The Rights of All Life Forms in Ācārāṅga Bhāṣyaṃ

Posted: 26.02.2016

The Rights of All Life Forms in Ācārāṅga Bhāṣyam

Jainism one of the most ancient religions of the world originated and developed on Indian soil containing a profoundly progressive social attitude. Even in the antiquity start from the first Tīrthankar Rishab to 24th Tīrthankar Mahavira, Jain preceptor discussed at length how one can protect the right of all the creatures. The Ācārāṅga Bhāṣyam, the earliest known Jain text describes that all the living beings namely earth- bodied, water-bodied, fire-bodied, air-bodied and vegetable bodied etc. immobile beings also deserve equal rights in this universe. But the very concept of Human Rights is becoming very popular in recent years as per UN declaration of the United Nations General assembly. This UNDHR contains a comprehensive list of political, economic, social and cultural rights and aims at the protection of the freedom, equality and human dignity of all human beings, irrespective of their race, gender, language or religion. Never before in  the history had there been such a far reaching and solemn undertaking to protect each and every individual from all forms of oppression and deprivation.  

Ācārya Mahapragya writes in his Ācārāṅga Bhāṣyaṃ that the concept of Human Rights is one sided perspective as the rights of immobile beings have been neglected completely and the consequence is that human power has dominated the rights of other species of the universe. So today the natural environment is in crisis. Up till now the rights for earth, air, water, fire and vegetable bodied beings which also possess equal consciousness as per Jain perspective from the existential point of view  were not taken into consideration. But Tirthankar Mahavira 2600 years back itself claimed that the life of least developed beings must be duly respected. An outstanding aphorism of Ācārāṅga which highly depicts the oneness of the soul i.e. 'tumamsi nāma sacceva Jam, hantavvamti mannasi, tumamsi nama sacceva Jam ajjāveyavvamti  manna[1]  that is "which you want to kill is yourself, That which you want to satisfy is yourself, That which you want to torture is yourself."  Such a oneness of souls in all the levels of beings if recognized then I am sure that violations of basic rights of all the beings can be safeguarded. In the world of today, a fresh problem needs fresh thinking and emergence of new principles for their solution. The scripture under study proclaims the effects of ambitious mentality of modern society to enjoy the pleasures of the world at the cost of other beings. So this concept of Human Rights literary not available during the period of Mahavira, but its seeds were prevailing the then period too.

 During the age of Mahavira also the torture towards animals, men and women slaves, imprisoned people and even towards immobile beings was in existence. So in Ācārāṅga Sūtra, Mahavira rightly commented that sometimes a person is beaten to a state of unconsciousness and sometimes tortured to death.[2] He further says that due to greed, for earning more and more money, by killing animals for tusks, hide, fresh, blood, heart, bile, fat, feathers, tail, hair, horn, tooth, Jaw, nail, sinew, bone and marrow.  Some People kill with a purpose and some without any.[3] Today we see domestic violence towards wives, old persons, children's, prisoners, refugees, etc. and killing of animals for meat eating, for medical tests, for longevity and beauty of man-kind, for amusement are really heart touching not only this but also exploitations towards vegetable life forms, earth, air, fire and water bodies beings for the self-happiness is leading towards environmental pollution and global warming at large. Mahavira was not opposed to meeting the primary needs of the rapidly growing population, but his opposition was to the ideology of unrestrained ambition.  Humanity has not yet succeeded in finding a way of life that could satisfy the primary needs of all and simultaneously mitigate the inhuman cruelty, a by-product of excessive acquisition of wealth. So Mahapragya rightly said, solve the problem of possessiveness, the problem of violence will then automatically find its own solution.[4] The effect cannot be got rid of so long as the cause is in function. Violence is an effect, possessiveness is its cause. The root cause of the problem of violence is of tying up the sense of mineness with things. This philosophy of Ācārāṅga gave a new turn to the science of ethics and advanced thought in the direction of peace announcing 'Be a seer. Look at every event and bring about a change in your attitude to sensual objects. Do not enjoy objects like the person who doesn't seek truth. But bring about a complete change in your life style through attitudinal change.'[5] If this view is translated into reality, I think that unnecessary violence, reactive violence, physical, mental, emotional and intellectual violence at large can be avoided, which in turn can protect the right of all forms of life and not merely the human rights.

Jain Understanding of Interdependence of Nature & Man

Right to live Act of 21 Article of it Human Rights can be compared with the view of Mahavira in highlighted in his Ācārāṅga that every life from has the right to live, life is dear to everyone, nobody wants to die.[6] So nobody has the right to take away the life of other beings. The very language of the concept of right is based upon the conceptions of Justice. The Jain motto of 'Parasparopagraho Jeevānām [7] as quoted in the Tattvartha Sutra, which highlights that all living organism, however big or small, irrespective of the degree of their sensory perception, are bound together by mutual support and interdependence. As far as my knowledge goes due to Islamic view that God has made this creation and whatever available on the earth are made for the consumption of man. This view of Bible, - 'Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and living animals on the Earth. God said, 'See, I gave you all the seed bearing plants that are upon the whole earth and this shall be your food.'[8]6 Due to this vague notion of Christianity, unipolar power of the entire Europe that man is a privileged supreme being in the world and nature is the main cause of present ecological imbalance. Not only this, non-vegetarian life style is the cause of the continuous degradation of environment & depletion of life-supporting natural resources but also the reckless consumerism is the matter of serious concern. On the other hand, to relieve people from pain and sufferings and to reduce the sum total of human misery unethical science of medical testing is causing misery to other innocent creatures is a matter of serious issue. According to one estimate modern science is claiming more than five billion innocent lives every year. Jain text Ācārāṅga cites that such sort of violence is for self-harm, is for self-non-enlightenment only.[9] Jains believe as man and nature are so inter-woven with each other into the social fabric that there is a common thread, which binds us all. This principle of inter-relatedness and inter-dependence of living beings as cited in the Ācārāṅga Sutra, paves us towards the truth that the denial of the existence of the six classes of beings will be tantamount to the denial of the existence of the self. One cannot safeguard one's own existence by obliterating the existence of others.[10] If this philosophy of equanimity of consciousness is translated into reality, the problem arising due to the violation of Human Rights can be solved. The culture of non-violence for the better promotion of socially beneficial, peace-fostering and nature friendly way of life can be established on this earth.

