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Home : Essays : Jainism & Peace

Jainism and Peace

S. Sripal, I.P.S., Inspector General of Police, Tamilnadu

Talking of the world situation, Tagore stated years ago: "From one end of the world to the other the poisonous fumes of hatred darken the atmosphere." This hatred stems from the over competitive and acquisitive nature that we see in man today. This is characteristic of a material world where conquest of atoms and quarks enjoys more priority over conquest of self. "Know thyself" was the call given to the world by thinkers and philosophers of the past. This environment is brilliantly elucidated by Billy Graham who said that "we live in spiritual emptiness; while Nietzsche asserts that God died in the nineteenth century, some now add that man died in the twentieth century."

Over competitive and acquisitive nature of man fosters and sustains attachment and aversion. He fails to see "Naked came I out of my mother's womb and naked shall I return." (Old Testament). Tagore's poetic utterance is beyond the comprehension of modern man when the poet writes "Happy child, the cradle is still to thee a vast space but when thou art a man the boundless world will be too small for thee."

Jainism enumerates five great vows: Ahimsa, Satya. Astheya, Parimitha Parigraha and Brahmacharya. Non-injury, truth, non-stealing, limited possession and chastity are only approximate translations for the terms mentioned. Jainism also prescribes the three-fold path of Right knowledge, Right faith and Right conduct. Jainism emphasises that all sins emanate from Himsa - injury by thought, word or deed to any living being. The first and foremost Dharma is Ahimsa.

Parimitha Parigraha or limited possesion is the forerunner of the concept of Trusteeship envisaged and explained by Gandhiji. Self-reverence, self-knowledge and self-control lead life to Sovereign Power. Individual effort and sublimation of self is the only effective answer to the problems of the present day world.

A famous historian comments: "The history of ancient India is a history of thirty centuries of human culture and progress. It divides itself into several distinct periods, each of which, for a length of several centuries, will compare with the entire history of many a modern people. In these thirty centuries of human culture and progress the Jaina contribution is a solid synthesis of many-sided developments in art, architecture, religion, morals and sciences; but the most important achievement of Jaina thought is the ideal of Ahimsa."

The importance of the concept of Ahimsa will be clear when we look at the following observations made by great leaders of men:

"A single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all of the allied air forces in the Second World War". - J. F. Kennedy
"A bomb can now be manufactured which will be 25.000 times as powerful as that which destroyed Hiroshima." -Betrand Russell
"In the hurricane of annihilating material power provided by atomic energy, the practice of non-violence is necessary for mankind to save it from self-destruction." - Arnold Toynbee

Ahimsa as preached and practised by Jain Thirthankars is the only answer to problems of peace, poverty and pollution confronting humanity. Gandhiji rightly stated: "Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. lt is remarkable that unlike Vedic religion, Jainism stands for pure Ahimsa without any reservation." Romain Rolland was courageous to come forward with a very meaningful statement: "The Rishis, who discovered the law of non-violence in the midst of violence were greater geniuses than Newton and greater warriors than Wellington. Non-violence is the law of our species, as violence is the law of the brute."

Ahimsa, Satya, Astheya, Parimitha Parigraha and Brahmacharya as enumerated and enjoined by Jainism -- a philosophy that asserts that liberation is not the promise of the future which does not bog itself down to cultural regimentation -- it is the right answer to the maladies that mutilate and plague mankind today.