What is Jainism viewpoint on Abortion?


Human life is considered sacred amongst all other life forms in this world. Any form of violence against a potential human life is seen with very critical and sensitive views. Thus, abortion has been for most part a tabooed topic in our society, with opinions and/or beliefs of people on this topic standing on extreme ends of the spectrum.

Many sects of world religions (e.g., Islam, Christianity) have strong position on abortion. The directives from these religions state that abortion is considered a great sin and an abandon act against humanity in general. Except, in a situation where pregnant mother’s life is in danger due to any medical condition, most religions seem to have tolerance when it comes to practical implementation in specific situations.

Individuals are affected profoundly with the situations and circumstances (of any kind) that lead them to think about abortion, not just emotionally but often spiritually as well. Thus, many individuals turn to their faith/religion seeking guidance on these excruciating life situations, seeking advice on right vs. wrong, to find explanations that solace their discomfort, hurt and feelings of guilt.

Jain Approach:

In this blog we will explore what is Jainism viewpoint on Abortion. What guidance Jinas and Tirthankar Mahavira’s teachings can provide to Jain laypeople of today’s time.

Fundamentally, Jain doctrine is not a prescriptive religion with laid out commandments and laws directed for the followers with requisite that all followers must adhere to them.

Jain Philosophy shares the essential teachings of JINAs (Divine Liberated Souls) with its followers, in the form of ‘The guiding principles and values’ (blog post), providing the followers guidance and inspiration to live a compassionate and spiritual life.

Jain way of life is explained through the practicing of these FIVE vows Ahimsa (Non-violence), Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness), Satya (Truthfulness), Achaurya (Non-stealing) and Brahmacharya (celibacy) in two different ways:

  1. Mahavrats (big vows) – guiding principles for Sadhujis and Sadhvijis (Monks and Nuns).
  2. Anuvrats (mini vows) – guiding principles for Shravaks and Shravikas (Jain laypeople).

Jain monks and nuns pledge to lead their life as per Mahavrats and follow core principle of Ahimsa.

The core principle of ahimsa is explained as,

‘All breathing, existing, living sentient creatures should not be slain, not treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away.’

Tirthankar Mahavir- Acharanga Sutra

According to Jain doctrine, a living being in any form, possessing any number of senses, is considered precious and worthy of love, compassion, and respect. The salient feature of Mahavir Swami’s sermons has been its emphasis on practicing non-violence or minimize the violence to the maximum potential extent to avoid any suffering to any living being.

However, following absolute ahimsa (non-violence) or absolute Brahmacharya (Celibacy) and total non-possession is not possible in the day-today societal life of Jain laypeople (Shravaks/Shravikas).

Thus, Tirthankar Mahavir Swami sermonized the principle of ‘Path of Minimum Violence’ to Jain followers (laypeople). Application of this principle is both universal and timeless as it can be implemented in every situation we live through in today’s time as well.

Guidelines for practicing minimum violence:

Societal life of Jain laypeople cannot follow absolute non-violence. For our existence we need food, clothing, and shelter, which result in some form of violence against one sense living beings.

The principle states that for our survival, we should understand the guidelines of practicing minimum violence and follow them.

Jain doctrine says, a living being possessing more senses equate to higher development of its faculty of knowledge.

Therefor any form of violence against even one five sense living being is considered worse than hurting many four sense living beings or three senses living beings and so on.

(Note – Please refer to this blog post to read in detail about the equation of Ahimsa and living beings with one to five senses.)

Let us explore and analyse what is ‘Path of Minimum Violence’ regarding the topic at hand here:

Right Conduct:

Living life with Anuvrats – the most important reason for choosing to live life with Anuvrat or mini vows is that we become aware of knowing the difference between not doing something vs. consciously taking a pledge to self that I will try my best to never do it!

Ahimsa Anuvrat (mini vow of Non-violence):

સ્થૂલ પ્રાણાતિપાત વિરમણ વ્રત:

 નિષ્કારણ, નિરપરાધી,ત્રસજીવો

ની સંકલ્પપૂર્વકની હિંસાનો ત્યાગ

Sthul pranaatipat viramaan vrat: – (Anuvrat or mini vow of Non-violence for Jain laypeople)

Nishkaran (without valid reason) Niraparadhi (not guilty)

Trasjeevani (2-5 sensed beings) Sankalp-Poorvani (premeditated / planned) Himsa (violence) Tyaag (avoid / give up)

At the core, it means, first laypeople should avoid / give-up premeditated / planned violence without any valid reason, towards movable (two to five sense) living beings.

It is a vow to never intentionally harm any living being by one’s thoughts, words, or actions, with the exception of unavoidable violence towards one-sense beings to support our worldly existence. Of course, here too, himsa or injury should be limited to the minimum possible extent.

