Basic Positivity of Ahimsa


Jain Philosophy
by Acharya Mahapragya


Even though the doctrine of Ahimsa, i.e., non-injury, has been given utmost importance by Jainism in the ethical code laid down for constant observance by all sections of the society and its practicability has stood the test of time since so many centuries, still sometimes a charge is made against the doctrine of Ahimsa to the effect that it is essentially negative in character in the sense that it always prohibits persons from doing certain activities. It is argued that in Jainism Ahimsa is treated as mere abstention from Himsa i.e., injury, and that 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 persons, it will be well evident that the charge is quite unfounded. It is true that Jainism does put some restrictions of a sever type on the conduct of persons in their worldly life. These restrictions have been levied with a view to provide guidelines to the person so that they while discharging their duties and carrying out their normal avocations, can commit as little injury as possible to 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 to extend 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 (i) to follow the practice of giving Dana, i.e., religious gifts or charity, (ii) to organize the welfare activities with the help of charities for the benefit not only of the weaker sections of society but also of different kinds of living beings like animals, birds, etc., and (iii) to inculcate the spirit of toleration towards the followers of other faiths or religions.

Encouragement to Grant of Charities:

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 from their income Dana, i.e., charities. Obviously the principle of Dana has been given great importance in Jaina religion.

In connection with the meaning of the term Dana, it has been stated in the authoritative Jaina work “Tattvartha Sutra” as follows:

that is, “Charity is the giving of one’s belongings for the good (of one’s self and of others”. Such a charity or gift 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. That is why in the interest of the cultivation of Ahimsa, the practice of giving Dana is recommended in the celebrated standard sacred Jaina text of “Purusharthasiddhi-upaya” as follows:

that is, “In making a gift one gets over greed, which is a form of Himsa, and hence gifts made to worthy recipients amount to a renunciation of Himsa (i.e., amount to observance of Ahimsa”.) In the same text in continuation it has been stated that a person automatically becomes greedy if he does not give charity to worthy guests in following terms:

that is, “why should a person be not called greedy if he does not give gift to a guest who visits his home, who is well-qualified and who, acting like a honey-bee, accepts gifts without causing any injury to others”. It means that the practice of giving gifts tantamounts to the practice of Ahimsa.

Further, with a view to raising the purity involved in giving gifts and in the practice of Ahimsa, it is laid down that the donor, i.e., who gives gifts, must have following seven qualities:

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

  2. Kshanti, i.e., 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, i.e., the donor must possess feelings of happiness and have joyous appearance at the time of giving gifts.

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

  5. Anasuyatva, i.e., the donor should have no feelings of jealousy or envy.

  6. Avishaditva, i.e., the donor should not have any feelings of sorrow or repentance.

  7. Nirahankaritva, i.e., the donor should not have any sense of pride in giving gifts as pride is certainly a bad condition of mind.

Moreover, for the sake of maintaining the sanctity of Dana it has been enjoined upon the donors to see that the Dana is always given only to proper persons. The donee, that is, the person to whom Dana is given, is termed as Patra and for the purposes of gift the donees are classified into three categories, viz.,

  1. Supatras i.e., good donees (those who are having right belief and engrossed in practicing vows),

  2. Kupatras, i.e., deficient donees (those who are with proper external conduct but without real right belief), and

  3. Apatras, i.e., unworthy donees (those who are neither having proper external conduct nor real right belief).

Obviously, giving Dana to the Supatras is highly recommended, to the Kupatras is not encouraged and to the Apatras is definitely forbidden as there is said to be no merit in giving them any thing.

On the basis of various conditions laid down for giving Dana pertaining to the qualifications of the donors and the donees, Dana is classified into three types as follows:

  1. Sattvika Dana, i.e., virtuous or righteous gift, is the gift offered to a worthy donee by a donor possessing the seven Datr-gunas, i.e., qualifications of a good donor.

  2. Rajasa Dana, i.e., passionate or emotional gift, is the gift offered in self-advertisement for monetary display and in deference to the opinion of others.

  3. Tamasa Dana, i.e., vicious gift, is the gift offered through the agency of slaves or servants without considering whether the recipient is good or worthy or unworthy and without showing marks of respect.

Of these three types of Danas, the Sattivika Dana is regarded as the Uttama Dana, i.e., the best gift, the Rajasa Dana as the Madhyama Dana, i.e., the moderate or the secondary gift and the Tamsa Dana as the Jaghanya Dana, i.e., the worst or the detestable gift.

Again, for the sake of giving Dana it is not required that the Dana should necessarily be of a large quantity. On the contrary, the householders are advised to extend even small gifts but they should take care that these small gifts are given to the deserving persons. Such a kind of small gift is praised in the standard sacred Jain work “Ratnakaranda Sravakachara” in the following words:

that is, “Even a small Dana (gift) given to a patra (proper or suitable donee), bears much desirable fruit for souls in the fullness of time, just as the (tiny) seed of the (Indian) fig tree, sown in (good) soil, produces (a tree, casting) magnificent shade”.

