, not confined use. Mahatma Gandhi provided a successful example of such an application.

Ahimsa can, with proper adaptation and effective application, bring about the harmony much needed in the present chaotic world. Many of the cancerous problems prevalent today would not have come into existence had Ahimsa conduct been in practice.

The most violent problem the world faces today is terrorism. It starts as a minor problem of discontent with the establishment or established norms. If left unresolved, this discontent continues to grow and becomes explosive, hitting out at random in any direction. Once it explodes, it has the unique capacity of snowballing by drawing innocent bystanders into its ranks. Fanatics create fanatics out of innocents as a reaction to their brutal treatment, and the process becomes self-sustaining.

Every society since time immemorial has had good and bad elements within its structure, and it is virtually impossible to wipe out any one of these completely. A strong and cohesive social structure, built on the lasting moral values of mutual coexistence and universal welfare, keeps bad elements within controllable limits. Generally speaking, this balance is disturbed, with consequent distortion of moral and social values, by self centered and power hungry individuals or groups. Once the social structure becomes weak and bad elements are encouraged and protected by selfish leaders, chaos becomes an inevitability. Terrorism of any brand thrives under such conditions.

Apartheid, racialism, communalism, religious fanaticism, etc. are basically similar problems. Deep inside each of these, the cause is ego and craving for power that gets more and more distorted with satiation. Ego is a self-feeding and multifaceted phenomenon that gathers impetus from individual, social, religious, racial, provincial, national or other prejudices. It cannot be overcome by suppression or subversion. On the contrary suppression gives it an added justification and impetus. Application of any force becomes a threat to survival, and to oppose such threat is basic human nature. As such, it results in increased cunning, ferocity and cruelty, further complicating matters.

Law enforcement holds a very important place in any society because it is the agency that protects the interest of all against the ambition of one or a few. It is the deterrent that keeps an individual or a small group from disturbing the overall social fabric, thereby protecting each and every individual component. But to make law enforcement effective, it is necessary that the number of such disturbing elements is kept within controllable limits. If one enforcer per citizen is required, the impossibility of the task can well be imagined.

With the prevailing acceleration in violent activities, throughout the world, we may have to face that impossible task sooner or later. The only way to keep the burden on law enforcement agencies within functional proportions is to encourage discipline by habit and mentality, not just by force. The Ahimsa conduct, if made a part of the education, can be a most effective step toward this goal.

Society as a whole can be strengthened and even extremely violent activities can be discouraged simply by checking the supply of fuel on which they sustain. This can best be done by reestablishing the lost social and moral values with the help of Ahimsa conduct.

Turbulence of thought essentially leads to violence. An agitated mind is inclined toward irrational thinking and ultimately becomes destructive. Agitation and turbulence of thought is derived from conflicting ideas. A difference of opinion, if misdirected because of prejudice, leads to mental agitation. Syadvad of Mahavir, the intellectual derivative of Ahimsa, strikes at this point. The understanding and acceptance of the multifacetedness of truth makes a difference of opinion tolerable, instead of a source of conflict. This relativity of truth has all-round application and can be used effectively even in solving complex problems that continuously arise with technological advancements. For the disease of mental turbulence and agitation, Syadvad would act like a vaccine; it would activate the inbuilt defense against any problem arising out of conflicting ideas and views.

Ahimsa conduct imparts a much broader outlook and tolerance toward viewpoints of others. It is almost the opposite of fanaticism and as such, if made popular, it would act as the best deterrent to bloodshed in name of religion, racism, provincialism, communalism, etc. A person or a society truly practicing Ahimsa conduct wins over biases and prejudices. This dispassionate outlook enables one to reconcile contradictions and strike a balance.

Since the discipline of Ahimsa strikes at the root of evil, it has the capacity to bring about reforms in almost all directions. The increasing malpractices in business and trade are rooted in greed and the ambition for wealth and grandeur. Although these are common human vices, they have been blown out of proportion because of a lack of consideration for the rights and needs of others. Consideration does not come out of fear. As the Ahimsa attitude makes one sensitive to the anguish and sorrow of others and, consequently, toward rights and needs of others, it keeps greed and ambition within limits.

Corruption is a disease with roots and branches so intertwined and widespread that it is difficult to trace out its source or evaluate its extent. It is to mind what leprosy is to body and to soul what cancer is to cell. It is almost impossible to treat once it passes initial stages. The only remedy then is to isolate or amputate the effected part of society. Against corruption only preventive measures or strong corrective measures during initial stages can work. Ahimsa conduct is an effective preventive measure against this disease, as it makes the person sensitive to the harms that corruption causes to others, thereby helping him to realize the consequences he will have to face if he does not keep himself free of this disease.