By taking this Anuvrat (mini vow), one would declare to not carry out the act of Abortion (Himsa against five senses being), on oneself or perform on others, for the reasons of convenience or to avoid unfavourable, uncomfortable, challenging (not life threatening) situations.

Violation of Ahimsa Anuvrat: If a pregnant woman or a couple together decides to abort the pregnancy because it is not the right time in their life, it may impact their lifestyle, career, or cause unwanted inconvenience that they are not yet ready to commit etc., such reasons are not considered Self-defence or Self-Protection related reasons and so choosing to abort will be in direct violation of the Ahimsa Anuvrat.

Exception: Any act of violence for self-protection or self-defence is not considered a violation of the Ahimsa Anuvrat. In case of aborting a pregnancy in a situation where a pregnant woman is facing grave medical conditions which puts her life in danger is considered an exception and one must apply their own wisdom in such situations and make a right choice.

For such situations, understanding the guidelines of practicing minimum violence helps in deciding. As we saw earlier, the degree of violence inflicted on any living being is proportional to the number of senses a living being possesses and development of its faculty of knowledge. In this case, the mother’s faculty of knowledge is more developed than of the fetus.

For further reference, Muni Shree Nyayvijaji (the undisputed scholar of Jain Logic) explains how to practice minimum violence in his book Jain Darshan. Here are the links to his article on “The Principle of Minimum Violence for Human’s Survival” in Hindi, English and Gujarati.

Brahmacharya Anuvrat (mini vow of Celibacy):

Humans are by nature clement in their sexual desires. In this mini vow of Brahmacharya (Celibacy) ‘Svadhara santosh vrat’, one decides that sensual activities should only take place within a marriage. Married couples choose to remain faithful with their married partner.

In the context of this topic, the basic intent of this vow is to control sensorial pleasures, control excessive sexual passions and practice. Jain laypeople can choose to practice this vow in differing degrees; ranging from chastity outside marriage to moderate sexual activity needed to produce children.

By taking this vow, individuals as well as married couples can avoid many scenarios of unwanted, unplanned pregnancy and thus can avoid the situations leading to consideration of abortion.

Family Planning and Contraception:

While following the mini vow of celibacy (Brahmacharya Anuvrat) is the first and foremost path to avoid excessive passion, married householders may naturally engage in just passionate activities for sensual pleasures with no reproductive goal.

In such situations, there are ways married couples can choose to be educated and be proactive to practice a path of minimum violence for the given situation.

Today, there are various safe options available for effective family planning that helps married couples avoid undesired outcomes of their sensual relations. Gathering right information about family planning options e.g., safe use of contraception avoids unwanted pregnancy leading to potential act of abortion.

As per the ‘path of minimum violence’ principle, safe and effective family planning through use of contraceptives is considered the right choice.

Primarily for two reasons:

One, to support women’s rights for equanimity and their freedom of choice for their body and

Second, to provide safe and effective family planning that avoids abortion situations, which is a much greater form of violence.

In Conclusion – Apply Your Own Wisdom:

‘Whatever I say, you must test this with your own reasoning and verify it through your own experience. Do not accept what I say blindly by faith alone until it passes the litmus test of intellection. Otherwise, it will never be yours.

If you accept what I teach on the basis of the sacred texts, or from my convincing reasoning, or even because of my radiant personality, but not by testing with your own reasoning, then in the end this will create only darkness (ignorance) in you and not light.’

Tirthankar Mahavir

Ref Book – Harmony-Of-All-Religions by

Maharshi Santsevi Maharaj (Page 100)

Tirthankar Mahavir Swami was not the founder of a new faith. While Mahavir Swami followed the well-established creed of Jain religion, he recognized the philosophical tenets of Jainism should correspond to his times. Thus, he became a reformer and propagator of an existing religious doctrine.

Above in the article, we discussed some of many ways an individual and/or married householder can practice ‘Minimum-Violence’ to avoid situations proactively and effectively to unwanted pregnancy and abortion. Except for saving a pregnant woman’s life if pregnancy itself poses grave danger to her.

However, reality is also that an individual or families may face various possible scenarios of unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, or even though rare, forced upon situations with pregnancy. Just to sight few examples such as, teenage pregnancy, a case of physical sexual assault (minor girl or a woman), single mother facing poverty with no support, a recent widow, or rare cases where family planning methods failed etc.

In such challenging situations / scenarios you may not find a clear yes or no, black, or white answer from the religious philosophy that sets well with your logic, your reasoning and your wisdom. When faced with any such circumstances, one should remember the sermon (Deshna) of Tirthankar Mahavir Swami. With the right understanding of the guiding principles of Jainism, apply your own wisdom and strive to follow the path of minimum violence that is applicable in given situations.

Acknowledgement: https://jainism-says.blogspot.com/2021/04/jainism-viewpoint-on-abortion.html

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Kanan Patrawalla
Kanan Patrawalla
1 year ago

Khub khub Anumodana. 🙏