Practicability Of Ahimsa

Since Jainism has prescribed the doctrine of Ahimsa as its cardinal principle, the entire Jain ethical code has been laid down with a view to transform this principle into the actual practice. As a result utmost importance has been given to the observance of Ahimsa: a basis for the right conduct leading to the attainment of the salvation. Becuae of the comprehensive nature of the doctrine of Ahimsa and its practice, the Jain scriptures have specifically prescribed the rules of conduct to the minutes details. But realizing extremely wide theoretical implications involved in the actual observance of these rules of conduct continuously and without any possible fault, a question is sometimes raised about the Practicability of the vow of Ahimsa. It is feared that it would be difficult to put the Ahimsa into practice. But from a close examination of the rules laid in Jain scriptures for the actual observance of the Ahimsa it can be seen that the fear is quite unfounded.

(1) Categorization of the Ahimsa:

It is true that the code of the conduct laid down by Jainism for the attainment of salvation whici is the highest goal in life, are the same for all people. But at the same time it is a fact that these rules have been divided into two categories: viz., Sakala Charitra meaning full conduct and Vikala Charitra i. e. partial conduct. The ascetics observe Sakala Charitra. The householders observe Vikala Charitra. In “Purusharthasiddhi-upaya”, the householders have been advised to follow “the path of Ratna-Traya, the three Jewels” (Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct) even partially, every moment without cessation for the everlasting liberation. This kind of division has been done because the Sakala Charitra, is possible only for those who have entered the ascetic order and the Vikala Charitra can be practised by the householders until they join the ascetic order at a later-date. It means that Vikala Charitra is a prelude to Sakala Charitra. Vikala Charitra is also called Ekadesa-virati (Anu-vrata), and Sakala Charitra (Maha-vrata) is called Samastavirati. From these divisions, it is clear that the emphasis has been laid to one’s own capacity (Yathasakti). That is why the householders have been advised to follow the rules of right conduct after taking into the account their respective situations in the life and their individual potentialities and capacities to sustain.

Hence it is clear that the anu-vrata, i.e., the minor vow of ahimsa has to be put into actual practice by the householders in keeping with their situations and capacity, while maha-vrata, i.e., a major vow of ahimsa in which there is no compromise is observed by ascetics.

(3) Observance of Ahimsa by the Householders:

When Ahimsa is to be observed by the householders in accordance with their situation and capacity while performing their normal duties as the members of the different occupational or the other groups of the society, naturally certain limitations arise. As an active member of the society it is not possible for a householder to avoid Himsa (violence) totally in all the possible ways or to the fullest extent. The renunciation of nine-fold commission of himsa, by the self, through the others, and by the approval to the others, and by speech, body or mind, is known as Autsargiki Nivrtti, i.e., Perfect or Complete Renunciation. When the renunciation of himsa does not include above nine methods to full extent is called as Apavadiki Nivrtti, i.e., Imperfect or Partial Renunciation. Therefore, a householder is advised to keep the responsibilities to the minimum and take the necessary precautions to cause minimum himsa or injury to the others.

Depending upon the mental attitude of the individual, himsa has been classified into four kinds. They are:

(a) Udyami Himsa, i.e., industrial injury

(b) Graharambhi Himsa, i.e., domestic injury

(c) Virodhi Himsa, i.e., defensive or protective injury

(d) Samkalpi Himsa, i.e., intentional injury

Udyami Himsa is performed during the practice of one’s profession or occupation as a solider, an agriculturist, a trader, or an industrialist, etc.

Graharambhi Himsa is unavoidably committed by the performance of necessary domestic duties, such as preparation of the food, keeping the things clean, grinding the floor, building a house, constructing a well, walking, bathing and similar other performances of the daily life.

Virodhi Himsa is is unavoidably committed in the defense of a person and property against the aggression by the others.

Samkalpi Himsa is committed intentionally or knowingly, for example, killing the men out of animosity or greed, killing the animals for food, amusement, decoration, etc.

It is quite significant to note that it is proclaimed upon a householder to abstain from the Samkalpi Himsa, i.e. intentional injury and minimize to his best of his ability the occupational, domestic and protective himsa.

