Mahavira’s Conflict Resolution Theory

February, 2024 by Dr. Alka Jain
Conflict is a process of social interaction. In this process, there is always a possibility of a difference of interests or a struggle between two parties. This struggle can be due to a race in claims to resources, in the showoff of power and status, or difference in preferences and desires. Conflict can also be seen as the negative dimension of a relationship. This relationship can be between two individuals, two (or more) organizations, or two (or more) departments of an organization. Conflict is an interactive process that starts due to incompatibility or disagreement. Conflict is an inevitable part of society and social interactions. According to a Hindi saying, wherever there are two utensils (pots), they will clash (hit each other and crack). So, we come to know that for a conflict to arise two parties are requisite, but the hits may be harmful to either of them. If the conflicts are resolved on time and properly managed only then order prevails in society.

According to Terri A Scandura (2016), conflict may originate due to differences in personalities, feelings of being hurt, or the degree of sensitivity in two or more persons and the difference in perception towards the same object or phenomena, she also finds competition for scarce resources and supremacy and misunderstanding/ unfulfilled expectations as the reasons behind any conflict. There are four organizations or sub-organizations in the chaturvidha system of the Jain community. If the whole Jain community is to be taken as one organization, then the four divisions of the community – sādhu, sādhvī, ṣrāvaka and ṣrāvikā sangha are the four departments of the organization. Hence there could have been conflicts between sadhu and sadhu, sadhu and shravaka, between sadhu sangha and shravaka sangha etc.

The reason for any conflict is the difference in perception toward tasks, values, and goals. In Mahavira’s era, the goal was the same for all the followers of Jina – the liberation Moksha. The goal is Moksha for everyone-true- but lack of compatibility in values could be seen in various practitioners. In the modern days, this can be understood as psychological conflict. Values were also same as prescribed by Lord Mahavira but the capacity to apply these values in real life was different among the practitioners. The task was the code of conduct for a sadhu /sadhvi and for a shravaka /shravika as prescribed by Lord Mahavira.

Trio of Tasks, Values and Goals in Jain Philosophy

Disagreement on code of conduct can be seen in the example of Evanta Muni. The incompatibility in goals visualization and the paths to goal achievement can be seen in the ninety-nine ninhavas, one of them was Marichi- a future Tirthankara. Hence, we see that goal clarity is very important for anon conflict environment.

Mahavira believed that the outcome of a conflict is anger, frustration, and other negative feelings and hence the conflict situations should be controlled by the head of the organization. We saw it in the case of Megha Muni who came across intrapersonal conflict, that is conflict within oneself. When he was disturbed by the co-fellows touching him/his bed in the dark while moving in the night. He thought of giving up the newly adopted discipline of a sadhu and going back to his palace where he used to stay as a prince. Lord Mahavira resolved this internal conflict by making him realize that in his previous birth he was an elephant who preferred to give up his own life rather than torturing a small rabbit who was seeking refuge under his feet at the time of forest fire. This sets Megha Muni back to the samyak path of suadh-Achara.

Another case of conflict is found in the story of Evanta Muni, Evanta was a kid or a Bal Muni, who started playing with his wooden utensil (Patra) in the river pretending that utensil to be a boat and sang a song ‘Naav tiri meri naav tiri’ meaning” Oh! My boat is crossing the river.” This was not as per the discipline norms of a sadhu because they are not allowed to touch the live water and this Evanta was playing with it. All the co-fellows went to Lord Mahavira to complain, who resolved their conflict by telling them that Evanta was a pure soul from the inside who would attain moksha in that very birth. To resolve these interpersonal skills Lord Mahavira used his transformational leadership style that satisfied the doubts of all the shramanas. There are many more cases available in Jain scriptures that give us the theories of conflict resolution. The readers are advised to go through more cases and analyze Mahavira’s conflict resolution styles and theories.

