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The Message Of Jainism

Published: 13.11.2004
Updated: 22.09.2010

Jainism stands for non-violence.
[ Ahimsa ]

All other moral principles are subservient to it.

Non-violence has of course been accorded a place of honour in almost all religions, but the Jainas have attempted at applying it to all the spheres of life, even at the cost of being misunderstood sometimes. With Jainas it is not simply a formal ideal but a living principle determining the measure of cultural achievements. Jainism does not believe in the establishment of non-violence by means of violence. It believes in the identity of means and ends. The end is not the justification of means which should stand justified by itself.

Here it differs from Brahmanism as sponsored by the Bhagavad Gita which has attempted at justifying the means by the ends.

Buddhism stands midway between Brahmanism and Jainism inasmuch as on the one hand it unlike Brahmanism, disapproves violence for the establishment of non-violence and on the other, unlike Jainism, gives scope for apparent deviations from non-violence in matters of ordinary life, provided such deviations do not stand in the way to the fulfilment of the ultimate end of non-violence. This insistence on the absolute congruity of the means with the end has naturally been a handicap on the spread of Jainism among the masses and this is why the number of the followers of Jainism is small in comparison with that of Brahmanism and Buddhism. Brahmanism because of its peculiar orthodoxy, developed into a national religion while the inherent liberality of Buddhism has been responsible for the growth into an international faith. Jainism had no such elasticity, and, as shown, it was inherently incapable of it. It could however, maintain its original purity more perfectly on that very account. This is however a side issue. Our main problem is the congruity of the means with the end, upheld in Jainism.

Why does Jainism insist upon this congruity? It is often found that many beneficial results are achieved by cruel deeds.

If it is possible to save hundred lives by sacrificing one, is not that sacrifice worth doing? It is not enough that our intention is good?

Jainism will reply in the negative. It is not simply the question of the goodness of intention but also of the purification of the acting will. It has to be admitted that the act of violence, although done unwillingly and with a good intention defiles the will instead of purifying it. Moreover the will is here made to seek guidance from the intellect as regards the probable result of its action. In other words, the will in the case is determined by the intellect. And the intellect varies from individual to individuals, the will also is differently determined in different persons. Consequently, morality being a principle of will, is made to give up its independence and becomes a handmaid of intellect. And this certainly leads to an unmitigated scepticism about ethical principles. Jainism has avoided this disastrous consequence by recognizing the absolute independence and self-sufficiency of the moral principle in determining the will. The moral principle cannot be expected to help us in devising the means of prosperity and happiness inasmuch as the purpose of observing the moral principle is not the achievement of success but the purification of the will.

Although it is a fact that the extensive cultivation of the moral principle is found to bring national peace and prosperity, it is to be understood that this is made possible only by the rectification of the individuals, which is the immediate effect of the cultivation of the moral principles.

Here we may also consider the problem of the ultimate basis of the moral principles. Jainism like Brahmanism and Buddhism, has found it in the most common experience of our daily life. We find that every one of us seeks happiness and avoids pain. We also spontaneously react against any aggression upon our independence of thought and action. It is therefore seen that there is a spontaneous universal demand for non-violence. This then is the universal moral principle. The principles of truthfulness and the like can be easily derived from non-violence, as subservient to its practical fulfilments.

We have now reviewed the Jaina attitude towards the moral principle and its application. Jainism, as shown regards the principle as absolute and without exception. It recommends its application irrespective of the practical difficulties involved. The moral principle is the law of the will whose rectitude and purification it is meant to achieve.

It is not an expedient or a device for the maintenance of the status quo but the foundation of a real and permanent peace.

Jainism accordingly does not believe in peace by means of war. Peace by means of peace is the message of Jainism.

Sources
The Heritage Of Jainism, First Edition 2001, JVBI - Ladnun - India
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    1. Ahimsa
    2. Bhagavad Gita
    3. Buddhism
    4. Gita
    5. JAINA
    6. JVBI
    7. Jaina
    8. Jainism
    9. Ladnun
    10. Non-violence
    11. Violence
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