Non-Violence In Today’s World


By Mr. Dulichand Jain, B.Com. L. L. B., Sahitha, Ratna


Ahimsa is the essence of Dharma. It is what makes the functioning of the society possible. Much more, it is a virtue that nurtures reverence bringing within it the honour and dignity to all forms of life. Compassion and Kindness are really expression of this basic value, which when practiced and reciprocated results in peace and harmony in the world. Violence is deviation from Dharma and hence is the root cause of all evils in society.

The quintessence of Lord Mahavira’s teachings is that Dharma is most auspicious and it sustains the universe. Ahimsa (non-violence), self-restraint and austerity are the basic expressions and constituents of Dharma. The principle of Ahimsa in Jainism embraces not only human beings but also animals, birds, plants, vegetables and creatures in earth, air and water. It is holy law of compassion extended to body, mind and speech of every living person.

In the words of Lord Mahavira, “Not to kill any living being is the foundation of all wisdom. Certainly, one has to understand that non-violence and equality of all living beings are essentials of Dharma. Lord Mahavira emphasised reverence to all forms of life and said, “All living beings desire to live, they wish to relish pleasure; loath misery, shun annihilation; enjoy life and like to live long.” In short, life is dear to all beings. He further said, “Knowing that all the evils and sorrows arise from injury to living beings, and (knowing further) that it leads to unending enmity and hatred, and is the (root) cause of great fear, a wise man, who has become awakened, should refrain from all violent (harmful) activities.”

Today mankind has forgotten the above values of Ahimsa. The result is that it is suffering from the effects of violence, hatred, disharmony and degradation of all resources of nature. Let us try to take remedial steps so that mankind leads a life full of harmony and happiness.

Man : An Economic Machine ? : The modern civilisation based entirely on the material i.e. the economic plane has resulted in the personality of man being cabined into an economic animal. Naturally it has not helped him attain any measure of real happiness. He has tried several Isms but they have not solved his problems. The latest striking example of Communism is before us. Born with a loud bang for ensuring welfare and dignity of man, and for equality and upliftment of the common masses, it has collapsed like a house of cards. The masses in Communist countries themselves have risen in revolt and thrown it into the dustbin of history – their dreams of a proletariat of heaven having turned into a nightmare of serfdom and starvation. The same is going to be the fate of the western society dominated by American Capitalism. Mr.E.F. Schumacher says that America having just 6 percent of world’s population is cornering 40 percent of the world’s resources and yet the average level of happiness of the people there has not improved. On the contrary, in that country families are broken up, the relationships between husband and wife, between parents and children are snapped. Individuals feel isolated and alienated with the sense of vacuum and boredom oppressing them – there is that growing inner feeling of futility and absurdity. Any number of remedies like group therapy, drugs, sexual games and all the rest have failed. Educational experts say that children are more at home with drugs, television games etc than with their parents and with their brothers and sisters. In short, considering economic growth alone as the yardstick for measuring standard of life, has verily led to destruction of human personality. It has made man ‘a clog in the wheel’ and destroyed the natural rhythm of his life.

A Planet in Trouble : For centuries, the dominant attitude in the western world towards the nature was that it existed for the benefit of mankind. According to them man is the supreme animal and all agencies of nature are his subordinates. Man can exploit and use them according to his whims and fancies. Francis Bacon wrote 400 years ago that the world is made up for man, not man for the world. The result of this attitude is that the global economy is expanding amidst an all-round deterioration of the environment to-day. This deterioration has reached such a high level that it threatens the very existence of the planet earth. The very aim of man to control nature through science and technology speaks of his greed and exploitation. This is resulting in serious damages to nature and environment. Arnold Toynbee wrote in 1972 in the London Observer, “We are suffering from having sold out our souls to the pursuit of maximising material wealth, a pursuit which is spiritually wrong and practically unattainable.” In the recent world we have seen disastrous consequences of degradation of nature and its agencies. We have experienced the chocking air pollution in Mexico, the deadly aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine, the destruction of the rain forests in Brazil, the death of Swedish lake from acid rain, heavy pollution in the mighty rivers like the Ganges and the horror of the chemical disaster in Bhopal. Wherever we look, we see our planet as one in trouble.

Wild Life : Unrestricted hunting of animals for food, fur or fun is threatening the very existence of many species. The share of the birds, mammals, and fish vulnerable or in immediate danger of extinction is now estimated at 11 percent of the world’s 8,615 bird species, 25 percent of the world’s 4,355 mammal species, and 34 percent of all fish species. Smt. Maneka Gandhi, Hon’ble Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Govt. of India expressed concern in her millennium message in the following words, “This past century has been the cruelest in history. Science was harnessed to business. Progress was measured by profits. We invented factory farming, battery cages, vivisection, mechanised slaughter-houses, marine parks, whaling and trawling. Billions of animals were slaughtered, mutilated, blinded, beaten and slaved.” According to Greenpeace magazine the population of African elephants came down drastically from 15 lakhs to just 6 lakhs within a period of 10 years from 1981 to 1990. In Oct. 1989, in an effort to stop the killing of elephants, the convention of International Trade in Endangered species voted to ban the trading of ivory.

