Practicability of Ahimsa


Jain Philosophy
by Acharya Mahapragya


Since Jainism has prescribed the doctrine of Ahimsa as its cardinal principle, the entire Jaina ethical code has been laid down with a view to transforming this principle into actual practice. As a result maximum importance has been attached to the observance of Ahimsa as a basis of right conduct leading to the attainment of salvation. Further, taking into account the comprehensive nature of the doctrine of Ahimsa and the necessity of carefulness required in putting the doctrine into practice, the Jaina scriptures have specifically prescribed the rules of conduct to the minutes details in connection with the observance of the vow of Ahimsa in all its aspects and in making it as faultless as possible. But realizing extremely wide theoretical dimensions of these rules of conduct and the minute 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 vow of Ahimsa into practice. But from a close examination of the injuctions laid down by Jaina scriptures for the actual observance of the vow of Ahimsa it can be seen that the fear is quite unfounded.

Categorization of Vow of Ahimsa:

It is true that the rules of conduct laid down by Jainism for the attainment of salvation 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’, i.e., full conduct, and ‘Vikala Charitra’, i. e., partial conduct, and that while the first category is meant for the observance by the ascetics, the second category is allowed for the observance by the householders or the common people. That is why in the most celebrated sacred Jaina text “Purusharthasiddhi-upaya”, the householders have been advised to follow in a partial manner the rules of conduct throughout their life-time in the following terms: that is, “the path of Ratna-Traya, the three Jewels, (i.e., of Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct) should be followed, even partially, every moment of time and without cessation by a householder desirous of everlasting liberation.”

It is thus clear that the ‘Sakala Charitra’, i.e., the full conduct, is meant for the ascetics and the ‘Vikala Charitra’, i.e., the partial conduct, for the householders. This kind of division or categorization has been done because the ‘Sakala Charitra’, is possible only for those who have entered the ascetic order and the ‘Vikala Charitra’ can be practiced by the householders until they join the ascetic order at a later time. It means that ‘Vikala Charitra’ is a prelude to ‘Sakala Charitra’. In other words, ‘Vikala Charitra’ involves ‘Ekadesa-virati’, i.e., partial renunciation, and ‘Sakala Charitra’, involves ‘Samasta-virati’, i.e., total or absolute renunciation. Hence in the same sacred text ‘Purusharthasiddhi-upaya’ it is recommended that those who are not prepared to adopt the order of ascetics, should follow for the time being the stage of ‘Ekadesa-virati’, i.e., partial renunciation. It states that:

that is, “He who, in spite of repeated dissertations, is unable to accept the path of absolute renunciation, should, in that event, be lectured upon (and advised to follow) partial renunciation”.

It is, therefore, quite evident that even though the rules of the conduct are the same for all people, they are to be followed stage by stage. Accordingly all vows, including the vow of Ahimsa, have been divide into two categories, viz., ‘Anuvratas’, i.e. small vows, and ‘Mahavratas’, great vows. The householder has to practice the former and ascetics the later. Similar is the case with other observances. Moderation is the key-note of householder’s life and severity of saintly discipline. The important holemark of Jaina ethics is the fact that a graduated curse is prescribed with a view to make it posible for every person to observe all rules of conduct by tolerably easy gradations. Hence it follows that the vow of Ahimsa has to be practiced by the householders as an Anuvrata, i.e. a small vow, to limited extent.

Observance of Ahimsa according to capacity

Further, it is not enjoined upon a person to observe thoroughly all rules of conduct pertaining to a particular stage in life. It j\has been specifically mentioned in the sacred text of ‘Purusharthasiddhi-upaya’ that

that is, “the three-fold path of liberation, consisting of right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct, is to be constantly followed by a person according to his capacity.” It is clear that the emphasis has been laid on the term “Yathasakti”, i.e., according to one’s own capacity.

