Ahimsa, Anekantavada And Aparigraha – Panacea For The Ills Of The Present Day World

Published: 08.10.2010
Updated: 30.07.2015

International Conference


Jainism Through the Ages

A Historical Perspective

8th, 9th & 10th October 2010

Mysore, India

Conference Paper

Ahimsa, Anekantavada and Aparigraha - Panacea for the Ills of the Present Day World

Modern times is an era of crisis in the realm of human civilization. The reason is that we give so much attention to short range and local problems that long range and global problems continue to be neglected. Life has become more intricately interdependent and complex so simpler solutions no longer suffice.

Jainism is a religion, philosophy and way life, showing the path to permanent happiness and bliss. Jaina ethics consists of two different sets of Vratas consists of five Anuvratas, three Guna - Vratas and four Siksa Vratas. Ascetic Vrata consists of Mahavratas, Guptis and Sauritis. It gives the utmost prominence to Ahimsa (non-violence) or avoidance to himsa, that is, injury. “Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah”, that is Ahimsa is the highest moral standard’ from which all other moral rules follow. Though the term is negative implying abstinence from killing any living being, it is really a positive virtue based upon universal love and mercy towards all living beings. Abstinence from klling other living beings must be observed by thought, word and deed - Mana, Vachana and Kaya respectively, and violence should be avoided in all aspects - Kritha, Karitha and Anumodha - acting oneself, to make the agent to act and passively approve the action wherever violence is practiced. Non-violence and reverence for life, Anekantavada and Aparigraha are relevant to the modern age. Ahimsa is the highest principle of conduct. It is reverence for life in all living beings. Harming any life physically, vocally or mentally is violence. All living being want happiness, and do not wish to be harmed or to die. Practically all love their bodies which are necessary for there existence, hence it is immoral and cruel to harm any living being.

Observation of compassion, friendliness, fearlessness, forgiveness, equanimity, empathy, charity and love to others are the basic virltues. One should lead a life of friendliness to all and malice to none - not only to humans, but the natural world and the environment as well. This can be seen in the motto of the principle of Ahimsa, “Live and help to live”.

Non-violence is the social or outer expression of peace. The Prasna vyakarana Sutra equates non-violence with sixty virtues such peace, harmony, welfare, trust and fearlessness. Treating all living beings as equals means non-violence. The Prasnavyakarana sutra designates Ahimsa as Nirvana, Samadhi, Supreme tranquility, happiness, Super satisfaction and Purity and so on.

Presuppositions of Ahimsa:

Ahimsa presupposes, first a world of living beings, both human and non-human, along with the fact each of them is constantly affecting the other and is being affected by the other either evenly or unevenly. Secondly, Ahimsa presumes that life is dear to all, and for all living beings. Pain is disturbance, fearful and unpleasant. This is also expressed by saying that just as pain is unpleasant for oneself, so also it is unpleasant for all living being. Thus without these two presuppositions the talk of Ahimsa is inconceivable.

Meaning of Ahimsa:

(1) Comprehensive meaning of Ahimsa: The oldest Jaina Agama Ayaro (Acaranga) remarkably pronounces that none of the living beings ought to be killed, ought to be ordered, ought to be enslaved, ought to be distressed and ought to be put to unrest. It is a unique and unparalleled statement in the entire Jinist literature. The political organization, the economic orientation and the institutional set up can easily derive inspirations from this ethically significant statement.

(2) Narrow meaning of Ahimsa: The meaning of Ayaro and the Purusarthasidhyupaya is representative of the extent which Ahimsa is supposed to include although most of the Jaina texts seem to include in Ahimsa only non-killing. It should be borne in mind that of Ahimsa is understood only in the sense of non-killing, it is narrow and socially not of wide significance. In fact, killing is the last limit of Himsa and not the only expression of Himsa.

