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Ahimsa - The Science Of Peace: [08] The Feeling 

Published: 07.01.2009
Updated: 02.07.2015

The saint with true vision conceives compassion for the entire world, in east and west and south and north, and so, knowing the Sacred Lore, he will preach and spread and proclaim it, among those who strive and those who do not, in fact among all those who are willing to hear him............ He should do no injury to himself or any one else........ The great sage becomes a refuge for injured creatures like an island, which the waters cannot overwhelm.

Acharanga Sutra (1. 6. 5)

One should cultivate the feelings of fraternity toward all beings, pleasantness toward the proficient, compassion toward the destitute and, equanimity toward the irreparably distorted.

Tattvartha Sutra of Umaswati (7/6)

Once we recognize all that we have in common with others, a feeling of compassion naturally arises and we can no longer treat other people with such indifference. We more easily understand their problems, and as we learn how to heal ourselves, we begin to use our knowledge to help them as well.

Tarthang Tulku

The Feeling 

Every conduct has two facets. One is indulgence, the other abstinence; that means indulgence in what is good or pure and abstinence from what is bad or evil. The conduct is incomplete as long as it is only positive or only negative; it has to be both simultaneously. However, what traditionally prevails is over-emphasis on negation. In fact what is most often promoted as Jain conduct for the citizen contains minor rules of ritual indulgences combined with an over abundance of negations.

Negation and abstinence as aids to discipline have been given importance in almost all religions. Jainism, being the most ascetic of religions, has given increasingly stricter emphasis on abstinence, as an individual progresses on the path of purification. The discipline becomes gradually stricter as knowledge increases. Once again, the basics are evenly balanced. It is the interpretations that have tilted the balance toward ritualistic abstinence.

Moreover, efforts to provide high-strung definitions, and rationalize wrong interpretations, have spoiled the application of this most rational and practical philosophy. The concept of negation which is essential and important to some degree, even at the social level, has been made impractical and out of reach for the common man, for the sake of resultant social glamour. The penchant for glamour has increased to the point of glorifying even the suicidal tendencies.

Such extreme practices, without a workable knowledge of the concept, have clouded the minds of Jains as well as others and made them believe that Ahimsa is a concept leading to fanatic austerities.

Negating some food for some time or all food for some reason has no bearing on selecting religious death or rejecting sustenance of the so-called sinful life, dependent on inevitable destruction of other living organisms.

The disciplinary negations prescribed in Jainism are for people at lower levels of purification. The level where there is generally no intellectual capacity to first understand and then apply a principle into one’s conduct. Once a certain point is reached, the individual or group has to understand before applying. Reaching a still higher point, the primary object becomes the pursuit of purification. At that level active negation sublimates into spontaneous and automatic withdrawal.

The principle of rejecting something has the inherent meaning of accepting its opposite. The moment we try to restrict any message to one-sided verbal meaning, we loose its spirit and deprive it of the required impact. This only confuses the masses.

In following the Ahimsa conduct the negations prescribed do not make one inactive or escapist. These negations are negations of a negative - Himsa or violence. The positive and universal reality is that every being has an inherent and natural desire to continue life. Any thought or action opposed to this reality is essentially a negative act. Negation of a negative might rightly be classified as positive. Negation of harming life obviously means reverence for life, and that is the spirit behind the Ahimsa concept.

Take for example the admonition, “Do not tell a lie.” This statement obviously contains another statement: “Tell truth.” By restricting the meaning, there are chances of a statement getting distorted in the long run. The statement, “Do not destroy or harm life.” has the inherent meaning of “Protect and foster life.”

Consider the four passions. It is not practical and possible to win these over just by making rules that one should not get angry or conceited nor should yield to illusion or greed. In order to get rid of anger, one has to develop benevolence; to be un-egotistic one has to inculcate pleasant feelings of love and affection, illusions can be avoided with simplicity; and greed can be won over by practicing contentment.

Ahimsa has to be observed with feeling and compassion. The entire code of conduct has been devised solely to help develop and refine those feelings for the final thrust towards the ultimate goal of purification of soul. The scope of Ahimsa, as we have seen, does not end at condemning the physical act of killing or harming. It goes to deeper and deeper meaning, to the point where even feelings are not hurt. It is not just refraining from the act of harming, but to purify oneself to the extent that any desire to harm someone or something in any way is not born at all.

