19 Q&A on Non-violence (Ahimsä)
The following questions were asked by the Jain youths over last few years. The answers presented here are not necessarily the ultimate ones. There could surely be better answers than those given below.
Ahimsä and Anekäntväd (non-violence and multiplicity of views) are the bases of Jainism. All other aspects are the branches of these two aspects. The fundamentals of non-violence are: 1) all living beings are equal, 2) every living being wants to live and does not want to die, 3) every living being wants to be happy and does not like pain and 4) we need to treat others the way we like to be treated.
Answer-1: The nature of non-violence is judged by our intentions and actions. If a person deliberately and knowingly harms other living beings, it is violence. But if involuntarily or in unavoidable circumstances, some insects are killed, then it is an exceptional situation. Whether it is by our actions, or by our speech or by our thoughts, hurting others is Himsä - violence.
Answer-2: In Jainism, non-violence is a timeless and far-reaching concept that can be applied to every aspect of life. Jain philosophy provides enough inforMation regarding non-violence. Non-violence does not mean merely avoiding physical violence, but it also means minimizing the violence of thought and speech. Jainism states that anger, pride, greed, deceit, jealousy, etc. constitute mental violence. Harsh language, unnecessary talk, lying, insisting on own ideas and not listening to others constitute the verbal violence.
Answer-3: Jains are realistic; They recognize that absolute non-violence is not practical by a lay-person. For example, we have to cook, eat, earn, wear and travel. These activities involve certain amount of unintentional but necessary violence. However, while undertaking such necessary activities, we must minimize the violence. For example: do not waste water and eat vegetables rather than eating meat.
Answer-4: The ideal situation for a Jain would be to eat the ripe fruit that has just fallen off a tree. However that is hardly practicable. It is true that vegetable plants and animals both have lives. But eating vegetable is less violent, because: 1) We do not kill the plant for vegetables. We take leaves, vegetables and fruits off the plants. By removing vegetables and fruits from a tree, we sometimes lengthen the life span of the tree. 2) Animals have more life-force, called prän and more and higher consciousness than the vegetables. Therefore, killing animals constitutes the higher level of violence. 3) Many other living organisms reside in an animal body and they get multiplied in a dead body. 4) Vegetables have less living cells and more water content.
Answer-5: No. It is a wrong belief that animal food makes us stronger and healthy. The human physiology is for eating and digesting vegetarian food and is significantly different from meat-eating animals. Animal food is laced with fat, cholesterol, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and similar harmful ingredients. Meat eaters are more prone to heart failure, cancer and other killer diseases. Animal food transmits as many as 160 contagious diseases to humans under natural conditions. Animal food also lowers the immune status. Vegetarianism increases endurance and stamina, and makes people healthy and smart. Vegetarian food prevents various cancers, hemorrhoids, constipation, ulcer and many diseases. Smart animals like elephants, cows, bulls, gorillas, horses, apes and chimpanzees are all vegetarian.
Answer-6: No, it is not true. Meat provides much more protein than the daily need of an average person, which is 10 to 15 grams. Excessive intake of protein is harmful. In addition, the meat protein is disease-prone. Protein from vegetarian foods (specially from beans) is very useful and quality-prone while it is not excessive. Similarly, vegetarians get their calcium, iron and other vitamin needs from various vegetables, dark and leafy greens, beans, cereals, nuts, fruits, juices, milk, yogurt etc. Do you know that 120 million animals a week are killed for food in the United States. This is equivalent of one animal per person per year on the earth.
Answer-7: Not totally, but it will definitely decrease violence to animals. Being vegetarian is a right step in the direction of achieving the goal. In the beginning only one person takes the initiative for every cause, others follow him. Our example will encourage others. Some will renounce animal food, and so it will go on multiplying.
Answer-8: Well, these are two questions. For lay-persons, to defend against an attack is justifiable. In self-defense, even the killing of a man is considered justifiable, because the motivation is preservation of life. Self defense cannot be considered destruction of life. We have examples in Jain Ägams having people gone to heaven while fighting against attack. But to kill dangerous animals like snakes, lions, wolves and tigers is wrong, unless they happen to attack you. 'Live and let live' is the best philosophy to follow. Jain monks are, however, not supposed to react even to the violent attack.
Answer-9: This is fallacious since purchasing creates demand and encourages others to kill. It is therefore equivalent to committing the deed. The 'neat' packaging of meat conceals the pain that occurred before. It is unfortunate that packaging keeps scenes of slaughterhouses off the minds of the consumers. Mahavir Bhagwan said, "It is Himsä (violence) - whether a man kills living beings himself/herself, or causes others to kill them, or gives consent to others to kill.”
Answer-10: Their civilization, learning or power is not due to meat-eating. It is due to other fine qualities like discipline, hard work, self-effort, higher productivity and quality, open-mindedness, adventurous nature, innovation, honesty, generosity, compassion, and natural resources. They also realize that vegetarianism is good for health. There are already more than 10 million Americans who are vegetarian. Do you know that Albert Einstein, Isäc Newton, George Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy and Socrates were vegetarian, not to mention Michael Jackson, Madonna and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney.
Answer-11: Vegetarianism promotes animal preservation and forestry, and thus ecology and environment. Let me explain you by giving few statistics: 1) one acre of trees is spared each year by every individual who switches to vegetarian diet, 2) it takes 55 square foot of rain-forest to produce one pound of hamburger 3) it requires 2500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat (one pound of wheat requires only 50 to 75 gallons of water), 4) 85% of annual US top soil is lost due to raising livestock. Do you know that one pound of beef requires 16 pound of grains and soybeans. Do you know that 15 vegetarians can be fed if one person gives up eating meat.
