Implementation of Ahimsa


Jain Philosophy
by Acharya Mahapragya


The Ahimsa-vrata, i.e., the vow of Ahimsa, has not only been elaborated in theory in Jaina scriptures, as outlined above, but it has also been implemented in practice to a very large extent by the followers of Jainism – both ascetics and householders. It has been enjoined upon the ascetics to observe the Ahimsa-vrata as a Mahavrata, i.e., a great vow, and this religious injunction has been very meticulously observed from ancient times to the present day by the Jaina Sadhus and Sadhvis, i.e., monks and nuns. However, the Jaina scriptures, from the practical point of view, allowed the Sravakas and the Sravikas, i.e., the male and female sections of the laity, viz., the householders, to observe the Ahimsavrata as an Anuvrata, i.e., a small vow. As such, the householders were required to observe the Ahimsa-vrata with comparatively less severity but at the same time without transgressing the basic tenets of Ahimsa. Naturally this fundamental requirement made it necessary for the householders to put a number of restrictions on their economic, social, cultural and other activities connected with their livelihood and maintenance. This kind of specific implementation of Ahimsa-vrata can be very clearly noticed from the practical restrictions and conventions actually followed by the Jaina householders in their activities like occupations and professions, food and drink, and dress and decoration.

Occupations and Professions .

From the present state of Jainas it appears that a predominantly large majority of them is engaged in some kind of business. They are known as Baniyas or Vaniyas and are included under the Vaisyas. The predominance of Vaisyas is, historically speaking, a comparatively recent development because in ancient times Jainas were found in all classes and especially among the Kshatriyas. But due to various reasons the number of Jainas in other classes gradually dwindled and in consequence we now notice that the followers of Jainism are mainly Vaisyas.

The rules of conduct for laymen lay down that a person should follow some kind of business or profession in a just and honest way for the maintenance of his family The only restriction he has to observe in the choice of his avocation is that it must not be of an ignoble or degrading nature in the sense that it should not involve wholesale destruction of life. The prohibited businesses are those of butchers, fishermen, brewers, wine-merchants, gun-makers and the like. The Jaina Scriptures mention fifteen varieties of business enterprises which involve great injury to living beings and hence the Jaina laymen are required to avoid them. They are such as those involving great use of fire, cutting of trees or plants, castrating bullocks, clearing of jungles by employment of fire, drying up lakes, rivers, etc.

It is generally believed that the main principle of Jainism, namely, Ahimsa or not hurting any living being, bars the Jainas from becoming the agriculturists or soldiers. But this is not the case. The first Tirthankara, Lord Rshbhadeva asked the people to follow six kinds of professions for their maintenance and both the professions of an agriculturist and of a soldier were included in them. Apart from this, we come across numerous references pertaining to agriculture in Jaina literature from which it could be seen that in general agriculture was not forbidden to Jainas. At present the main occupation of the Jainas in Karnataka is that of agriculture. In regard to them it is stated that except some of the larger landholders who keep farm-servants the Jaina land holders, with the help of their women, do all parts of field work with their own hands. They are considered as the hardest working husbandmen who make use of every advantage of soil and situation. Even in Gujaratha where the Jainas are mainly traders and industrialists, there are some Jainas whose occupation is only agriculture. From the fact that even in the days of Lord Rshabha, the first Tirthankara, rules were made, among other things, regarding politics, warfare and archery show that the Jainas were not averse to fighting as such. In the past many Jainas were in the fighting forces of the state as can be seen from a large number of Jaina generals and warriors, and even now some are employed in the defense forces of India, and are occupying responsible positions.

The Jainas follow practically all sorts of avocations but they are mainly money-lenders, bankers, jewelers, clothmerchants, grocers and recently industrialists. As they hold the key positions in all these occupations, it is no wonder that a large proportion of mercantile wealth of India passes through their hands. Apart from occupations, Jainas have taken to professions also. They are found mainly in legal, medical, engineering and teaching professions and nowadays many Jainas are holding important responsible positions in various departments of the Central and State Governments.

