Ahimsā in our Annals

Ahimsā paramo dharma– Sculpture from Jain temple
Image source: Wikipedia

Ahimsā, the first anuvrat for the Shrāvaks and the first pillar of Jain philosophy is a virtue in other religions as well. In Jainism, one should not hurt any living being through thoughts, words or actions. Acharya Umāsvati states himsā as Pramattyogātprānvyaparopanam Himsā which Acharya Amritchandra elaborates as those actions of mind (bhāv prāna), body, speech (dravya prāna) which are done with Kasāya or passions are all himsā. Hence, the actions of human beings should be nonviolent. Jainism postulates that Karmas get attached to the soul through actions and the destruction of Karmas results in the liberation of the soul.

The very first recording of the actions of Ahimsā is found in the rock edicts and pillar edicts of King Asoka (3rd century BCE), so far the oldest inscriptions of India, in Brahmi script, written in Prakrit language. Per Amulyachandra Sen, Asoka clearly mentions the non-killing of animals in his very first rock edict and where he promises to stop the usage of deer and peacocks in his kitchen. He also elaborates on building hospitals for humans and animals, digging wells, planting trees, and building rest houses for men and animals. Respect for elders and sages and towards Brahamans, Sramans and Nirgranths (Jains) and towards showing tolerance for various religions and sects including Ajivikās. Asoka insists on the non-killing of fish on tithis of ātham -pākhiya, chaturdasi and purnimā of the various chāturmas and emphasizes encouraging people to follow Dharma through persuasion.

King Asoka wrote in his twenty-sixth year of being crowned, in the pillar edicts, that he acted on his principles so he could lead others, and he wrote Dharma instructions  for all. He says that the principle of Dharma is doing good to all and tolerating all, as everyone wants to achieve heaven. Since Ahimsā is a virtue that even King Asoka adopted and is prescribed by various religions, a peek into Asoka’s concept of Dharma will provide an interesting read from the perspective of Amulyachandra Sen. As observed, some aspects of Asoka’s pillar edicts resemble Jain traditions. Sen also comments that Asoka’s concept of Non-Violence was influenced by Jainism as well.

Practising Ahimsā in all our actions thus, becomes critical for the upliftment of daily lives as well as our souls and as Asoka says, reduces sins and encourages good deeds. To understand what Ahimsā or non-violence is, it is necessary to understand what is violence. Without the correct understanding of violence, it is not possible to become nonviolent

Largely, Jain followers concentrate on restricting underground roots and meat consumption to practice Ahimsā as food is a big part of our daily activities. However, besides eating, we are involved in many other actions. By contemplating, concentrating and bringing awareness to other actions of daily life we can make our actions nonviolent.

The article on Jain rituals highlights some of the areas where a practising Jain can analyze the actions through the lens of Ahimsā. A better understanding and awareness of the minute activities we undertake will expand to a focussed awareness in other areas too.

To understand how to practice Ahimsā in daily life, there is no recent personality greater than Mahātma Gandhi, who describes the Application of Non-violence, in his own words. The birthday of Mahātma Gandhi on October 2nd has been adopted as the International Day of Non-Violence by the United Nations in 2007.

Mahātma Gandhi, who was the ambassador of Ahimsā and Non-Violence at an individual, state, national and international level was very highly influenced by Shrimad Rājchandra’s teachings of Jainism. He only had nuts, fruits and milk in his meals.

Non-Violence can be also looked at from the angle of sustainability as Dharaa shares. As a young practitioner of Jainism, taking care of the planet and all living things is the core principle of Non-Violence as well as sustainability as she sees it. Reduction in consumption, wastage and use of environment-friendly products are avenues to practice Ahimsā in daily lives.

It’s not just outward actions that can be violent. As Jain philosophy clearly states, all actions originate in the mind and hence we say mana, vachan and kāyā, the prescribed order and doors through which Karmas are bonded to the jiva or the soul. The article Ahimsā in Action highlights Ahimsā as one of the yamas, as indicated in Patanjali’s sutra. Ahimsā is one of the first disciplines learned by the student of Yoga and is required to be mastered in the preparatory stage (yama), the first of the eight stages that lead to perfect concentration. The act of violence one does towards oneself through one’s thoughts is an important message in it. The impact of such negative thoughts which arise in the mind, impacts the whole body. As even with the medications, a negative thought or outlook can negate the influence of medications and supplements. Hence, being critical, tense, and stressed is harmful to the mind, which in turn impacts the health of our body. Clearly, practising Ahimsā towards our mind and body is crucial as well.

Cyberbullying and bullying at school and offices are other areas where himsā occurs in the modern world. This act of violence can be subsided as indicated in the article Actions against Bullying and Violence which highlights what can be done to stop such himsā. Nishit also shares more examples for practising Ahimsā in daily life.

Thus, the application of Ahimsā is possible not only towards plants, animals, and human beings but also towards one’s own self. With the inclusion of all sects and people as well as yoga and meditation, we have important tools in our hands to practice Ahimsā in our daily lives. Ahimsā was firmly believed and practised as inscribed by the Great Asoka in his edicts which he made applicable to all sects of humanity and religion. We hope our readers find great inspiration to practice Ahimsā in their daily lives from various first-person illustrations for applying Ahimsā in Action.

Dhruti Ghiya Rathi