In a similar strain it has been advocated in the same sacred text that:

that is, “having due regard to one’s own status and capacity, a householder should practice the conduct of saint, as described in the scriptures”. Here the householders have been advised to follow the rules of right conduct after properly taking into account their respective statuses in life and their individual potentialities and capacities to sustain the rigorous discipline inherent in the practice of the right conduct.

Hence it is clear that the Anuvrata, i.e., the small vow of Ahimsa has to be put into actual practice by the householders in keeping with their status and capacity.

Observance of Ahimsa by Householders:

When Ahimsa is to be observed by householders in accordance with their status and capacity while performing their normal functions as members of different occupational or other groups of society, naturally certain limitations arise. As an active member of society it is not possible for a householder to avoid Himsa in all possible ways and to the fullest extent. According to Jainism the renunciation of Himsa can be either complete or partial. In this connection it has been specifically stated in the authoritative Jaina sacred text “Purusharthasiddhi-upaya” as follows:

that is, “Renunciation of nine-fold commission of Himsa,

by self, through agent, and approval, by speech, body and mind, is known as Autsargiki Nivrtti, i.e., Perfect or Complete Renunciation, and the other renunciation is termed as Apavadiki Nivrtti, i.e., Imperfect or Partial Renunciation, which is of various kinds.”

It means that Ahimsa in either Autsargiki Nivrtti, or Apavadiki Nivrtti. The Autsargiki Nivrtti has been defined as complete Ahimsa in nine ways, that is, by self, through another person, or by means of approbation, and in each case through mind, body or speech. That which is not complete is Apavadiki Nivrtti, and its degrees and forms are innumerable, varying from the slightest to that which just falls short of being complete.

For a householder it is not possible to practice complete renunciation of Himsa, and therefore he is recommended to discharge his worldly responsibilities with taking the necessary precaution of causing minimum Himsa or injury to others. For giving more practical guidance in this matter Himsa has been classified, according to the mental attitude of the individual, into four kinds, viz.,

  1. Udyami Himsa, i.e., industrial injury,

  2. Graharambhi Himsa, i.e., domestic injury,

  3. Virodhi Himsa, i.e., defensive or protective injury, and

  4. Samkalpi Himsa, i.e., intentional injury.

Udyami Himsa
Udyami Himsa is the Himsa performed in the exercise of one’s profession or occupation whether of a solider, or an agriculturist, or a trader, or an industrialist.

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

Virodhi Himsa
Virodhi Himsa is that Himsa which is unavoidably committed in the defense of person and property against assailants and enemies.

Samkalpi Himsa
Samkalpi Himsa is that Himsa which is committed intentionally or knowingly, for example, killing men, animals or other lower creatures for food, amusement, decoration, etc.

It is quite significant to note that it is enjoined upon a house holder to abstain from the Samkalpi Himsa, i.e., intentional injury and not from the occupational, domestic and protective Himsa as it is not possible for him to do so, while living in the householder’s stage. However, a householder has been advised to try his best to avoid as far as possible the first three kinds of Himsa as well and a householder has to make a steady progress in such an endeavor.

Thus, a householder’s vow of Ahimsa means abstention from intentional hurting or injury, i. e, Samkalpi Himsa and it can easily be put into practice.

Observance of Ahimsa by Ascetics:

The position of the Ascetics is different from that of the House holders. 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 do avoid all the four kinds of Himsa, viz., Udyami Himsa. Graharambhi Himsa, Virodhi-Himsa and Samkalpi Himsa, since they arc not at all concerned with the activities which are carried out by the householders. At the same time the ascetics try to observe Ahimsa in a nine-fold way as laid down by Jaina scriptures, i.e., they avoid committing Himsa-by self, through agent and approval, and by speech, mind and body.