Discipline is an essential part of Ahimsa conduct, as indiscipline of any sort increases the chances of harm to self as well as others. With the application of Ahimsa conduct, discipline of thought, speech, and action automatically follows. Indeed, discipline is a two-edged sword for tackling any problem. It improves the person practicing discipline and at the same time discourages others from being wanton. Traffickers in drugs and arms would be forced to abandon their loathsome trade if the masses were disciplined enough not to buy and use drugs or arms, for such trade would thereby be rendered unprofitable.

At an international level, the main cause of almost every problem is greed for power and territorial supremacy. The cold war, the arms race, economic subversion, etc., are all problems sprouting out of that craving for domination over the world. Ideological justifications are nothing but efforts to camouflage real intentions. No amount of negotiation, at whatever variety of conference, is going to solve these problems unless sincere mutual understanding comes into play. The concept of peaceful coexistence can be very effective at the international level; but this concept, while derived from Ahimsa conduct, can be effective only when Ahimsa conduct is adopted and practiced at all levels and in all dimensions of human society.

It can be observed from its pervasion of different fields that Ahimsa, as defined by Jains, includes not only life but also life supporting systems and elements, such as earth, water and fire. Damage to these in any way that makes them harmful to life, or to the evolution and sustenance of life is also included in the Jain definition of violence.

Fire, water, earth, air, etc. in various combinations are the ultimate sources of life as we scientifically know. The abstinence from violence toward these elements is the most effective measure toward the prevention of pollution. Violence toward these factors includes the unrestricted consumption of natural resources, disturbing nature’s ecological cycles, deforestation, industrial and other pollutions etc., etc.

Natures working, as far as its individual components are concerned, is simple. But it is extremely complex in the overall combination. Ecological interdependence is almost absolute for every one of its components, for it is impossible to eliminate any one component without disturbing the delicately poised balance. To maintain a healthy community, each and every component must be present and functioning at its appointed level. With the increasing information about the intricacies of the dynamic balance of a biome, it becomes more and more evident that indiscriminately disturbing or destroying any component, for any short-term convenience or inconvenience, is futile, even fatal.

The ecology is like a large machine composed of so many gears meshed together. It is self-defeating to try to label any one of the gears as more or less beneficial or injurious to those using it. Yet, man continues to plunder nature and interfere with its components on one pretext or the other. The experts on ecology forecast that in all probability we are on the threshold of a biological tragedy. By the end of this century, we are likely to lose at least one million out of the earth’s five to ten million surviving species, and the process is likely to accelerate itself exponentially within the first few decades of the next century. There are chances that almost one third of all species that exist today will be lost. We would not have come to this point of degeneration had we been a little cautious and practiced Ahimsa conduct.

The so-called energy crisis is another burning problem facing human society. One factor that may be helpful is energy conservation or its restrained use. For those indoctrinated in the Ahimsa way of life conservation comes naturally. A society practicing restraint in all its activities, so that no harm comes to others, consumes energy only to the extent that is minimally essential. There is no extravagance or waste due to neglect and carelessness.

The energy crisis and maintaining the ecology are connected problems. In our greed for wealth and power we continue to exploit nature at every step in our technological progress. In our egotistic pursuit to harness and improve upon nature, we have disturbed it with a blind eye toward the grave consequences future human society will have to face.

Taking care not to disturb ecology, so that the coming generations do not face the peril of destruction caused by a ravaged and hostile land, was and is a necessary part of behaviour in almost every society. The Jains, however, have put that social practice into scientific and philosophical terms. With the advent and expanse of industrial culture and territorial competition, all such values have been lost to selfish pursuits, which, in Jain terms, is violence.

Even people as remote and supposedly primitive as the Bushmen of Africa had a very sound tradition for protecting ecology. They would not dig two roots from the same place. They would not take all eggs from one ostrich nest. The norm was that one must always walk past one before digging another or picking up from another. Given in there simple terms, the reason for this behaviour was that you must take one and leave another for the children. If you leave nothing for the children, what will they think of you when they starve? When you leave them, your children will grow strong, remember you, and do the same for their children. In the simple language of these people children mean all the future generations.

This is the real essence of Ahimsa in its applied form. It has to be a way of life; it has to be a belief rooted deep down into the mind and sentiments. Ahimsa is neither a rule nor a ritual. It is discipline, not only for an individual at a certain time, but for all people, at all times.