Thus, the Jain scriptures not only encourage the householders to give gifts to persons but also invariably stress that the conditions laid down and considered proper for the Donor (i.e., giver), the Dana (i.e., gift) and the Donee (i.e., recipient) should always be followed because these three things by means of mutual influencing definitely increase the sanctity of the entire process. In this connection the celebrated Jaina author Acharya Jinasena in his well-known work “Adi-purana” has shown that in nine ways a gift becomes an ideal one in the following terms:

that is, “The purity of the Donor gives sanctity to both the Gift and the Donee, similarly the purity of the Gift makes both the Donor and the Donee sacred; and on the same lines, the purity of the Donee sanctifies both the Donor and the Gift. Hence such a Dana, containing purity in nine ways, contributes to securing abundant fruits.”

Support to Welfare Activities

It is pertinent to note that the Jaina scriptures have not only laid down well-thought-out conditions to be observed in the process of giving Dana but have also considerably widened the scope and extent of Dana both from the point of the recipients of the Dana and from the contents of the Dana. The Dana, with reference to its recipients, has also been divided into two classes, viz., Patra-Dana and Karuna-Dana. The Patra-Dana means gifts or offerings made with respect and devotion to worthy recipients and in accordance with the necessary conditions laid down for observance by the people. Such worthy recipients are generally the Jaina persons (including the householders and the ascetics) who have right belief and are continuously engrossed in practicing vows prescribed for their stage in life. But the Karuna-Dana means gifts or offerings made out of compassion to any one who deserves it, being hungry, thirsty, diseased, distressed, disabled, helpless, or the like. Further, the Karuna-Dana, or the gift of compassion, is extremely wide in its scope. In fact, it is not restricted to Jainas alone but it is extended to human and even to sub-human beings who are in need of it. Such a Karuna-Dana is popularly considered of four kinds, viz.,

  1. Ahara-Dana, i.e., gift of food,

  2. Aushadhil-Dana, i.e., gift of medicines,

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

  4. Sastra-Dana or Vidya-Dana, i.e., gift of books, imparting of knowledge, useful and beneficial.

These four gifts together are formed as “Chaturvidha-Dana”, i.e., four-fold charity and it has been enjoined on the householders that they should make special efforts to give these charities to the needy beings belonging to the human and subhuman categories. The first kind of charity, i.e., Ahara-Dana, has been extremely valued along with the practice of Ahimsa in following terms by the important ‘Kurala-Kavya’ :

that is, “The two precepts of scriptures which contain the very essence of religion are: to share meals with persons afflicted with hunger and to protect all living beings.” In the same strain Acharya Amitagati, the renowned author, in his book “Sravakachara” has praised the utmost importance of Ahara-Dana as follows:

that is, “there is no knowledge better than ‘Kevala-Jnana’, i.e., omniscient knowledge, no happiness better than happiness secured from Nirvana’, i.e., liberation of soul, and no gift better than ‘Ahara-Dana’, i.e., gift of food”. On the same lines, the Jaina scriptures have greatly valued the other three gifts of medicines, shelter and knowledge to all living beings with a view to take practical steps to ameliorate the miserable conditions of afflicted living beings including insects, birds, animals and men.

Further, this positive humanitarian approach to lessen the miseries of living beings was also included in another significant manifestation of Ahimsa in the fifth main vow of the householders, viz., the vow of Aparigraha, i.e., abstention from greed of worldly possessions. It is obvious that this greed is a form of Himsa, i.e., injury and as such it has to be consistently avoided by all persons as a part of the observance of Ahimsa in the different fields of activities in actual life. Aparigraha-vrata also involves avoiding the fault of Parigraha which consists in desiring more than what is needed by an individual. Accumulating even necessary articles in large numbers, expressing wonder at the prosperity of others, excessive greed and changing the proportions of existing possessions are all forms of Parigraha, i.e., worldly attachments. This vow aims at putting a limit on the worldly possessions by individuals according to their needs and desires. That is why this vow of Aparigraha is many times termed as Parigraha-Parimana-Vrata , i.e., the vow to limit one’s worldly possessions. In accordance with this vow a householder is required to fix, beforehand, the limit of his maximum belongings, and he has, in no case, to exceed it. If he ever happens to earn more than the pre-determined limit, he is required to spend it away in ”Chaturvidha-Dana”, i.e., four-fold charities popularly known as ‘Ahara-abhaya-bhaishajya-Sastra-Dana’, i.e., giving food to the hungry and the poor, saving the lives of creatures in danger, distribution of medicines and spread of knowledge.