This complete renunciation of Himsa in as many as nine ways is quite difficult to put into practice and that too without any fault whatsoever. That is why a doubt is sometimes raised as to how is it possible for an ascetic to carry out his daily activities without causing Himsa in an atmosphere surcharged with different kinds of sentient beings? But this doubt can be cleared by the use of utmost caution and care by the ascetics in their various kinds of behavior appropriate to their ascetic way of life. In this connection, in a standard Jaina authoritative work, Bhagavati Aradhana, pertaining to the rules of behavior for the ascetics, a question is put in the following manner:

that is, “In this world full of sentient beings, how an ascetic should walk, should stand, should sit, should sleep, should take meals, should speak and should be free from sin ?” Even though the question posed a problem, it has been convincingly answered in the same work in the following way :

that is, “The ascetic should walk with care and vigilance, should stand with care and caution, should sit after slowly cleansing the seat, should sleep after carefully cleansing the bed, should take meals cautiously, and should speak carefully by regulating the use of language and by this way there will be no bondage of sin.”

In this way, according to the Jaina scriptures, an ascetic can practice Ahimsa to the maximum extent possible.

Thus, it is quite obvious that the vow of Ahimsa can be conveniently put into actual practice both by the householders and the ascetics and that too in full conformity with the various injunctions laid down by the Jaina scriptures. The fear of impracticability of Ahimsa way of behavior is, in fact, really unfounded because this way has been very meticulously and successfully followed not only by those who are in the ascetic stage of life but also by a large number of persons in the householder’s stage of life. Both the ascetic and the lay followers of Jaina religion have proved beyond doubt that the vow of Ahimsa is quite compatible with their respective fields of activities and that the Ahimsa can very well be a definite mode of life which does not come in the way of even achieving excellence in the different walks of life. This can be easily seen from the examples of Jaina householders from ancient times to the present day. The Jaina householders have been very famous for so many centuries as successful traders, businessmen, indigenous bankers, jewelers, and industrialists. Again, in the field of agriculture also, they have earned the name as clever and industrious cultivators and the covetable honor of being the first ‘Krishipandita’ in Independent India has gone to a Jaina farmer from Kolhapur Region in Maharashtra State. Even in the political and military history of India we find many eminent Jaina personalities who showed by their example that they could attain highest ranks in these fields while leading lives of pious householders. There had been remarkable Jaina monarchs like Emperor Chandra Gupta Maurya of Magadha, King Kharvel of Kalinga, Maharaja Kumarpal of Gujarat and Raja Amogha Varsha of Karnatak and illustrious Chief Ministers like Bhamasha of Mewar Vastupala and Tejapala in Gujarath, etc., during the ancient and medieval history of India.

In this regard the best example could be given of three great Military Generals and Ministers of Karnatak, viz.,

  1. Chamunda-Raya of Ganga King Rajamalla 4th (974-984 A.D.),

  2. Ganga-Raja of Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana (1108-1142 A.D.), and

  3. Hulla-Raja of Hoysala monarch Narsimha I (1142-1173 A.D.).

As these three Generals and Ministers were mainly responsible for the promotion of Jaina religion, they have been described as the triumvirate of pre-eminent promoters of Jaina faith. Among these three benefactors of Jaina religion, however, the contributions of pious Jaina General Chamunda-Raya are by far of the most outstanding, inspiring and lasting nature. Chamunda-Raya won many battles and received many titles, such as, “Samara-Dhurandhara”, i.e., the leader in battle; “Vira-Martanda”, i.e., the Sun among the brave; “Ranaraja-Simha”, i.e., a Great Lion in Battles; and “Vairikula-kaladanda”, i.e., Scepter of death for the host of enemies. Chamunda-Raya has been known as a devout Jaina, a faithful Minister, a brilliant General, a profound Scholar in Jainism and a great patron of Jainism. That is why the famous historian of Karnataka, Dr. B. A. Saletore refers to the prominent position of Chamunda-Raya in following terms: “The first name in constellation of brilliant Jaina Generals we meet with is that of Chamunda-Raya, popularly known as Raya. A braver soldier, a more devout Jaina, and a more honest man than Chamunda-Raya Karnataka had never seen”.