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JVBL - Souvenir 2007 - Ahimsa & The 21st Century

Published: 14.01.2008
Updated: 07.01.2011

JVB London - Souvenir 2007

Ahimsa & The 21st Century

In Jain philosophy, nothing matters until one understands the exact meaning of the word 'ahimsa'. Once this is understood, it would be very easy to relate it to the 21st century. There are two most prominent concerns of the 21st century - the environment and terrorism.

The English translation of ahimsa, non-violence, does not do it any justice. It is generally accepted as the negation of physical violence. To understand the subtler meaning of ahimsa as defined in the Jain scriptures, it would be easier if the meaning of the word 'himsa' or violence is understood in context. Any act, which hurts even the feelings of the smallest living creature, is termed himsa in Jainism. Just consider the subtlety of this statement:

In relation to all living beings: from one-sensed to five-sensed;
Through three modes: mental, vocal and physical;
Through three means: personally, instructing others and praising the sinners;

To quote from Acharanga Sutra, the oldest extant scripture of the Jains which is accepted as the original preaching of Bhagawan Mahavir from 6th c. BCE:

"…any breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away".

The Jain definition of living beings is also very important if the philosophy of ahimsa is to be understood. All souls are classified as liberated and worldly. The worldly beings are further classified by their physical characteristics into: Immobile (earth-bodied; water-bodied; fire-bodied; wind-bodied; plant-bodied); and Mobile beings (with 2-5 senses).

Note that the Immobile/one-sensed beings (first five) are elements of nature and given importance by 'individual definition' in comparison to the Mobile beings which are all 'bundled together'. Perhaps Bhagawan Mahavir wanted us to recognise that the last group is totally dependent on the first five and not vice-versa! All life is inter-dependent: parasparopagraho jivanam.

With ahimsa so clearly defined, Jainism was intended to absolutely protect the environment. And for that to be accepted, one cannot think of injuring beings of higher status, especially humans, who hold the highest status in this universe. Hence, there is no support for any kind of terrorism or war in Jainism.

JVBL, Souvenir 2007

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