Rain Forests : Rain forests are victims of timber and meat industires. Millions of acres are cleared and stripped annually to graze cattle for meat production and to grow billions of tons of soyabean to feed cattle. If the United States, Canada, Sweden and Russia continue chopping down their forests, the results could be just as devastating for the global eco-system as the destruction of rain forests in Africa or Tropical forests in New Guinea.

Industrial Accidents : Major accidents have been caused by chemical industries. As is well known, a valve broke out in 1985 at the Union Carbide Chemical Plant at Bhopal in M.P., allowing 30 tons of lethal methyl isocyanate gas to escape. Over 2000 people living nearby were killed and another 17000 received permanent injuries.

Nuclear Waste : Toxic chemicals are the regular sources of danger but the most toxic is nuclear waste, and its safe disposal is a problem that has yet to be solved. Nuclear plants in the United States are holding over 15000 metric tons of high level waste, which will remain harmful to human beings for thousands of years. The worst nuclear disaster happened in 1986 at Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine. An estimated 20000 people died and 500000 persons received high radiation doses as a result of this explosion. The blast was equivalent to 500 atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Meat and The Environment : Killing animals for food, fur, leather, ivory, cosmetics and other industrial uses is one of the most environmentally destructive practices taking place on the earth to-day. The meat industry is linked to deforestation, desertification, water pollution, water shortages, air pollution and soil erosion. Neal D. Barnard, President of Physicians committee for Responsible Medicine (U.S.A.) says, “If you are a meat eater, you are contributing to the destruction of the environment, whether you know it or not.” Jeremy Rifkin rightly warned in 1992, “To-day, millions of Americans, Europeans, and Japanese are consuming countless hamburgers, steaks and roasts, oblivious to the impact their dietary habits are having on the biosphere and the very survivability of life on earth. Every pound of gain-fed flesh is secured at the expense of a burned forest, a barren field, a dried-up river, and the release of millions of tons of carbon-di-oxide, nitrous oxide and methane into the skies. About 40 percent of the land in the western United States is used for grazing beef cattle. About half of the world’s grain is consumed by animals that are later slaughtered for meat. It takes sixteen pounds of grain and soyabeans to produce one pound of beef. About 20 Vegetarians can be fed on the land that it takes to feed one meat eater.

Reducing or eliminating meat consumption would have substantial positive effects on environment. Fewer trees would be cut, less soil would be eroded, and desertification would be substantially reduced. Further, eliminating meat eating would release a vast quantity of food grain for human consumption, thus helping solve the world food problem. And on an ethical level, stopping animal killing helps induce a greater respect for a11 kinds of life.

Consumerism : The spread of consumerism is rooted in the western thought that more and more production is the solution of all problems and that this will bring economic and social advancement to all people. To enrich one’s own life, one should increase his possessions and accumulation of goods. To-day people in America own and consume twice as much as they did in 1950. The question arises whether they are twice as much happy as they were in 1950. This philosophy of consumerism is based purely on amoral principles, where self interest is predominant and social welfare occupies secondary place. Environmental degeneration may be attributed to the population explosion, but an objective study will reveal that it is also because of the consumeric behaviour of the wealthy.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says in its “Living Planet Report 2000” that at to-day’s level of economic activity, the human race is operating at 30 percent above what the earth can provide without suffering serious damage. It further says that if people in the developing world consumed as much as those living in the richest counties, the human race will need another two planets like earth to cope up their demand. Chapter four of Agenda twenty-one of the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 point out “The major cause of continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, particularly in developed countries.

Lord Mahavira said in Uttaradhyayan Sutra, “Where there is inner desire for material gain and possession of worldly objects of enjoyments, there is greed.” This greed results in possessing more and more material objects. There is a clear link between accumulation for its own sake and restlessness. The theory of self-interest for self-promotion lacks human values.

The modern world of consumer articles has become so over-powering that no average person can remain unaffected by it. In such a set up of indifference to the world of objects is only seen in the present scenario as a psychological abnormality. As a consequence people with limited means are developing such traits that are inimical to the individuals in particular and to society in general. The crime rate is now becoming alarmingly high. Consumerism with its hypnotising characteristics makes people blindly imitate others, taking the shape of a kind of mass-hysteria in people. Economic growth thus leads to psychological and moral degeneration. Disturbance of mental peace, envy, exploitation of others, jealously etc. are the natural consequences of growing consumerism.
There is, therefore, a need to see the world and our very selves in a new light. Rampant materialistic desires are the natural result of a mechanistic scientific worldview that defines human as a biological machine which has come by chance in a cosmos devoid of divine guidance and purpose.

