Comprehensiveness of Ahimsa


Jain Philosophy
by Acharya Mahapragya


The Ahimsa-vrata, i.e., the vow of Ahimsa, has to be implemented into actual practice, both by the ascetics and the householders, in accordance with the detailed rules laid down for these two major sections of the society because the Jaina scriptures have given maximum importance to the day to day observance of right conduct consisting of five main vows, three Guna-vratas, i.e., multiplicative vows, and four Siksha-vratas, i.e., disciplinary vows, with a view to achieving salvation, the aim of life of every individual, and have assigned the first position to the vow of Ahimsa. The five vows form the basis on which the superstructure of Jaina ethics has been raised. They give a definite outlook on life and create a particular type of mental attitude. The very essence of Jaina philosophy is transferred into action in the shape of observance of the five main vows. It is clear that five main vows are in the form of abstentions from or avoidance of certain bad things or faults in the following manner:

  1. Ahimsa is the abstention from injury,

  2. Satya is the abstention from falsehood,

  3. Achaurya is the abstention from theft,

  4. Brahmacharya is the abstention from unchastity, and

  5. Aparigraha is the abstention from worldly attachments.

Further, three things are enjoined in the matter of avoidance of these five faults. In the first place, a person should not commit any fault personally, secondly, a person should not incite others to commit such an act, and thirdly, a person should not even approve of it subsequent to its commission by others. Moreover, even though these five faults are mentioned separately, still it can be noticed that the utmost significance has been attached to the avoidance of the first fault of Himsa, i.e., injury and that the remaining four faults of falsehood, theft unchastity and worldly attachments are considered as mere different forms of varieties of Himsa, i.e., injury. Obviously, the concept of Ahimsa, i.e., avoidance of injury becomes very wide, inclusive and comprehensive.

Ahimsa and Satya

Speaking Satya, i.e., truth, is the observance of Ahmisa because Asatya, i.e., falsehood is considered as Himsa., i.e., injury according to sacred Jaina texts. In the standard Jaina work “Purusharthasiddhi upaya” the definition and nature of falsehood are given in the following manner;

that is, wherever any wrong statement is made through Pramada Yoga, i.e., careless activity of mind, speech or body, it is certainly known as falsehood. Further, falsehood is divided into four kinds:

  1. The first kind of falsehood is making a statement by which the existence of a thing with reference to its position, time, and nature is denied, e.g., to say “a particular person is not here” (when he is present).

  2. The second kind of falsehood is making a statement to the effect that a particular thing exists, where that thing does not exist with reference to the position, time, and nature of other objects, e.g., to say “a pitcher is here” (when it is not actually there).

  3. The third kind of falsehood is that where an existing thing is represented as something different from what it really is, e.g., when a horse is said to be a cow.

  4. The fourth kind of falsehood consists of three types of speaking viz.

    1. Garhita, i.e., condemnable,

    2. Savadya, i.e., sinful, and

    3. Apriya i.e., disagreeable.

The Garhita (i.e. condemnable) speech is said to be all that which is back-biting, unbecoming, ridiculous speech with the use of harsh language and violent words. Besides, useless gossiping and using language which incites unfounded beliefs and superstitions comes under this category of condemnable speech.

The Savadya (i.e., sinful) speech comprises all speech that leads to destruction of life by piercing, beating, cutting, stealing, etc.

The Apriya (i.e., disagreeable) speech is that which in the minds of other persons, creates feelings of uneasiness, fear, pain, hostility, grief, etc.

Thus, the Pramatta-yoga, i.e., the vibrations due to the passions which agitate mind, speech or body, is invariably present in all these four kinds of falsehood. Hence, Himsa is certainly involved in falsehood because Pramatta-yoga is the cause of Himsa.

Ahimsa and Achaurya:

Like Satya, Achaurya, i.e., not committing theft, is also Ahimsa, i.e., non-injury, because every theft includes Himsa just as every kind of falsehood includes Himsa. According to the Jaina scriptures, “the taking, by Pramatta-yoga, of things without they being given by the owner, is to be deemed as theft and that is invariably Himsa because it is the cause of injury”. It is obvious that the person who thinks of stealing, injures the purity of his own soul, suffers pain of punishment if detected and causes pain to the others whom he deprives them of their things. Again, in this world all transient things (or forms of property) constitute the external Pranas, i.e., vitalities of a man. Hence, depriving a person of his property is tantamount to depriving that person of his Pranas and this is nothing but Himsa.

