The Concept of `Himsa’


Jain Philosophy
by Acharya Mahapragya


Among the-twelve vratas or vows prescribed for continuous observance in daily life by Jaina religion, the first five vratas or vows are regarded as the main vratas or vows and even among these main vratas or vows the first and the prominent position has been assigned to the vrata or vow of Ahimsa. Since this Ahimsa-vrata is based on the fundamental principle of avoidance of or abstention from Himsa, i.e., injury to sentient beings, it is quite necessary to understand the concept of Himsa as delineated by Jainism.

Himsa : `Sthula’ and `Sukshma’

In Jaina scriptures a distinction has been made between `Sthula Himsa’ and `Sukshma Himsa’. The `Sthula Himsa’ entails the destruction of the higher forms of life from dvindriyas, i.e., two-sensed beings upwards and it is forbidden to all Jainas. On the other hand, the `Sukshma Himsa’ means taking of life in any form including even the killing of ekendriyas, i.e., one sensed beings and it is obligatory for the Jaina ascetics to abstain from this kind of Himsa. The lay Jaina is also enjoined to avoid as far as possible the killing of ekendriyas, i.e., one-sensed beings and the useless destruction of Sthavara-Jivas, i.e., immobile souls.

Himsa : `Dravya’ and `Bhava’

It has been stated that Himsa does not depend on acts alone: the vrata or vow will be broken merely by the absence of compassion shown when a man allows himself to be carried away by anger. Hence a distinction has been made between Dravya Himsa, i.e., the actual hurt or injury and Bhava Himsa, i.e., the intention to hurt or injury to the Prana meaning vitality.

Himsa : `Bahya’ and `Antargata’

In Jaina scriptures Himsa is also classified on the basis of `Bahya’ i.e. external aspects and `Antargata’, i.e., internal aspects. Obviously the `Bahya Himsa’ relates to the external or actual acts of killing or injury and ‘Antargata Himsa’ relates to the internal or intentional side of committing of injury.

Himsa : `Vyavahara’ Point of view

The concept of Himsa has been discussed in detail in the Jaina scriptures both from the `Vyavahara Naya’, i.e., the practical point of view and from the `Nischaya Naya’, i.e., the real point of view.

From the practical point of view the `Tattvartha-sutra’ the classic Jaina text, has defined Himsa as follows, that is, Himsa or injury is the hurting of the vitalities by passional vibrations. It means that Himsa or injury is to hurt the Pranas, i.e., the vitalities, through Pramattayoga, i.e., vibration due to the passions which agitate mind, body or speech.

On the same lines, another classic Jaina Text, viz., `Purushartha siddhi-upaya’ asserts that passion is the moving cause which leads to Himsa and gives the meaning of Himsa in following terms : that is, any injury whatsoever to the material or conscious vitalities caused through passionate activity of mind, body or speech is assuredly (definitely) Himsa.

Himsa : `Nischaya’ Point of view

From the Nischaya, i. e., real point of view the act of injury, i.e., Himsa, is related to the internal aspects or to the intentional side of injury and it is stated that Himsa is caused even when passions to hurt others arise in the mind. That is why, the essence of Himsa and Ahimsa, according to the Jaina scriptures, has been clearly put forward in the authoritative text of `Purushartha-siddhi-upaya’ in the following terms, that is, “Assuredly, the non-appearance of attachment and other passions is Ahimsa, and their appearance is Himsa. This is the summary of the Jaina scripture”.

Classification of Himsa :

Himsa has been classified into 2 categories as,

  1. Arambhaja or Arambhi Himsa, i. e., Occupational Injury and

  2. Anarambhaja or Anarambhi or Samkalpi Himsa, i.e., Non-occupational or Intentional Injury.

In this connection Acharya Amitagati, the famous Jaina saint and author, in this authoritative treatise entitled “Sravakachara” has given the two major kinds of Himsa and their application in actual practice by the people in following terms, that is, “Himsa has, by the learned, been said to be of two kinds, Arambhaja, arising from occupations, and Anarambhaja, not due to any occupation. He who has renounced the life of householder, certainly avoids both kinds of Himsa. One with mild passion, while living the life of a householder, cannot of course avoid Arambhaja Himsa when performing various occupations.”

