Jainism : The World of Conquerors: 4.12 ► Ahimsaa, Aparigraha, Anekaantavaada

Published: 11.12.2015

The Jain way of life is based upon the five vows of ahimsaa, satya, acaurya, brahmacarya and aparigraha, together with anekaantavaada and austerities. We have discussed these vows in the chapter 4.1, but as ahimsaa, aparigraha and anekaantavaada are the distinctive principles of the Jains, they require further elaboration.

Ahimsaa (Non-Violence)

It is difficult to translate ahimsaa into English, the closest gloss would be 'non-violence and reverence for life' or avoidance of injury. Jain ethics have placed the greatest emphasis for ahimsaa, but ' non-violence' does not fully explain its meaning. It means kindness to living beings, and includes avoidance of mental, verbal and physical injury; it is reverence for life in totality. Though this principle has been recognised by practically all religions, Jainism alone has expounded its full significance and application, to the extent, that Jainism and non-violence have become virtually synonymous. Jains always maintain that this principle represents the highest religion (ahimsaa paramo dharamah), which is why among the five main vows, 'non-violence' is pre-eminent, and in the Jain scriptures it is regarded as the principal vow while the other four vows are considered as extensions of this fundamental principle.

Violence is defined in Jainism as any action, attitude, thought or word, which results in harm to the 'vitalities', that is, all those elements necessary to sustain life. The ten vitalities are the five senses, the three strengths of body, of speech and of mind, lifespan and respiration. Violence thus includes not only killing or physical injury but also curtailing the freedom of thought and speech of others. None should be forced to do anything against their wishes. As noted earlier, material possessions can be considered to be 'external vitalities' for a human being, hence theft is a form of violence.

We commit violence in thought before we commit it in action. Violence in thought or psychic violence (bhaava himsaa) is the true violence. The Dasavaikalika Sutra states that no sin accrues to one who walks, stands, sits, sleeps, eats and speaks with vigilance. It is said that a negligent ascetic is violent with regard to all living beings, but if the ascetic behaves vigilantly, and remains unattached, just as a lotus in water, then the ascetic is not considered to be violent, even though some violence may occur unwittingly (Bhargava 1968: p.107).

Other scriptures indicate that a negligent soul afflicts its own 'self' and this remains true whether others are harmed as a result of the negligence or not. Under the influence of the passions one's judgement is impaired, one defiles the soul's pure nature by likes and dislikes. This lack of detached indifference is the real sin. Violence in thought translates into violence in action (dravya himsaa), physical violence, which we see all around us.

Amitgati (11th century CE) has classified violence into 108 varieties. One can commit violence oneself (kritaa), or have others commit violence (karitaa) or approve of violence (anumodanaa). This threefold violence becomes nine-fold, as one or more of the three agencies of mind, speech and body can commit it. This ninefold violence becomes twenty-sevenfold, as it has three stages: thinking of violent action; preparing for violence and committing violence. This twenty seven-fold violence becomes one hundred and eightfold, as one or more of the four passions (anger, pride, deceit and greed) can inspire it. These classifications show that the Jains take a comprehensive view of physical and psychic violence and can take two forms: unintentional and intentional.

Unintentional Violence is defined as violence committed accidentally or as part of an individual's social duty and is unavoidable. It has three forms: 'domestic', 'professional', and 'defensive'.

  • Domestic Violence: Unintentional violence is involved in the daily domestic routine of householders, such as cooking, washing, bathing, travelling, worshipping, and in their social or religious obligations. This unavoidable violence is called 'domestic' violence.
  • Professional Violence: Certain professions, such as doctors and farmers, have to commit violence in their daily duties (e.g. doctors giving antibiotics or operating on someone). However, they should minimise violence and remain vigilant against unnecessary harm to living beings, and should regret violence. Because of their obligations, they may commit some violence, but their motive in doing so is to help other living beings.
  • Defensive Violence: Jainism abhors violence but recognises the concept of legitimate defence, of oneself, or one's family, village, country and the like. This is a part of the duty of householders. Like those whose professions involve unavoidable violence, householders should minimise and remain vigilant and regret violence. Ascetics, however, would never knowingly commit violence under any circumstances.

Intentional Violence: Violence committed of one's own free will is called intentional violence and is avoidable. Often such violence is accompanied by intense passion and it causes greater harm to the soul of the person committing violence than to the victim. Intentional violence can be committed in thought, speech or action. Some examples are:

  • Animal sacrifice, which is still common in certain traditions such as the Muslim and some sects of the Hindu religions.
  • Some people maintain, mistakenly, that the demands of health require the eating of animal flesh.
  • In some countries, such as India, where a vegetarian diet is the norm, some people are persuaded to eat meat because it is seen as 'fashionable' or because hosts offer them meat.
  • Sound mind and physical fitness are necessary for spiritual progress, but even for nourishment one has to be vigilant in causing minimal violence to other beings. The killing of two- to five-sense creatures for food is totally prohibited, and one should minimise the killing of one-sense creatures. Jains are forbidden to eat meat, eggs (fertilised or unfertilised), honey, alcohol, butter, root vegetables, and vegetables with multiple seeds. The production of honey and alcohol is believed to cause harm to minute creatures. Butter and root vegetables can contain myriads of tiny living beings. Multiple-seeded vegetables and fruit contain more living beings with onesense life forms. Eggs are potential precursors of five-sense life. (In the West, Jains avoid meat, eggs and alcohol, but they are somewhat relaxed about others foodstuffs). Jains disapprove of the following violence:
  • Many sports such as hunting, shooting and fishing, the so-called 'blood sports' involve a high level of violence.
  • Some industries involve violence to animals, for example, cosmetics are often tested on animals and the silk, fur and leather industries kill living creatures.
  • Violence in vivisection, medical research and scientific investigations is unnecessary and avoidable.
  • Open violence and conflict arise in societies through religious fanaticism, 'racial' hatred, political rivalries, and greed for property or land or as a result of sexual passion.
  • 'Civil' violence, crime such as robbery or burglary, and the methods used to maintain law and order can all generate violence which is avoidable.
  • Exploitation, overwork or the overloading of workers and animals are forms of violence and should be avoided.

Life starts at conception and hence abortion is normally prohibited in Jainism. In a case in which a mother's life is in danger, one should use one's judgement to choose a course of action, which will minimise violence.

The use of contraception is not prohibited per se, but Jainism prescribes sexual restraint and that sexual activity should be reserved for procreation as over-indulgence is a form of attachment and passion, causing injury to the 'self', and hence a form of violence.

Regarding organ and tissue transplants, which are a common feature of modern medicine, Jainism permits a willing or voluntary donation to help others. The giving of one of two kidneys, for example, is permitted, if no harm results through the donation. The sale of blood or organs often involves compulsion or exploitation, for example of the poorest, and in such cases is forbidden to the donor or recipient.

Observant Jains are exhorted not to follow professions that involve violence. Among these are: the production of wood charcoal, forestry; transport by animals, transport of animals, mining, anything involving meat products or furs, skins and the like, non-food plant products such as paper, intoxicants, trading in persons and animals, weapons and poisons, milling, work involving fire, work involving water, and prostitution.

The vow of non-violence for ascetics is absolute. They avoid all violence to living beings; they do not travel by vehicles, cook, bathe, or use modern technology; nor do they defend themselves. They have renounced everything and therefore have no country to defend, to them there are no friends or enemies, all are equal. The vow of non-violence for the householder takes account of the need for earnings, family, social and national obligations, but householders should choose a profession which involves the least violence either to human beings or to the natural world.

Mahatma Gandhi utilised the principle of non-violence successfully to win freedom for India. He declared that non-violence is the policy of the strong. It requires self-control. Self-controlled people are free from fear; they fear only causing injury or injustice. Ahimsaa is not cowardice. It allows the right of legitimate self-defence in the case of householders. One who stands courageous and undisturbed in the face of violence is a true follower of non-violence, regarding the enemy as a friend.

