Peace Harmony Development. Ahinsā Anekānta Aparigraha in Jainism

Rampant erosion of our environment and natural resources due to aggressive consumerism based development, violence in the form of terrorism, wars; religious fanaticism, political ideologies, exploitation and corruption all around are serious challenges facing the people of the world.  In all corners of the world one hears a common response of people visualizing a new man, a new society and a new world. Efforts are also afoot to realize the above vision.  Will the efforts succeed based on the permanent as a new order cannot be affected without a change? A new order cannot be affected without a radical change of the mind set.  

Doctrines of Non violence (Ahinsā) in thought, speech and action, Multiplicity of viewpoints (Anekānta) in thoughts and limiting possessions (Aparigraha) as life style, the three pillars (AAA) of Jain way of life of Jains as the principles that can affect the change to bring a new order visualized globally. 

 Main features of Jain doctrine on which the three AAAs are derived from are:


           Pure self is endowed with Infinite knowledge and bliss. Worldly Living beings are an embodiment of pure self plus karmic impurities. Be aware of self or the inner consciousness.

           All living beings are equal and have the potential to attain their highest goal. 

           All living beings want happiness. Nobody wants pain.

           Trinity of Right belief-knowledge-conduct is the path to achieve Liberation and eternal bliss

           All existents are REAL. Duality of existence (living and non living beings). Reality is with persistence and change.           

           Exertion (Hard Work) essential to earn and consumption with caution.

           Sharing surplus /charity for sustainable development.

           Living beings help each other.

           Self improvement first than help others improve.

           Concept of JINA


Peace harmony and development


Peace and harmony are both synonymous. Absolute peace means a time when there is no fighting, no rudeness, no cruelty but only calmness, the total absence of hostility, or the existence of healthy or newly-healed interpersonal or international relationships, safety in matters of social or economic welfare, the acknowledgment of equality and fairness in political relationships and, in world matters. Among the potential causes for the absence of peace i.e. war or conflict are: insecurity, social injustice, economic inequality, political and religious radicalism, and acute racism and nationalism. Such an environment provides the ample opportunities to realize their full potential both worldly and spiritual. 

Jain philosophy realizes that such a situation is difficult as opposites co  exist i.e. good and bad always co exist and we try to minimize bad and maximize good.  Jains describe time consisting of time cycles; of rising happiness and declining happiness. Each half time cycle consisting of six epochs and the half cycle repeats itself like the pendulum of a clock. The six epochs consist of happy-happy, happy, happy-unhappy, unhappy-happy, unhappy and unhappy-unhappy events.  All liberated souls occur only during the 4th time epoch i.e. unhappy-happy or when there is equilibrium of unhappiness and happiness. So peace is when there is harmony amongst good and bad and the ultimate development i.e. attainment of liberation occurs only during this period.

Thus Jain doctrine talks of multifaceted development and not just to maximize one aspect, for example financial or spiritual or physical or social or political etc. Individuals in such circumstances feel encouraged to exert more and excel as per their inclination and capability and contribute to total development. Thus Jains will support an index like Gross National Happiness ‘GNH’ rather than GNP or GDP to measure the level of development of a society. The concept of Gross National Happiness ‘GNH’ as the measure to evaluate the development of any country or community rests on the four pillars i.e. sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance. The Centre for Bhutan Studies further defined these four pillars with greater specificity into eight general contributors to happiness- physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality. The second generation GNH concept, treating happiness as a socioeconomic development metric, was proposed in 2006 by Med Jones, the President of International Institute of Management that tracks the following seven development areas including the nation's mental and emotional health. GNH value is proposed to be an index function of the total average per capita derived from wellness of a society based on Economic; Environmental; Physical; Mental; Workplace; Social and Political Wellness.

Eric Weiner in his book ‘The geography of BLISS’ has evaluated nine countries and talked of perception of happiness and how they measure it by different yardsticks. The findings are in line with Jain way of life that propagates happiness is the very nature of self rather than just material wealth (which is considers as Bondage and pain) as the ultimate objective of our life.