Mahavira’s Techniques of Conflict Resolution:

  • Applying the golden rule: The Golden Rule is the key principle of conflict resolution in the modern world that asks us to treat others as we want ourselves to be treated. Acharang Sutra, which is an ancient book (2/3/4) the sutra “सव्वेपाणा पपयाउआ ….सव्वेससिं जिपवयिं पपया” meaning “Think of all creatures like yourself.” talks about the modern golden rule , almost 2500 years ago. This is the basis of social awareness and self-liberation. All the creatures love their lives, all like happiness, and dislike unhappiness. No one likes to be slaughtered, so no creature should be treated with violence. This idea, if applied at macro level in the world, is sure to remove all the conflicts from modern social systems.
  • Harmony: Parasparo PagrahoJivanam is the slogan of Jain community that establishes the theory of coordination between all the living beings of the world that none can exist in the absence of cooperation from the other. Such an approach will lead to harmony in the material world. Harmony is a great remedy to keep conflicts away. Whether this conflict is for capturing resources first, being the first in any competition. Without harmony, none of the competitors would benefit and both/all may get stuck in a resultless conflict. Hence, Mahavira highlighted the idea of dependence on one soul on the other. The same idea is echoed in the concept of the lifecycle of biological beings.
  • Accepting the different viewpoints: Jain philosophy believes in non-absolutism and gives us the theory of Anekanta for conflict resolution. According to Shugan Chand Jain, “Differences in opinions/viewpoints amongst different people emanate from their intellectual capabilities. These affect social harmony more than economic or social inequalities. Professor Sagarmal Jain discusses many facets of the complex reality which may be seen differently from different angles and thus various judgments may be made about it. According to K. C. Sogani, “along with human and economic inequality, differences in outlook create a situation of conflict”. He opines that Lord Mahavira could foresee the waste of social energy in the continuous rising of conflicts between man to man. All the modern scholars together accept Anekanta as a technique of conflict resolution.
  • Tolerance: Tolerance is the key to staying and developing even in adverse situations and with opposite people or groups. These opposite elements will be found everywhere in the world. Without the virtue of tolerance, it will be impossible to maintain order in society. Hence, tolerance is the key to social harmony and balance. Mahavira made tolerance the prime virtue for his followers. He displayed this tolerance through his own conduct. Afflictions imposed upon him in the Anarya kshetra (Laad desha) are explained in the last chapter of Acharang Sutra. This is an eloquent testimony of his belief in tolerance as a successful conflict management tool.
  • Broadmindedness: The concept of broadmindedness is very important to keep conflicts away. The families where parents are orthodox by nature, there are always conflicts between the new and old generations. But Lord Mahavira’s broadmindedness can be visualized in the story of the child monk Evanta Muni who is condemned by his fellows for playing with his accessories in the non- prasuk water. Lord Mahavira asked his fellows not to criticize his action as he was ekabhavavatari soul. This shows the flexibility and broadmindedness of the organization’s head- Lord Mahavira.
  • Counseling: Lord Mahavira himself counseled the young prince Megha Kumar who became a monk after initiation of bhagvatī dīkṣā, who was disturbed by the disturbances by his fellows during his first-night stay in the sthanaka. This could have brought restlessness to other monks who were trying to observe the five great vows. He counseled everyone who came to him, but never forced anyone to accept Jina’s path. Instead, his popular statement from Jain Agamas is “जहा सुहं देवाणुप्पिया” meaning “Do what is good for your soul” is quoted to show his non pressurizing attitude for the followers. Such a counseling style became the basis of a conflict free Jain community.

To resolve the conflicts, scholars present three philosophies- Classical theory, Behavioral theory, and Third-party theory. Classical theory believes in reducing the number of conflicts, behavioral theory uses conflicts for healthy rivalry while third-party theory allows an outsider to intervene and resolve the conflict. So, two of the three theories believe in the reduction of conflicts as they may hamper the development of a society or an organization. Lord Mahavira advocates the classical theory, where reduction in the number of conflicts is practiced. Neither he encourages rivalry among his disciples, nor does he invite any third-party for conflict resolution. Mahavira’s charisma and firm character helped him in resolving any short span conflict in the Jain community, giving his conflict resolution style a behavioral touch. Larger span conflicts were almost non-existent in his era. And if there were any, he used the theory of non-absolutism to resolve them.


  1. Terri A Scandaura, ‘Essesntials of Organizational Behavior- Evidence based approach’ SAGE , 2016, New Delhi.
  2. Sagarmal Jain, Dr. Shriprakash pandey, ‘Jainism in Global Perspective’ Parsvanath Vidyapitha, Varanasi, 1998.
  3. Samani Shashi Prajna ‘Social Implication of Jain Doctrines’ Jain Vishva Bharti, Ladnun, 2020.
  4. Shugan Chand Jain and Prakash C. Jain, ‘Social Consciousness in Jainism’ International School for Jain Studies and New Bharatiya Book Corporation, New Delhi,



About Author

Dr. Alka Jain

Dr. Alka Jain is Professor at Taxila Business School, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.

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