Answer-12: Cosmetics look innocent but there is a lot of hidden violence. Cosmetics use many animal ingredients such as carminic acid, elastin, sperm oil and musk oil. To produce one pound of carminic acid, 70,000 insects are crushed. Another ingredient called “elastin” is obtained from neck lingaments and aorta of cattle. Sperm oil is the oil extracted from intelligent mammal, whale. Musk oil is extracted from musk of deers, beavers, civet cats and other genitals.
Make sure cosmetics, soaps, detergents, shampoos, skin creams, oven cleaners, shaving creams, etc. have alternative synthetics and plant tissues, no animal ingredients. or have “Cruelty Free” logo on these products. Read the labels and avoid the products with ingredients like glycerides, gelatin, lecithin, stearates, enzymes, lard and tallow. Do you know that an estimated 14 million animals die every year because of animal testing for cosmetics.
Answer-13: Some think that they look cool when they wear silk. Some Jains wear silk when they go to deräsar for pooja. Do you know that the silk is made out of silkworms. To produce 100 grams of pure silk, 1500 silkworms (chrysalis) have to be killed. It is unnecessary to wear silk when we have other alternatives. If you want to look cool, wear artificial silk.
Answer-14: We wear leather belts, leather shoes. We use leather brief cases, we use leather purses. We have leather interior in our cars. We have leather furniture. Some people wear leather belt or carry leather purse when they go to temples. Leather is nothing but the skin of killed animal. Do we need to make a fashion statement by using leather when other alternatives are available?
Answer-15: It is okay to have our parents call each other honey or if they call us honey. But it is Himsä to eat honey. Let me explain you how honey is made. Honeybees painstakingly take the nectar out of flowers and put in their pouches (sacs). While extracting the nectar, they also pick up many small insects. Then, the honeybees comeback to their nest and vomits the nectar in the honeycombs. Honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal wax cells built by honeybees in their nest to contain their eggs, offspring and for storing the honey. Thus, honey contains many small insects, eggs of bees and disabled bees. Like alcohol, there are millions of single-sense organisms, called nigoda, in honey. Therefore, we should avoid eating honey. It is said that we commit sin equivalent to burning seven villages by eating one drop of honey.
Answer-16: We should choose a profession or business that involves minimum violence. Jain Ägams recommend staying away from the trades that involve sufferings and killing of animals, affect our environment and ecology, and pollute or dry-up the natural resources. Trades that involve weapons and explosives, fire, cutting of trees, fermented products like liquor, animal parts like ivory, leather and fur; lard, meat and honey; poisonous and toxic substances, anmal testing & use and prostitution are required to be avoided. We should not even buy stocks or invest in such businesses.
Answer-17: Yes, Animal testing in medical field and use of animals in entertainment. Animal testing in medical fields can be minimized. Most of the medical testing does not require animals. Consuming a medicine that was tested on animal is a sinful act. Consult your doctor if there is an alternative medicine that was not tested on animal. We should also avoid the entertainment programs that involve use of animals.
Answer-18: We Jains are very careful about physical Himsä but we often commit verbal and mental violence, because we do not fully understand the violence by speech and thoughts. Without proper knowledge, we are like a blind person who is surrounded by a fire. Let me give a few examples of what constitutes verbal or mental violence. Presumptions, suspicion, anger, ego, deceit, greed, spiritual-laziness, lying, spreading rumors, character assassination, wilful misguidance, forgery, use of harsh language, giving wrong suggestions, hidden agenda, disclosing one’s secrets, manipulation, desire for power, superiority complex, dishonesty, causing fear to others, personal jokes, laughing at someone’s failures or miseries and similar activities constitute violence of thoughts and speech.
Answer-19: Do you know that Hitler was a vegetarian? It means that being a vegetarian is not good enough. To be a truly non-violent person, we must develop the virtues of forgiveness, tolerance, humility, straightforwardness and contentment. We must adopt Anekäntväd (multiplicity of views) in thinking and Syädväd (theory of “from certain point of view”) in speaking. Without that, we will never be really non-violent. Also we need to practice the four bhävanas of Maitri, Pramod, Karuna and Mädhyastha.
(In alphabetical order)
1. "Dravya Sangraha" by Nemichandra Siddhantideva (1125), originally edited in English by Sarat Chandra Ghosal (1917), Republished by Shri Chandrapraph Digambar Maindir Trust, Bombay (1986).
2. "Essential of Jainism", edited by Dr. Prem Suman Jain, Jain Center of Greater Boston, Wellesley, Mass., USA (1984).
3. "The Jaina Path of Purification" by P. S. Jaini, published by University of California, Berkeley, USA (1978).
4. “Ahimsä Beyond Vegetarianism” by Youths of Jain Center of Southern California,
5. “Guidance for Jainism by Bhdrabahu Vijay,
6. “Vegetarian or Non-Vegetarian, Choose Yourself” by Gopi Nath Aggarwal,
7. “Vegetarianism: Answers to the most commonly asked questions” by The North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS),
8. Electronic material from Dr. Prem Gada and Pravin Shah,
9. Lectures by Dhirubhai D. Pandit, 1994-95
10. Various issues of Jain Study Circular and Jaina Digest,
11. Many other Jain books.