When you are harming someone you are, at the same moment, harming yourself. A certain amount of callousness and hardness of feeling is required to harm someone. This hardness keeps on increasing with each and every act of violence.

Learning the rules is not enough. One must have the willingness to observe them sincerely. Even the force of discipline is not enough. What is vital is the knowledge of the harm caused by one’s action and realization of the pain it gives to the object. Knowing this, one must abandon the act. Unless one is not aware of the harm and pain caused, the determination to abandon the act is not enduring.

Flinching and moving away from the source of pain is a phenomenon observed in all living organisms, no matter how small or primitive. It is only the limitation of our physical senses that makes us unaware of the effect of pain on innumerable living things. That is where the importance of knowledge becomes evident. In ignorance of the harm we cause, we continue to indulge in those acts that seem to be harmless, but are not.

One of the most primitive forms of life is the flat worm. Besides simple tissue structure, what mainly exists in flatworm is a simple network of nerve fibers. They have no brains, yet they have surprising powers. One freshwater species, for example, can learn from experience. Individuals have been trained to find their way through a simple maze, selecting white-painted passages and avoiding dark-painted ones, by getting slight electric shock when they made a wrong decision. Another amazing capacity of the living organism, even at that micro-level, is that they contain and retain the information within their simple neuronic structures. The worms that learned the mazes were killed and their flesh fed to other worms. It was found that the new worms ran through the maze correctly without training. Pain is repulsive even at that simple primitive micro-level.

The effect of extreme pain is so deep that it causes mental trauma. This is true not only for the sufferer but also for the individual who observes. The closer, mentally or physically, the observer is to the sufferer, the deeper his trauma is. This proximity is the factor influencing the depth, clarity and effect of observation. Physical closeness enhances the physical impact and mental proximity enhances the psychological impact.

The impact of such trauma is so strong that it can influence a person’s way of life and even deeply ingrained habits. This phenomenon, for example, has been successfully used to instigate family planning. When a husband is allowed to see his wife in the process of delivering a child, the effect of observing the extreme agony, of a person so close, is traumatic. It has been seen that for a considerable period this experience haunts the male, and he takes all precautions to avoid the next pregnancy. He even curbs his natural urge to satiate his sexual desires.

It is through observation of pain caused to others that we can properly understand the harm our actions impart to others. The harm, broadly speaking is of two types. One is visible, the harm of the physical world and the present moment; it is observable through physical senses. The other is the harm of the world beyond, the world of thoughts and feelings, the world of soul and the life beyond life; it is observable through feelings or sentiments.

Grosser and more direct harm can be observed in terms of resultant pain or sorrow, and so it is relatively easy to come to avoid them. On the same principle, one must become observant and sensitive towards the subtle and indirect harm. In order to practice Ahimsa attitude it is vital to develop the sensitivity that what produces sorrow for us will produce sorrow for others as well. Based on this, Jains have postulated four positive feelings, which help toward reducing violence and sorrow by enhancing compassion, pleasantness, benevolence, contentment, etc.

First is the feeling of universal fraternity. In the Jain concept, this does not limit itself to fellow human beings. It really means the feeling of sameness or equality toward every living organism. Only by developing this feeling one can realize the depth of others’ sorrow and become truly non-violent in his behaviour.

As soon as a being is conceived, a process of continued interaction between him and others starts. It continues until he dies or isolates himself absolutely. We are not concerned here with either of these states of isolation; we are dealing with the normal social life in which such interactions are manifold and inevitable.

These interactions, as we have already discussed, fall mainly into two categories, destructive and constructive, assisting or opposing, sympathetic or antagonistic. As with other actions and forces, generally speaking, a destructive attitude draws out destructive reactions from others, and a constructive attitude draws out constructive reactions.

The feeling of universal fraternity derives its value from a universal law of mutual interaction: destruction is evil and construction is good. In order to maintain harmony, destruction should be curbed. The curbing of destruction, antagonism, etc. can be achieved only with construction, sympathy, and other positive feelings. The maximum intensity of sympathy is towards those whom we consider similar or equal to ourselves. Cultivation of the feeling of fraternity is a step towards recognizing all living things as same or equal to us.