Human Solidarity in Jainism:

Mahavira's philosophy of Equality of Consciousness as an intrinsic nature of each living being also claims that Human race is one. (ekka manussa Jai),[11] He never discriminated any human on the basis of his birth, colour, profession, religion, country etc. He established the novel notion of oneness of Humanity on the basis of one's action. The criteria of the human lies in the virtue of compassion, sympathy, service, affection, and in the acts of benevolence. Today we see there is a kind of absolute notion of sexual superiority, color, caste, class, country and religious superiority which is creating reactive violence and inhuman behavior in the name of untouchable considering the other as inferior. In this context, Right to equality and non-discrimination Act of 14, 15, 16 Article of Human Rights also claims the rights of equality of all the human beings without considering above mentioned discrimination. Mahavira rightly said that man is brāhmin, Sūdra, Kastriya and Vaisya not by one's birth, but by one's action.[12] He abolished the prevailing concept of considering one person as high or low on the basis of one's birth no hine no airitte[13] and he initiated Harikeshbal[14] an outcaste into his religious order and a slave laywomen named Chandanbala was also allowed to enter into the life of nunhood and paved her to the path of liberation. He provided the right to renounce for the women race which other Vedic, Digambara Jain tradition itself against allotting this kind of freedom. Mahavira made an epoch making revolution by declaring the emancipation of women and re-established the merit of action in the world of social disparity prevailing in the name of sex, caste, country etc.

Mahavira's attitude towards womenfolk was also very liberal. He saw the innate, good of both men and women and assigned them their due place in his  śāsana. In his religious order, sex was no barrier to attaining saint-hood and ultimately the liberation. Jain women had similar duties to men in performing religious rites and rituals and were allowed to read and study the scriptures. Whereas in Vedic culture and religious society, women and śūdras were considered as inferior, debarring them from the initiation rites and wearing the sacred thread, a symbol of higher caste.[15] Moreover women and manual workers (śūdras) were not allowed to listen to sacred scriptures.[16] Tirthankara Mahavira gave full freedom to one and all, including women and the śūdras, to observe common religious practices. He gave an equal opportunity to everybody, irrespective of his class, caste, or birth, or sex, to practice religion according to one's capacity. On the other hand, Mahavira liberally initiated the nuns in his order, which is double in number when compared with the monks. In his order, there were only 14,000 monks but there  were 36,000  nuns.[17] In the same way, the numbers of laywomen is 3,18,000, which is more than the number of 1,59,000 laymen.[18] He propounded that the difference, which we see in the world is due to the past karmās and each soul through ones pious efforts can change ones destiny.    

According to my view, the very notion of the concept of Human Rights is imperfect, very limited and really violent which violates & completely negates the rights of all the non-human beings. Certainly, the non-human bodied beings are one which I want to propagate and investigate. But I found that Jains do not usually frame the matter in terms of the rights of non-humans. But Jains speak of the moral duty and responsibility of human towards all the non-human beings. Every right has a corresponding duty, without duties there can be no rights. This duty and rules are most clearly enunciated in the cardinal Jain principle of Non-violence. If this view of equanimity is translated into reality, I think that reactive violence, unnecessary violence. Intellectual violence emotional violence at large can be avoided, which in turn can protect the rights of all forms of life and not merely human rights.

In nutshell, it can be concluded that flourishing together is the secret of peace from Jain perspective. Unity in diversity is the lesson of life. So let us guide ourselves and our followers not just to tolerate but to respect other person's points of view, not just to exist but to co-exist. Let us not prosper and progress at the cost of others, but sacrifice a part of ourselves for the good of others, because in the good of others lies our own, in the progress of others rests our own and in the joy of others abides our own.


Ācārāṅga Sūtra. Ed. Yuvācārya Mishrimalji 'Madhukar'. With Original Text, Hindi version, Notes, Annotation and Appendices.Beawar: Shri Āgam Prakashan Samiti. 1998.

Ādipurāṇa of Jinsenācārya. Ed. Pannalal Jain. Varaṇasī: Bhārtīya Jñānpītha, 3rd edn. 1988.

Tattvārtha Sūtraṁ of Umāswāmī. Ed. J.L. Jaini. Delhi: Barrister Champat Rai Jain Trust.1956.

Uttarādhyayana Sūtra. Ed. Muni Mishrimalji Maharaj. Trans. Muni Rajendra. Beawar: Āgam Prakāshan Samiti.1991.

Manusmrti of Kulluka Bhatta. Ed.Gopal Shastri Nene. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office.1970.

Kalpa Sūtra  of Bhadrabahu Svami. Trans. Kastur Chand.Delhi: Motilal Banarasi Dass. 1979.

Mahapragya. Economics of Mahavira. Delhi: Adarsh Sahitya Sanga. 2004.

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