Food and Drink

The Jainas are very particular regarding their food and drink. Since the ethical code of the Jainas is based on the main principle of Ahimsa, we find its thorough application in the matters of food and drink also. It has already been noticed that even householder is required to possess Ashta Mulagunas or eight fundamental virtues which are the observance of the five anuvratas and abstinence from the use of flesh, wine and honey. The injunction against eating flesh of any living being is quite obvious. The Jainas do not take food which involves the slaughter of animals, fishes, birds, or anything that has five or less sense-organs. That is why they have to abstain from eating Kandamulas, that is, underground stems and roots like potatoes, onions, garlic, reddish, turnip, carrot, beet-roots etc. which are supposed to contain a multitude of small insects. Similarly, they must not eat fruits of Gular, Anjeer, Pipal, Pakar and Banyan which are the birth places of mobile beings. Further, it is necessary, for a Jaina to take his meals during daytime because Himsa is inevitable when food is prepared or taken in the absence of sunlight. Therefore the Jainas have to renounce night-eating throughout the year and those who cannot do so all the time, at least do it during the Chaturmas or the four months of rainy season when there is a large growth of insects. Again, the Jainas are required to wipe most carefully anything that is to be used for food, with a view to exclude as tenderly as possible any of the tiny living creatures which might be found in or on it. In the same way as a precautionary measure in avoiding injury to very, small living beings, the Jainas have been enjoined to strain or filter water, milk, juice, or any liquid drink before use. It must be said to the credit of the Jainas that they do observe very scrupulously all these rules regarding food. It is the outstanding feature of Jainas throughout India that they are strictly vegetarians, never eat at night, and always use strained water. It is said that when a Jaina traveler wishes to quench his thirst at a tank or stream, he covers his mouth with cloth, stoops down, and thus drinks by suction. This cleanly custom is highly recommended for use everywhere.

Along with flesh, wine and all kinds of intoxicants, or even stimulants, are prohibited. They are not considered necessary for the life and well-being of the body. Wine is the birth place of many beings which are generated in liquor and hence those who are addicted to wine, necessarily commit Himsa. Further, it is stated that wine stupefies the mind, one whose mind is stupefied forgets piety; and the person who forgets piety commits Himsa without hesitation. Similarly, pride, fear, disgust, ridicule, ennui, grief, sex-passion, anger etc. are all forms of Himsa and all these are concomitants of wine. Like wine, honey is also prohibited because it is considered that even the smallest drop of honey very often represents the death of bees. If one uses honey which has been obtained by some trick from honey-comb, or which has itself dropped down from it, one necessarily commits Himsa in this case also, because of the destruction of creatures of spontaneous birth born there. In the same strain the Jainas have been advised not to use stale butter as after a lapse of some time the butter becomes a birthplace of small beings due to extreme fermentation.

As regards the question of food and drink one thing must be remembered. Jainism admits that only liberated souls are in a position to observe complete non-injury and that mundane souls have to commit Himsa for their maintenance as life thrives only on life. Though Himsa is unavoidable in the sustenance of life, Jainism, by rules of conduct, tries to limit it for essential purposes only. The rules of conduct never sanction injury, but they try to restrict it to the lowest possible minimum, by taking into account the gradations of injured living beings. The higher the stage of development of the injured being is, (i.e., the closer it has approached the state of perfection), the heavier the sin of the injury committed is considered to be. Thus, from the practical point of view, the sin of hurting a plant is smaller than that of hurting an animal, the sin of hurting an animal is smaller than that on hurting a human being, etc. From this standpoint, it can be understood why Jainism forbids flesh-eating, and, on the other hand, objects little to the eating of vegetables. Therefore, what is enjoined on Jainas is simply this : “Do not destroy life, unless it is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of a higher kind of life”.

Dress and Decoration:

The Jainas are required to pursue the path of Ahmisa in the matter of dress also. They have not to wear the furs and the plumes that are obtained by torturing their owners- animals and birds. For the same reason the use of silken and woolen garments is prohibited for all Jainas. Here we can mark the difference between the Hindus and the Jainas. The Hindus do not consider silk as impure and they use silken garments at the time of worshipping or taking their meals.

It is necessary for Jainas to restrict the use of leather goods to the minimum. They have to avoid all leather articles meant for decoration, for example, tiger-skin, deerskin, etc., and are required to use substitutes for leather goods wherever it is possible, for example, belts, purses, straps for watches, etc., where the use of leather goods is unavoidable they have to see that leather is procured from naturally dead animals and not from slaughtered animals.

One of the rules of conduct meant for laymen lays down that a Jaina should dress according to his means, and if he has the means to dress extravagantly, still he should not do so. This means that Jainas should not care much for their dress with a view to look more beautiful. According to them the clothes should be sober, though not somber, and they should not aim at displaying bodily contour, to excite the passions of the beholder.