If infused in large groups of people the Ahimsa attitude would help human race to live in harmony with nature. Ironically, this widely applicable principle has been confined to the individual level by none other than Jain interpreters and propounders themselves. It has not progressed since the early interpreters, living in simple society, evolved simple applications. Later scholars, preachers, and ascetics have been content with blindly following those early and simple interpretations, which had already become a spent force. The few who tried to keep abreast of times were condemned, and their radical reforms and non-traditional viewpoints were pushed into obscurity by making them purely academic.

In the campaign against evil, we have never tried to improve our arsenal, whereas the evil have raced ahead. The evil thought in simple society meant thinking of direct harm to any other being. With the ever-increasing complexity of life, direct harm has lost its importance. Harm can be caused by manipulating people or events, or even by pushing a remote button. If we continue to keep the traditional applied definitions of philosophical concepts, they will soon loose whatever little is left of their impact.

It is time that the basic philosophical concepts are explained to the common man to the fullest extent, so that applied interpretations become dynamic and effective. Knowledge that has been kept esoteric by a few must be made more, and more accessible to the common man. Each and every question should be answered sincerely and elaborately, so that more and more people become interested in Ahimsa conduct as a preventive measure against grave consequences of evil thought now confronting humanity. What is required is proper education and effective practice of Ahimsa conduct among the masses.

It is the observation of child-psychologists that when the parents point out to a child the consequences for others of what the child has done, the child seems to learn such positive moral lessons as empathy and compassion. This is especially marked when the child has injured someone. In experiments, children raised in this way were more likely than others to help or comfort distressed children.

Use of threats or raw physical force may solve the immediate problems of violence, but they may impart an unintended moral damage. The children of parents who rely on force or threats, research shows, tend not to console or help another distressed child, or even to start fights or otherwise engage in unprovoked aggression. The feeling of being loved is one of the most basic influences on a child’s moral development.

When a human being starts his life, he is like a miniature but highly sophisticated computer with a vast potential to be programmed. The Karmic blueprint or, according to biosciences, genetic code provides him with that potential or capacity. He has no on/off switch that could provide control at will. He is open to the surrounding world and starts absorbing information or programming himself from the instant he is born. As far as absorption is concerned, he has no discrimination. He absorbs good information as well as bad.

The irony is that this unique computer has no system to erase any information or programme completely, without damaging itself in the process. All the important and basic programming, which forms the foundation of and continuously influences later programming, is concluded by the time the human child is seven years old. The foundation of racial sexual, ethical, religious and national attitudes is laid down during this early infanthood. Thus, the circumstances and environment in which an infant is raised is vital to the quality of citizen he is going to turn into. Parents are the most powerful factors influencing the mind of the man of tomorrow. If they understand and practice Ahimsa conduct properly and try to influence the basic programming of the infant human computer, they could ensure a physically healthy, mentally sound, and ethically strong citizen for tomorrow.

This education and application has to be implemented at almost every level. The masses will have to be educated right from the primary grades so that future citizens grow up with sustaining moral values and tolerance. The Jain ascetic organization can do a lot in this direction as they have the required background and knowledge. They can effectively popularize Ahimsa conduct in masses at all levels. But for this, they will have to prepare themselves to consider as their student each and every human being, not just the followers of their particular sect.

Equally important is the education of our leaders; the people who stir the masses into an uncontrollable storm capable of destroying whatever good or bad comes in its way. These men must be made to believe that the strength in and power derived from Ahimsa is much more stable and healthy than that derived from terror and violence. It is surprising that people miss the historical reality of the conquest by Ahimsa demonstrated by Ashoka. The territories won by the onslaught of Buddhism launched, without a trace of violence, by Ashoka were much larger than the largest ever, conquered by Genghis Khan; and they remained under its influence for a much longer period.

We have all the ingredients of the remedy to many important problems the humanity is facing, available within Mahavir’s concept of Ahimsa. What is needed is extracting them out of the dogmas, formulating them for the different ailments of societies, and applying them sincerely. Let us hope we are not too late in reviving this science of harmony and peace, lost within religious stigmas.


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. Ahimsa
  2. Ashoka
  3. Body
  4. Buddhism
  5. Discipline
  6. Ecology
  7. Environment
  8. Fear
  9. Greed
  10. Jainism
  11. Mahatma
  12. Mahatma Gandhi
  13. Mahavir
  14. Non-violence
  15. Science
  16. Soul
  17. Syadvad
  18. Tolerance
  19. Violence
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