One of the fundamental Jain values is ahiṃsā – ‘non-violence’ or ‘non-harm’. It underlies religious practices for both mendicants and lay people and is found throughout Jain doctrine. This explains why for many contemporary Jains their religion can be expressed in a simple maxim, namely:

 

“Ahiṃsā paramo dharmaḥ”
Non-violence is the highest religious duty.
all living things have souls, which must be cherished and protected
violence harms the soul of whoever commits it.

The Jain attitude of non-harm and protection extends to all forms of life because Jains recognise the value of the soul within each living creature, no matter how simple and lowly. The life and wellbeing of the soul of a tiny ant are as precious as that of a human being or a god. In Jain belief all life is intimately connected, with all souls striving to gain liberation.

 

Ahiṃsā is closely associated with key religious concepts such as the soul, karma, the cycle of birth and cosmology. Attachment to the world and the activities that arise from it, even everyday living, create karmas that bind the soul in the cycle of births. All living beings have a soul – jīva – which is reborn in different bodies and conditions according to the karma it generates. Violence – hiṃsā – especially deliberate, extreme violence such as murder, creates powerful negative karma that result in the soul’s rebirth as a plant, two-sensed being or even an infernal being. Non-violence thus reduces the production of negative karmas, thereby helping the soul progress towards liberation, which is the ultimate aim of Jainism.

 

As one of the principal Jain teachings, ahiṃsā is stressed throughout Jain literature. Tales of the lives of the Jinas, leaders of the Jain faith, often include episodes of ahiṃsā to inspire Jains to practise non-violence.

What Scriptures Speak

one should not cause injury to any living being, including the tiniest creatures and plants. All life depends on nature for survival.

source : The ancient Jain scripture, Achaarang Sutra (about 4th century B.C.)

A person who is free from delusion (who understands things as they are),

who has good qualities, who has good thoughts, speech and deeds,

and who avoids violence of body, speech and mind,

enjoys freedom like a bird, while living on this earth.

Source : from Uttaraadhyayan Sutra (Chapter 20, verse 60)

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