Jainism is one of the oldest religions of India and perhaps the world. Jains form the smallest (4.2 million out of a total population of 1.10 billion in India), non violent, highly educated and prosperous community of India. In USA alone there are over 100000 Jains engaged in knowledge based professions and businesses. Besides they are extremely conscious of their social obligations also as indicated by over 5000 schools and colleges, several thousand small hospitals, cowsheds, homes for destitute, pilgrimage places, objects of art and literature contributed by them to India.

The word Jain is derived from Jina, a person who has attained supreme soul status by conquering his sensual inclinations/ tendencies so as to be able to enjoy his own nature of infinite knowledge and bliss eternallyThe followers of the path shown by Jinas are called Jains. Thus the entire doctrine of Jainism centres on self improvement till Excellence (or our own nature to be happy) i.e.  nirvāņa /mokşa is attained. The mokşa mārga, or the path to liberation propounded by Jinas, is said to be samyak darsana-jnāna-cāritrāņi mokşamārga1 or the trinity of right faith–knowledge and conduct practised.

The three pillars of Jain way of life are


v   Ahinsā or non-violence in conduct

v   Anekānta or pluralism /multiplicity of viewpoints in thoughts

v   Aparigraha or non-possession in life style

In fact Ahinsā is the only or central/ focal doctrine of Jains and all other rules or ethical practices etc are sheer corollaries of this doctrine. I will revert to these later.  For the present I will like to take you back to History of Jains to show how these principles evolved and practiced by the spiritual leaders, social leaders and the Jain community at large. 


Historical background

The first tīrthankara or the founder of Jainism in the present time cycle, Lord Rişabh Dev (end of third epoch and beginning of fourth epoch) emerged when the nomads (Bhogabhumi or forest dwellers or happy beings) were crying for direction to continue enjoying life hindered by weakening power of wish trees. He organized the people to live in small formations like towns etc based on the following principles/ways of life:

·              Work Culture ‘śrama’  to earn food, shelter, happiness etc

·              Essentiality of Education, training and skill development to both men and women

·             Equal status and opportunity for growth to all. Institutionalized family and society by grouping (not by birth) according to capabilities and interest as physically brave for defence works (kşatriyas), manual workers (śudra) and traders (Vaiśya). The fourth category (Brāhmaņa) was created by his eldest son Bharat the emperor after whose name India is called Bharat.

·               Multi dimensional development i.e. spiritual physical and worldly well being.

·              Renunciation after attaining worldly happiness. He became inquisitive for eternal happiness. So he renounced his empire in favour of his sons and became a recluse and went to secluded places for penance and self study. After attaining the Bliss and omniscience, He preached the principles of Ahinsā, Self restraint, penance, charity, equanimity, non possession etc for gaining social and higher levels of happiness.

·              Resolving conflicts through Ahinsā: war between his eldest son emperor Bharat and his step brother Bahubali reduced to dual between then saving the armies. Then the victor Bahubali forgives his elder brother renounces and move to attain liberation like his father. (Supreme forgiveness).

·               Non possession /non passiveness Aparigraha as the way of life and renunciation the ultimate goal: Emperor Bharat had immense wealth but not attached to it. Renounced his wealth later and became a monk to attain Bliss.

Purānas (world history literature) of Jains show the above principles practiced by almost all Jain emperors, including Chandragupta Maurya (3rd century BC) and sixty three illustrious people.  Emperors not renouncing their wealth go to hell as indicated in the stories of 63 illustrious people in Jain story literature. This literature also shows the following principles for material development and social works. 

·               Going overseas to earn material wealth i.e. promoting international trade, return to deploy the same for social well being and then practice mokşamārga.

·               Ahinsā including animal rights: The twenty second tīrthankara Neminath, a cousin of Lord Krishna gave up his worldly life on the eve of his marriage to preach.

·               Renunciation after attaining the highest worldly objectives essential. (The concept of four puruşārths (dharma or moral conduct, artha or making righteous living, kāma or sensual gratification and mokşa or as final liberation).

·               Social Consciousness:  The twenty third tīrthankara Parshwanath practiced Forgiveness and became instrumental in the well being of others. Padmavati). All tīrthankaras deliver beneficial sermons to others. 