Himsa has also been described in relation to the type of living beings. They are:

Sthula Himsa and Sukshma Himsa

In Jain scriptures a distinction has been made between Sthula Himsa and Sukshma Himsa. The Sthula Himsa entails the destruction or hurting of the higher forms of life then ekendriya, i.e. one-sensed beings and it is forbidden to all Jains. On the other hand, the Sukshma Himsa means hurting even the ekendriyas, i.e. one sensed beings is forbidden for the Jain ascetics. Even the householders are adviced to avoid the killing of ekendriyas, i.e. one-sensed beings as much possible and the useless destruction of Sthavara-Jivas, i.e. immobile souls like trees, etc.

Himsa is also categorized into Dravya Himsa and Bhava Himsa

It has been stated that Himsa does not happen only by physical acts alone but it happens with activation of our passions or desires like anger and greed, etc. Dravya Himsa is the actual hurtful activity while Bhava Himsa is the intention to hurt or injury. The dravya himsa is also called Bahya Himsa, because, it can be seen by the others. While the bhava himsa is called Antargata Himsa, since, it can’t be notices by others.

(4) Observance of Ahimsa by Ascetics:

The situation of the Ascetics is different from that of the Householders. While the householders have to observe Ahimsa of Apavadiki Nivrtti type, i.e. of partial renunciation, the ascetics are required to observe Autsargiki Nivrtti, i.e., complete renunciation. The ascetics avoid all four kinds of Himsa namely Udyami Himsa, Graharambhi Himsa, Virodhi-Himsa, and Samkalpi Himsa, since they are not at all involved with the activities that are carried out by the householders. The ascetics observe ahimsa in a nine-fold way as laid down by Jain scriptures, i.e., they avoid committing himsa- by the self, through the agent or the approval, and by the speech, the mind or the body.

This complete renunciation of himsa in all nine ways may seem difficult and may raise the questions like; what about when they walk, sit, sleep, take meals, speak etc.? Even though the questions posed a problem, it has been answered in the following way:

“The ascetic should walk, sit, sleep, and take meals with care and vigilance to avoid injusry to any living beings.” This way, according to the Jain scriptures, an ascetic can practise Ahimsa to the maximum extent possible.

Thus, it is quite obvious that the vow of Ahimsa can be put into actual practice both by the householders and the ascetics and in full conformity with the various commands laid down by the Jain scriptures.


Many people charge the doctrine of Ahimsa, i.e. non-injury, as essentially negative in character in the sense that it always prohibits people from doing certain activities. It is argued that in Jainism, Ahimsa is treated as mere abstinence from Himsa, i.e. injury. By applying this principle of abstinence or avoidance to activities in different fields, people are advised in the negative manner such as not to speak lies, not to steal things, not to commit unchastity, not to have worldly attachments, etc. But from the close scrutiny of the vow of Ahimsa and its implications in the actual life of people, it will be well evident that this charge is quite unfounded. It is true that Jainism does put some restrictions of a various levels on the conduct of people in their worldly life. These restrictions have been levied with a view to provide guidelines to the people so that while carrying out their duties and their normal occupations, they commit as little injury as possible to the other living beings. But it must be noted that the meaning of Ahimsa has not been confined to this negative aspect only but it has definitely been extended so as to include the positive aspect also in it. That is why it has been strongly advocated in Jainism that the householders should always strive for the tolerance, forgiveness and show compassion by extending charity to others who are in need of help along with the observance of restrictions levied on their conduct. It means that the positive aspect has been made an inherent part of the doctrine of Ahimsa. Hence it has been enjoined upon the householders; 1) to give charity, 2) organize welfare activities, and 3) develop tolarance.

1) Charity:

As a fundamental part of the observance of the vow of Ahimsa, it has been specifically laid down that the householders should make it a point to give regularly to the charities from their income to some extent.

In Tattvartha Sutra, charity has ben defined as: “Charity is the giving of one’s belongings for the good of others.” Such a charity is always recommended because in giving one’s belongings to others one exercises control over his greed which is nothing but a form of Himsa. The sacred Jain text of Purusharthasiddhi-upaya also mentions: “In making a gift one gets over greed, which is a form of Himsa, and hence gifts made to the worthy recipients amount to a renunciation of Himsa (i.e., amount to observance of Ahimsa).”

While giving charity the donor must remain in following mental conditions to make it more pure.

  1. Aihikaphalanapeksha, the donor must not expect any gain or reward in this world in exchange of the gifts given by him.

  2. Kshanti, the donor should have forbearance and should give calmly and without anger (which means the donor should not get excited if an unexpected or untoward thing happens while he was engaged in the pious act of giving gifts).

  3. Muditva, the donor must possess feelings of happiness and have joyous appearance at the time of giving the gifts.

  4. Nishkapatata, the donor must act in all sincerity and should give without deceit.

  5. Anasuyatva, the donor should have no feeling of jealousy or envy.

  6. Avislladitva, the donor should not have any feeling of sorrow or repentance.

  7. Nirahankartva, the donor should not have any sense of pride in giving gifts.

For the sake of utilization of charity, it has been commanded upon the donors to see that the charity is always given only to the proper people. The recipients, called Patras are classified into three categories depending upon their belief in the religion and the conduct in their life, namely:

  1. Supatras, good recipient who are having the right belief and are engrossed in practicing vows and would use charity wisely.

  2. Kupatras, deficient recipient who are with proper external conduct but without real right belief.

  3. Apatras, unworthy recipient who are neither having proper external conduct nor real right belief.

Obviously, giving charity to the Supatras is highly recommended, to the Kupatras is not encouraged and to the Apatras is definitely forbidden.

2) Support to Welfare Activities

It is important to note that the Jain scriptures have laid down well-thought-out conditions to be observed in the process of giving charity. They have also considerably widened the scope and extent of charity both from the point of the recipients of the charity as well as the contents of the charity. Even though as said earlier charity should be encouraged to supatra only, Karuna-Dana is suggested out of compassion to any one who deserves it, being hungry, thirsty, diseased, distressed, disabled, helpless, or the like. Therefore, the Karuna-Dana has wider scope and is not restricted to the Jains alone but it is extended to any human being and even to sub-human beings in the need of it. Such a Karuna-Dana is popularly considered of four kinds, namely,

  1. Ahara-Dana, gift of food,

  2. Aushadhil-Dana, gift of medicines,

  3. Abhaya-Dana, gift of shelter, protection from danger, attack, intimidation, or threat,

  4. Sastra or Vidya-Dana, gift of books or imparting of knowledge

3) Insistence on the Spirit of Toleration

The positive aspect of Ahimsa, as proclaimed by the Jain scriptures, is extended to the insistence on the spirit of toleration in addition to the encouragement to offer charities and the support to the organization for welfare activities. It means that in accordance with the doctrine of Ahimsa, injury through the activities of speech and mind has to be avoided along with the usual injury of physical type to observance tolerance with people of different intellectual, religion and other fields.

In this connection it can be maintained that toleration is the characteristic of Jain ideology because Jainism has always held that it is wrong, if not dangerous, to presume that one’s own doctrine alone represents the Truth. As a consequence, the Jain scriptures have always advised the Jains of all ranks not to harbor any feelings of enmity and hatred towards the followers of other religions but on the contrary to have a spirit of toleration and cooperation. Accordingly the Jains have been consistently observing the principle of intellectual and religious toleration. Even the Jain Monarchs and Generals of the Armed Forces have a clean and commendable record to their credit in this regard. The political history of India knows no cases of persecution by Jain Kings, even when Jain monks and laymen have greatly suffered at the hands of other religionists of fanatical temper. In this respect, Dr. B. A. Saletore, the famous historian of Karnatak, has rightly observed as follows:

“The principle of Ahimsa was partly responsible for the greatest contribution of the Jains to Hindu culture relating to toleration. Whatever may be said concerning the rigidity with which Jains maintained their religious tenets and the tenacity and skill with which they met and defeated their opponents in religious disputes, yet it cannot be denied that the Jains fostered the principle of tolerance more sincerely and at the same time more successfully than any other community in India”.