Ahimsa as the Key to World Peace

Posted: 11.04.2012
Updated on: 19.04.2012

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The text, based on a lecture given by C.R. Jain, is an interesting document of contemporary history, which gives an impression of the interpretation of Ahiṁsā in the 1930's, when the struggle for independence changed the Indian society and the world feared of a second world-war. Hence, the author's opinion on marriage, women equalities etc. reflects the spirit of time and must be read in the historical context. The essay was published in the introductory section of the eight-volume edition Śramaṇa Bhagavān Mahāvῑra by Muni Ratna Prabha Vijaya (Volume II, Part I: Life, Ahmedabad: Śri Jaina Siddhānta Society, 1948, second edition, pp. 40-51).


 

 

Ahiṁsā as the Key to World Peace (1933)

 

Taken from ”Jainism, and World Problems” by Mr. C. R. Jain, adapted from a lecture delivered by him at Morrison Hotel Chicago U.S.A. under the auspices of the World Fellowship of Faiths on 30th August 1933.

 

1

If I were asked to name one remedy for all forms of ills, the flesh is hair to, I would at once say - Ahiṁsā. Ahiṁsā, which means Not Hurting, Not Injuring is the principal weapon of Jainism to fight with against all kinds of evils, and misfortunes. By practising it, men have attained to the Divine State, and all that is implied in that expression. It is not a mere theory that I am putting before you; times out of number, has the principle been put to the test, and never been known to fail.

Jainism points out the natural antagonism between the Soul, and Matter; the body is the prison of the soul, and flesh its bitterest enemy. Owing to the dominion of the flesh, the soul is undergoing suffering in a number of ways, and all its rank, and power have been lost. Immortal by nature, it is now living terror-struck with Death; though Omniscient and Blissful, in its own right, it is ignorant, and miserable now!

Yet its Divine nature has not been altogether destroyed; only its perfection in that regard has been curtailed, and imposed upon as if its wings were sewn up, and it has been reduced to the condition of helplessness in consequence.

The evil influences of the flesh can, however, be destroyed and the soul released from its power; and Ahiṁsā is the fine Weapon which can actually bring about this devoutly wished for consummation.

Wherever Ahiṁsā has been put into practice, it has speedily cut the bondage of flesh, and restored the lost Divinity and Perfection, to the Soul. Jainism, therefore, rightly lays all the stress it can, on the practising of ahiṁsā; that is, non-violence under all circumstances.

The significance of Ahiṁsā is that you should hurt no one by word, thought, or deed; and you must not even entertain the desire to hurt any one For, the doctrine is applicable to all the three stages of evil-doing, namely-intention, preparation, and the actual commission of the wrongful deed.

He, who practises Ahiṁsā, must also refrain from employing another to do the hurtful act; and he should not encourage one who has done the deed after-wards, otherwise, he would become tainted with the evil as an accessory after the act as they put it in the terminology of Law.

In regard to its scope, Ahiṁsā is not limited to humanity; on the contrary, its application must be extended to ail living beings. The Jains rejoice when they read in the scriptures of other religions, statements like this - “I require mercy and not sacrifice!“ These adequately show how far the scope, and the protection is to be extended. Let it be Clearly understood that if you have no love for the life in the animal, you will not have it for man either. There is no such thing as a sudden rush of affection for one form of life all at once.

Show no violence to any one; hurt no one; injure none-not even an insect-this is the Gospel of Life. For life is dear to all, and Ahiṁsā actually allows all to enjoy life, unhampered, and unmolested by any one else. Ahiṁsā really means-molest no one, not even your own soul.

Those "Who hurt or injure others without justification, hurt their own souls first. You cannot Injure any one or even entertain the desire to molest him without becoming tarnished with the taint of the contemplated evil. It Is even conceivable that the being whom you wish to hurt, may escape scatheless; but the action (even the thought) makes a mark on your disposition, engenders, strengthens, or modifies an evil tendency in the mind, and In this way, affects your own soul by blackening its character. Thus, all actions involving Hiṁsā (evil doing), leave a dark stain on the soul of the doer of inequity The future destiny of the soul is composed of its own disposition or character. Where the character is merciful, and marked with love, and solicitude, and sympathy, the future is excellent, and joyful and glorious; but where the heart has become hard, black, cruel merciless, and unfeeling, there you Lave nothing but misfortune and calamity in store for its possessor.

It is not possible to go into detail in the time-limit of a short speech in a gathering like this. The philosophy of Ahiṁsā can be understood only with time, and labour. For this reason, one of the great teachers of our race said to the inquirer - Go and learn what that meaneth - “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” He did not explain it even at the time when he said, “If you knew what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” In Jainism you will find a complete, and completely scientific explanation of the whole doctrine.

The operation of Ahiṁsā is not confined to the unperceived Kingdom of Spirit - the Kingdom within, so to seak. It extends equally to the outside world. Ahiṁsā will purify, ennoble, and sweeten life in all departments, and establish brotherly relations among men, and communities, and nations, as surely as it will purge the heart cf all evil inclinations, and traits. For, Ahiṁsā is love, and nothing but love. Those alone, can be expected to live upto Ahiṁsā who are actuated by pure love for others.

Love and hatred are the two principles on which people act in their dealings with others. Friendship, good will, mutual esteem and an abiding sense of unity of interests result on the path of love. Fear is destroyed along with distrust, and misunderstandings.

Hatred leads to opposite kinds of results; misunderstandings increase, and distrust is the prevailing characteristic. Hatred is the cause of all quarrels, and wars.

Where love would unite, hatred would separate, and antagonize. If you wish to live peacefully with the world, you should follow the line of love. It may be that at times gain seems to lie in the grasp of the nation that is ready to help itself at the cost of others; but the taint of selfishness is sure to contaminate the National Conscience, and bear fruit in due course of time, however tardily it may be.

To the nations of the world, Jainism proclaims with the voice of thunder today - ”Come brothren forget your enmities and your hatreds; embrace one another like brothers; you don't need to shed each other's blood. Away with the armies, and with your armaments! Men are already groaning under the burden of taxation, and will perish before you know where you stand. Learn to live by Ahiṁsā and love one another. You shall not need to arm yourself to the teeth any more. Do you think armies, and warlike equipments can afford anything like real protection to you? Lock at the fate of the great white Czar of all the Russians! He was slain by his own helpless peasants, who only a few days before, dared not stand in his august presence without trembling. Gone is the Kaiser too who was the lord of mighty armies!”

The surest means of safety is love, and nothing but love. But it must be an emotion of the heart a real five sentiment that stirs us constantly to action - not a mere wordy avowal. Where love reigns, there is no room for fear.

The science of Modern Politics is at war with the Science of Peace and has led us into trouble, and the difficulties which the statesmen are unable to solve satisfactorily, because of their selfish motives. Let the Doctrine of Love, as implied in the message of Ahiṁsā Paramo Dharma - non-violence is the highest Religion - as taught by the Great Tirthankaras. Now replace the mad rush for power, and personal self-aggrandisement, and self-glorification Your reward will be sweet yet.

Let me add that only he will be found willing, and able to practise Ahiṁsā and universal love, who has understood the nature of his soul, and of the enmity of the flesh and of the friends, and allies of the enemy. Only he will have his heart saturated with the ennobling friend-making, peace-engendering emotion, who knows that by loving others, he helps his own soul to grow strong, while in hating any one even a lowly worm, he only helps the enemy that is the flesh, and weakens, and enervates his real self.

In practical life, Ahiṁsā will be found to be the one sure means of taming savage natures. It will civilize the uncivilized barbarian, and make him a good and desirable citizen. The householder who is involved in the world, and still very far away from sainthood, practices it with a little qualification. He cannot emulate the saint in this regard. For, while the saint will hurt no one, on any account, the good layman will yield to the need for defending himself in the practice of Ahiṁsā. But he will never be the aggressor himself; and when compelled to defend himself he will use only just, sufficient force to over power the enemy. The King who knows how to temper justice with mercy is therefore protected by Ahiṁsā. The layman also longs to enter sainthood one day, to be able to practise Ahiṁsā properly.

The saint who has renounced the world, and who wishes to make the conquest of his lower nature as speedily as he can, tries to observe the vow of Ahiṁsā with absolute rigidity, in all respects so far as it is physically possible to do so. The highest saints who have attained the Ideal of Life - namely the Supreme Status - are able to practise Universal Love, without any kind of qualification. Their nature is changed in the end. They, attain to deification and the Perfection of Divinity. All this is due to Ahiṁsā - the Principle of Love- the attribute of the Gods.

From the stand-point of human psychology, also, there are two kinds of men in the world who are or at least should be, above racial and religious distinction. These are the really saintly men who practise Universal Love, as a part of their religious discipline, and the enlightened laymen who are fully impressed with the brother-hood of man and the fact that in wishing evil to any one else one actually injures one's own soul. Observation and the study of human psychology support the view that a true saint will ever regard all humanity as his brethren, and will never think of hurting or harming anyone in the least degree. To such a Saint the practising of Universal Love comes easy. He looks upon none as his enemy. If a man abuse him he is not displeased with him; if one persecutes him, he will be thinking of only one thing - how to serve him?

The man who does not practise Universal Love, does not love all beings alike. He will not be loving the animals and is sure to be indifferent even to the fate of the millions and millions of human beings whom he does not love. Many who profess to follow the ideal of love in their lives, do not hesitate to devour the flesh of poor unfortunate animals.

It is idle to expect from such men that they will steadfastly adhere to the nobler view under all circumstances. During the last Great European Wars, religious priests on both sides went on blessing their own armies, and maintained that they were fighting the wars of righteousness. Yet both sides professed the same religion which was surely intended to be one of love. The explanation is that the sentiment was no deeper in their case than the lining membrane of their lips; their hearts were not affected by it.

The past history of other nations also reveals the same sad truth in most cases. Probably the only exception is furnished by the followers of. the Jaina religion who practise the rule of

Ahiṁsā. It is impossible for a Jaina saint to bless any offensive weapon or armies that are marching against their fellow men. There is not one instance, where the Jaina saints have forgotten themselves and their religious obligation in this regard. The Jaina saint is really the one man who practices Universal Love. He will not hurt even an insect. Let alone man. He has left the world behind, and will not, on any account, look back His heart is saturated with Ahiṁsā; he even controls his bodily automatism, and will never, even in thought, wish harm to another living being, be he man or animal. Really, it is only when a man has become so far filled with Universal Love that we can confidently rely upon him under all circumstances. He whose ideals are no longer In or of the world, will certainly not degrade himself by doing base worldly things like setting up invidious and hateful distinction amongst men.

 

2

The Jaina doctrine of Universal Love (ahiṁsā) which is altogether scientific, and grounded on rational laws, is the one thing that is needed if we are ever sincerely to get over our prejudices. Nothing else will ever succeed. Can we not rely on the modern civilization to exclude prejudice from the hearts of men? I do not think we can.

Shall we not be able to arrive at the era of peace on earth through materialistic training, and the treaties of Nations? Most certainly not. For, materialism only offers peaceful rest in the grave to the individual, and only cares for the society; but the curbing down of passions is a matter of the individual heart, and materialism possesses no sufficient inducement for its accomplishment. It is, in reality, our materialism that is responsible for much of our greed, and coveteousness, and through them, for our hateful deeds. It will be a bit of very agreeble news, if materialism were to start teaching renunciation. As for the treaties of nations, did we not observe their real value during the last (two) wars? Why compel me to say that, to him who thinks he is strong enough to defy the whole world, the treaties have not as much value as the scrap of paper on which they are written?

Neither superstition, nor general education on materialistic lines, will then, be found adequate to change the hearts of men. What is required is the knowledge of the Laws of Nature that come into operation in connection with our emotions, and how they affect the soul, and the relations of nations, and communities of men. For, once it is recognized that the Soul is an entity whose welfare is of paramount importance, and which is affected by its emotions, and beliefs - beneficially by the emotions of Love and most harmfully by those of selfishness and hatred - men will certainly refrain from doing what is harmful, and adopt the Rule of Love.

 

3

Now my point is that in order to impress a rational mind, like that of a modern boy or girl, you have to convince him or her of the need for peacefulness, and alter his or her emotional nature destroying the element of savageness, and barbarian greed from the heart. A rationally inclined mind can never for all times, be impressed with dogma, and ill-founded reason; and without the training, and control of the emotions, it is not possible to make a man a real lover of peace. And the test of the real love of peace is that one should cheerfully offer his cloak also, when his coat is claimed at law.

Let me say one word more as to the difference between the modern thought, and Religion when properly understood. Modern thought has confined its attention to the world of the senses, where brute nature is found to be red in tooth, and claw. It knows nothing of the Kingdom of the Soul or Kingdom of God which is within. It therefore from its own point of view rightly points out the main characteristic of life which is the struggle for existence, and the survival of the fittest. There is no question of moral fitness here; but only of the physical, and mental, that is to say, intellectual fitness.

Religion, on the other hand, shows what enormous, and almost incredible possibilities lie within Our reach, if we would cultivate inner tranquility on the lines of Ahiṁsā. And let me further add that, in Jainism there is no possibility of any one's being persecuted on the ground of his being an enemy of a god. In Jainism, there is no place for such a contingency as it does not acknowledge the being, and existence of any creator or ruler divine or manager of the world whose enmity man could possibly incur. The Perfect Souls are the only gods in Jainism, and none else. Thus Jainism is the true refuge for all afflicted souls, and all beings.

To sum up: - If you want to establish lasting peace On earth you must make men love one another. But you cannot change men's hearts by a mere stroke of your pen, or by preaching to them a sermon on sympathy, and good-will. You must engender the emotion of love by showing the paramount importance of its need and value in the first instance.

What is needed is the broad-casting of the kind of education that will excite the sentiment in the hearts of men on natural, and social grounds, and will fill it with love, and keep it filled for all times. Nothing else will ever success as is manifest from a perusal of the pages of World's History, and the records of the religious persecutions of the past. Jainism today invites the world through the great assemblage of its leaders, to study the Science of Love, that is the Doctrine of Ahiṁsā to be able to put an end to all forms of hatred and prejudice, and to fill the hearts of men with Love for one another.

 

4

I shall now turn to the Jaina view of things, and devote the rest of this article (International Peace - In Jainism and World Problems, pp. 151-154.) in working out the consequences of practising the principle of Ahiṁsā, in Various departments of life and external, i.e. national, and international peace.

(1) For the Individual, Jainism points out that the Soul is a simple substance as distinguished from a compound which survives bodily death, because death only overtakes compound things, but not simple elements. It cannot, therefore, die out, and will have to re-incarnate elsewhere. The organizing forces of the body are the energies which constitute its disposition or will. The will is constantly undergoing modification in consequence of individual action, so that the future conditions of life will be controlled altogether by the kind of disposition one makes for oneself. There is no condition of embodied life that is not threatened with calamity and death, nor any that is free from misery and pain. But those who live on the principle of Ahiṁsā, soon succeed in destroying their animal nature, and thus become freed from the disposition that is the cause of re-incarnation and suffering in the world.

Soul-nature is a thing that is purely divine, so that when one attains to the purity of his soul nature, one comes into the enjoyment of Unlimited Knowledge, and Happiness, and Power, and Immortality. It is, therefore, clearly to the advantage of the individual to practise Universal Love. There is no other way of escaping from undesirable re-births.

Materially also, the practising of such virtues as truthfulness, justice, forgiveness, mercy, self-denial, and temperance must bring Peace of Mind, popularity, respect, and prosperity to the individual. He can have No Enemies left in the world, but only Friends all round.

(2) From the National Point of View - Ahiṁsā will be found to be the source of confidence and good-will. It will do away with the need for heavy armaments; it will not tolerate long-range guns, nor poison-gas, nor the bombing of cities and suburbs from aeroplanes. With the reduction of the military and the police, there will be immediately a reduction of taxation, and life will once more become tolerable and joyous Nation will live at peace with nation; passports will be unknown, so will be the temperment that seeks exploitation and self-aggrandisement. Men will practise the golden rule summed up in the phrase “Live and let live” in reality and truth.

(3) Excessive industrialisation will be checked under Ahiṁsā. We are all eager to become Manufacturers today. Under the guidance of Ahiṁsā, life will be simplified; manufactures will be limited; and mechanization will be restricted. Every Nation will be self-supporting, and self-dependent, growing its own foods.

At the present rate of “progress”, the day is in sight when everywhere there will be manufacturers and producers, but nowhere buyers. Reduction in the number of factories will at once strike at the root of unemployment, since they render idle more men than they employ. It is a bad policy to starve many to fill the pockets of a few.

(4) The Doctrine of Love will also induce legislators to find means of suitably dealing with the problem of excess of women over men, which, in its turn, will also go to reduce unemployment, and along with the check on excessive industrialization, will root it out altogether. I might mention in this connection that, for those countries where the number of men is smaller that of women, Ahiṁsā (love) favours the marrying of two women to one man. The advantage from this will be manifold; social life will be purified, and girls will not be under the temptation of employing unmoral, and even immoral devices to 'catch' husbands.

Those who cannot get married under monogamous law, and who are driven for no fault of theirs except that they happen to endowed with the animal appetites like their married brethren and sisters, to seek clandestine amour, will no longer be forced to a life of hypocrisy, and shame. Abortions will not be practised as they are in thousands to day; and infanticide will become a thing of the past. These are only a few of the advantages that will flow from the practice. The opposition to it is merely a matter of zid (sentiment); many women who find themselves unable to be reconciled to the idea of sharing their husbands with another Woman, in reality are actually doing so today, and in a worse form, though unaware of the fact.

There can be no valid objection on the ground of religion either. Several of the Biblical patriarchs had more wives than one. We have no right to expect peaceful nationalism while millions of women are forced to lead unhappy lives. The day of reckoning is not far off. Girls have already begun to usurp the the places of men in business circles. Let us note that the proper place for the woman is the home and their nursery - not the business-house. It is for man to earn; not for the woman. She is to spend profitably for man, and for herself too, as his partner in life, what he has earned by labour or skill. You cannot reverse the natural role for long, without very grave consequences resulting from a disregard of Nature's Law.

(5) Finally, in our international relations, the practising of the doctrine of Universal Love will at once make men, and nations respected, and loved. Today, the Key-note of International Policy is fear; we hate every one, and are hated by every one in our turn. Peace is maintained only through fear of each other's brute force. There is not freedom even for the nations that are free, who are and have to remain armed to the teeth. True freedom consists in being free from fear altogether. If we aspire to enjoy true National Freedom for ourselves, we must first set our neighbours free from fear of ourselves. The measure of our in reality, is the measure of the freedom of our neighbours near, and remote.

Ahiṁsā is Universal Love and will attain this high ideal however much it may be beyond the conception of men to-day. Love, and you are sure to be loved There is only one Condition - let your love proceed from the heart but not from the tongue.


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