·              Contribution to art and literature: e.g. Kharvel (2nd century BC), builder of modern Orissa, Kings of south India between 4th to 1200 AD where Jainism flourished as mass religion illustrious,  Chamund Rai (10th century AD), prime minister of who built the famous śravanbelgola. 

Jainism as practiced and studied today is said to be based on the life and teachings of the 24th tīrthankara Mahāvīra (some 2550 years ago) and a contemporary of Buddha (some 36 years senior), whom a number of academicians consider as the founder of Jainism. Like all tīrthankaras, he was also born in a royal family and renounced the worldly comforts, performed severe austerities for 12.5 years to attain omniscience and bliss. 

·                     Engaged all (no cast bar) living beings in his fourfold congregation namely monks –male and female and laity as male and female as per their interest and inclinations.

·                    All living beings want to be happy. No one wants pain. Non violence (Ahinsā) is the supreme spiritual virtue for both attaining liberation and social harmony. Definition of living beings even to include plants, air and water bodied etc. Laid foundation of environmentalism and ecology.

·                    Truth is infinite i.e. reality as endowed with permanence, origination and destruction i.e. persistence with change. All Existents are real. Opposite qualities exist concurrently. Our own knowledge is relative to our capabilities. (Anekānta). He himself answered all queries put to him from at least substance, place, and time and mode viewpoints. This doctrine helped to bring various monist thinkers together and eliminate or minimize the violence indulged in by followers of different faiths.

·                     Attachment /possessions are bondage and hence is Pain. So limit your possessions for worldly happiness and become totally detached for liberation

·                   He assigned responsibility to individuals for their being good /bad/ sufferer or enjoyers rather than God inflicting or blessing. Jain doctrine of karma (Consequences of one’s action) is very detailed and unique. Any event or occurrence can be described by a combination of five co-factors (samvāyas) namely nature (svabhāva), time, karma, pre-destination (niyati or universal laws) and puruşārtha or self-effort

·                     Social Ahinsā: 64 applications of Ahinsā namely kindness, compassion, security, love, forgiveness, equanimity, tolerance, service etc.,

·                     Right for education and practice religion to women. End of women slavery

·                     Use of common man’s language for his sermons to avoid intermediaries and scholars.



In an unprecedented way Mahāvīra clarified Ahińsā. In Ācārāńga He says,

None of the living beings ought to be killed or deprived of life, ought to be ordered or ruled, ought to be enslaved or possessed, ought to be distressed or afflicted and ought to be put to unrest or disquiet.

He further classified living beings in six categories namely:

·              With mobile body i.e. 2 to 5 sensed like insects, animals, birds and human beings

·              With immobile body i.e. with one sense like plant /air/fire/earth and water bodied) they have.

To understand living beings (jiva), Jain texts talk of Life Vitalities (prāņas) like breathe, life span, sense organs/s, potency of mind body and speech.

Hurting or killing of even any one type of these vitalities is hińsā.  Hińsā can be performed knowingly or unknowingly by activities of mind, speech or body by a person himself or asking others to do so or admiring those who perform such violent activities.

Such a vast and detailed coverage of Ahińsā of Jains cannot be found anywhere else. Samantabhadra, a noted Jain monk of 2nd century AD has aptly described Māhavīra’s doctrine as ‘Sarvodaya Tīrtha’ or enlightenment or welfare of all.

Jains equate violence with sin (papa) and hence the cause of transmigration and all types of pains. This is the basis of all moral and ethical postulates of Jainism from the practical viewpoint. Convergent validation for this non-killing thesis can be found in the first global survey by the World Health Organization of deaths by suicide, homicide, and war which conclude that “violence is a preventable disease” (WHO, 2005).


Later on in The Praśnavyākaraņa Sūtra He designates Social Ahińsā (practicing Ahinsa as a householder in day to day worldly life) as kindness, security, solitariness, fearlessness, non-killer, compassion, tolerance, equanimity, love, forgiveness, service, friendship and so on. 

Mahatma Gandhi practised this social ahińsā all the time to achieve independence for India.  Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela used this for the uplift their people. Today Anna Hazare in India is using it to deal with ghastly corruption rampant in Indian political system.

Historical evidence and our own observations of recent times show the deadly and devastating results of violence committed as the coverage of violence and mass killing is increasing exponentially so that the entire human race and the entire eco system is endangered. The advent of technology has enhanced significantly the impact and methods of committing hińsā. The whole world is spending fortunes to invent more and more deadly weapons and means of torturing /killing or causing pain even though our experience is that use of force to win a war or eliminate discord or differences in religious-political ideologies results in escalation of violence only causing more miseries than reducing them (Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Indo-Pak troubles etc.). It is not out of place to mention some of the statements made by President Obama while accepting the Nobel Peace prize ‘Violence never gets peace.  We go to wars by justifying them as just wars. However all these wars do not result in peace? The only justification for just war is to fight for humanity and for this the nation /society which wages war must first demonstrate that it is practicing humanity first’ 


Some facts about hińsā are given below:


I.              Hińsā affects the doer i.e. hińsaka more than the hińsya (the victim). So even for our own selfish gains we must observe non-violence. We can see enhanced cruelty in our thinking, anger and uneasiness all through our body and mind causing stress and associated problems. Once committed, the hińsya starts getting ready to take revenge and hence the hińsaka has to be involved in amassing more violent tools and devices and becomes more and more engrossed in hińsā.


II.           Ecology: Killing the five types of living beings i.e. those with air or water or fire or earth or plant as their bodies, is called environment pollution. Even killing animals and other living beings cause natural / ecological imbalances. Copenhagen summit of world environment in 2009 suggest 50% greenhouse gases are emitted by animal breeding for food industry alone.

As the black bee drinks gently, of the blossoms of the tree; hurting not the flowers, and yet drinks deep to its heart content DV2


III.         Social ills: Economic exploitation of under weak and privileged and environment, Girl child killing in the womb; use of cosmetics and leather products from unborn and newly born animals; class system dividing the society in low, middle or high castes etc on the basis of birth, race or colour; religious fanaticism and exploitation of the weak are different ways of committing violence. Growing intolerance, selfishness are some of the social ills caused by enhanced hińsā.

That which is non violence, self restraint and austerity is Dharma (spiritual values). It is by virtue of spiritual values that supreme spiritual beneficence results. To him whose mind is (absorbed) in spiritual values, even gods pay homage DV1/SS 82

We thus see that violence affects individuals /societies / countries and may even cause total destruction of the whole humanity. Hence it is essential that we adopt the concept of an Ahińsaka society and the world.




Mahāvīra knew that the root cause of all ills associated with socio-economic inequalities is disproportionate possession of wealth by few individuals. Thus he gave religious cum social overtones to non possession and asked his householder disciples to limit their possessions and share the rest (surplus) with others and minimize possessiveness for spiritual uplift. He never told his disciples not to work or earn as Jainism is also known as śramaņa tradition and the monks are called śramaņas. The literal meanings of the word 'parigraha' (possessions) are to surround, to hold on both sides, embrace, enfold, envelope, seize, clutch, grasp, catch, take possession of, etc. In Sutrakrtanga, Mahāvīra equates parigraha to bondage and declares it as the main cause for all pains. This includes the full range of feelings from liking to craving. Thus parigraha is not just possession of money and material but the thoughts and feelings that are associated with them resulting in possessiveness. Aparigraha is the absence of parigraha. In a nutshell we can say that aparigraha is the absence of ‘the feeling of mine’ and substitute it by ‘feeling of the society’. Since it is not possible for a layman to fully embrace the concept of aparigraha by renouncing all possessions; the Jain texts ask the lay persons to set limits to their worldly possessions and gradually make these limits tighter. The concepts of charity (dāna) and conservation are the derivatives of aparigraha.


The primary goal of man is to lead a healthy and happy life. Many individuals relate happiness to material possessions and think that possessing things such as a big house, expensive cars and fancy clothes lead to happiness. Most rich individuals appear to have little time to enjoy what they possess as they are engrossed in first amassing wealth and then its preservation only feelings caused by their possessiveness. But this is just a mirage. In reality, contentment and non-possessiveness bring genuine happiness and peace of mind. A mad pursuit of money and materials results in worries and hence stress. Examples of infighting between Ambani brothers; increase in the alarming number of disputes and court cases involving money, property and ego to maintain certain lifestyles fill our world.

So on earth, bee like, śramaņa, liberated recluse, seeks food pure, with caution due, offered wilfully by a devotee donor.                                                  DV 3   


Limiting our desires and possessions serves the cause of ecological balance also. It is not sacrifice or an act of charity but an act for the very survival of mankind. Indiscreet consumerism by individuals and nations involves rampant exploitation of natural resources resulting in not only pollution of the environment all over the globe but extreme economic inequalities. This behavior has aggravated the suffering of the common people. Efforts to resolve these problems through political maneuvering and/or tenets of modern economics have not been effective. Mahatma Gandhi aptly said ‘Our earth has enough resources to satisfy the needs all living beings but it does not have enough resources to satisfy the greed / desires of even one person’. 


When desires and ambitions are consciously limited through our practice of non-possessiveness, contentment prevails; we have good thoughts and develop a sense of accomplishment; our competitors do not remain our adversaries; they become our beneficiaries. Instead of prosperity for the few, well being of all is attained. It is for the common good of the society. This process results in an atmosphere of goodwill, amity and peace in society.  We see Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the richest and the second richest men of the world, setting aside large parts of their wealth for social causes by saying in one word ‘Giving back to the society’. Jains are criticised that they are richest even though they talk of non possession. To some extent it is true but the wealth of Jains is not due to their possessiveness but due to their good conduct (absence of vices etc in their life style) which restraints them from indulgence in wealth for satisfying their worldly desires. The day Jains also forget their ethical tenets, they will also become like other communities resulting in the welfare society’.


Mahāvīra realized that differences in opinions /viewpoints amongst different people emanate from their intellectual capabilities. These affect the social harmony more than economic or social inequalities. He thus said that differences in viewpoints emanate from the differences in the nature of things. These different aspects of things are to be understood as different aspects of the TRUTH giving rise to his doctrine of Nayavāda (doctrine of viewpoints) or Anekānta. Let us look at a few examples to understand what we mean by Anekānta.

1.            I am the son of my parents, brother of my sisters and brothers, father of my children, husband of my wife, friend of others and so on. Who am I?

2.            Story of seven blind men and elephant.

3.            A team of 100 photographers went to Kolkata to see the famous Bodhi tree. Each photographer took a picture of the tree from a specific point and claimed his photo only represent the tree completely.

The above examples explain the Jain theory of viewpoints/anekānta. It is based on their definition of reality as with persistence and change simultaneously i.e. an entity is both eternal and yet continuously changing. Truth is infinite and no one, like us, can know it completely. We all experience and insist that our viewpoint represents the whole truth and hence results in intolerance towards others. This is explained by each person or religion, having its own beliefs, claims it to be the only right one. A new man or a new society cannot be visualized on the basis of these beliefs in isolation. A worldly belief based on selfishness and the concern for personal gain as a result of which one disregards the good or the gain of others is to be eliminated as one’s gain are of no use unless the neighbours/city/country and the world are also benefitted by the same. Perhaps the key lies in the change in our view /way of thinking and attitude. The attitude YOU or ME has to change to YOU and ME to achieve the cherished goal for a change to better.  Jain doctrine of anekānta (multiplicity of viewpoints) provides a basis to achieve this. Its three pillars are:

·               Tolerance and respect for other’s viewpoints /customs rigidity by giving up rigidity or instance that I am right and others are wrong. 

·               Co-existence –cooperation with others i.e. existence of opposites at the same time is reality; love and service are the need of the day.

         Relativity i.e. we are all related meaning our actions affect not only us but others as well.


Mahāvīra always used to answer all questions put to him using this doctrine. Every event or activity must be viewed from at least two viewpoints namely transcendental and practical or substance and mode. For example Soul is eternal but it goes through transformation continuously.  Siddha Sen Divakar, a noted Jain saint of 4th century AD said ‘Naya or viewpoint doctrine is a method of contemplating / analysis. It is a thought, and thoughts have no limits / boundaries. So there are as many viewpoints as thoughts and hence there are as many philosophical doctrines. When we try to emphasize our thought as the only truth and other’s thought as false, then every thought becomes untrue / false Whenever we talk of independent viewpoint (i.e. not consider relativity), our thoughts become false’


 I give an example to clarify this point. On gaining independence, an old woman took out her cot, put in the middle of the road and lied down on it. A truck came and honked so that the woman moves away from the road. After repeated honking, the old woman did not move an inch. The driver then came down and asked the woman to move to the side so that he can drive his truck away. The old woman said “I am now independent and hence shall not move”. On hearing this, the driver said ‘Ok I am also independent and so I will drive my truck over you’. On hearing this woman got the message and moved to the side’.

Citing the example of a necklace Siddha Sen said that only those precious stones attain the same value as the neck lace when they leave their independent existence and are threaded together as a necklace. Similarly adherence to the Anekānta doctrine is possible for those nayas only which analyze the truth as relative to other nayas and not independent of them. Similarly Samanta Bhadra, a Jain ācārya of the same period gives an example that to churn milk to take butter out, the lady has to move the rope with both hands, one hand is in front and then it goes in the back and the other hand comes in the front. Anekānta can thus be viewed as a Holistic approach to thought processes. It attempts to bring reconciliation, rather confrontation amongst them.  We can have faith in the doctrine of our religion for seeking divine grace but for social harmony, peace and welfare we have to accept the existence of other religions and doctrines and seek common ways to achieve these social objectives as well.

Examples of Anekānta’s applications in our life


·               In a democracy, both the ruling and opposition parties co-exist and are essential. People living in one party system continuously try to change to multi party system of government.

·               Religious intolerance results in fanaticism. It is the largest cause for the conflicts and unrest today. Every one cries for secularism of one type or the other.

·               JRD Tata says “The Tata philosophy of management has always been, and is even today more than ever, that corporate enterprises must be managed not merely in the interests of their owners, but equally in those of their employees, of the customers, of their products and services, of the local community, and finally of the country and world at large’. This is the foundation of most of the business enterprises which survive and thrive. To this now a days the environment is also added.  

·               Einstein’s theory of relativity. Time, space and speed are relative to the positions of the viewer and viewed.

Today we talk of Pluralism, Interfaith dialogue, UNO and multinational organizations, multi racial communities and gardens which become more beautiful when different varieties and colours of flowers are planted there. Einstein describes his theory of relativity similarly by talking of the observer and the observed.

Practice/ code of conduct for Jain householder

·               Primary duties concerning abstinence from non violent food

·               Abstaining from seven vices (gambling, hunting, prostitution, use of intoxicants etc)

·               Six essential duties to be performed daily namely performing prayers, venerating the holy teacher, self study, charity, self restraint, spiritual exertions. 

·               Five minor vows (called Aņuvratas) namely minimizing violence and possessions, not speaking lies, not stealing and contentment with religiously married spouse.

·               Seven enhancing vows (called śilavratas) for householders or ordinary persons like me.

The practitioner is encouraged to make a beginning (Mahavira said Chalman chaliye i.e. one who starts walking is in fact walking), no matter how small and as per his/her interest and capabilities and gradually make progress towards greater and greater adherence as indicated in the eleven stages of spiritual purification (called Pratimās) till he is ready to seriously commit for 100 percent practice of these as a monk. Essentially they are all based on non hurting oneself as well as the others.

Thus practicing Ahinsā, Anekānta and Aparigraha will lead to enhanced peace harmony and sustained development as these principles aim for overall or holistic growth rather than one or few elements /measures of development.


·               Jainism, Key to Reality (English commentary on Tattvarathasutra by AC Uma Swami) Edited and translated by Shugan C Jain.

·               Jain Legend (Abridged Jain Dharma ka Maulik Itihas by Ac Hasti Mal) Edited by Shugan C Jain.

·               Das Vaikalika, Acharanga and Sutrakratang: Jain canonical texts.

·               Rattan Karand Shravakachar by SamantBhadra. Edited and translated by Dr Panna Lal Jain.

·               Anekant Views and issues AC MahaPrajna.

·               The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner.


Author:  Shugan C Jain. International School for Jain Studies India Email: