Prominence given to Ahimsa
The third distinctive fact about Jaina ethics is the utmost prominence given to ahimsa or avoidance of himsa, that is injury. It is really remarkable about Jainism that even though the noble principle of ahimsa has been recognized by practically all religions, Jainism alone has preached the full significance and application of ahimsa to such an extent that Jainism and ahimsa have become synonymous terms. The Jainas always uphold that ahimsa paramo dharmah, that is, Ahimsa is the highest religion. The philosophy of Jainism and its rules of conduct are based on the foundation of ahimsa which have been consistently followed to its logical conclusion.
That is why among the five main vows the first place has been given to the observance of ahimsa. In fact in the Jaina scriptures ahimsa is regarded as the principal vow and the other four vows are considered to be merely its details or extensions. This is made evident in the following ways:
Himsa: The term himsa has been defined as injury to the vitalities through passionate activity of mind, speech and body. The Jaina scriptures, in this connection, always maintain that the appearance of attachment and other passions is himsa and their non-appearance is ahimsa, because under the influence of passion, the person first injures the self, through the self, whether or not there is subsequently an injury caused to another being. Thus whatever is done under the influence of passion, that is, through pramada-yoga meaning careless activity of mind, speech and body, and without any caution is included under himsa.
Asatya is himsa: Wherever any wrong statement is made through pramada-yoga, it is certainly known as asatya, i.e., falsehood. It is, therefore, clear that as pramada-yoga, the chief cause of himsa, is present in all such statements, himsa occurs in asatya, i.e. falsehood, also.
Chaurya is himsa: The taking, by pramada-yoga of objects which have not been given, is deemed as theft and that is himsa, because it is the cause of injury to the self in the form of a moral fall to the person deprived of it. There is no difference between himsa and theft. Himsa is inherent in theft, for in taking what belongs to another, there is pramada-yoga. Thus all theft, like all falsehood, is included in himsa.
Abrahma is himsa: Indulgence in sex passion always brings about himsa because it originates out of desire. Hence abrahma or sexual impurity is a form of himsa.
Parigraha is himsa: Parigraha or possession of worldly goods is of two kinds, internal and external. The renunciation of parigraha of both the kinds is ahimsa and their appropriation is himsa. Internal parigraha, that is. the desire for worldly objects, prejudicially affects the purity of the soul, and this injury to the pure nature of the soul constitutes himsa. External parigraha, that is, the actual possession of worldly objects, creates attraction and love for them, and defiles purity of the soul and therefore amounts to himsa.
Thus it is evident that a himsa is implied in falsehood. theft, sexual impurity and possession of goods, all the main five vows of Jainism are based on the principle of ahimsa. That is why supreme importance is given to the principle of ahimsa and it is enjoined upon every Jaina to avoid himsa under all conditions.