In this connection it is pertinent to note that as a part of the implementation of the vow of Ahimsa including the vow of Aparigraha, the Jaina householders for several centuries have made it one of their cardinal principles to give these four gifts to all persons who are in need of such help. In fact, this help has been extended to the protection and well-being of insects, birds and animals also. For this the Jainas have established alm-houses, rest-houses, dispensaries and educational institutions wherever they have been concentrated in good numbers. The Anna-Chhatralayas, i.e., alm-houses, are being conducted in pilgrim and other centers for the benefit of poor people. In the Dharma-salas, i.e., resthouses, lodging arrangements are being provided without any charges or at nominal charges at important towns, cities and pilgrim places. The Aushadhalayas, i.e.., dispensaries, have been providing free medicines to the afflicted persons. Along with the dispensaries for men, the Jainas have been conducting special institutions known as Pinjarapols for the protection and care of helpless and decrepit animals and birds. In unusual times of flood and famine these Pinjarapols have been carrying out various activities for animal protection. There is hardly any town or village of Gujarath or Rajasthan, where Pinjarapols is not present in some form or other.

In the spread of education also the Jainas have been taking for many centuries a leading part in the education of the masses. Various relics show that formerly Jaina ascetics took a great share in teaching children in southern countries viz., Tamilanadu, Andhra, Karnatak and Maharashtra. In this connection Dr. A. S. Altekar has rightly observed (in his treatise “Rashtrakutas and their Times”) that “Before the beginning of the alphabet proper the children should be required to pay homage to the deity Ganesha, by reciting the formula, ‘Shri Ganeshaya namah’ is natural in Hindu society, but that in the Deccan even to-day it should be followed by the Jaina formula “Om Namah Siddham” shows that the Jaina teachers of medieval age had so completely controlled the mass education that the Hindus continued to teach their children this originally Jaina formula even after the decline of Jainism.”

Even now the Jainas have been vigorously maintaining the tradition of organizing welfare activities for the benefit of all concerned by giving freely these Chaturvidha-Dana, i.e., four types of gifts, in all parts of India.

Insistence on the Spirit of Toleration

The positive aspect of Ahimsa, as enunciated by Jaina scriptures, is extended to the insistence on the spirit of toleration in addition to the encouragement to the grant of charities and the support to the organization of welfare activities. The Jaina scriptures have made the doctrine of Ahimsa extremely comprehensive and have advocated the observance of Ahimsa systematical and to the minutest details. For this purpose, violence or injury is to be avoided in three ways, that is, it should not be committed, commissioned or consented to; and this avoidance has to be applied to three kinds of violence, viz., (a) physical violence, which covers killing, wounding and causing any physical pain; (b) violence in words caused by using harsh words; and (c) mental violence, which implies bearing ill-feelings towards other persons, religions, systems, etc. 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. In other words, for the observance of Ahimsa, the attitude of tolerance in the intellectual, religious and other fields assumes great importance. This attitude of tolerance has been propounded by Jaina scriptures through the doctrine of Anekantavada, i.e., manysidedness, which states that a thing can be considered from many points of view. That is why the tenet of Anekantavada always advises the people to find out the truth in anything after taking into account several sides or aspects of that thing. This obviously broadens the outlook of the persons as they are made to look at a thing from different angles. At the same time the principle of Anekantavada does not engender the feelings of enmity or hatred towards the other religionists because it believes that other religions also would be having some truths from their points of view. Hence by enunciating the principle of Anekantavada, the Jaina scriptures have strongly advocated the principle of tolerance and forcefully asserted that it could be applied to intellectual, religious, social and other fields of activities.

As a result we find that Anekantavada has definitely a bearing on man’s psychological and spiritual life and that it is not confined to solve a mere ontological problem. It has supplied the philosopher with catholicity of thought, convincing him that Truth is not anybody’s monopoly with tariff walls of denominational religion. It has also furnished the religious aspirant with the virtue of intellectual and religious toleration which is a part of Ahimsa.

In this connection it can be maintained that toleration is the characteristic of Jaina ideology because Jainism has always held that it is wrong, if not dangerous, to presume that one’s own creed alone represents the Truth. As a consequence the Jaina scriptures have always advised the Jainas 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 with reference to the members of other religions and even denominations. Accordingly the Jainas have been consistently observing the principle of intellectual and religious toleration. Even the Jaina 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 Jaina Kings, even when Jaina 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 Jainas to Hindu culture-that relating to toleration. Whatever may be said concerning the rigidity with which they maintained their religious tenets and the tenacity and skill with which they met and defeated their opponents in religious disputations, yet it cannot be denied that the Jainas fostered the principle of toleration more sincerely and at the same time more successfully than any other community in India”.