The realization of perfect ahimsa is deemed to be the religious goal. Ahimsa is so central in the Jaina faith that it may be called the beginning and the end of Jaina religion. All living beings from the one-sensed to the five sensed are basically like our own self. Consequently, it is not justifiable to injure them, to rule over them and to torment them. In fact, ahimsa represents adequate behavior towards all living beings. It is the essence of wisdom and the eternal religion. Samantabhadra says that ahimsa of all living beings is equivalent to the realization of the highest self. The truth is that to be violent to other beings is to be violent to one’s self. It is, therefore, said that one should keep an attitude of friendship towards all living beings. The Acaravga - Sutra pronounces that one should neither deprive only living being of life, nor rule over him, nor torment him, nor excite him. If one proceeds to translate perfect ahimsa into practice, one cannot stop short of spiritual realization. It may be noted that the basic factors in any form of himsa are attachment (raga) and hatred (dvesa), and these two continue to be operative in the mundane form of existence in different degrees. They can be overcome only when the empirical self arrives at the achme of spiritual experience.

The implications of ahimsavrata in solving social, national and international problems is that the principle of mutual understanding should be adhered to. Life should be elevated altogether from the plane of force to that of reason, persuasion, accommodation, tolerance and mutual service. The easing of tensions and cessation of conflicts among states, the maintenance of universal peace, and the promotion of human welfare, can only be effected by suffusing worlds atmosphere with the spirit of ahimsa war is to be discouraged, exploitation is to be condemned. Besides a social consciousness is to be developed against the use of wine and the slaughtering of animals. The observer of ahimsa vrata should avoid gambling, hunting, drinking, meat-eating and the like.

It is karuna which makes one move in the direction of adopting Ahimsa-values. Truly speaking, all ahimsa-values are meant for the removal of varied sufferings in which, the human and the sub-human beings are involved. Sufferings may be physical and mental, individual and social, moral and spiritual. It is understandable that physical, mental and economic sufferings block all types of progress of the individual and make his life miserable. These are individuals who are deeply moved by these sufferings and consequently they dedicate themselves to putting an end to these sufferings. Thus their karuna results in Seva. Thus Ahimsa, Karuna and Seva are interrelated and are conducive both to individual and social progress.

In the history of the world Lord Mahavira is the first single glaring example who propagated and practiced the principle of peaceful co-operativeexistence which are today abundantly needed by contemporary human society.

The basic tenents of Jainism can be epitomized in two words, namely, Ahimsa and Anekanta, the two principles of peaceful co-existence, philosophically and socially. There is no denying the fact that if we accept Ahimsa as the regulative principle of our conduct and Anekanta as the beacon light of our outlook, barbarism and exploitation, obstinancy and cold war in their subtle and gross forms can come to an end. It is no exaggeration to say that Ahimsa and Anekantas are the greatest contributions of Jainism to world thought in general and Indian thought in particular. No other philosophy has brought out the profoundest ramifications of Anekanta as Jainism. Thus if Ahimsa is the flower of Jainism, Anekanta will be its crown. one cannot flourish without the other. Whatever different shades of meaning these two teems may have, but to me, Ahimsa is the principle of respect for life and Anekanta is the doctrine of open mindedness.

The principle of Ahimsa recognizes that every individual irresptive of caste, colour and creed is an end and has a dignity of its own; consequently one should treat all human beings accordingly. No man should be deprived of availing himself of the opportunities of advancement. The movement of life to the plane of Ahimsa signifies that the idea of domination over others and of being dominated by others is to be relinquished in the domain of politics and economics, and the principles of freedom of progress and equality of opportunity be recognized for all people. The deepest significance of Ahimsa consists in the elimination of war, which has harassed mankind since the dawn of civilization. Thus the principle of Ahimsa implies “life should be elevated altogether from the planec of force to that of reason, persuasion, accommodation, tolerance and mutual service.” The virtues of truth, non-stealing, continence, and non-acquisitiveness are just the extensions of Ahimsa to different modes of human existence. With the practice of these five virtues an atmosphere of security, freedom, equality and proper distribution can be created in human society.