It means that the Himsa or injury involved in the actual execution or conduct of occupations is known as the Arambhi Himsa and that the Himsa not inherent or unrelated to occupations but committed with the objective of fulfilling certain desires is termed as Anarambhi or Samkalpi Himsa, i.e., intentional injury. Hunting, offering animal sacrifices, killing for food, amusement or decoration are illustrations of Anaramlbhi or Samkalpi Himsa and it can be avoided by every thinking person without any difficulty or harm to himself.

Again, the Arambhi Himsa is further sub-divided into the three types, viz.

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

  2. Grharambhi Himsa, i.e., domestic injury, and

  3. Virodhi Himsa, i.e., defensive injury.

Udyami Himsa

Udyami Himsa is injury which is unavoidably committed in the exercise of one’s profession. According to Jaina writers permissible professions, in general, are-

  1. Asi, i.e., the profession of a soldier,

  2. Masi, i.e., the profession of a writer,

  3. Krshi, i.e., the profession of an agriculturist,

  4. Vanijya, i.e., the profession of a trader,

  5. Silpa, i.e., the profession of an artisan, and

  6. Vidya, i.e., the profession of an intellectual.

Grharambhi Himsa

Grharambhi Himsa is the kind of injury which is invariably committed in the performance of necessary domestic acts, such as preparation of food, keeping the house, body, clothes and other things clean, construction of buildings, wells, gardens, and other structures, keeping cattle, etc.

Virodhi Himsa

Virodhi Himsa is the kind of injury which is necessarily committed in defense of person and property, against thieves, robbers, dacoits, assailants and enemies, in meeting their aggression, and in causing the least possible injury, necessary in the circumstances, in which one may find oneself.

Thus, in general, Himsa is divided into four kinds, viz.,

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

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

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

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

In this regard it has been ordained by Jaina religion that one, who has renounced all household connection and has adopted the discipline of a saint, should avoid all the four kinds of Himsa.

At the same time it has also been laid down that one, who is still in the householder’s stage, should abstain from Samkalpi Himsa, i.e., intentional injury, and should try one’s best to avoid three kinds of Arambhi Himsa, i.e., occupational injury, as far as it is possible, since it is quite unable for a householder to abstain completely from Arambhi Himsa.

Denunciation of Himsa.

Taking into account the bad and reprehensible nature of Himsa, the Jaina sacred texts have condemned the observance of Himsa in strongest possible terms.

In the `Acharanga Sutra’ it has been specifically mentioned that as Himsa is a great impediment in spiritual awakening, a person who indulges in doing injury to living beings will not get enlightenment and it has been asserted that which means “that (i.e., injury to living beings) is always harmful and injurious to himself (i.e. the wrongdoer), it is the main cause of his non-enlightenment. Similarly, in the “Sutrakrtanga Sutra” all injurious activities have been categorically denounced as follows that is, “knowing that all the evils and sorrows arise from injury to living beings, and (knowing further) that it leads to unending enmity and hatred, and is the (root) cause of great fear, a wise man, who has become awakened, should refrain from all sinful activities”.

On the same lines, in the “Uttaradhyayana Sutra” any kind of injury to living beings is censured in the following terms that is “seeing that everything that happens to somebody concerns (i.e. affects) him personally, one should be friendly towards (all) beings; being completely free from fear and hatred, one should never injure any living beings”. In a similar strain, in the “Dasavaikalika Sutra” practice of Himsa is prohibited on the following ground that — that is, “All living creatures (that are in this world) desire to live. Nobody wishes to die. And hence it is that the Jaina monks avoid the terrible (sin of) injury to living beings”.

Similarly, the most reprehensible nature of Himsa has been emphatically brought out in the `Jnanamava’ in the following words that is, “Himsa alone is a gateway to the miserable state, it is also the ocean of sin, it is itself terrible hell and it is surely the most dense darkness.” In the same sacred text “Jnanamava” the futility of Himsa has been very vividly brought out as follows

that is, “If a person is accustomed to commit injury, then his (all virtues like) selflessness, greatness, difficult penance, bodily suffering and liberality or munificence are worthless.”