Second is the feeling of inherent happiness. This helps in winning over the feelings of envy, jealousy, etc. and promotes goodwill, admiration and respect toward others for their achievements and acquirements. This also curbs violence generated through inferiority and superiority complexes.

The feeling of competition is another of the basic attitudes of living beings; it, too, has its origin in those basic instincts of survival and procreation. While acquiring anything from nature, every living being has to face competition from others striving for the same thing. Nature tackles this problem by the process of adaptation, evolution, and elimination to maintain the balance.

Equipped with superior faculties, man has evolved a variety of methods to tackle this problem. Once again, his inventive capacity gives him an edge over other beings, and this tends to spoil him to the extent of becoming egotistic or chauvinistic. He then strives to win for the sake of sheer pleasure and not out of sheer necessity. At this point, he loses his inherent, simple, and spontaneous happiness and derives happiness or sorrow only through fulfillment or deprivation of the ego of winning. With such deep involvement in his ego, he stops caring about others. Lack of awareness of the feelings of others is conducive to unhealthy competition and violence.

With the reclaiming of that natural feeling of inherent happiness, it is possible to create awareness of the feelings of others. This in turn encourages healthy competition, leading to progress without hurting someone in the process.

The third positive feeling is the feeling of compassion. This plays a vital role in the development of the Ahimsa attitude for the common citizen. Unless the pain of others moves one, he cannot initiate himself into Ahimsa.

When a person suffers pain, broadly speaking, two types of feelings are born in reaction to the cause of pain. One is to strike against the individual or group that inflicts the pain; the other is to remove the cause that triggered the action that inflicted the pain. The first is born out of the natural instinct of immediate survival, which turns into anger and then vengeance. The second is born out of the capacity to reason and the farsightedness acquired through human intelligence and memory.

Starting from this initial point, the humans have refined both these feelings and the actions guided by them. The advances of the first are seen in individual and group advancements in the field of combat. The advances of the second are seen in the individual and institutional advancements in the fields of humanity, sciences, religion etc.

Compassion is the basis of all progress towards removing the causes of pain. It is one of the forces that pushes us towards sincere observation of Ahimsa. Without compassion, the principles of Ahimsa cannot come out of the volumes of canons and influence the common man, and all the talk about humanitarian endeavours and progress toward purification remain academic. Unless one is moved by the pain of others, it is almost impossible for him to be really active towards ultimate purification, where compassion transcends into pulsating bliss resonating around and from the liberated soul.

Fourth is the feeling of equanimity, which denotes a balanced state of mind. It includes, besides other subtle things, the attitude of indifference towards the irreparably corrupt. It helps win over excitement and anger. Equanimity is the opposite of intense feelings of any sort that invariably subdue reason.

In nature, withdrawal is a necessary practice in the game of survival. Fight only when necessary and fight only when you can win, otherwise withdraw. When the strong stalk for prey, the weak keep their distance or run away. This is not fear as we have branded it; this is precaution for survival. Nature has also given every animal the inherent mechanism for withdrawal from any particular activity when enough has been done. This curbs over-indulgence, which may disturb nature’s balance.

Man has found this built-in mechanism of withdrawal very helpful in improving his lifestyle as well as in his search for happiness and bliss. He could see that withdrawal is the quality, which is necessary for the conservation of gross and subtle energies and their efficient use in the right direction. It is equanimity that makes possible the curb on passions and the enhancement of purity by focusing energies at the desired point.

In the quest for purity, withdrawal is as important as indulgence, for the feeling of equanimity has its root in conscious withdrawal. There are so many factors in life that are undesirable and harmful but unalterable. Efforts to change them or convert them are futile. Equanimity towards them is the only way to save the soul from impending tranishment. There are other situations that offer strong attraction for short-term gains but ultimate losses. Equanimity is also required to prevent one from falling into such traps.

There appears to be a misconception, widely prevalent, that Jain philosophy is against compassion, philanthropy, benevolence, etc., although it is a philosophy based on Ahimsa. This misconception is due to the fact that people form their opinions based on superficial information acquired through dogmatic, sectarian misinterpretations.

It is true that there are sects of Jainism where deeds of philanthropy and feelings of compassion are considered undesirable and detrimental to the ultimate goal of liberation. But such interpretations should be taken as sectarian only and not as original and central part of Jainism. A proper study of the basic concepts should be done before forming any opinion based on scanty information.

Ahimsa is a concept that naturally encompasses all these feelings of compassion, philanthropy, benevolence, etc. One cannot be non-violent if he is bereft of these feelings. A person believing in and practicing Ahimsa has necessarily to be compassionate and benevolent. But at the same time, there is no need to advertise these feelings or their applications while subduing every other feeling or deed. Such singular amplification is prompted by exhibitionism and for the satisfaction of one’s own desires, rather than from benevolence.

Jain philosophy is a complete way of life integrating all facets of the mundane as well as transcendental world, where each and every component has its own place and importance. Magnifying one particular aspect is no better than erasing another, as done by those sectarians who preach that positive feelings should be avoided.

In fact, even to condemn Jain Ahimsa, on the basis that importance has not been given to one particular aspect liked by some particular individual, would be a biased attitude. Such condemnation is tantamount to criticism of a general book of science by a supporter of biochemistry because biochemistry has not been given an important place in the book. There can be no end to such criticisms, as every individual has his own likings and disliking. Such criticism should be given importance only if they also include constructive suggestions.

If necessary, amendments and reforms should be considered, but without tilting the balance from one extreme to the other. It should be kept in mind that an individual’s choice of a way of life is not necessarily worth blind emulation by all the others, in all walks of life. Based on the philosophy one believes in, every individual has freedom to choose his own particular path, depending on his capabilities, inclinations, and goals.

Ahimsa is one of the important concepts of Jain philosophy, although central, not the only concept. Similarly compassion is one of the important feelings within the framework of Ahimsa, not the only. One cannot truly comprehend a philosophy by isolating one statement and developing it beyond proportions. Such an approach is bound to end up in a lopsided application where some aspects are given undue importance and others none at all.

What is needed is an over all understanding and sincere application of the principles, with a balanced attitude and equanimity of feeling. The path of Ahimsa is the path of equanimity. Equanimity is the foundation on which the whole structure of Ahimsa has been built. Truly speaking, the central theme of Jainism is this equanimity in all dimensions, without which even the positive feelings, discussed here, may turn into prejudice and loose their value.

In the worldly life, where other factors continuously affect the individual, one has to evaluate his strength and ability to select the degree of Ahimsa he can handle. Only when one is aware and confident of his capacity can he follow the path of Ahimsa and progress to higher levels, gradually increasing his strength and ability. The Ahimsa observed by the ignorant and incapable is not truly Ahimsa, no matter what pompous names people give to it, or how they try to justify it with abstract logic. The Ahimsa of the ignorant is nothing but a religion of the weak and coward.

Ahimsa is the philosophy and religion of the strong. Only he is capable of following the Ahimsa path who has the strong desire and determination to purify his soul. This requires tremendous willpower and moral courage. Weakness or ignorance of any sort is violence in itself.

As you offer sympathy and goodwill, you attract sympathy and goodwill. Pure feelings have an inherent strength. It has been seen to develop to the extant that even wild and ferocious animals keep away from such pure people.

The effect of loving care and affection even on such lower life forms as plants becomes evident if one becomes slightly keener in watching their day-to-day growth and flowering. The growth and beauty of any plant is much more enhanced when it is handled as affectionately as we treat a human child. If it is treated harshly and negligently, its growth and blossoming is retarded.

The functioning of mental powers is still unexplored. Without going into debate about para-sciences and their validity, the power of goodwill and universal love can be observed in day-to-day life by studying lives of some prominent historical personalities. Mahavir, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Mother Teresa are but a few examples. Their strength and influence came about only through practicing Ahimsa truly and purifying their souls.

On the path of Ahimsa, fraternity, goodwill, compassion, and equanimity are not to be practiced only at physical level, or mental level, or some other higher or lower level. These should be observed and practiced as a way of life, as a spontaneous feeling unhindered by the jargon of superfluous logic, and not tempered by egotistic exhibitionism.


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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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharanga
  2. Ahimsa
  3. Anger
  4. Buddha
  5. Discipline
  6. Equanimity
  7. Fear
  8. Gandhi
  9. Greed
  10. Himsa
  11. Jain Philosophy
  12. Jainism
  13. Mahatma
  14. Mahatma Gandhi
  15. Mahavir
  16. Science
  17. Soul
  18. Sutra
  19. Tattvartha Sutra
  20. Violence
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