Scientific Attitude in Jain Principles

June, 2021 by Geeta Mehta
The person with insight (Kevali) is narrated in the Pravachana Saar 1.37, “All the modes of the substances which have appeared in the past and will appear in the future are known to the Kevali as if they are in the present”. In Isavasya Upanishad such a person is described as Kavih, Manisi who can foresee the future, future problems and can suggest the solutions. Thus, Tirthankars of Jain Religion had foreseen the future problems and had suggested ways out of it. The principles, philosophical presuppositions suggested by the Tirthankars try to solve perpetual problems if we have insight to see through it.

Jainism is a system of Philosophy which is Realistic, Rationalistic and Scientific. It is Realistic because it considers the material world as real unlike Idealist Advaitins. It is Rationalistic because it finds the Rational explanation of the problems we face in the world. It is scientific because the basic principles are scientific.


The three basic principles of Jainism Ahimsa, Aparigraha and Anekantavada lead us to a scientific way of life. By preaching non-violence Jainism accepts the Principle of coexistence. In the wider sense non-violence implies. ‘Right to life for all’ comes from ‘Respect for life’. Both these principles imply the modern motto of ‘human rights’ and ‘animal rights’. Non-violence is an ethically oriented principle of conduct which can promote the spirit of universal brotherhood and peaceful co-existence. Non-violence would help humanity to live in harmony with nature. In social context, it implies practice of restraint in all activities.

Jainism offers an environmental ethic which can ensure sustainability. It believes that our spirituality should not permit us to exploit nature for our self- chosen purposes.


In the Sutrakritanga Sutra, it is said that there are three ways of committing sins: by one’s own activity, by commission and by approval i.e. by body, speech and mind.1

Sri Kundakunda Acharya explains carefulness in speech, Bhasha Samiti, in these words, “He who having renounced backbiting, ridiculing, talking ill of others, self-praising and harsh words, speaks what is good for himself as well as for others (is said) to have carefulness in speech”2

Ahimsa by commission and approval also comes into the category of vocal or mental Ahimsa. In a way, we can state that mental Ahimsa is a more extensive ethical principle than vocal Ahimsa, because the spoken word is only an expression of thought. Action is also an expression of thought.
J.L. Jaini illustrates mental Ahimsa in the following way: “A true Jaina will do nothing to hurt the feelings of another person, man, woman or child nor will he violate the principles of Jainism.3

There are sixty words for Ahimsa in Jain Scripture4 which emphasize different connotations of Ahimsa. Self is eternal, hence what we kill is prāna which consists of five sense organs, mind, speech, three powers of body, breathing and life-span. This is known as dravya-himsa. But bhava-himsa is mental which is due to lethargy (Pramāda).

The basis of Non-violence is reverence for life. Non-violence does good to all.5

Ahimsa is compounded of 4 elements

  1. Friendliness- (Maitri)
  2. Feeling glad at the sight of virtuous-(Pramod)
  3. Compassion for those who are in misery-(Karunā)
  4. Equanimity to those who are without virtue-(Mādhyastha)

“That which includes kindness to all creatures is Religion”. Religion is that which sustains and preserves life.

Ahimsa implies purity of thought, word and deed. Mahavira proclaimed “There is no quality of soul more subtle than Non-violence and no virtue of spirit greater than reverence for life.”

Jainism believes that all living beings have the capacity to feel and experience pain and pleasure in differing degrees. Jainism includes humans, animals, plants, water as well as air, fire and earth as living beings. It not only includes five-sensed beings but also one-sensed beings. According to Jainism, all sentient creatures that can feel have life. 

The man must show reverence for all living organisms and thus achieve harmonious coexistence. Each organism depends on another and this is the way the survival of each can be ensured and existence of each be respected. The stress is upon the indisputable principle of mutual harmony i.e. symbiosis-mutualism which emphasized the basic unity of nature.