Non-violence is not mere non-injury in the negative sense. It has also a positive aspect. It implies the presence of cultivated and noble sentiments such as kindness and compassion for all living creatures, and it also implies self-sacrifice. The Buddha renounced the pleasures of the world out of compassion for all living creatures, and Jesus was filled with compassion when he said 'whoever shall strike thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also', he demanded self-sacrifice.

Aacaarya Amitagati enumerates qualities that should be cultivated to realise the ideal of non-violence: a disposition not to cause any suffering to any living being in mind, body or speech; affection coupled with respect for those renowned for their virtues and religious austerities; the will to help the poor; and an equitable attitude (Bhargava 1968: p.109). Ahimsaa is thus a positive virtue and it resolves itself as jiva-daya, compassion for living creatures. Jains maintain animal and bird sanctuaries (panjaraa polas) throughout India. In India, where most water comes from wells and streams, Jains filter the water through a thick cloth and return the strained out small living creatures to the water's source, so that they can live in their own environment and unnecessary violence is avoided.

Some wider issues of non-violence: Some hold that there is no violence involved in taking the flesh of those animals who have met a natural death, but Jains believe that this is not the case, because the flesh of a corpse harbours micro-organisms, which are generated constantly and killed when the flesh is touched. Honey, which drops naturally from the honeycomb also, contains micro-organisms and is prohibited to Jains.

The principle of non-violence requires that violent animals should not be killed, either to save the possible destruction of lives by them or to save them from committing the great sin of violence. 'Mercy killing', euthanasia is a form of violence and is prohibited. Under no pretext can violence be justified. The Jain belief in non-violence is against all cruelty towards animals and the natural world. It is against wars, however, it allows Jain laypersons the right of self-defence. It guarantees freedom of thought, speech and action to all and guides us to shun violence committed in the name of religion.

Forms of non-violence: Like violence, non-violence can also be expressed in different forms: psychic, verbal and physical, the last two deriving from the first. Nonattachment, truthfulness, honesty and chastity are the physically realisable forms of nonviolence, and the world could be transformed if these forms of non-violence were to be widely observed.

Aparigraha (Non-attachment)

Aparigraha is the mental attitude of non-attachment to possessions, objects and attitudes, as attachment is the cause of bondage and should be avoided. It involves both nonattachment and non-possession. For ascetics, the aparigraha is a vow of non-possession, for householders it is a vow of limited possession. Amitgati says that every violence is caused for possessions, therefore, a householder should be vigilant to limit possessions (Amitgati Sraavakaacaara 1912: 6.75). Both the Digambars and Svetambars agree on the definition, but the sects vary in the number of objects allowed to ascetics. Jain ethics for laypersons do not prohibit wealth and position, provided that these are realised honestly. Regarding the vow of aparigraha, a limit to possessions is advised, and wealth in excess of one's vowed limit is given up and set aside for charitable purposes.

Attachment to and the desire to procure possessions is a form of illusion, the result of a specific type of karma (mohaniya karma) which is an obstacle to selfrealisation.

The vow of aparigraha also means limiting the holding of positions of responsibility of any type whether voluntary, commercial, governmental or academic. Attachment is of two types: material and psychic.

Material possessions are of various kinds, including wealth, property, livestock, servants, gold and jewels, clothes, furniture and utensils. In the modern world we would perhaps add cars, videos, dishwashers, home computers and much more. Material possessions themselves create a craving for even more. The more we get of them, the more we want, as material desires are notoriously insatiable. Happiness is not achieved through the pursuit of possessions.

Psychic 'possessions' include likes and dislikes, hatred, anger, pride, deceit, greed, sexual infatuation, grief, fear and disgust. These are the affective states corrupting the development of the personality and should be sublimated.

Property earned by wrong and unrighteous means, even if it is within a selfimposed limit, is to be considered as sinful.

The vow of non-attachment helps to control the desires and makes an individual contented. It has great social significance to modern society: it is not uncommon for people to be blind to the values of life while pursuing social and political ends, as for many, power and self-interest are their ultimate ends. The vow of non-attachment can lead to greater economic justice in society and improved social welfare.

Anekaantavaada (Relative Pluralism)

One of the important philosophical principles of Jainism is 'relative pluralism'. Literally, the term anekaantavaada refers to the Jain view of the many-sided nature of reality. Jain seers taught that reality could only be fully understood in a state of omniscience, and worldly beings possess only limited or partial knowledge. This view is neatly expressed in the famous story of the seven blind persons who each sought to describe an elephant. Being blind, each had to rely on the sense of touch for knowledge of the elephant. One who touched the elephant's leg thought that it was like a log; another who touched its tail thought it was like a rope; and yet another, who had touched its trunk, thought it was like a snake. All arrived at different descriptions: wall (the body), fan (the ear) and so on, but could not describe the totality. To comprehend many different points of view, all must be taken into account in order to arrive at a complete picture.

Attempting to synthesise opposing viewpoints in philosophy frequently presents problems. Jain philosophers were well aware of such problems. In order to resolve them, they developed the idea of 'relative pluralism', synthesis of two doctrines: the doctrines of 'standpoints' (nayavaada) and 'relativity' (syaadavaada), which have been discussed in detail in chapter 4.7. Relative pluralism is the fundamental mental attitude which sees or comprehends 'reality' differently from different viewpoints, each viewpoint (or standpoint) being a partial expression of reality. If we remember the story told of Mahavira, when he was on the middle floor of his home he was 'downstairs' according to his father who was on a floor above, and 'upstairs' from the point of view of his mother on a lower floor, but both parents were right from their differing points of view. The relativity of viewpoints (Syaadavaada) brings together such differing viewpoints into a single logical expression.

According to Jain philosophy, 'reality', concrete and abstract, is complex: it is constituted of substances and their qualities which change constantly; it extends over past, present and future; it extends over the entire universe; and it is generated simultaneously, is destroyed and yet is permanent.

It has been pointed out that an object or reality cannot be fully comprehended by worldly beings, as ordinary humans cannot rise above the limitations of their senses, their apprehension of reality is partial and is valid only from a particular point of view. That is why Jainism points to the fact that reality may be comprehended from different 'angles', and the standpoints are important for understanding the theory of relative pluralism, which brings out the relativity of descriptions or accounts of the world, both concrete and abstract. In fact there can be infinite number of standpoints.

The Significance of Relative Pluralism: The awareness of the existence of many standpoints makes relative pluralism necessary; the standpoints are partial expressions of truth, while relative pluralism aims at the complete truth. Relative pluralism aims to unify, co-ordinate, harmonise and synthesise individual, and even conflicting, viewpoints into a comprehensible whole. It is like music, which blends different notes to make perfect harmony.

Relative pluralism teaches tolerance, co-existence and respect for others, necessary in creating a harmonious society. Some philosophical, religious and political systems claim to interpret reality in its entirety, while containing only partial versions of the truth, but they cannot do full justice to the manifold nature of the world in which we live, as judgements about the world must necessarily vary according to the observer's perspective. Relative pluralism seeks to provide a solution to the intellectual chaos and confusion stemming from the ambiguous and metaphysical contradictions of differing philosophical systems.

The doctrine of relative pluralism frees one from spurious thinking such as the belief that any one faith is nearer to the truth than others. It is an understanding, which urges us to study different religions, opinions and schools of thought and is a basis for sound thinking. Anekaantavaada respects the thoughts of others and as a result one's own opinions will be accorded their worth.


Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acaurya
  2. Anger
  3. Aparigraha
  4. Bhaava
  5. Body
  6. Brahmacarya
  7. Buddha
  8. Deceit
  9. Dravya
  10. Environment
  11. Fear
  12. Gandhi
  13. Greed
  14. Jain Philosophy
  15. Jainism
  16. Karma
  17. Mahatma
  18. Mahatma Gandhi
  19. Mahavira
  20. Mohaniya
  21. Mohaniya Karma
  22. Non-violence
  23. Nonviolence
  24. Pride
  25. Satya
  26. Soul
  27. Sutra
  28. Tolerance
  29. Violence
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