Current Issues in Practicing Jainism

March, 2022 by Dasputra

Jainism view on Wars, Fighting for Injustice, Oppression, Freedom…

What is Jain view on wars – political, economic, religious, or ethnic? How about fighting for injustice, oppression, and freedom?

These are important question that we will address from various perspectives. We will look at it from Jain values/principles, scriptures, examples from history and logical reasoning so that we can use our own wisdom in any given situation and keep our spirituality intact and progressing. We are addressing this question from lay-people (shravak and shravikas) perspective.

We will talk about this in two parts. First Jainism views on spirituality to prevent situations like war, injustice, oppression, or slavery and then what can we do if we are in any of such situations.

Jain perspective on spirituality and war:

There are many references in Jain scriptures that all underpins the importance of living a spiritual, compassionate, and peaceful life.

Jainism advocates and provides guidance on removing societal conditions that preludes the war, mainly reduce inequality and insecurity, overcoming our inner weaknesses and structuring our life based on spiritual awareness.

Ahimsa is at the core of Jainism. Ahimsa means to not hurt any living beings, through our thoughts, words, or actions. It means to respect all living beings and have compassion towards all living beings, no exceptions. Let’s consider what has been written in our scriptures.

In Sutrakritang, it is clearly mentioned that there is nothing higher than the sense of security, it says one should not fear from others and one should not cause fear to

others. Accumulation of arms and weapons are considered a means of security yet these, instead of giving security, generate fear and a sense of insecurity in the party that doesn’t

have them. These insecurities start a race for accumulation of superior weapon and eventually a war.

Lord Mahavira in Acharanga sutra proclaimed “Atthi sattham parenaparam, Natthi asattham parenaparam” i.e. There are weapons superior to each other, but nothing is superior to disarmament or non-violence. It is the selfish and aggressive outlook of an individual or a society that gives birth to war and violence.

Tattvartha sutra written by Acharya Umaswati stated that cooperation is the essential nature of human beings, and the function of the soul is to help one another.

Uttaradhyayana Sutra underpins the importance of war with oneself to get rid of insecurities that runs as precursor for war and conflicts.

What can we do if we are in any undesirable situations like war, injustice, oppression, or slavery?

Ideally, we don’t want war, injustice, oppression, or slavery. But what if we are in middle of any such situation? What is our responsibility and what are acceptable actions for lay people?

For lay people it is very important to understand the Jain principles and scriptures such that we maintain our spirituality, yet we don’t miss out on fulfilling any of our responsibilities.

Agams contains the vows (vrat) for layman – Shravak/Shravika and for monks -Sadhu/Sadhvi’s, and they are different for both. Mahavrats are vows for Sadhu/Sadhvi and it includes complete non-violence.

Ahimsa vows for Shravak and Shravika is called Anuvrats. Here’s the verse from yoga sastra that explains the ahimsa vow for laypeople:

Sthuul pranaatipat viramaan vrat

Nishkaran (without valid reason) 
Niraparadhi (not guilty)
Trasjeevai (2-5 sensed beings)
Sankalp-Poorvani (premeditated/planned)
Himsa (violence)
Tyaag (avoid/give up)

At the core, it means laypeople should avoid/give-up premeditated/planned violence towards 2-5 sensed living beings, which are not guilty, and there is no valid reason.

So, for lay people, minimum violence for protection is acceptable. It is our responsibility as lay people to protect our self, family, religion, state and country and if needed we should use force or violence. None of our values/principles are meant to make us weak or prevent us from fulfilling our responsibilities. We must take the required action for protection but without any kashayas (anger, ego, greed, deceit) internally.

In history, we have many examples, such as famous Acharya Shri Kalakacharya for the protection Sadhviji, King Bhamasha, Vastupal and Tejpal fought for protection of self and others. Contemporary times are very different from 2500 years ago, however, the application of Jain values/principles remains the same.

Little more recent example is of Gandhiji fighting for injustice, oppression, and freedom.  During the British rule over India, British had a law that forbid Indians to mine their own salt.  On top of that, the British imposed a tax on salt which was coming from India’s own land.  Gandhiji felt this was wrong. But he did not go off in the middle of the night to break the law. His intention was not to cheat the law. Rather, he told the British that he was doing a salt march and will be mining the salt and he is willing to be arrested. He was protesting for the sake of the cause, not protesting for any other reason.

Let’s look at a more practical example.  If an intruder enters our house and we harm that individual in self-defense, then that is acceptable. But violence out of aggression or revenge is not acceptable.  If the intruder leaves and we yet go after him for the purpose of harming him instead turning him to the authority, then that is not acceptable.

Bottom line

Ideally, we don’t want war, oppression, or any kind of injustice. And at an individual level, we should raise our spirituality such that we don’t introduce or escalate situations that starts the injustice or wars. However, if we are in any situation that requires us to protect self, family, religion, country then we must act but without aggression or any kashayas within.

We must follow the law of the land we reside in; we can protest the law but cannot violate the law.  We must be very mindful and honest in deciding if a war/fight is for a valid cause and not with an intention to hurt 2-5 sense living beings, personal gains or to gain more power over others.

This article is edited from the Jainism blog published by JAINA Education Committee. To read on other topics, please visit https://jainism-says.blogspot.com

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