“Underlying the Jaina code of conduct is the emphatic assertion of Individual’s responsibility towards one and all. The code is profoundly ecological in its practical consequences.”7. The directive principle of living is not ‘Living on others’ but living with others. Jainism asks us to recognize biodiversity. Our existence is intrinsically bound up with the existence of other living beings. Hence the killing of them is prohibited


In the words of Gandhi, “No religion of the world has explained the principle of Ahimsa so deeply and scientifically as is discussed with its applicability in every human life in Jainism. As and when the benevolent principle of Ahimsa or non-violence will be ascribed for practice by the people of the world to achieve their end of life in this world and beyond, Jainism is sure to have the uppermost status and Lord Mahavira is sure to be respected as the greatest authority on Ahimsa”.8


Though the emphasis is on personal liberation. The Jain ethics makes that goal attainable only through consideration for others. According to Umasvati, the author of Tatvartha sutra, ‘non-violence is unlimited tolerance, unconditional and reverence for life supreme.9

Padmanabh Jaini has observed, there is a “preoccupation with ahimsa within Jainism for no other religious tradition has carried ahimsa to the extreme of Jainas. For them it is not simply the first among virtues but the virtue”.10

Jaina Dharma is identical with Ahimsa Dharma. Ahimsa is so central in Jainism that it may be incontrovertibly called the beginning and end of religion. Ahimsa according to Jaina teachers is not something negative but another aspect of daya compassion, a counterpart of Buddhist Karuna. The positive Ahimsa is expressed in the form of Karuna-dana or abhaya-dana, giving protection to all living creatures. 


Ahimsa is the origin (root) of Jaina practice. Ahimsa cannot be practised without Anekanta point of view. Violence or non-violence depends upon the attitude of the doer.  One who is alert has Ahimsa in his nature and one who is not alert, has himsa in his nature. This analysis is not possible without Anekanta viewpoint. Therefore, one who has Anekanta viewpoint is a balanced vision (samyak-drusti) person and one who has balanced vision can only be balanced knowledge (samyak-Jnana) and balanced character (samyak-charitra).

Necessary corollary of Anekantavada is non-violence in speech and thought. One must respect others’ point of view. If we insist on truth we must understand the beauty of compromise. This is the philosophy of relativism. 


Many kinds of differences exist between man and man:

  1. Differences of concept or belief
  2. Ideological differences
  3. Different interests 
  4. Temperamental differences
  5. Differences in emotional make-up

Non-violence moves from the doctrine of behavior to the domain of intellectual thinking, ‘Respect for life’ gave rise to the principle of ‘respect for the views of others.’

According to this doctrine an object has an infinite number of characteristics. One cannot grasp all of them. From one point of view, a thing is, from another it is not. Someone is uncle in relation to his nephew, father in relation to his son. So truth is relative, relative to our standpoints. Hence, according to the doctrine of non-absolutism to understand truth completely, one must consider all its aspects. This is the philosophy of relativism. We have to develop a non-absolutistic standpoint on almost all problems. One has to adopt this kind of outlook to realize truth in its varied aspects. It helps us to understand the viewpoints of others. It also helps to cultivate a spirit of tolerance and understanding. This will increase goodwill and harmony. One has to practice generosity of spirit and avoid fundamentalism. Thus, antagonism can be resolved not by quarrels but by communication and understanding. It is the principle of cooperation and co-existence. This means toleration, which is characteristic of Jaina Ideology. It is an ideal for successfully managing conflicts – personal or interpersonal, national or international. It is the doctrine of open-mindedness which is the expression of a fundamental non-violent attitude. It has got a wonderful power of assimilation. “Jainism with its theory of multiple-vision provides a framework through which qualities like tolerance, understanding etc. can be developedIf we accept this synoptic outlook in life, all quarrels will vanish. Nation’s foreign policy should be influenced by such understanding. The real threat to world peace comes from ideological conflicts which can be avoided. The basis of this theory is not merely that reality can be viewed from many angles but also that all views of reality must be equally honoured. All views have equal significance.

This principle develops catholic outlook necessary for peaceful co-existence. It is a holistic principle. It is ideal for successfully managing conflicts. The kind of intellectual toleration it will develop, will further lead to an atmosphere of peaceful co-existence avoiding dogmatism and fanaticism. Much violence in the world today arises from fundamental ideological and religious disagreement. 

It is ideal for successfully managing conflicts at any level. It is such a comprehensive principle that it examines a thing from different standpoints. Truth is relative to our standpoints. Therefore, we must respect the view of others, it is the theory of multiple visions. It stands for – 1) Open mindedness 2) Reconciliation. It has got the power of assimilation; the conflicting views are harmonized together. Conflicts can be managed at any level by harmonious reconciliation. It can pave the way for harmony and goodwill. Qualities like tolerance, self-control, broad-mindedness and understanding can be developed on the basis of it.


What is required is – we should be flexible, intellectual fanaticism is dangerous; therefore, liberalism in thought is advocated. We have to develop a non-absolutistic standpoint on almost all problems. It helps us to understand the viewpoints of others and to reconcile ourselves with the thoughts of others. It also helps to cultivate a spirit of tolerance and understanding. This will increase goodwill and harmony. One has to practise generosity of spirit and avoid fundamentalism. Thus, antagonism can be resolved not by quarrels but by communication and understanding. It is the principle of cooperation and co-existence. The result is the establishment of liberal attitude in our dealings. Anekantavada leads to relativity, which states that since truth is relative to different standpoints, one has to consider different aspects of it. It is an ideal for successfully managing conflicts – personal or interpersonal, national or international. It brings about the importance of tolerance. Intolerance arises because of unwillingness to accept differences. But according to this doctrine -“he is right, but I am also right”. This attitude is expected of scientists. Scientists never say, “What I say, is the complete truth.”

The basis of this theory is not merely that reality can be viewed from many angles but also that all views of reality must be equally honoured. All views have equal significance.

From the viewpoint of Anekanta the permanent is real, but so is the impermanent or the changeable. Being can be explained in terms of the permanent for it is unchangeable. One of the intrinsic parts of the unchangeable is change, for change and changelessness are not two different things. Both co-exist. Since change is possible, the vision of a new man, a new society and a new world is not unattainable or impossible.


Jainism teaches restraints in the consumption of material things, the regulation of desires and simplification of lifestyle, indulgent and profligate use of natural resources is seen as a form of theft and violence.

Aparigraha is not an abstract philosophy but a vision of life. Man’s insatiable greed is the main factor in damaging the environment. Interestingly, the important ecology basics-environmental preservation and protection are inherent in basic Jain doctrine which is realistic, practical and rational. In Jainism, we find coordination of science and spirituality.

The Jain principle is to enhance the quality of life and not merely increase the quantity of consumption. Attachment to possession reflects our greedy attitude. The Jaina emphasis on non-attachment to possession is significant from a social and human point of view.

The physical rules for controlling greed are: 

The monk should not have any belonging as their own except carry a whisk with which to gently brush insects out of the way so as to not tread on them while walking. The householders should decide about the length and width of the area beyond which they will not travel for their business, so that their greed will be controlled.

The four passions discarded by Jainism are greed, anger, pride and deceit which bring inequality in society.


 An important virtue in Jainism is the doctrine of mindfulness. In Jainism, it is said one should remain fully aware while lifting things or putting them, while sitting, walking etc. Only such a person can observe the vow of non-violence. One should be aware of even thoughts.

Michael Tobias, author of “Life Force” declares the Jain ethics of non-violence to be ‘Spiritual Ecology’ and Biological Ethics’. Thus, it indicates that Jains have not only thought of human beings alone, but for all species of the universe. Jain ethics teaches ‘Give and Take’ balance for the benefit of not only humans but also of all living beings. 

Mindfulness in practicing all the three principles point to awareness of the person which is a scientific attitude. All steps of scientists are counted with caution. Even for using destructive weapons like throwing an atom-bomb, he has to consider the place and time, otherwise unlikely incidents may occur. The whole scientific experiment is carried out with care and caution. Same care and caution are expected in observing Jain Principles.

Self-control is given more importance than charity. It is said in Uttaradhyana Sutra that instead of giving thousands of cows in charity every month, it is better to keep self-control.11

One must carry out all activities with utmost care. It is necessary to be careful in every activity in order to observe the five great or small vows. 


Law of Karma says cause and effect are simultaneous because every action generates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind. If we want to create happiness in our lives, we must learn to sow the seeds of happiness.

From a material point of view, the Law of Karma is merely the Law of Causation, the balance of cause and effect, the fact known in every Science laboratory that action and reaction are equal and opposite. From the Spiritual point of view, Karma is the Law of moral retribution, whereby not only does every cause have an effect, but whoever puts the cause in action suffers the effect, Prof. Radhakrishnan has called it: “the Law of the conservation of Moral energy.”

According to Jains, doing harm to others is like harming one’s own self. This is based on the theory of Karma (material particles which defy the soul). Jainas have proclaimed that if one wishes to have pleasure and earn good Karma, one must be compassionate and pacifist (peaceful) towards all living beings. One must practice only those activities which are purposeful for right conduct. The Karma theory teaches that better actions achieve better results, which lead to a better environment. A pure environment produces a better mind, less intensity of passions, greater happiness and an increase in compassionate spirituality.

The Law of Karma says, “No debt in the universe ever goes unpaid.” Karma is the universe’s perfect accounting system.

The Karma theory of Jainism is very scientific. Science tells us that every event has a cause, so Karma theory finds that all events in this life have causes. Better actions achieve better results which lead to a better environment. A pure environment produces a better mind, less intensity of passions, greater happiness and an increase in compassionate spirituality.

This theory does not seek God as merciful or cruel, neither God is creator. One reaps one’s own fruits. This is a very scientific principle.


There is no intelligent first cause as the creator. Jainism removes slavery of God because it does not believe in creator God, it establishes freedom of man. Man creates his own future by his actions (Karma). A person can be successful by his/her own efforts and reach the higher stage of Kevali who is only the guide for the aspirants.


When we are free from the concept of God, the rites and rituals to appease God are redundant. Jain tradition does not only criticize rites and rituals like yajna but gives it a spiritual connotation. It is discussed in Uttaradhyana Sutra that the individual self is altar, the activities of mind, body and speech are spoons of altar and to destroy the Karmas is sacrifice.12


When there is no God to create higher or lower beings then all men /women are equal.

Jainism does not believe in any casteism. There is none higher or lower. Instead conduct is more important in life. In the 12th and 25th chapter of Uttaradhyana Sutra, it is said, “one who is detached, wise and having good conduct is a real Brahmin and not one born in a particular caste.


On what ground do we say that all human beings are equal? On the basis of the same Atman in everyone.

Jainism accepts atman and the word for spirituality is Adhyatma which implies peculiarity of Atman. Atman is knowledge itself. Hence the peculiarity of knowledge (Jnana) is Adhyatma (Spirituality) as well as Vijnana (Science)13. Both of them work for a union. One establishes union with the outside world and the other with the inner world. One is used as a means, the other one as an end. One gives a lifestyle, the other one gives us a goal of life.

We should pursue both but we forgot the ‘I’ the Atman, the centre. We expanded the circumference but did not give importance to the centre ‘Atman’.


Without spirituality, there will be no peace in life and without science, there will be no prosperity in the world. Both are needed for human society. Only science cannot do anything. It should be guided by spirituality. Just as there are two kinds of machines in the car – one showing the direction and the other increasing speed. The speed-increasing machine for human society is science but the direction showing machine should be spirituality. Science is analytic, spirituality is synthetic.

The progress of Science and therefore technology is inevitable. The problem before us is, does it lead to human welfare? It can lead to welfare if it is guided by spirituality. As science should be distinguished from technology so spirituality from institutional religion. Spirituality is belief in unity and sanctity of life. The direction showing machine or steering wheel for the whole of humanity must be spirituality and the speed increasing machine or accelerator must be Science.


If science is rightly guided, it is the greatest boon for humankind. Survival of humankind is possible only by integration of Science and Spirituality. Science will never succeed in destroying the spiritual urge in man and like Science, spirituality also has to continuously evolve newer formulations of Self-realization.

Science and technology have developed in the modern world but scientists are not scientific. The real scientist is dispassionate without any desire / demand. Spirituality also should develop at par with science. Science brings prosperity and spirituality brings peace, spirituality is nothing but to look within, to understand one’s ego and to know one’s own passions, so that one can remove them. One has to remove ‘mineness’ and establish equanimity. In these days of Science, one has to raise oneself beyond one’s mind. Mind has got attachment and aversion, passions which divide human society. The need of science is unanimity. With this there will be no exploitation and possessiveness. Science is to be utilized for creativity and not for destruction.

Jainism offers physical, moral and spiritual rules of healthy living. The latest techniques and best of science can be incorporated in the Jain model while reviving the old tradition. It establishes harmony between religious and scientific, spiritual and physical aspects, between personal independence and ecological interdependence.

About Author

Prof. Dr. Mahaveer Raj Gelra

Geeta Mehta

Geeta Mehta currently works at the Department of Philosophy (K. J. Somayia College of Arts and Commerce), Somaiya Vidyavihar. Their current project is ‘The fourth Volume of ‘Saman suttaman COMPREHENSIVE STUDY ‘ will be published soon. The IV part is already published .She has arranged a seminar on Philosophy of Vinoba Bhave as suggested by ICPR at Wardha ,Mahatma Gandhi Hindi University from 5TH – 7TH Feb 2018. Currently she is making fair copy of the running notes written during 1960 to 1965 with Acharya Vinoba Bhave. In-between writing papers for Seminars and conferences


  Co-edited by by Rishwa Doshi

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Chandra Jain
Chandra Jain
2 years ago

Excellent description of involved Jain Philosophy, which is even more difficult to do in English. Best compliments.
Chandrakumar Jain Cleveland OH USA

Raj Kumar
Raj Kumar
2 years ago

Very nicely written. Excellent job.
Thank you.
Raj Kumar