Ahimsa◄ Historical Dictionary Of Jainism◄ Kristi L. Wiley

Published: 10.12.2012
Updated: 18.12.2012

Non-harming or nonviolence.

Ahiṃsā is the central moral tenet in Jainism and is the basis for the practices and vows for mendicants and laypeople. Jains today view the statement "nonviolence is the high­est religious duty" (ahiṃsā paramo dharmah) as an all-encompassing expression of the Jain faith. Non-harming is emphasized in the Ācārāṅga Sūtra, the earliest Śvetāmbara text on mendicant conduct, which states that "all breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor torment­ed, nor driven away.

This is the pure, unchangeable, eternal law which the clever ones, who understand the world, have proclaimed" (, as translated by Jacobi).

In the Tattvārtha Sūtra, violence (hiṃsā) is defined as taking away life by actions of the body, speech, or mind that are done out of carelessness (pramāda) and are influenced by passions (kaṣāyas). The ahiṃsā-vrata is the first of five mendicant vows (mahāvratas) and lay vows (anuvratas). In taking this vow, a person agrees (1) not to harm other living beings oneself with body, mind, or speech (kṛta); (2) not to cause harm to others (kārita); and (3) not to approve of harmful actions (anumodana).

A mendicant vows to refrain from harming all living beings, includ­ing human beings and life-forms with one to five senses (tiryañc), namely animals and insects, as well as vegetable life and other one-sensed beings (ekendriya). To avoid harming one-sensed air-bod­ied beings, mendicants do not fan themselves and some do not use microphones. To avoid harming fire-bodied beings, they do not kindle or extinguish fires. To avoid harming water-bodied beings, they drink water that has been properly boiled, and they do not swim, wade, or use excessive water for personal hygiene. To avoid harming earth-bodied beings, they do not dig in the earth. Mendicants obtain food from laypeople because gathering and cooking food entails harm to plant life and fire-bodied beings. They travel by foot, inspecting the path in front of them, and avoid walking on greenery. They do not travel during the four-month rainy season period (cāturmāsa) when various life-forms abound.

In contrast, the life of laypeople is always associated with some degree of harm because in order to live they must prepare food and engage in an occupation. Laypeople who choose to take the lay vow of ahiṃsā agree not to harm living beings with two or more senses. Some curtail harmful activities through their choice of occupation. Others may decide to take additional lay vows of restraint, namely, one or more of the three supplementary vows (guna-vratas) and the four vows of spiritual discipline (śiksā-vratas), which are designed to further mini­mize harm. Although most Jains do not formally take the vow of ahiṃsā, they recognize that harm should be minimized whenever possi­ble and are advocates of a vegetarian diet.

Historical Dictionary Of Jainism
Historical Dictionary Of Jainism
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ahiṃsā
  2. Anuvratas
  3. Body
  4. Discipline
  5. Ekendriya
  6. Historical Dictionary Of Jainism
  7. Hiṃsā
  8. Jacobi
  9. Jainism
  10. Mahāvratas
  11. Nonviolence
  12. Pramāda
  13. Sūtra
  14. Tattvārtha Sūtra
  15. Violence
  16. cāturmāsa
  17. kaṣāyas
  18. Ācārāṅga
  19. Ācārāṅga Sūtra
  20. Śvetāmbara
  21. śiksā-vratas
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