Thus all theft includes Himsa. In fact there is no exclusivity between Himsa and theft and it can very well be maintained that Himsa is certainly included in theft, because in taking what belongs to others, there is the presence of Pramatta yoga, which is the cause of Himsa.

Ahimsa and Brahmacharya:

In the same strain as Satya and Achaurya, the Brahmacharya is also considered as Ahimsa, because Abramha is a kind of Himsa. The term Abramha refers to the copulation arising from sexual passion and this act is Himsa in two ways. In the first place, many living beings are deprived of their vitalities in the vagina in the sexual act, just as a hot rod of iron, when it is introduced in a tube filled with sesamum seeds, burns them up. Secondly, psychical life is affected because of the emergence of a sexual passion, and so also the material Pranas, i.e., vitalities, are affected owing to the lethargic condition consequent upon copulation.

Obviously, unchastity is a form of Himsa and as such persons are advised to give up their sex-desire altogether. But it is possible only for the ascetics to do so. Therefore, it is enjoined upon a householder to observe the vow of Brahmacharya to a limited extent by total abstinence from all sexual desire with reference to female other than his own wife.

Ahimsa and Aparigraha :

Aparigraha, i.e., abstention from worldly attachments, is regarded as Ahimsa, because Parigraha is of two kinds, viz.,

  1. Abhyantara Parigraha, i.e., internal attachment, and

  2. Bahya Parigraha, i.e., external attachment.

The internal attachments of possessions are recognized to be of fourteen kinds, namely, perverted belief, laughter, indulgence, ennui, sorrow, fear, disgust, anger, pride, deceit, greed and desire for sexual enjoyment with man, with woman and with both. The external attachments or possessions are of two kinds with reference to the living and the nonliving objects.

Both the internal and external types of Parigraha can never preclude Himsa. Internal attachment, the desire for many things, prejudicially affects the purity of the soul, and this injury to the pure nature of the soul constitutes Himsa. Similarly, external attachment or the actual possession of living and non-living objects creates attraction and love for them, which defiles purity of the soul and therefore the amounts to Ahimsa. As a consequence, in the interest of the practice of the principle of Ahimsa, persons are advised to give up both the internal and external kinds of attachments. But it is not possible for the householders to renounce all Parigraha completely. Hence it is enjoined upon the householders to limit the extent of their parigraha to a predetermined amount of wealth, cattle, servants, buildings, etc. That is why the Anu-vrata, i.e., the small vow of Aparigraha, i.e., non-attachment, is also termed as Parigraha-parimana Anu-vrata, i.e., the small vow of limited attachments.

Ahimsa and Sila-Vratas:

Along with the observance of five main vows, known as Anu-vratas, a householder is expected, according to Jaina scriptures, to follow seven Sila-vratas, i.e., Supplementary vows, consisting of three Guna-vratas, i.e. multiplicative vows and four Siksha-vratas, i.e. disciplinary vows. In the Jaina scriptures sufficient emphasis has also been laid even on the practice of these Sila-vratas, i.e., the supplementary vows, since these vows performs the important work of giving protection to the first five Anu-vratas just as the encircling walls guard towns. Further, as the Anu-vratas are centered round the basic doctrine of Ahimsa, similarly Sila-vratas, also are purposefully devised with a view to giving necessary support to the observance of Ahimsa to the maximum extent possible. Obviously, on the lines of Anuvratas, the Sila-vratas also help to make Ahimsa more comprehensive.

Ahimsa and Guna-vratas :

The Guna-vratas are multiplicative vows since they raise the value of five main vows or Anu-vratas. The Guna-vratas include the following three Vratas :

  1. the Dig-vrata

  2. the Desa-vrata, and

  3. the Anarthadanda-vrata.

The Dig-vrata

The Dig-vrata involves taking a life-long vow to limit one’s worldly activities to fixed points in all ten directions, viz., Up, Down, North, South, East, West, North-East, North-West, South-East, and South-West. A householder has to fix the limits in these directions on the basis of certain well known objects and then to carry out all his activities within these determined limits. Obviously, as the householder’s activities are confined within limited direction, his observance of Ahimsa beyond these limits becomes complete since he does not indulge in carrying out any activity there.

The Desa-vrata

The Desa-vrata involves taking a life-long vow to confine one’s worldly activities to the prescribed smaller areas within the limits of directions already fixed in accordance with the observance of the vow of Dig-vrata. Thus, the Desa-vrata means that a householder shall, during a certain period of time, carry out his activities within a very limited area consisting of a certain village, market, street, or house and shall have nothing to do with the objects beyond this inner limit. As a consequence, the pure-minded householder, who thus confines the inner extent of his activities, does achieve the observance of absolute Ahimsa for that time by renouncing all Himsa possible in the vast space which has been given up according to this Vrata.

The Anarthadanda-Vrata

The Anarthadanda-Vrata involves taking a vow not to commit purposeless sins. As a part of this vow it has been laid down in the scriptures that a householder should avoid following things.

  1. Apadhyana, i.e., evil thinking,

  2. Papopadesa, i.e., evil instruction,

  3. Pramadacharya, i.e., careless dealings,

  4. Himsadana, i.e., gifts of instruments of offense,

  5. Duh-sruti, hearing evil and

  6. Dyuta, i.e., gambling.

In elaboration of these sinful things, the following restrictions have been placed on the behavior of householders:

  1. One should never think of hunting, victory, defeat, battle, adultery, theft, etc., because these things only lead to sin.

  2. Sinful advice should never be given to persons living upon art, trade, writing, agriculture, arts, and crafts, service and industry.

  3. One should not without reason dig ground, uproot trees, trample lawns, sprinkle water, and pluck leaves, fruits and flowers.

  4. One should be careful not to give instruments of Himsa, such as knife, poison, fire, plough, sword, bow, etc.

  5. One should not listen to, accept or teach such bad stories as increase attachments, etc., and are full of absurdities.

  6. One should renounce gambling even from a distance because it is the first of all evils, the destroyer of contentment, the home of deceit, and the abode of theft and falsehood.

Obviously, it has been emphasized that he who deliberately renounces all these and other unnecessary sins, leads his Ahimsa vow ceaselessly up to admirable victory.

Ahimsa and Siksha-vratas:

The Siksha-vratas are disciplinary vows since they are aimed to prepare the householder for the discipline of an ascetic life and are meant to strengthen the five main vows or Anu-vratas. The Siksha-vratas include four Vratas, viz.,

  1. Samayika,

  2. Proshadhopavasa,

  3. Upabhoga-paribhoga-parimana and

  4. Atithi-samvibhaga.


Samayika means taking a vow to devote particular time every day to contemplation of the self for spiritual advancement. It teaches a person to be equanimous, that is, to be indifferent to love or hate, pain or pleasure, loss or gain, etc. This attitude of equanimity makes the observance of Ahimsa more complete as Samayika involves the absence of all sinful activities.


Proshadhopavasa means taking a vow to fast on four days of the month, namely, the two 8th and the two 14th days of the lunar fortnight. Such regular fasting helps the practice of Samayika, i.e., equanimity, Dhyana, i.e., spiritual meditation, and Svadhaya, i.e., self-study. Obviously, such observance of fasting secures the merit of Ahimsa in completeness for that period.


Upabhoga-paribhoga-parimana means taking a vow to limit one’s enjoyment of consumable and non-consumable things. It involves putting restrictions on or giving up the use of vegetables, fruits, food etc., containing infinite number of lives and limiting use of things like clothes, furniture, etc. It also entails giving up the sins of falsehood, sexual impurity, etc. It is also laid down that the enjoyment of things should be limited to fixed days and nights, and within these limits further limits of enjoyment for fixed hours should be made. In this way a graduated course of renunciation, progressing with rising capacity and clearer knowledge is prescribed. Hence it is specifically stated in ‘Purusharthasiddhi-upaya’ that

that is, “he who being thus contented with a few limited enjoyments, renounces the vast majority of them, observes Ahimsa par-excellence because of abstention from considerable Himsa”. Thus, by the practice of this Siksha-vrata, the observance of Ahimsa becomes more and more extensive.


Atithi-samvibhaga means taking a vow to take one’s food only after feeding proper persons like ascetics, pious householders, etc., The food offered should be such as is helpful to studies and to the due observance of austerities. Again, food is to be offered to the true believers and that too without any expectation of worldly benefits. Such a gift of food is, in fact, an act of Ahimsa, as it is an antithesis of greed which is Himsa Thus, giving a gift amounts to Ahimsa because it is a concomitant of self-purification of the giver and helps in the spiritual advancement of the done.