Anekanta is the doctrine of open mindedness. It is based on the conviction that a thing is constituted of diverse aspects and its proper understanding requires the consideration of as many aspects as possible. The comprehension of a thing from different points of view develops in us a catholic outlook necessary for peaceful co-existence. By virtue of this doctrine of Anekanta Jainism has been able to appreciate the view-points of others in the field of philosophy. What is decried by it is the one-sided obstinate approach to a thing which is at the root of all dissensions. Open-mindedness fosters magnamity and balance of mind. Thus Anekantavada along with its corollaries of NayaVada and syadvada supplies us the necessary basis for easing national and international tensions and for developing the attitude of intellectual honesty in an individual.

Icchaparinana (Limit of wants, consumption and possession) or popularly call Aparigraha or non-attachment is the mental attitude of non-attachment to possession, objects and attitudes or limited possession, one should curtail one’s wants and should limit to one’s possessions. One’s should not even dream of depriving others of their legitimate possessions. This one can do, provided one has annihilated the evil attachment to possessions. This means one should take the vow of Aparigraha, which a Jaina is expected to observe in all its bearings. Renunciation of Possessions, a corollary of the theorem of ahimsa, will go a great way in bringing about peace at home and abroad.

Mahavira was well aware of the fact that economic inequality and the hoarding of essential commodities very much disturb social life and living. These acts lead to the exploitation and enslavement of man. Owing to this, life in society is endangered. Consequently, Mahavira pronounced that the remedy for the ill of economic inequality is Aparigraha. All the means of illegitimate parigraha being about social hatred, bitterness and exploitation. The method of Aparigraha tells us that one should keep with oneself that which is necessary for one’s living and the rest should be returned to society for its well-being. Limits of wealth, essential commodities, all these are indispensable for the development of healthy social life. In a way wealth is the basis of our social structure and if its flow is obstructed because of its accumulation in few hands, large segments of society will remain undeveloped. The hoarding of essential commodities creates a situation of social scarcity, which perils social life. In order to resist such inhuman tendency, Mahavira incessantly endeavored to establish the social Value of aparigraha. It should be borne in mind that along with human and economic inequality, differences in outlook create a situation of conflict in society. The result is that constructive tendencies in ma suffer a great deal. If we take things in the right perspective we shall find that differences in outlook appear as a result of the use of creative faculties inherent in man. If this fact is not adhered to, these differences become the cause of conflict between man and man, the consequence of which is that social unity is disrupted. Mahavira by his deep insight could see the waste of social energy on account of the wrong understanding of the nature of things as the different aspects of truth. In fact, difference in outlook should be treated as difference in standpoints. By this, dissension disappears and social solidarity sets in.

The doctrine of Anekantavada (non-absolution) is simply an extension of Ahimsa in the field of reality. When things have many characters, naturally they are objects of all-sided knowledge. Any particular object can be viewed from different points of view. So when we speak of a particular aspect, we have to use the word ‘syat’ i.e. from a particular point of view, or as related to this aspect, this object is such and not otherwise. So syadvada is the doctrine of Relativity of Judgment, which is born out of the non-violent and non-absolutistic attitude of the Jainas, which led to the utter most cautiousness of speech of “explaining problems with the help of siyavaya (syadvada). Our thought is relative. Our expressions are relative. Thus the doctrines of Ahimsa, Anekantavada and syadvada are organically related.

By world-tension, we mean presence of international conflicts, hot and cold wars, so called Peace and Defense treaties etc. But international conflicts are often the result of internal conflicts. Internal conflicts and contradictions often lead to external and international aggressions and wars. Hence world tension includes “tensions within and among nations.”

Humanity is tottering today upon the brink of the principle of self-annihilation for the lack of proper understanding which includes understanding ourselves, understanding each other. It is a time of tragic importance for the world, because even before the shadows cast by the war lifted fully, the skies have become overcast with dark threatening clouds. Hence, at no period of human history man was in need of a sound philosophy than today. As war begins in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defense of peace should be built. Today if a person does not agree with you he is wicked, if a country does not agree with your country it is wicked; there is no halfway; hence there is no neutrality.