Towards the Solution : Seeing that the world is leading towards environmental catastrophe, violence and hatred in different groups makes one wonder if it is possible to make the life of the people peaceful and harmonious. This requires immediate attention and necessary action on war footing. The teachings of Lord Mahavira, though 2500 years old, are relevant even to-day and provide correct solution to the problems of mankind. The following corrective steps have to be taken :

Reduction of desires for material objects :- Environmental and other problems cannot be solved unless people reduce their desires for material consumption. As Mahatma Gandhi Said, “Nature can fulfill all the needs of mankind but not its greed”. Over-exploitation of natural resources by a small group of wealthy people deprives a large population of their basic needs of materials. Hence, man should make optimum use of the available resources.

Spiritual base of economic system : Lord Mahavira laid emphasis on having control over economic needs and advocated self-restraint in their use. Man is not an economic unit only but he is basically a spiritual personality. The mechanical worldview advocated by western thinkers has not solved the problems of humanity. Lord Mahavira emphasised self-realization as the goal of human life.

The Principle Of Aparigraha : Aparigraha taught by Lord Mahavira is a realistic, practical and rational principle with a solid foundation for social upliftment. Lord Mahavira says that all material comforts and pleasures can never satiate anybody and give him true happiness. In his own words, “Even if this whole world full of wealth is given to a man, he will not be contented, for it is very difficult to satisfy the desires of an avaricious man.” He preached the doctrine of non-possession to limit the desires for worldly pursuits. He says, “It is owing to attachment that a man commits violence, utters lies, commits theft, indulges in sex develops a yearning for unlimited hoardings. Possessiveness and greed are the main causes which create tension in the life of an individual and also in the society at large. Hence, an aspirant should limit his possessions and desires to the minimum extent.

Lord Mahavira said that the source of happiness and peace lies in the human individual himself and not in the outside world. Man should respect all agencies of nature and live in co-existence with them in a harmonious way. Man should limit his possessions to avoid wastage and maintain them carefully to last longer, so that the total stock of things are used by the vast population. This factor makes it all the more necessary to control consumerism. A shift from an economy of acquisition to an economy of needs in a necessity for a country like ours which is suffering from over-population. Science, technology and economics have to orient themselves with ethics, without which the humanity cannot make the larger number of people happy.

Lord Mahavira laid great stress on the right attitude, self-discipline and carefulness. He said that a man should continuously watch his own behavior so that it does not result in any injury to any living being. Jaina ethics give great attention to life-preservation, life-protection and kindness to all forms of life. His teachings of non-violence, restricting the desires and giving away in charity are very much needed to reduced violence, selfishness and degradation of life values.

Need for Preserving Life-Values : To-day life values are degrading. Man has become self-centered and greedy. The problems faced by humanity are inequality, improper distribution of natural resources, racial discrimination, economic hardships faced by a large population and the hazards of religious and cultural fundamentalism. These can be solved by understanding the true aim of life which is to develop values and not merely enjoyment of more and more material and sensual objects. To-day there is urgent need to understand and imbibe the life values of non-violence, compassion, restraint of desires and equality taught by the great Master more than 2500 years ago.

There is some awakening in the present world and many right thinking people have started giving attention to life-values to make life of common people healthy, happy and harmonious. The General Assembly of the United Nations has proclaimed the year 2000 as the ‘International Year for the culture of Peace.’ Culture is about how we live our lives, how we think, speak and behave. On 9.12.2000, Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the honorable Prime Minister of India singed the UNESCO Manifesto – 2000 propagating six core values for a culture of peace and non-violence. The Manifesto drafted by a group of Noble peace prize Laureates solicits signature support from people across the globe to practice values like

Ø Respect for life
Ø Reject violence
Ø Share with others
Ø Listen to understand
Ø Preserve the planet
Ø Re-discover solidarity

The above manifesto is based on the principles of non-violence (reverence for all forms of life), non-possession, and values of life. There is great need today to imbibe the above teachings so that they become a part of our day to day life. These teachings will inspire every person to lead a happy, peaceful and humanitarian life.

References :
1. Dasavailkalika Sutra 1.1
2. Sutrakrtanga Sutra, 1.11.10
3. Acaranga Sutra
4. Sutrakrtanga Sutra, 1.1.13
5. Jan. Feb. 1990 issue, Page 20,
6. Divine nature by Michael A. Cremo and Mukunda Goswami, Paged 9, published by the Bhaktivedanta Bood Trust, Mumbai 400 049.
7. The Hindu, Chennai dated 16.12.2000
8. Beyond beef : The Rise and Fall of the cattle culture by Rifkin, Jeremy Newyork, Dutton, Pages  226-227
9. Uttaradhyayana Sutra, 8.16
10. Bhava Pahuda, 132
11. The Hindu, Chennai dated 10/12/2000


Author : Mr. Dulichand Jain, B.Com. L.L.B. ‘Sahitha, Ratna’
Secretary : Research Foundation for Jainology
36, Sembudoss Street, Chennai-600001


Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation