Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term meaning non-violence. Ahimsa is a rule of conduct that bars the killing or injuring of living beings. Jainism has assigned the first position to the vow of Ahimsa among the five main vows prescribed for continuous observance by its followers. It is, therefore, necessary to see and understand the various aspects and implications of the Jaina vow of Ahimsa.
Ahimsa means avoidance of Himsa (violence). It has been treated as the first of the five Mahavratas (great vows), prescribed by Jain religion and this Ahimsa Mahavrata has been defined in `Ratnakaranda-sravakachara' as following:
"Abstaining from the commission of five sins, himsa and the rest in their three forms, krita, karita and anumodana, with the mind, speech and the body constitutes the Maha-vrata of great ascetics."
It means that the Ahimsa Mahavrata involves the avoidance of Himsa i.e., injury to sentient beings in every possible manner. The Himsa can be committed by three kinds of Yoga, i.e., modes or means viz., of mind, speech and body. In other words, injurious activity can be committed mentally (by mind, or in thoughts),
orally (by speech), and physically (by body, or by action). In addition to these three Yogas, Himsa can be committed by three kinds of Karana (action), as Krita (by doing it oneself), Karita (by getting it done through others), and Anumata or anumodana (by giving consent to others doing it).
Further, by the combination of these Yogas and Karanas it is clear that Himsa
can be committed in 9 ways, i.e., by the application of 3 Karanas to each of the
3 Yogas. Thus, the Ahimsa can be observed in full in the following 9 ways:
- Mentally not to do injury oneself.
- Mentally not to get injury done by others.
- Mentally not to approve injury done by others.
- Orally not to do injury oneself.
- Orally not to get injury done by others.
- Orally not to approve injury done by others.
- Physically not to do injury oneself.
- Physically not to get injury done by others.
- Physically not to approve injury done by others.
Obviously, in the Ahimsa Mahavrata, the Ahimsa is observed in a complete or full
manner, i.e. in the above nine ways. Since this Ahimsa Mahavrata is extremely difficult to practice, it is prescribed for the observance by the persons in the ascetic order.
Taking into account the extreme severity involved in the observance of Ahimsa Mahavrata, the Jaina scriptures have prescribed the vow of Ahimsa with less degree of intensity for the observance by the householders and called it as Ahimsa Anuvrata. The authoritative sacred book `Ratnakarandas-stravakachara' has defined Ahimsa Anuvrata in following terms:
"Refraining from injuring living beings, having two or more senses, with a deliberate act of the mind, speech or body, in any of the three ways, krita, karita and anumata, is called Ahimsa Anu-vrata by the wise."
Thus, in Ahimsa Anuvrata, a layman does not intentionally injure any form of life above the class of one-sensed beings (vegetables and the like), by an act of the mind, speech or body by krita (by himself), by karita (by inciting others to commit such an act), nor by anumodana (by approving of it subsequent to its commission by others).
Meditations for Ahimsa-vrata
With a view to strengthening the feelings of a person in relation to the observance of the Ahimsa-vrata, it has been laid down in "Tattvartha-sutra" that a person should try to practice the following five Bhavanas (Meditations):
- Vag-gupti (preservation of speech)
- Mano- gupti (preservation of mind)
- Irya (care in walking)
- Adana-nikshepana-samiti (care in lifting and laying down things)
- Alokitapana- bhojana (care in taking meals by thoroughly seeing to one's food and drink)
Obviously these Bhavanas (meditations) encourage cautiousness in the actual observance of Ahimsa-vrata.
Transgressions of Ahimsa-vrata
In addition to inculcating the above Bhavanas (meditations), a person is also advised to avoid the following five aticharas (defects or partial transgressions of Ahimsa-vrata):
- Bandha, i.e., keeping in captivity angrily or carelessly (animals or human beings)
- Vadha, i.e., beating angrily or carelessly (animals or human beings)
- Chheda, i.e., mutilating angrily or carelessly (animals or human beings)
- Ati-bharairopana, i.e., overloading angrily or carelessly (animals or human beings)
- Annapana-nirodha, i.e., withholding food or drink (from animals or human beings angrily or carelessly)
Naturally the avoidance of these Five aticharas, i.e., transgressions, would enable a person to practice ahimsavarata without committing many faults.
Renunciation of Drinking Liquor
For the observance of Ahimsa-Vrata it has been specifically laid down that a person should renounce drinking wine because, according to the sacred text of "Purushartha siddhiupaya", "wine stupefies the mind, one whose mind is stupefied forgets piety; and the person- who forgets piety commits Himsa without hesitation." Again, it is impressed that drinking liquor leads to the commitment of Himsa because wine is the repository of many lives which are generated in it. Similarly, it is brought home that many base passions like pride, fear, disgust, ridicule, grief, ennui, sex-passion, and anger arise due to drinking liquor and that these passions are nothing but the different aspects of Himsa.
Rejection of Eating Animal Food
The observance of Ahimsa-vrata invariably means the total rejection of the practice of meat-eating on various grounds. In the first place, flesh cannot be procured without causing destruction of life, which is nothing but clear Himsa.
Secondly, even if the flesh is procured from an animal which has met with a natural death, still Himsa is caused by due to the crushing of tiny creatures spontaneously born in that flesh.
Thirdly, the pieces of flesh which are raw, or cooked, or are in the process of being cooked, are found constantly generating spontaneously-born creatures of the same genus. Hence, for these valid reasons a person must completely renounce meat- eating which definitely involves Himsa.
Abandonment of use of Honey
Along with the renunciation of wine-drinking and meat-eating, the giving up of use of honey is also included in the observance of Ahimsa-vrata because the use of honey invariably entails the destruction of life as even the smallest drop of honey in the world represents the death of bees. It is also made clear that even if a person uses honey which has been obtained by some trick from honey comb, or which has itself dropped down from it, there is Himsa in that case also, because there is destruction to the lives spontaneously born therein.
Giving up eating of certain fruits
As a part of the observance of Ahimsa-vrata it is enjoined that a person should give up the use for diet and other purposes of five kinds of fruits known as Umara, Kathumara, Pakara, Bada and Pipala as they are the breeding grounds of various living organisms. Again, if these five fruits be dry and free from mobile beings on account of passage of time, their use will cause Himsa because of the existence of an excessive desire for them.
Avoidance of killing Animals
It is also specifically stressed that in the observance of the Ahimsa-vrata, killing of animals under various pretexts should be strictly avoided as it does involve destruction of living beings in one way or another. In the first place, a person should not sacrifice animals or birds or embodied beings with a view to please Gods by such offerings and to seek in return his desired objectives. It is emphatically stated that it is a perverse notion to think of himsa as having religious sanction and to consider that the Gods are pleased at sacrifices of living beings offered in their name. In fact it is asserted that religion is peace giving and can never encourage or sanction what gives pain to living beings.
Secondly, a person should not kill animals for pleasing the guests in the belief that there is no harm in killing goats, etc., for the sake of persons deserving respect. Such a desire is obviously not good as it involves the abominable Himsa in the form of wanton destruction of living beings.
Thirdly, a person should not kill animals like snakes, scorpions, lions, tigers etc., on the ground that by so doing a large number of lives will be saved. Such a type of killing has to be avoided because it engenders the feelings of enemy, hostility and revenge which go against the principle of Ahimsa. Again, it is stated that as these animals always strike man in self-defense, they will not do harm to man if they are not attacked by man.
Fourthly, a person should not kill animals which are leading a severely painful life due to onslaught of certain incurable sufferings or disease on the ground that by the act of killing the animal would soon be relieved from its unbearable anguish and agony. But this kind of killing is considered not as an act of mercy but definitely as an act of Himsa.
Renouncement of Night-eating
With a view to making the observance of Ahimsa-vrata more complete a strict injection to restrict the eating activity during the day-time only is levied. It has been laid down in the sacred Jaina text of ''Purusharthasiddhi-upaya'; that "Those who take their meals at night cannot avoid Himsa. Hence, abstainers from Himsa should give up night eating also".
It is argued that day-time is the natural time for work and for taking food. Again, food is prepared more easily, with greater care and with less probability of injury to living beings during day than at night. Further, the light of the sun makes it easy to pick out, to separate unwholesome stuff, and to remove the worms and small insects which find place in the material for food. There are many insects which are not even visible in the strongest artificial light at night and there are also many small insects, which have a strong affinity for food stuffs, appear only during night-time. That is why it is concluded in the same sacred text as follows that "It is established that he who has renounced night-eating, through mind, speech or body, always observes Ahimsa". As utmost importance is attached to the practice of eating during day-time from the point of view of observance of Ahimsa, certain sacred texts like "Charitrasara" consider "Ratri-bhukti-tyaga", i. e., giving up eating at night, as the sixth "Anuvrata", i.e., small vow, added to the prevalent set of five Anuvratas.