Solutions there are and are of many types - political including diplomatic, economic, religious etc. Broadly there are two approaches towards world peace:

  1. Religico - Spirituo Mystical Approach.
  2. Politico - Economico - Positivistic Approach.

Religico-Spirituo Mystical View

The upholders of the religico-spirituo-mystical view hold that without is within. We cannot banish war while we are perpetuating war within us. The tremendous amount of hatred injustice within us accumulated in a national form leads to war. Hence the best solution of world-tension is to control the animal within us.” Hence the dictum is “Reform yourself and the world will be reformed.” some of the mystics, however, depend upon God’s goodness,

Political Solution

Professional politicians often indulge in diplomatic double talk which breeds pessimism and cynicism on the part of the people and makes peace a mere will-o-the wisp. Some very irresponsible politician talk of ‘preventive war’ as a solution of world-tension, for they think offence may be the best form of defense.

Hence political solution is practically no solution, for present day politics is not a politics of peace and brotherhood but of falsity and fraud, deceit, corruption, bribery and dishonesty. We cannot adopt politics as a profession and remain honest.

Economic Solution

But Political evils are to a large extent supposed to be eliminated through democracy has no place for autocratic whims for waging war. But if we are working upto a democracy in politics we must have a democracy in Economics. Most serious of the problems which claimed their attention were not political or territorial but financial and economic and that the perils of the future by not in frontiers and in sovereignties but in food, cool and transport. Political rights too have failed to provide a key to the millennium so political democracy if it is to survive must be interpreted in economic terms. So long as there are tigers in society there will be wars. Permanent peace cannot come from the endless see-saw, but only from the elimination of the causes of enmity between nations.


And, it is today, more than ever, when suspicion and distrust are vitiating the atmosphere of international peace and brotherhood, when the world is filled with fear and hate, that we require a living philosophy which will help us to discard them and recover ourselves. Such a living wholesome philosophy, bearing the message of love and goodwill, ahimsa and peace, internal as well as external, personal as well universal, is the Jaina philosophy of life. It is this system of Jaina religion, thought and culture that stands for the highest and noblest human values, moral elevation and Universal peace and happiness.

Jainism is a culture of peace. The Jaina doctrines are the doctrines, helpful to anyone in living a vibrant and purposeful life, conducive to the development of harmony. As they are based on scientific analysis of Universal components and human psychology, their appeal is Universal and confined only to logic and reasoning, containing nothing sectarian. It is a process of thinking and a way of life which all as much relevant today as they were two thousand five hundred years ago in times of Mahavira.

The doctrine of ahimsa of based upon the four cardinal virtues known as bhavanas (i) Maitri (amity-love), (ii) Pramoda (Serene Joy) (iii) Karunya (Compassion) and (iv) madhyasthya (detachment).

For peace, the practice of Ahimsa is very significant. The term himsa, may be defined as committing of injury to dravya-pranas and bhava pranas through the operation of yoga (physical, vocal and mental activity) which is dominated by intense passion.

Jaina logic of Anekanta is based not on abstract intellectualism but on experience and realism leading to a non-absolutistic, attitude of mind. Multiplicity and unity, definability and non-definability etc… which apparently seem to be contradictory characteristics of reality are interpreted to co-exist in the same object from different points of view without any offence to logic. They seem to be contradictory of each other simply because one of them is mistaken to be the whole truth. In fact, integrity of truth consists in this very variety of its ramifying principle. The charge of contradiction against the co-presence of being and non-being in the real is a figment of apriori logic.

The Anekanta philosophy of the Jainas fosters a rational outlook and an appropriate attitude of looking at things, conditions and relations, gives a breadth of vision and helps a right and proper evalution of ultimate realities. And, it infuses in those who believe in and practise this philosophy, a healthy spirit of sympathetic and understanding, reconciliation, tolerance, co-operation and co-existence, in the everyday conduct of their life and in their relations with their fellow beings.

Icchaparimana (Limit of wants, consumption and possession.) or popularly call Aparigraha or non-attachment is the mental attitude of non-attachment to possession, objects and attitudes or limited possession.

One should curtail one’s wants and should limit to one’s possessions. One’s should not even dream of depriving others of their legitimate possessions. This one can do, provided one has annihilated the evil attachment to possession. This means one should take the vow of aparigraha which a Jaina is expected to observe in all its bearings. Renunciation of possessions, a corollary of the theorem of ahimsa, will go a great way in bringing about peace at home and abroad.

Mahavira advocated lifestyle guided on Principle of non-violence (Ahimsa). Non-Violence is a base for understanding others viewpoints; it is also a base for tolerance, spirit of democracy, principle of co-existence, social harmony etc. Non-violence is the base for many virtues such as intimacy, compassion, mercy, forging, empathy, friendship and equality with mankind. It is the base for eradicating many negative sentiments like-anger (krodha), hatred (Dvesa), conflict, violence, aggressive irritation, and egoistic attitude (Aham), feeling superiority complex. It also frees from all those destructive elements which keep individual isolated and uncomfortable which to live within his surroundings, Why the universe is not a comfortable place to live in? Because individuals has self-destructive elements within him, which make him uncomfortable. The main task of non-violence is to widen the mental horizon of the people and to keep their mind open and to avert difference of opinions and conflicts. Anekantavada is a technique to widen mental horizon, to incorporate all opposite conflicting views to perceive reality. Anekantavada has dispassionate, scientific and objective-approach towards conflicting and opposite viewpoints and thereby establishes non-violence (Ahimsa) Anekantavada preaches the solution of any violence issue through communication and negotiations Anekantavada is a philosophy of win-win and it is not a philosophy of Lose-Win.

What we need today is the spirit of understanding and respect for each other in our social and opolitical life. We are expoiting communal distinction for political gains. We are made aware of our difference rather than our identity of views and interests. And Anekanta attitude will facilitate understanding and sympathy for each other point of view. Then will disappear the iron, the bamboo and the dollar curtains. Today religious and communal distinctions are being politically exploited. Widespread regional feelings, corruption and nepotism have degenerated the very fabric of our society. We have become helpless spectators in the fierce drama or hatred, avarice and violence. Under the garb of ideologies of doubtful suitability to our society and the concept of committed social order we are destroying the very foundations of social order built with arduous and painful efforts of great men for centuries. The principle of Anekanta, ahimsa, aparigraha should be the solid foundations of society today, we should seek forgiveness of all creatures and offer friendliness for all. We should have no enimity against any one.

The application of 3 A’s, Anekantava, Ahimsa and Aparigraha is very significant whatever may be the philosophical standpoint, unless it has a relevance to life, it does not get full significance and value because, religious vision and philosophy are all meant for the prosperity of the mankind. Whatever there is a clash and confilicts amongs different groups, harmony and order could be established by these there A’s. It is not the monopoly and privilege of any one. The Jaina ethics of Ahimsa, Anekantavada and Aparigraha is a great contribution to ethical thought. The spirit of tolerance, respecting others viewpoint and the Popularity of Vegetarianism that we find is on the increase in the world are mainly due to the impact and influence of the Jaina ethical principles and Practices. WILL THE WORLD ADOPT THEM? Let us however, not be Pessimist, let us hope that someday, not very distant, people will rise above actual conflicts. “Anekantavada, Ahimsa and Aparigraha are more relevant today then it was in the times of Mahavira about 2500 years ago.


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          Page glossary
          Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
          1. Acaranga
          2. Agama
          3. Ahimsa
          4. Anekanta
          5. Anekantavada
          6. Anekantavada And Syadvada
          7. Anuvratas
          8. Aparigraha
          9. Ayaro
          10. Bhava
          11. Bhavanas
          12. Consciousness
          13. Deceit
          14. Environment
          15. Equanimity
          16. Fear
          17. Fearlessness
          18. Guna
          19. Guptis
          20. Himsa
          21. JAINA
          22. Jaina
          23. Jainism
          24. Jainism Through The Ages
          25. Karuna
          26. Krodha
          27. Mahavira
          28. Mahavratas
          29. Maitri
          30. Mana
          31. Mysore
          32. Nayavada
          33. Nirvana
          34. Non-violence
          35. Parigraha
          36. Raga
          37. Samadhi
          38. Seva
          39. Sutra
          40. Syadvada
          41. Syat
          42. Tolerance
          43. Vachana
          44. Vegetarianism
          45. Violence
          46. Vrata
          47. Yoga
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